Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Five Senses Tour of Seattle

I love living in Seattle, but coming home from Germany last week was tough.

Part of the problem is that we left when the weather was warm and summery and the days felt long and light, and we came back to cloudy gray skies and noticeably cooler, shorter days. And of course, I also came back to the realities of a job hunt that's not going especially swimmingly.

So, in an effort to ward off depression -- or at least a case of S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) that we Seattleites are so prone to -- I've decided to highlight the things I love about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, broken into the five sensory experiences.


  • Trees. Lots and lots of green trees. Very tall green trees. And water. Lots and lots of blue water. Salty water, fresh water, water in lakes, water in rivers, and water in puddles. (Lots and lots of puddles.)
  • The Space Needle. I know it's funny-looking in a Lost in Space sorta way, but it says Seattle like nothing else and I feel an odd sense of ownership of the ol' hunka steel.
  • Ferries. How many cities are defined by ferries? There's nothing like a ride on the Washington State Ferries. For some people who live on the islands (Vashon, Bainbridge, for example), the ferries separate two distinct worlds: the remote countryside of the island and the hussle-bussle of downtown.
  • Mt. Rainier (otherwise known as "The Mountain"). On a clear, crisp day in Seattle, you can see every crevice in every glacier from 200 miles away. Well, it feels like that anyway. And I alos love the little tuft of weather that always sits atop The Mountain. (Did you know that it makes its own weather? THAT'S how awesome it is.)
  • People. Casually dressed, mostly smiling, physically active, really tolerant, overwhelmingly friendly people.
  • Geese. It's the only honking you'll ever hear in Seattle.
  • The sound of Pikes Place Market. I simply cannot describe it, but The Market has very much its own sound. It's sort of a combination of the guys calling out "fish throws," the ferry horns from across the Alaska Way Viaduct (which does NOT find its way into any of the categories), purposeful, yet happy chatter among the shoppers, the sounds of car tires on the cobblestones in front of The Market, and the occasional bark of a friendly, wandering dog.
  • Silence. It is completely and totally silent at our house at night. The forest behind our house seems to even muffle the silence further... and if there's snow on the ground it's so silent at our house that it almost feels like you're in a sensory vacuum.
  • Rain. It's rarely loud or harsh; instead it's soft, gentle and consistent. It's comforting to lie in bed at night and listen to the rain. I think I'd actually go crazy without it.
  • Seattle music. Heart, Minus the Bear, Modest Mouse, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews (Elisabeth's neighbor!), Jimi Hendrix. Need I say more?
  • There's a sound on the bow of a Puget Sound ferry that is very distinct. It sounds like hundreds of bongo drums being beaten in complete unison, and when I stand on the bow of a ferry making its way across the Puget Sound (which is where I always go when I ride the ferry), I can't help but move my body in what feels like a tribal dance of some sort. I don't know what causes this beat -- probably just the pounding of the bow on the water or something -- but it's powerful and very basal.
  • The smell of camping. No kidding -- when we moved here that was my first thought as I took my first big inhale of Seattle air: Hey, this smells like camping! (And I love the smell of camping.) Not the smell of a campfire or bacon cooking on the camp stove or sun screen, but just the fresh smell of air, trees and water.
  • The smell of rain. Yes, rain has a smell. There's also the smell of impending rain and the smell of just-passed rain. They're all slightly different. When you live in Seattle, you learn to differentiate them -- though you'd have a hard time explaining it in words. Let's just leave it at "the smell of rain."
  • The smell of Pikes Place Market. (Are you getting that this is a very sensory-rich place?!) Fresh flowers, fish, jams, spices, bakeries, coffee (the original Starbuck's is here), a huge variety of honies, sausages, and wine.
  • Ivars. If you're downtown (or anywhere near an Ivars), you can smell the warm clam chowder from a mile away. On a cold day it beckons you. (Well, it beckons most people; it still repulses Elisabeth who has a severe and irrational fear and hatred of all things fish.)
  • The Hostess bakery on Dexter. I used to work on the corner of Dexter and Roy and on any given morning before 8 AM, the smell of chocolate cake or vanilla filling permeated the air. I know, yukky unhealthy stuff -- but damn, it smells heavenly very early in the morning.
  • Fleece. It defines Seattle because we live in it, four seasons per year. Soft, light (or heavy, in winder) fleece is perfect to layer under and/or over just about anything. Most of us probably buy it at two of our favorite Seattle-based merchants -- REI and Eddie Bauer. In fact I just bought myself yet another black fleece pullover this morning. Did I need one? Nooooo... but this one has fluffy stuff on the inside and I simply couldn't resist! But fleece isn't just for jackets; we also love our fleece blankets, slippers, pants, etc.
  • Moss and ferns. I love the feel of both (yes, I am, in fact, kinda weird) and I realized when I was in Germany that many people around the world have no idea what the rough bumpiness of moss or the "dotted Swiss" leaves of ferns feel like.
  • The outside "shell" of Experience Music Project (see photo above). In order to fully experience EMP, you just have to run your hand along the outside surface of the building -- if it can really even be called a building!
  • Keyboards. Well, free internet, anyway. (OK, so you can't feel free internet... but I sure can feel the absence of it!) That was a stretch, but I had to find a place to include free wireless internet -- as is found throughout Marymoor Park, the Microsoft Campus and various other locations.
  • The laksa seafood chowder and the seared green beans with black bean sauce at Wild Ginger, the best Thai restaurant in the entire world. Oh, and their ginger vodka martini is... ZOWIE!
  • A fresh salmon fillet barbecued by Tom on our backyard grill. I cook the wild rice, fruit salad, and Caesar salad. Delicious!
  • Coffee. Duh. Can't live without it. And don't give me no measly demi-tass; I need a mega-mug!
  • Breakfast -- especially those huge, amazing cinnamon rolls -- at The Malby Cafe.
  • Really good water -- and lots of it. One thing I missed in Germany was free, easily-obtained water to drink. But look around Seattle: people carry water bottles with them everywhere, sipping as they go through their day.

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Anonymous said...

oh Carol... Ben isn't from Seattle, nor does he live here. BUT you should know who does live here - DAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

surfie999@gmail.com said...

Carol.........that was just fantastic. Written by a person truly enjoying your city! IT IS the little things that make a city great......a true guts and glory tour. BUT....so true. Really enjoyed that, and made me think about our city. Have a great harbour, but it the sites, smells and sounds of each city that make it so distinctive.......maybe that Is why have had some unusual visits to some odd places in other tourist cities.

Jen said...

I've only been to Seattle twice, but I fell in love with it both times. It's one of my dream places to live.

Thanks for the vicarious tour!

Anonymous said...


I love what you wrote about Seattle. I am hoping to move out there in a few years, and what you wrote just makes me wish I could move there sooner rather than later. After living in Vancouver, BC last year for six months, I see why the water, mountains and markets are so appealing. I loved waking up to the beautiful surroundings and to a simpler life (just going for a walk or to by produce at an outdoor market was great). I can't wait to start living that way again soon.

Mindy in Atlanta

Carol said...

Thanks Mindy. Seattle eagerly awaits you!


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