At Large in Ballard: Home for the Holidays
It wasn’t my intent not to leave Ballard for anything other than airport pick-ups and drop-offs for a period of three weeks, but that’s what happened. I might not even have noticed except for the observation by a friend visiting from the other Washington. She was only here for eight days; what did she expect, Fremont?
Martin and I had really meant to make an effort to leave Ballard the day before solstice. To take the now unfamiliar Metro route #61 to the other downtown, perhaps visit the other market, but it had already rained an inch since midnight. We needed to stay near our basement stream. So my contribution to the “what the holidays mean to me” even as articulated on KUOW’s The Conversation was all about lowering expectations.
Perhaps I lowered them too far. Perhaps I kept myself at basement level and forced my world-traveling friend to hunker down with me. Was that wrong?
Barely leaving Ballard definitely revealed itself as the theme of the 2012 holidays. (Besides, we did let Anna leave once as we celebrated her birthday on the Seattle waterfront, between the Seattle ferries and the new Ferris Wheel).
We spoke casually of leaving the hood, visiting the reinvented MOHAI … but in truth we didn’t go farther south than Senor Moose, farther east than the Goodwill on 8th or farther north than Fresh Fish Company on NW 80th. She’s lucky I was willing to pick her up at the airport.
On New Year’s Eve we watched the fireworks at the Space Needle from a friend’s bedroom close to the highest elevation in Ballard. On New Year’s Day she helped us open our home to all the friends who best appreciate the process that Martin follows in creating Cassoulet as learned from Bruce Naftaly’s classes at his late, lamented Le Gourmand (the classes continue).
There was a secondary theme as well, which may have influenced the first. My daughter during her five-day visit from the east coast wanted to attend a yoga class every day. This came to include time in the sauna afterward, and sometimes lunch, a walk through the Farmer’s Market, a worthwhile wait for a breakfast table at Senor Moose.
However, the greatest excuse for never leaving Ballard, particularly Sunset Hill, was that the mountains were out, the sun was shining and a pair of snowy owls was turning Sunset Hill Park into the daytime equivalent of Candy Cane Lane.
The yoga, the sauna and the daily walk up to the park to check on the owl-watchers, and the owls, filled the daytime hours. The entertainment was simply great. “Come to see all the folks in Priuses get out the cars with their long lenses?” one man asked another.
There were people with telescopes, with camera lenses longer than a ruler, with iPhones taking photos and texting their location to friends. “Have you seen it fly?” was a common question, as each of two primary owls chose either a treetop or a particular roofline.
The park had a party quality, with a dog-walking regulars and strangers cruising by in cars until they found the clump of people gazing at a roof, rather than the Olympics, the light below the clouds, the sailboats off Shilshole. What was it like to be inside that house?
But I too was hooked once I saw an owl from a man’s telescope. Each scalloped feather seemed to be ruffling slightly in the breeze and while I watched it did indeed turn its head all the way around and wink. It winked at me.
My daughter tried to put the Sunset Hill snowy owl frenzy into perspective. “They have them at the zoo,” she said. Likewise Anna, a veritable sibling since we met in 4th grade in the late 1960’s called up evidence that Logan Airport in Boston is a reluctant host to nearly 30 Snowy Owls. I countered that one probably can’t get as close to them at Logan as when they have turned a neighbor’s house into a stake-out, and alas, driven another friend and neighbor to have to hold his Dachshund very close. Yet the sun shone, everyone at the park seemed to be on holiday, dogs stayed on the ground.
On my guest’s last day we pushed to fulfill at least one of her desires; every day we had left a visit to the Nordic Heritage Museum until too late. When we did make it there they offered to let us in free because it would be closing in 45 minutes (we paid for one). It reminded me of the Christmas I visited her in Stockholm and we actually slept through all the daylight hours. How does free time get so short?
Alone except for a man playing the accordion on the 3rd floor of the museum we whipped through The Dream of America, were found by a friend in Bad Art? and closed down the gift shop. Anna bought herself a new Angel Chime. There was a beautiful sunset as we walked west toward home. We hadn’t taken any photos of one another to prove our 43-year friendship, ridden the Seattle Great Wheel, stood atop the Space Needle deck. If she had other expectations Anna kept them to herself.
It was the holidays of the snowy owl. It was the holidays of just Ballard. It was home for the holidays. It was perfect.
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