Guest post by Jacqueline Volin
When I moved to Seattle, one of the reasons I chose the apartment I did was its proximity to Green Lake. All through my East Bay years, I kind of envied the people who lived near Lake Merritt. Ready access to that convenient, pleasing three-mile loop? I would have loved that. I know the Canada geese are a nuisance and the nearshore water can be . . . something not to look at. If I’d lived near Lake Merritt I’d have walked its perimeter anyway, all the time. Inertia gets me just enough that I frequently would have talked myself out of driving to Redwood or Joaquin Miller, but I’d never have ignored the easy opportunity of Lake Merritt.
Green Lake plays much the same role in north Seattle that Lake Merritt does in Oakland. The expanse of water, its color shifting from deep blue to slate gray depending on the sky, the glints of sunshine on ripples, the loop trail. Round and round all year long go joggers, roller skaters, kids on scooters, cyclists, dog walkers, adults pushing strollers, teenagers tethered one earbud each, people of all ages and all paces. Nothing beats the allure of an urban lake.
Green Lake is just shy of three miles around, a bit smaller than Lake Merritt, and it doesn’t have a pretty necklace of lights. (Or any lights. It is pitch black after dark, and you won’t see people passing by you a foot away unless they are wearing a red blinky light. At least, that’s what I recall from the one occasion I walked it after sundown.) I did see some Canada geese gliding placidly across the water the other day, but so far, large-scale colonization does not seem imminent.
The Green Lake loop is exactly the right distance for a podcast of Radiolab or Selected Shorts. I’ve walked it with friends, but most often it’s just me and my own earbuds, walking the loop trail like a participant observer. I’ve been there enough times now, in all seasons, to have taken note of the lake’s idiosyncrasies and regulars, but I haven’t lived here long enough to know their stories, so I have the pleasant sensation of enjoying their familiarity like a local but puzzling over their quirks like a visitor.
There is the expansive tree stump that is always adorned with carefully planned flower-blossom collages. I’ve seen it covered with floral valentines in hues of pink and magenta, concentric rings of blooms in contrasting colors and sizes, and carnation stripes of red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. The displays are made usually of the blossoms alone, not the full flowers.
Does one person create these homages? Is the stump free to anyone who gets there early enough to claim it once another display wilts? How did this practice start? Who thought of it first?
There is the slightly creepy old man with sticklike legs and weathered skin who walks the perimeter in summertime wearing nothing but hiking boots, a G-string, and a sandwich board announcing FREE SPANISH LESSONS. Does he get any takers?
There’s the plein-air painter who sets up his recently completed canvases on the ground next to an open coffee can reading, “Support local art.” He’s actually pretty good.
There’s the organ grinder by the boathouse (no monkey), and the guy with the super-long skateboard who pushes himself along with a rubber-tipped pole like a gondolier, and the Sunday-afternoon roller blader who skates loop after loop bent over in a half stoop that looks terrible for her lower back. She gets visibly annoyed by the people who walk in the outer “wheels only” lane, obliging her to break her stride. (The inner lane is the one for pedestrians, but good luck enforcing that.) How long has she kept up the fight?
In autumn Green Lake seems New Englandy, with the changing leaves and the slant of light across the water. In summer I can take the bus up after work and enjoy a leisurely stroll in the lovely, temperate, impossibly long evenings. And on days off, when inertia takes hold and I can’t quite figure out what to do with myself, I often will think, Well if nothing else, I can walk around Green Lake.