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A Typical Weekend

Or not. I’ve been way behind in blogging, partly because of the start of school a week ago, and partly because of the whirlwind of events going back to early last week, which peaked on the weekend.

Back in April, at the annual fundraiser for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, we successfully bid on two outings: the Walla Walla wine tour about which I wrote at length (starting with this post) and a single-day outing on Puget Sound. The second outing was scheduled for this past Saturday, which was also day two of the biannual Ryder Cup golf competition between the US and Europe. Had we been aware of this conflict, we might have passed on bidding. But we weren’t aware, we did bid, and we won the trip.

Last week, a more pressing conflict emerged. Perhaps it’s as well not to go into the details, but we found ourselves with a most unwelcome event to attend that would take precedence over the boat outing: a memorial service. When we found that the service would begin at 3:00, and not far from the marina where the boat would drop us off, we realized it would be possible to go through with a truncated version of the outing and then make it to the service.

A further complication was that Gail had offered to help with a post-memorial reception, which meant she would spend Friday cooking, we would drop some food off early Saturday morning, board the boat, return to shore, go to the church, attend the service and the reception at the church, then leave the church reception in time to set up at the house for the smaller family reception. Sunday we would have free to catch up on the Ryder Cup, watching the third and concluding day of golf.

Or so we thought, until Gail’s old high school friend Randy emailed. He lives in Albuquerque and is a member of the Jemez Pueblo. Thursday night he wrote to say he’d be passing through on Sunday on the way to Alaska. She hadn’t seen him for over 30 years prior to our 2008 New Mexico trip, when we had the good fortune to reconnect and spend time with him, his wife, his sister, his father, and children. They turned what would have been a wonderful trip into something even more magical. We were excited at the prospect of seeing him again, and we soon learned that the timing would allow us to watch the conclusion of the Ryder Cup before meeting up.

Everything had fallen into place. Oh, there was also the 70th birthday party of an old friend on Saturday night, if we could fit that in. Our weekend would be full.

We had a quick takeout dinner Friday in order to allow Gail to concentrate on her cooking. Just after 8:00 PM, I was sitting at my desk contemplating writing a post when Gail came in to announce, with deceptive calm, that we needed to go to the emergency room. She had cut her finger while doing some prep work. Off we went. Five stitches and two-and-a-half hours later, we were home. So much for cooking. Fortunately, while in the exam room waiting for the doctor, we had come up with an alternative plan for the hot dish. We would order enchiladas from El Ranchon, one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, near both the church and the reception home.

Saturday we loaded up the car and headed to Elliott Bay Marina. (Downtown Seattle sits on the eastern edge of Elliott Bay, an inlet from Puget Sound. The marina is on the north side, at the bottom of the Magnolia neighborhood where we would be spending the latter part of the day.) We met up with the other guests and our two Burke Museum hosts — archaeologist, museum director, and friend Julie plus Native American art curator Robin. Soon Bruce, the boat owner who had generously donated his boat and time for the day, moored the Escapade, came ashore to greet us, and brought us on board.

At the south end of Elliott Bay is the Port of Seattle and the mouth of the Duwamish River. The plan for the first half of the cruise was to head south across Elliott Bay parallel to downtown, enter the Duwamish, cruise upriver for a ways to see the industrial and archaeological sites that line it, reverse course and return to Elliott Bay, then turn southwest, cross Puget Sound, and arrive at Blake Island, home of a state park and Tillicum Village. As explained at the Tillicum Village website,

the island was named after Captain George Blake, commander of the US Coast Survey vessel in 1837. Blake Island State Park was an ancestral campground of the Suquamish and Duwamish Indian Tribes and is believed to be the birthplace of Chief Seattle. The island is densely wooded with many forested walking and hiking trails and 5 miles of beaches. Vegetation on the island includes native Northwest trees and shrubs. Wildlife on the island includes deer, chipmunks, otters, squirrels, mink and many types of birds. As a state park, the island also offers the opportunity for camping.

Also on the island is the village itself, a commercial venture normally acceptable from the downtown waterfront by boat as part of a package tour:

Begin your 4-hour escape with a narrated cruise from downtown Seattle, Pier 55 to Blake Island State Park. Upon arrival to Tillicum Village, you are greeted with steamed clams in nectar. Make your way into the longhouse and watch as whole salmon are cooked in a traditional Northwest Coast Indian style. Enjoy a fabulous salmon buffet meal followed by a show that highlights the Coast Salish tribes through storytelling and symbolism. Afterward, you’ll have free time to explore the grounds and gift shop before returning to Seattle.

