The Emerald City

It’s past 1am when we arrive, 3am Chicago time. I slept on the way, head slumped heavily on my shoulder, the middle aged men on either side of me equally unconscious. Three rows behind me, the overhead light illuminated Jonathan’s hair, his downcast eyes devouring the book in his lap.

Family, our hosts, appear shortly in the arrivals lane, and then we’re driving past the city, still vaguely luminescent in the middle of the night, and she’s telling us her plans for the long weekend and he’s explaining the carpool toll system. It’s 4am in Chicago- 2am here- and we’re pulling into their subdivision; neat, two-story houses arranged in quadrants, with a large wooden sign at the main street, bearing the area’s name.

We eat a late lunch the next day on the Sound. Owl City’s Hello Seattle plays on repeat in my head, and I trade seats with Jonathan halfway through lunch; isn’t it supposed to be dreary here? Cloudy here? Downtown Edmonds, if you can call it such, is teaming with boutiques, restaurants, little book stores that I long to explore. Moms push their babies in strollers under the dappled shade of the street-side trees, and birds from one such tree leave white splatters across the windshield of my sister-in-law’s freshly washed car.

On Saturday morning we rent kayaks, one of my favorite outdoor activities. We paddle across a corner of Lake Washington, the water clear and deep below us. The houses along the shore are massive; multimillion dollar homes that remind me of Michigan lake homes. Across the water, motor boats send wakes rolling and rocking behind them, until the little waves arrive, nearly spent, to our corner of the world. We stop along the far shore, sitting motionless in our plastic craft as a hawk circles high above us, dives once, twice, finally coming up with a fish in his mouth.

Around us, ducklings scamper awkwardly from lily pad to lily pad. Jonathan uses his paddle to bring a discarded venti Starbucks cup into our kayak. Later, we race kayaks: us versus them, and maybe they won, or maybe they started ahead, and how is this place so very beautiful, so very bright?

We drive into the city that afternoon. Chinatown for lunch- of course, every city has a Chinatown- and then we’re walking through downtown. It reminds me of San Jose, and she’s telling us about the night tour they took, telling of the underground, the secret and dark, history of the city. But I’m hardly listening because I can’t listen and look at the same time, but I dare not let a glimpse of this place escape my sight. But of course, something always escapes and I hold onto hope that it’s the ugly that I miss, not the stunning.

Pikes Place. The Ferry. Mount Rainier fat and snow-capped between the distant clouds.

After dinner, we walk up a hill, join handfuls of others pressed in little groups against a waist-high barrier. Seattle unfolds beyond, below, before our lookout point. A ferris wheel, glowing brilliantly, spins imperceptibly along the coast. Hotel names, obvious without being gaudy, shine into the darkened sky. Apartments, homes, roads, highways. Clouds, grey and wispy, hang gently along the skyline. The water, dark and invisible, stretches along the city’s coast.

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I think about the city, the state, long after we return to our own Midwest metropolis. Seattle, the surrounding area of Washington, was light. It was bright, full. Unexpected, catching me off guard with its water beauty, its ordinary, residential wonder. The mountains, so unfamiliar to me, are curious and inviting. The waterfront city of Seattle, with its subtle similarities and shocking differences to Chicago, is wild and safe, new and old, inviting and distant, all at the same time.

I’ll be back.

~Natalia

 

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