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On a walk with a friend
I had never been underneath the Montlake Bridge before. In fact, it never crossed my mind that one could stand below it, next to the Lake Washington Ship Canal. I was walking with my friend Stefan, who was leading the way, and our path narrowed around the drawbridge’s southern pier. A massive wall of concrete to our left, simple metal railing to our right. Cars passed above us on steel decking. We tucked under the support and looked up to see the bridge’s guts. The huge moving parts were impressive, so I lifted my camera and reached inside.
We did not, however, come for the bridge. I met Stefan years ago during a horticulture class. It consisted of hours-long walks through parks as we learned to identify hundreds of trees and shrubs by their common and Latin names. Stefan and I have stayed in touch and kept up the habit, meeting for long walks but no agenda. We’d both admit to having lost our edge on plant identification, so our meetups are more about taking time to wander.
Last week we met near the Washington Park Arboretum, to walk the Foster and Marsh Island Loop. It’s one of the many places in Seattle that makes you feel like you’re on an adventure, outside of city limits, while actually being a stone’s throw from a main road. Though we have no shortage of natural areas, this place is unique. Aging boardwalks span a bay filled with lily pads and ducks; scattered lookouts add to the feeling of being remote. Stefan described coming here with his children when they were young, playing hide-and-seek around 6-foot tall grasses, and it was so easy to imagine.
After crossing through the island and passing under the bridge, we continued down the canal, planning to loop around somehow. Then, the internal mechanics of the drawbridge quickly faded when discussion of our route was hijacked by a small red mushroom. All attention turned to the iconic Amanita muscaria along the sidewalk. The slope rising behind it was covered in ivy, but soon we noticed there were a lot more of them popping through—many that were much bigger. This area once had bleachers; it’s now a mushroom haven.
We took stairs to reach the top of the slope, where a grass path lead us past open backyards. It bordered on trespassing but water meters in the ground convinced me that we weren’t on private property. Right? Up here, there were even more bright red toadstools. Stefan pressed ahead, to find our way back, and I made more photographs. I only used one lens that day—an equivalent 135mm focal length—and I’ve found that I prefer a medium telephoto prime lens for walks. In new places, it helps me abstract things and capture details at my feet and in the distance.
I’m crouched over another mushroom when Stefan returns.
“It’s a dead end.”
On some trips, that might be cause for blame. Not this one. If we knew where we were going we would’ve seen less. As we passed under the bridge again, a WSDOT employee on the other side stared at us, and then painted over graffiti. On Marsh Island I spotted tiny mushrooms that I hadn’t noticed the first time through. And on the way to our cars, the trail was redirected by a team of arborists. We took it all in stride, stepping on leaves.
“Are these pin oak?” I asked.
Our memories jogged as we counted the lobes. •