Tillicum Village

We would cross in Bruce’s boat, tie up more or less when the tour boat arrived, and join the crowd for the meal and show. On leaving the island, we would have time to cruise as we saw fit, suggested routes being circumnavigations of Bainbridge Island or Vashon Island. This is where our truncation plan came into play. We anticipated staying at Tillicum Village for lunch and the show, leaving mid-show if necessary, and heading straight back to Elliott Bay Marina.

That was the plan. Now the actual outing.

On boarding the boat, we were treated to a tour of its various levels, cabins, and amenities. You can perhaps get a sense of its comforts from the photos at top and below.

Then we were off. I have often left or come into downtown via ferry, a treat in its own right, but riding parallel to shore from north to south offered new perspectives and astonishing views. The Olympic Sculpture Park. The Space Needle. Jessica’s condo building. The cranes of the port looming in the distance, slowly growing, then rising above us. The stacks of freight containers. As we approached the Duwamish, Julie gathered us in the pilot room, opened up some maps, and gave us an overview of Seattle geological history, with special attention to the Seattle Fault and the earthquake circa 900 CE that explains so much of the local topography. She also discussed some of the important Native settlements and archaeological sites along the Duwamish. Up we cruised, past the port, under the West Seattle Bridge and the 1st Avenue Bridge, barges, industrial sites, industrial wastelands, occasional residential homes, boat moorage. Then down we cruised, back out to Elliott Bay, turning to port and heading west, then southwest, past Alki Beach, Alki Point and off toward Blake Island.

Robin stepped in at this point to tell us a bit of the history of Native settlements on Blake Island, and the background on Tillicum Village. We were behind schedule, but it turned out that the tour boat from downtown was even later, so that we arrived on the island 15 minutes before it. This gave us temporary free run of the village, its exhibits, and its gift shop. Once the other boat docked and guests began coming up the hill, the staff handed out mugs with clams in broth, instructing us to eat the clams then drop the shells on the ground and crunch them underfoot.

Once we were invited to enter the dining room, we went straight to our table, in order to stay on schedule. The dining room/theater is a sloped room with the stage in the front below and buffet tables on a level floor behind. We were seated near the buffet tables in order to escape easily. The food was excellent. Salad greens with a variety of vegetables, dressings, and toppings to add according to taste. Rice. A stew of beef, venison, and bison. Slices of the Tillicum bread featured in the gift shop. And the salmon cooked on the open fires outside the dining room.

Drinks are served at the table, then once the plates are removed, an apple pastry is brought to the table. Once we finished dessert, departure time had arrived. We would miss the show in its entirety, since it was apparently running behind schedule due to the late arrival of the main boat. But we were content. We had quite enjoyed lunch and were ready to move on.

Once out of Blake Island’s harbor, we were presented with a dramatic view of Mount Rainier, the upper half of which was rising dramatically above some lower clouds. The masts of Elliott Bay Marina boats were visible across the Sound in the distance, making steering easy for us amateurs, whom Bruce allowed to take turns at the helm. I say easy in the sense that one always knew where to head, but at least when I was in charge, I had to keep correcting and overcorrecting. A little to port, back to starboard. Oops, port again. Starboard. Port. Starboard. I never did get the hang of it. Bruce and I discussed what I was doing wrong. Basically, the boat just isn’t as quick to respond as a car, so once one turns, one needs to be ready to straighten up, even before the boat appears to have found the proper heading.

I gave up the helm in time to go below deck and change into my memorial service attire. Bruce handled the final navigational chores, bringing us into the dock in plenty of time. Heartfelt thank yous and goodbyes, back to the car, and off to church.

As for the rest of the weekend, all went to plan. El Ranchon had 80 enchiladas waiting for us. The reception guests enjoyed them, even complimenting Gail on her cooking. Sunday we saw our Albuquerque friend Randy. I had suggested dinner at the venerable Seattle restaurant Ivar’s Salmon House, primarily for its convenient location to the north of downtown, easy to get to from the airport, from our house, and from the homes in the northern suburbs of Gail’s high school friends who would be joining us. I did have some trepidation that dragging a Native to a mock-Native restaurant might not be so wise. But on arrival, Randy couldn’t wait to tell me how thrilled he was by the choice: his favorite Seattle restaurant, and one where he worked during high school. He and I both ordered the Alaskan Salmon Sampler: King, Sockeye, and Coho. I know I was happy, and he seemed to be as well. As fascinating as the dinner conversation was, I had to head home early to get ready for Monday’s class.

Meanwhile, Gail’s finger continues to heal. Stitches out next Monday. I didn’t even mention how fascinating our Friday night emergency room outing was, with the many people we got to meet and chat with. The health care staff, that is. Not that I would recommend this as a way to widen your circle of acquaintances, but if you have to spend the evening in the hospital, you may as well enjoy what you can. And we did.

This weekend we’ll aim for something quieter.

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Categories: Culture, Travel
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