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Willie Weir : October 23rd, 2013

Portraits of a Garden Spider

I had a great photo session with a garden spider this morning. All nine photos are of the same spider in the same web in our garden. She was very patient. It is amazing the variety of background colors you can get just by changing the angle from which you shoot. The fog only added dimension to the web. I love the garden in the fog.

I was walking down the sidewalk in Fremont a couple of nights ago and heard someone say, “This weather is bull#$!%. F$@#ing inversion.” I resisted the urge to stop and suggest he take an early morning stroll in a foggy garden. From the intense scowl on his face, I realized he wouldn’t understand.

Kat Marriner : March 12th, 2013


Nigella Sativa. It’s the botanical name of a beautiful little wildflower growing in our garden, the cultivated seeds of which are tasty, jet-black, slightly onion-flavored addition to flat bread we first encountered in Turkey. It’s also the pair of names given to two very important additions to my life.

Love-in-a-Mist flower

Love-in-a-Mist flower

For years I flirted with the idea of having a dog once again. I grew up loving all my family pets and while I had cats as an adult, I knew my heart could also include a dog. While we traveled in SE Asia last winter, I looked with amazement and a twinge of longing at the smart, savvy street dogs who could be mine with the right welcoming look and slightest offer of a bite to eat. As always, my heart saddened at their life on the streets, but I knew I couldn’t do anything about it.

At home, the final decision was made to give a puppy a good home. After reading 3 puppy books and researching characteristics of breeds to consider in a mixed-breed pup, I finally looked up the Formosan Mountain Dog rescued from Taiwan by the local group, Salty Dog Rescue. I saw photos of the FMD and read their characteristics and for the first time I felt I knew my breed! There was a litter coming to Seattle that was mixed with black Lab, so I sent in my application and readied our home.

On a Wednesday night, a flight touched down at SeaTac airport and multiple dog crates wheeled out to baggage claim. Beautiful, hungry, travel-weary pups filled those crates and quickly where whisked into the waiting arms of eager adopters. A precious bundle was placed in my arms and I felt unimaginable joy as she licked my face and snuggled close to me for comfort. There were several pure black girls in the litter and I was warned that the bundle I carried might not be the dog “Kenya” I had requested. The microchip reader, inadvertently left at home, would let me know later. What did I care? I had selected a dog based on a photograph of a cute girl-puppy, and they were all cute girl-puppies. As it was, I had adopted “Rosalind”.

That night I named her Nigella, my Love-in-a-Mist, and threw my heart into welcoming her to her new home. Willie was out of town, so I flew it solo, slept little, and sent Nigella reassurance that we were resilient, adaptable, loving beings, and she would be too. The bond was immediate. So much so that when Willie returned home three days later, he had to work hard to gain her trust.

Nigella fireside

Nigella and Kat fireside

We took walks, learned fast, played joyfully and took great care to socialize Nigella to her new world. Every person we met, from kids in strollers, to ladies with walkers, homeless guys at the bus stop, to bearded hipsters, smiled and welcomed her. Late one night on a walk the Spanish-speaking guy in white coveralls coming from a dry-walling job understood my request that he offer her a bite of kibble. This was all in the name of making her not afraid of the community she lived. We took her on the bus for a cup of coffee downtown, on an elevator, over metal grates that moved, by construction sites, and along the woods. We covered lots of ground with the joy of discovering something new. Our dog was a traveler in our city!

Playing at home with feet swirling on a thick wool carpet, Nigella was the picture of a happy pup. After a playtime, Willie began teaching her the next important skill: Leave it. She was quite prone to leaving nothing behind and we were constantly plucking stones and wood chips from her mouth on those walks. After a few treats, she stopped eating, gave a whine, went out to pee and couldn’t. Inside she vomited, then again, and again. A quick message to the rescue group confirmed I should contact their vet immediately. I did and soon we were in a neighbor’s car and at the vet’s office.

By the time she was at the vet, Nigella could barely stand. Her head drooped and she longed to hide, often burrowing in my arms. Clearly she was in distress and we soon learned her temperature was critically low. After a quick test, Parvo was ruled out and the vet had us leave her for further blood test and x-rays. We left the office with heavy hearts that something was causing our little pup such hardship, but I had confidence they would find the cause and treat her. Soon she would be romping like the little puppy we adored.

That evening the phone rang and my heart raced when I saw it was the vet’s office. Immediately I thought they must be calling to tell me she was fine and I could come and get her. But sadly no. She had not made it.

Stunned. Disbelief. Grief. Self-doubt. A hole was ripped in my heart. Nigella with the floppy ears, questioning eyes, furrowed brow, wagging tail would no longer follow me to the ends of the earth.

