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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.

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.

Willie Weir : October 24th, 2011

A Tale of Two Sundays

Willie Weir : October 14th, 2011

Reoccupy Your Neighborhood

Current signage (left) Improved signage (right)

Do you remember when neighborhood streets were not just for cars, but for people too? Do your childhood memories include hide-and-seek, kickball and kick-the-can? Did you learn how to ride your bike right down the middle of your street, not in some park or empty parking lot? You do? Then if you live in the United States, you must be close to my age. I’m 50.

Forty years ago Americans were just as much in love with their cars as they are today. But they were also in love with their neighborhoods. They didn’t just commute through them, they lived in them. There had to be 30 kids on my block, and summer’s seemed to be one long continuous kick-ball game. We set up in the middle of the street outside the Heffner’s house. Kids outside laughing and playing. As it should be.

When a car came down the street. It approached, waiting for the mob of youthful energy to clear out, and then slowly passed by. The driver usually smiled and waved.

One day an incredible thing happened. Bruce was about ready to deliver the kickball at a crucial moment in the game, when there was a strange mechanical sound. We looked up and Mr. Cook’s  garage door  magically opened. All by itself! We stood there in amazement as Mr. Cook’s car appeared around the corner, and drove right into the garage. There was another mechanical sound, and the garage door closed.


THAT was cool.

Mr. Cook (he worked at the bank) was the first one in the neighborhood to get a automatic garage door opener.

The next day at the exact same time (we were waiting) the magic happened again.

As a kid, Mr. Cook’s magic door was the greatest thing since spongy loaves of Wonder Bread. But as an adult, I now see that it was the beginning of the end.

We didn’t see Mr. Cook much anymore. You see, before his cool gadget, Mr. Cook had to get out of his car to open up his garage door himself. Sometimes he’d watch our game for a few minutes. Sometimes he’d talk with us. I remember him saying, “You all argue a lot more than you play kickball.” He was right.

Americans were already spending more time in their cars, but the automatic garage door opener allowed neighbors to actually never physically spend time in their neighborhood.

Of course, there were other factors, (jobs further away, two-three-and-four car families, the shopping mall). They all played a part in the demise of the livable neighborhood.

The sign to the left in the photo above is from my street on Beacon Hill in Seattle. It is one block away from Kimball Elementary School. ONE block. That’s the school zone.  Why? Well, in my opinion, it is because there is the assumption that kids don’t walk to school anymore. They need to be safe in that one block where their parents park or drop them off.

Unfortunately that assumption is right. Come fifteen minutes to school time,  our street becomes a mess of speeding mini-vans and SUV’s with parents, rushing to get their kids to “the school zone”.

Traffic doesn’t kill a neighborhood. But speeding traffic does.

Mr. Cook never sped down our street at 35mph. Not even close. If he and others had done so, our parents wouldn’t have let us play kickball … or kick-the-can. Many of us wouldn’t have learned to ride a bike.

I recently spoke to a crowd of 200 adults. Most of them my age or older. When I asked them to raise their hands if they had walked or biked to school, almost every hand went up.

A couple of years ago I spoke at a junior college and asked the same question. One hand went up. We are quickly losing our collective memory that neighborhoods are safe places to live and play.

It’s time that we reoccupy our neighborhoods. Forget useless, pathetic one-block “school zones.” We need neighborhood zones. Places where cars are allowed, but slowed to a speed that is, well, neighborly. 2omph.

“It can’t be done!”, I hear the cries. Well. It already has been done. Portland’s Greenways program aims to reduce traffic speeds to 20mph. New York City is getting its first 20mph zoned neighborhood in the Bronx. In England they cut it to 20 too! I won’t even bother to list the gobs of examples from the Netherlands and Denmark.

In Seattle, we don’t have to be leaders in this (unfortunately, we usually aren’t). We just have to follow the great examples already in process.

There is a problem. We can’t legally do this in Seattle right now. The Bicycle Alliance of Washington introduced a bill (HB 1217)l earlier this year that would make it easier for local jurisdictions in Washington to set lower speed limits in residential and business districts. It died in committee.

Do you prefer the modified traffic sign on the right of the photo? Let your representatives know that you are in favor lower speed limits in neighborhoods. Do you want to reoccupy your neighborhood? Then get involved in these groups who are fighting to allow you to do so.
Bicycle Alliance of Washington
Cascade Bicycle Club
Feet First
Seattle Neighborhood Greenways

(Kudos to StreetFilms and the Seattle Bike Blog for great bike coverage)

Kat Marriner : May 24th, 2011

Beacon B.I.K.E.S.

If you plan it, there’s a chance they will build it.

A small, energetic group of neighbors on Beacon Hill in Seattle developed a plan for safer biking and walking connections between local schools, shopping district, library, and light rail. It connects the gateway to Beacon Hill at Lewis Park, to our crown jewel with the spectacular view of the city at Jefferson Park, along low-traffic streets with modest hills (for the city of seven hills).

Crossing Spokane Street's 4 lanes of traffic without a crosswalk. Happens every day, but without the luxury of banner waving attention.

