Fall Walks and Talks

Just a short announcement about three upcoming walks and talks: two by me and one by my pal Dave Tucker.

September 28 – all day – The Seattle Street Smart Naturalist – You don’t have to drive to the Cascades or take a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula to engage your connection with the earth — even in the heart of the Emerald City, we are surrounded by nature. The day will begin beneath the Magnolia Bluff, the perfect spot for seeing coastal geological processes. We’ll proceed along the Duwamish River, where we’ll read the record of Seattle’s most active earthquake zone. Next we’ll head to Pioneer Square to start a two-mile-long transect to investigate 330-million-year-old fossils and see where mammoths once roamed. This program is presented by the North Cascades Institute. Cost $95.

September 28 and 29 – all day each day, same class each day – Mount Baker: The Story of Volcanoes – Experience time travel by foot on the Ptarmigan Ridge trail in Mount Baker’s radiant late-summer high country. Our field excursion with instructor Dave Tucker will begin above tree line at Artist’s Point at the end of the Mount Baker Highway before venturing out toward the simmering, glaciated volcano herself. Along the way, we’ll travel over ancient records of volcanism as we traverse the 1-million-year-old Kulshan caldera, a giant volcano that erupted cataclysmically through a continental ice sheet long before Mount Baker built itself from stacks of lava.

As we hike past lava domes that erupted shortly after the caldera collapsed, we’ll lay hands on much younger columnar andesite that still predates Mount Baker, discuss the origin of the eroded table at Table Mountain, and examine layers of volcanic ash preserved in the soil, including the famous Mount Mazama/Crater Lake layer. This program is presented by the North Cascades Institute. Cost $95.

October 5 – 10am to noon – The Protean Coast: Exploring Seattle’s Historic Shoreline – More so than most cities, Seattle has shaped itself to suit its needs. Seattle has removed hills, filled tide flats, and created a completely new downtown shoreline. On this 1.5-mile-long walk we’ll explore the last vestiges of the former downtown bluffs, trace the island where Seattle was founded, and examine how the subterranean fill still affects the modern landscape. This program is presented by the Burke Museum. Cost is $25/general public and $20/Burke members

My New Book – Too High and Too Steep

I am pleased to announce that I have started work on a new book about the evolution of the topography of Seattle. Tentatively titled Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, the book should come out in 2015. It will be published by the University of Washington Press.

More so than most cities, Seattle has shaped itself to suit its needs. The citizens of Seattle have dug up, dug into, dumped upon, and carted away its original topography as few other cities have. They have completely removed a 245-foot-high hill that covered 60 blocks of the downtown; built in the harbor what was for many decades the largest artificial island in the world; rejiggered the drainage of the second largest lake in the state so that it flowed out of its north end instead of its south end; and dumped millions of tons of dirt and rock to fill in the area’s only tide flats, which created almost 3,000 acres of new land. And they did most of this within 75 years of the settlers’ landing.

In Too High and Too Steep, I plan to tell the story of how and why Seattle looks like it does. Each chapter will weave personal observations, via a guided walking or biking tour, discussions with experts, and examination of both historical and more recent documents to give the reader a close-up view of the landscape, why it was altered, how politics and money led to those changes, and how reshaping of the land still influences decision making.

The title comes from an article in the Harvard Business Review. “The Hill was too high and too steep to be utilized for business purposes so that inevitably…the Hill had to be removed.” That specific hill was Denny Hill, which will be the feature I focus on in one chapter of my book.