Nigella explores her city

That night I cried myself to sleep and bolted awake with fears that I had killed her. My watchful eye and had not seen this coming, and I didn’t protect her as promised.

Some 18 hours later, a call from the vet let me know that she had not swallowed something lethal. She had a twisted bowel. A rare thing in a pup, but possibly a little playtime tumble was all it took. And yes, she had tumbled after a ball as puppies do. But she had jumped right back up seemingly unscathed. Such a simple, unavoidable act … or it just happened because it was going to happen.

Many kind and compassionate words from family and friends tried to easy my mind. Many also encouraged me to open my heart and home to love another puppy. I had it all in place and yes, there are always more pups that need a loving home.

A few days later I connected with Amy at the Salty Dog Rescue group again. I wanted to get Nigella’s ashes and I wanted to consider adopting the original “Kenya” if she was still available. She was. She was fostered with a family, the second since arriving in the United States some two weeks ago.


Tiva with her friend Chaka

While I waited to make contact with the foster-family, I set about to examine my heart to see if I could do this again. There are many times in life that things happen that make no sense. There is no fault or blame. At times like these, I indulge in magical-thinking. I make my own sense of the world so I can move forward, find the magic, and embrace what happened and what is to come. I came to think that “Kenya” was waiting for me. She waited while her sister-pup had nine glorious, love-filled, magical days with me. She waited for me through an adoption-event and two foster homes.

Together Willie and I brought “Kenya” home with us one week after Nigella’s death. We call her Tiva, short for Sativa. Nigella Sativa is the botanical name for Love-in-a-Mist, and our two beautiful dogs.

Tiva and Kat fireside


Willie Weir : March 3rd, 2012

Seattle’s Pedestrian Friendly AMTRAK Station?

I’ve written before about our unfortunate AMTRAK station in Seattle. It has been going through renovations at a glacial pace. And someday, it will be a shining example of alternate transportation. Maybe.

But in the meantime. Wow.

I was coming out of the lobby this evening, after having paid for a couple of tickets to Portland, and I noticed a couple of young women with backpacks, giggling, and taking photos. I was in a hurry, so I wouldn’t have even noticed. Just outside the entrance to the station, there were five pedestrian signs, pointing in different directions. I tried to make sense of them, but realized that these giggling women were right … they were just silly.

I’ve always felt that the layout of this station screamed to travelers, “YOU SHOULD HAVE DRIVEN A CAR!”

Be patient travelers. Someday Seattle’s AMTRAK station will actually be pedestrian friendly. In the meantime … you can enjoy a good laugh.

Willie Weir : February 15th, 2012

Bicycle Breakfasts

If you don’t have the time to spare for a extended bike trip, you can get loads of inspiration on Bike

But sometimes you can’t even afford an overnight. That’s the time to head out on a bike breakfast.

Kat and I did this just last week. A glorious weekend morning with sunny blue skies couldn’t be wasted. We got out the panniers, loaded them with breakfast treats, coffee in a thermos and camp chairs. We pedaled down to the shores of Lake Washington and ate breakfast on one of the docks. We soaked up the views of the lake and Mt. Rainier, and manufactured some much needed vitamin D.

After draining the thermos of coffee, we packed up and pedaled off to the Washington Park Arboretum, where the winter garden was in full bloom. The sights and smells of a grove of witch hazels will remind anyone that winter definitely has its upside.

So even if you only have a couple of hours to spare. It’s still enough time to pack up and head out. I’m not sure if bike breakfasts warrant their own website, but they sure can be a great way to start any day!

Originally posted on the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog.
Kat Marriner : December 28th, 2011

The Rain is Life!

Cuddled on the couch sipping tea at a friend’s house this fall, we were lamenting the beginning of the rainy season in the northwest. A knock on the door brought us homemade tamales from their favorite roving street vendor. She walks the neighborhoods and brings piping hot delicious corny goodness right to your couch. Hearing our lament of the weather that day, I heard her sweet voice say with all the compassion in the world, “The rain is life.” This from a woman walking door-to-door to make ends meet. Now there was some perspective.

When we got home I put that statement on my computer screensaver knowing that come the dark days of winter, I would need some reminder. Well, the dark days just hit. We enjoyed a glorious December with more blue sky than I can ever remember, but I had been glued to my computer and failed to take advantage of many of those blue sky days. Now in this quiet week between the holidays, the blanket of gray threatens to slow my body and spirit down.

But there is that phrase on my screen. I’m seeing it again after months of not noticing, but its message to me is now unmistakable. Seize and celebrate the rejuvenation from the rain.

