At Large In Ballard: Ballard Mama Bear

By Peggy Sturdivant

It seemed so wrong to be in a bad mood on such a beautiful day. All night the magnolia tree had glowed in our back yard. The grass looked too green to even be real, but for some reason I was seeing red.

I had no real reason to want to decapitate toadstools or toss snails into the street, unless a sense of despair of the mudslide to the north or the missing plane to the east had crept into my psyche. The week was actually going well. I had done my part for Cancer Lifeline, addressing over 600 people at a fundraiser at The Westin, and just dropped off a donation for the Senior Center auction. I had started vegetables from seed in the new cold frame and joined the Ballard Chamber of Commerce.

Someone into astrology might be able to claim an explanation for my combination of anger and sadness. Perhaps I was just tired. Tired of soliciting gift items for yet another silent auction, tired of seeing three-story townhouses next to older homes. Maybe I was still feeling stupid because I was so busy rubbernecking new construction in Ballard last week that I rode my bicycle into a parked truck.

Am I the only person who finds spring mentally exhausting? Suddenly all this daylight, plants blooming night and day, early morning birdsongs and the guilt of dirt unturned, seeds not planted. Meanwhile the weekly deadlines continue, the building permits pile up, new conflicts emerge that involve attorneys instead of face-to-face talk.

After a second night of restless sleep I knew I needed to get to a yoga class before someone got hurt. But I was running late; the health club’s parking lot was already full. I circled looking for two-hour street parking and then just pulled up in front of Bartell Drugs and stuck my credit card into a pay station slot. I paused with my yoga mat dragging on the sidewalk. I knew I was late and there might not be space left. But I also knew that it wouldn’t be fair to the world to go through the day without trying to calm myself. Besides I had paid for the parking.

Kind people moved their mats to make room for me. “Why do you still look so sad?” a friend asked me, probably hoping lack of space was my only issue. What could I say, ‘I watched a comedy film that made me want to cry all night.’ While trying to regain some sort of equilibrium through poses I kept thinking about the movie I’d rented from Rain City Video the night before. In it the female lead said, “I’m tired of being funny.” That seemed to sum up everything I was feeling. I’m tired of being so busy, so funny, so extroverted, so reliable, so unreliable, so Ballard, so me.

I noticed the land use sign had been posted next to the Bartell Drugs on 22nd NW. The Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct Twitter feed provides me a list of hourly “Fraud/identity theft/shoplift” incidents at 14th & NW Market Street and “suspicious person” at 22nd & NW 57th. I felt tired of being upbeat.

For once I slipped out the side door of the yoga class without the usual post locker room chat. I hadn’t had breakfast. It had been a long time since dinner and too many nights since a good night’s sleep. I started to cross the street from my car to the library. That was when the Real Change vendor who parks in front of Bartell with a handicap placard threw out his still lit cigarette into the middle of 22nd NW.

I get it when they say that someone just “snapped.” Some neuron fires in the brain, and my brain was already coloring the pink cherry petals red with anger. I became what the police blotter might classify “Disturbance/miscellaneous other,” if you count my shrill scream.

Let me now say that I grew up with a crush on Smokey the Bear. When he would point that paw from a billboard he seemed to mouth the words just to me, “Only you can prevent forest fires…” I wanted to grow up and be a forest ranger so that I could wear a hat like his. I still have a Smokey the Bear patch that I sewed on to a shirt.

I didn’t stop to ponder whether I would have reacted if it had been a cigarette tossed from any vehicle on the street or whether it had to do with my longtime unease with this vendor operating from his vehicle. I was raised to never litter. My mother considers it the deadliest sin, and although the unextinguished cigarette was not going to start a forest fire in deforested Ballard, my inner Smokey the Bear roared.

I was tempted to pick up the cigarette and throw it back to the driver. Instead I just yelled at him. Rage filled my body, but the coward in me walked away, leaving my anger to burn out in the middle of a Ballard street. As my racing heart slowed back to normal, the colors righted themselves. The lawn at Ballard Commons returned to emerald, the forsythia to the yellow of an egg yolk. I wasn’t tired anymore.

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