The People Powered Parks Parade was a celebration of the plan — really the first and most important step in any change we want to be in this world. The parade started appropriately at Jefferson Park and demonstrated the need for a safe crossing at Spokane and Lafayette. Colorful flag wavers stopped 4 lanes of traffic to allow the 120+ walkers and bikers to safely pass. It was an awesome “take back the street” moment!

Crossing Beacon Avenue near the busiest neighborhood library in Seattle and light rail station.

Following fine examples to the south in Portland, the Beacon BIKES plan creates routes on streets that parallel busy arterials, and moderates vehicle traffic on those routes to encourage slower driving and more biking. These “Bike Boulevards” or “Greenways”, when well placed, also means fewer cyclists wanting to take the arterial—seems like a win-win situation.

So hats off to our neighborhood activists creating “Better Infrastructure Keeping Everyone Safe”  or Beacon BIKES!

Mayor McGinn and council members Rasmussen and Bagshow came out to show their support for the plan, but my highlight was riding besides these future "heels on wheels" girls.

Sporting some "Petal Power" and my new flower vase bike accessory.

Kat Marriner : April 7th, 2011

Street Art

Friends are getting ready for their first trip to Spain and feeling a little pressure to “do” all the things in the guidebook. It made me think about how I like to engage with cities I visit, and I realize it’s not much different than what I like to do in my own city.

Kusina Filipina mural across from my Seattle neighborhood bus stop

I visit neighborhood parks and playgrounds, eat in neighborhood cafes, and I walk (or take transit) everywhere. I love it because I get to see real life up close and personal and not what the tourist board wants me to see. Even at home in Seattle I’ll take in the block-buster exhibits at the art museum, but I really enjoy spotting street art on those neighborhood walks and along transit lines. That art feels like much more of a connection to the current trends, politics and emotions of a place.

Here are a few scenes from Seattle, Bogota, Lisboa and Seville

Willie Weir : April 4th, 2011

Folsom, California shopping center stands as monument to car culture

I gasped in horror. No. That’s not true. I just hung my head in disappointment. Really? This is progress?

I was standing in an enormous parking lot in Folsom, California. I had a speaking engagement at the REI located at the Folsom Gateway shopping center.

A real estate website states, “Folsom Gateway II is one of Northern California’s premiere regional shopping centers.” And later offers this highlight, “Highly visible, prime retail location on the Highway 50 Freeway, viewed by 200,000 vehicles daily.”

Notice how the above description gives vehicles the gift of sight.

And that is appropriate. Because cars, not people, appear to have been the focus of this development.

Cars get the prime real estate. The entire middle of the complex–big box stores on one end of the parking lot–fast food and chain restaurants on the other. The distance between the retail and food is so great, that people get in their cars and drive across the parking lot from one to the other.

The shopping complex has followed building code, I’m sure. There are sidewalks and bike lanes and even a few little benches for people to sit. But they were all empty. The scale is so huge, so spread out, that humans find it daunting.

Does anyone really want to walk the mile and a half along the edge of the big box buildings to the Starbucks? (It’s much closer in your car).

If someone was to consider walking, the intersections are so wide that I imagined rest stations halfway across with water and snacks to prepare pedestrians for the second half of their journey.

The parking lots are clean, with lovely new banners that one would find at the entrance of a Renaissance or County Fair. But no jugglers, musicians or food booths await your arrival. In reality, the banners just dress up a an ugly, ocean of asphalt.

Premiere? Is this the best we can do?

If our goal is to increase the rates of obesity and diabetes. If we want to encourage people to stay in their cars. To walk less. To spend as little time outdoors as possible. Then this truly is a premiere example of how we should move forward.

Willie Weir : December 20th, 2010


Our pedal  into the city of Évora, Portugal was made easy by following a bike trail (ecopista) that runs north of the city about 25kms to the town of Arraiolos. The trail was flat,  mostly through farm land. Away from traffic.  The sun was out. Hoopoes (a delightful bird with a comical crest) flitted from tree to tree. The smell of fall was in the air.

Yet I was just a tad depressed. This trail served as a rail line in its former life. But like so many other rail lines, it had been abandoned.

Rails-to-Trails conversions has provided cyclists and walkers and runners with some of the best trails you’ll find on the planet. But each one also marks the death of a rail line. I want to celebrate each trail, but I’m also saddened with the loss … because I love trains.  Do we have to give up one to get the other?

The only way to have both is to find other huge projects that use public land and are graded for easy use.

I would like to propose a new non-profit group … the Interstate-to-Trails Conservancy.

OK. I might be a couple of decades early, but I’d love to live long enough to see walking, cycling and public transportation become such the social norm in the United States, that our government wonders what to do with these outdated, enormous rivers of asphalt and concrete. Imagine the grand trails and greenbelts stretching for hundreds of miles. There would even be room to run rail lines.  And instead of old rail cars as cute trail-side snack bars and restaurants … maybe we’ll see old converted semi’s and RV’s instead.

Just dreaming.