My body is aching to move, to be warm, to be light, so I put on my down jacket followed by my rain shell and head outside. Within a  short distance I am on a trail and at peace. My pace is easy, inside my layers it feels like a comfortable day in the tropics. Energy surges as I walk up the hill. I am so grateful to be outside I’m beaming. Raindrops sparkle like jewels and I feel as nourished as the brilliant green moss.

I know the blanket of gray and drizzle of rain will last longer than my good mood. But if I can keep an ounce of that healthy perspective — if I can recognize the rain as a gift rather than a curse — if I can get my ass off the couch and laugh at the elements — I’ll make it through another northwest winter.

Willie Weir : November 4th, 2011

Mountains-to-Sound Trail: It Doesn’t End Well

The Mt-to-Sound Trail sports spectacular views

Last week ribbons were cut and speeches were made at the opening of the new segment of the Mountains-to-Sound Trail. Any additional trail miles that provide needed access for bikes and pedestrians is cause for celebration. Except that the Mountains-to-Sound Trail now officially ends at a blind corner of a very steep hill.

Holgate, which rises to and descends from Beacon Hill, is legendary on this side of the city. It is the type of road that even some seasoned cyclists choose to avoid. If you are descending it from the top of Beacon Hill, you can easily hit 40mph without a single pedal stroke. You just take the lane and fly. The road crosses I-5, and at this point as a cyclist, you need to be hyper-aware as you dump out onto the left lane of traffic. Cars turning from Airport Way S are speeding to make the light at 6th Ave S. Many motorists like to make a left hand turn across your path as they exit the Office Depot. And the road surface is a photo op for the “repave our streets” campaign.

On the way up Holgate you are in a narrow lane with a high curb on your right as you climb over I-5. The thought that a car clipping you could send you catapulting onto the freeway is enough to have many cyclists choose to ride on the left hand sidewalk and then cross over at the blind corner as the sidewalk ends. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Can you imagine parents riding their bikes along with their two young kids tackling any or all of this? It sounds rather nightmarish.

And yet it is a possibility. The Mountains-to-Sound Trail is a separated recreational path. The type of trail that is desirable for riders and walkers who aren’t comfortable in traffic. The recently opened extension expands the trail from 12th Ave S to Holgate. The path is a delight and offers beautiful vistas of downtown Seattle. I had a hard time wiping the grin off my face the first time I rode it.

My grin faded at Holgate. The sign simply reads, “End. Mt. to Sound Trail” That’s it. No more information.

The trail ends at the blind corner of Holgate and Beacon Ave S

What is the family with their two kids going to do? They’ll look at the option of crossing the road at the blind intersection and climbing the steep hill to their left. But what’s up there? They don’t know, because they are visiting from Spokane or Missoula and they don’t know that at the top is the business district of Beacon Hill with a light rail station, bus connections, stores, restaurants, a library, and a huge park. No, to them it’s just a big scary hill to destinations unknown.

Then they’ll look down the hill and think, “The Sound is that way.” They’ll opt to walk their bikes down the sidewalk because the hill is steep and their kids are scared. This is good. Because that sidewalk ends in a flight of stairs. To their credit, SDOT has posted a sign regarding this about 200 feet before impact.

Don't speed down the sidewalk!

Now our visiting family is stuck. Because to continue forward means having to lift their bikes onto a narrow road with speeding traffic and “take the lane, kids.” Beyond this dangerous move there is no signage letting them know that they are three blocks away from the bike path that runs parallel to light rail.

But I’m guessing at this point our family will opt to turn around and push their bikes back up the sidewalk. The kids will be crying and Mom and Dad will think, “This is unsafe and crazy.” They will finally reach the trail and backtrack from whence they came.

What the family doesn’t know is that the Mountains-to-Sound Trail will eventually be completed. There will be a switchback trail that crosses under the freeway and connects to the bike trail and light rail station at Royal Brougham. But construction of that section isn’t even scheduled yet … so it’s years away.

In the meantime, information needs to be posted that gives everyone an option. Experienced city traffic cyclists can take a right at Holgate and shoot into the Sodo District or take a cautious left and climb to the Beacon Hill business district. Others can backtrack and follow the bike route signs to downtown, or be routed that way to begin with.

The dangerous conditions at the blind curve where Holgate becomes Beacon Ave S need to be addressed. This is now more important than ever! This is one of the few accessible routes up to Beacon Hill and it should be made safe for everyone.

The Mountain-to-Sound Trail extension is great! It will be better when it is finished (South Seattle’s missing link?). But until then, we need signage that explains the current conditions, and improvements that give everyone safe options. Without them, the ride doesn’t end well.