When I started visiting Seward Park soon after I first moved to Seattle, it was the fall of 2010. No one really goes out once the city’s storm season begins in October, and the pattern of indoor activities is sealed with the first rain season in December. This isolation lasts up through the “false start of spring” in January or February, where it’s sunny for a week or so. Seward Park blossoms with activity during the first two months, all types of people showing up to the barbeque pits miraculously un-rusted. Then the rest of the rain season arrives, carrying the city through June. It’s this time, from February through June’s end, when I feel like I own the park.
Between Seattle and Seward Park, there is contrast. There is the stifled breath and the gasp of rigid form in the heart of the city, spreading outward. I follow Lake Washington Boulevard until the skyline is no longer in view. I come from Robert Frost territory and feel his soul here in the West. Stepping off the path — into the bush, the brush — I trek toward the transcendental sanctuary.
Within the emerald, the perspective on daily existence sways. Enter nature. Enter the flow of the natural. Foraging forward brings forth new modes of existence. The animals appear from dizzying angles. Seward Park’s eagles, great blue herons, ducks, geese, wolves, bunnies, owls — these inhabitants can’t be denied. Yet the flits and scampers of the local residents are not the only component of this land mass’ totality. We must look toward our stationary friends as well.
The park houses Seattle’s largest tree, the heritage Douglas Fir. Each knot is gently stuffed with ornamentation from anonymous human decorators, its sign recently removed by a vandal. I love the tree, love feeling its warmth in the damp glow of a temperate rainforest climate. Acres of empty wilderness watch and observe me, eager to swallow me whole. These experiences last for hours, my feet carrying me across the internal paths, the bowels of brown, green and gray. I leave not as I came, but rather in rejuvenation with enlivened spirit.
Throughout the first half of the year, I visit the park weekly, enjoying the solace and solitude offered amidst the spit of the white skies. Then the clouds depart and it’s July. There’s the flash-bang spirit erupting from the darkness. Families, friends and lovers come together as shining beacons, waypoints of camaraderie. They bring themselves to Seward Park for relief from the endless streets and screen-gazing lifestyles. They bring themselves for opportunity to rest, be pacified and feel the lake’s water on their skin. During the summer, the park pulls the people from their homes and gives them renewed breath.
City life fails to follows the swarms. It’s miraculous. Urbanism and all its dirty glory stays away. I’ve been at Seward Park in the thick of the warmest days, where the Seattle sky is that remarkable, buoyant blue of forever, Mount Rainier doing poses in the Cascades, and I’ve found the same relief as others. It’s casual. It’s hypnotizing.
I’ve dipped into one of the entrances of the forest, sidestepped a poison oak here, a rotten stump there, and suddenly, time and time again, I have become immersed in the vacuum of the leaves. Not even the densest crowds can be heard from within the park’s shadow-black, ancient-green internal scenes. Having 300 acres of wooded meat to your body means you’ve got plenty of space for people to hide.
The park offers a space to coexist, a dualism, the coalescing of infinite perceptions, a curiosity dissectible, distanced from the mobs of the hip, the gentry, the mutations of developers back in the most gentrified corners of the city — the startling faces of a challenged urban dynamo. These trees know no change. They’ve maintained their space for ages.
Walking the paths, imagining those downtown city offices glittering in the night, reflecting the sun through the clouds — the corporate labyrinth, that other jungle which palpitates by Lake Union, the offices of Amazon, the electro-stalk of the Space Needle — I faint, find awe, become suppressed. Buildings upon buildings hang out in the distance, the skyline a bruise upon memory, and in their absence I displace the great concrete pulse. The breath of an urban-dweller becomes compacted and filled with a new will through the bramble and brush. This is the spiritual extension growing from within Seward. The chaos and the noise of industry and digital mania finally cease. You understand you’re somewhere else. You learn to turn outward and speak the language of the trees.
The language follows me. I arrive back to the numbered streets and avenues, pass the budding bus stops and aching stoplights. My mind has released previous toxins and fumes. It has become empowered to experience the city yet again. It has gained an unnamable strength to push me into the day. It is a wholesome feeling and yet it leaves me vigorous and ready to charge forth into the latest trials.