My Favorite Maps

I freely admit that I have probably spent too much time looking down at my feet while exploring Seattle. I have probably spent too much time looking up, too. But whether I gaze skyward or sidewalk-ward, I am often rewarded. For instance, I think I am one of the few people to notice several duck tracks in concrete and to connect them to the duck in terra cotta just a few blocks away. I guess I just have an affinity for making brilliant deducktions. (I know, groan, but I couldn’t pass it up.)

Far better known than the tracks are the hatch covers throughout downtown. (Since personhole cover is a disgusting term and manhole a problematic term, hatch cover or utility cover are the preferred names.) The idea for Seattle’s hatch cover art began in 1975 after Seattle Arts Commissioner Jacquetta Blanchett traveled to Florence and saw the city’s hatch art. Working with Department of Community Development director, Paul Schell, Blanchett donated enough money to fund 13 covers, with six more paid for by other donors. Each cost $200 and weighed 230 pounds. There are now numerous designs adorning our streets.

My favorite hatch cover, of course, is a map, first put in place in April 1977, on the north edge of Occidental Park. It is still there.

Anne Knight designed the map. A map was natural because Seattle had such a “graphically interesting street pattern,” she said. Anne thought that the map covers would make an excellent teaching guide, as well as a guide to the city. If you look at the covers (except one), you will see there is no compass. A City of Light employee had told Anne that one thing he didn’t want was a compass on the map. Otherwise, the crews would have to orient the cover correctly each time. So there is no compass, though there is a map, which one would hope wouldn’t be too challenging for the City of Light crews to orient. Apparently it is. Despite Anne including a small welded bead on the outer ring of each cover to facilitate easy alignment, nearly all of the covers are misaligned at present.

Anne told me that a police officer had heard about the project and called her to say he was concerned that pedestrians would be stopping in the middle of the street to look at the maps. She told him not to worry as she had only chosen spots on corners.

Each of the maps includes city landmarks, such as the post office, the Seattle Public Library, King Street Station, and Denny Park. You can figure out which one is which by looking at the key on the map’s outer edge. All of the landmarks still remain except for the Kingdome. “At the time it had just been built and I thought naively that it looked like it was a structure that would be there forever,” Anne said.

Curiously, the manhole cover on Second Avenue between Spring and Seneca has a unique, post 1975 landmark on it. That landmark is the Seattle Art Museum. In order to fit that landmark on the key, Harborview Hospital was dropped. The map is also the only one not on a corner. (Anne does not know the exact origin of that cover; a special one was made for the Seattle Art Museum but it was removed when the Hammering Man fell and damaged it.)

As you can see from the accompanying annotated map, not all of the original covers exist. I could locate 14, plus the later one added on Second Avenue. One is now in Kobe. (This one had been moved to an alley and a City of Light employee had removed it and happened to have it in his truck when he attended a sister city meeting and suggested sending the cover to Kobe.) Several others have been moved and/or removed with their whereabouts unknown. Another that was on the original list apparently was never in that location and there is one at the Seattle Center at the northwest corner of the fountain lawn at what would be the SE corner of Republican St (August Wilson Way) and Second Ave N.

These manhole maps are one of the delights of Seattle. So next time you are out walking around downtown, take a look down at your feet. You might be amazed at what you find. And, watch out for that terra cotta duck. Who knows where she’ll land next.

I also know of one other map hatchcover. It’s at Waterway 15, at 4th Avenue NE and NE Northlake Way, on Lake Union.

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Has Blackberry Met its Match?

Recently while biking on the Burke Gilman Trail near Gas Works Park, I was struck (not physically mind you, in case you worried that I suffered a shrubbery injury) by the lush fennel along the trail. In some places, the plants formed great thickets that were dense enough to preclude the growth of another non-native invasive, Himalayan blackberry. (Actually a native of Western Europe, these blackberries arrived in our part of the world because of horticulturalist Luther Burbank.) If fennel is that aggressive, and able to replace blackberries, that could be an intriguing development, perhaps inspiring more people to use this fragrant plant

Such growth though is also problematic. Common fennel, or Foeniculum vulgare, for the scientifically inclined, has been classified by Washington State as a Noxious Weed. The problem, as illustrated on the Burke Gilman, is that non-native fennel can outcompete and crowd out native plants. Less problematic and rather impressive is the way fennel appears to kick some blackberry butt. Which exact fennel subspecies is spreading, and whether it actually does spread, is a bit controversial but if you have ever planted fennel or seen it appear and rapidly take over an area, you know that at least some varieties are quite capable of proliferating like rabbits (so to speak).

Native to the Mediterranean and temperature parts of Africa, fennel has spread globally with a host of names, such as mieloi (Basque), bad (Hindi), phase (Lao), phak chi (Thai), and finnuchio (Italian). Tall plants can easily be more than six feet with anise-scented and -flavored foliage, and bright golden flowers in terminal umbels (revealing their carrot family affinity). Over the centuries people have found many medicinal uses for the plants, including abdominal pains, antiemetic, aperitif, arthritis, cancer, colic in children, conjunctivitis, constipation, depurative, diarrhea, diuresis, emmenagogue, fever, flatulence, gastralgia, gastritis, insomnia, irritable colon, kidney ailments, laxative, liver pain, mosquitocidal, mouth ulcer, and stomach ache, as well as improving the milk of breastfeeding mothers, removing any foul smell of the mouth, and coloring textiles. Why aren’t more of us eating fennel all the time? It’s clearly the wonder plant that could save us.

Fennel isn’t the lone Mediterranean plant that seems to be proliferating in Seattle. Artichokes are everywhere. I don’t know if planting them is this year’s fad or I just happened to notice their lovely purple spikiness more often. With climate change perhaps Seattle is becoming more hospitable to them, though I don’t think any will get as big as this one I saw down in California. But we can dream, especially if one have access to large vats of butter. YUM!

Word of the Week – Mosquitocidal – An agent employed to kill mosquitoes. Mosquito comes from the Spanish, which seems to derive from the Latin musca, in reference to fly. (One origin story for the name for Moab, Utah, comes from the Ute word Moapa, meaning mosquito water.) Given the way English has so many letters with many sounds, it’s not surprising that mosquito has perplexed spellers for centuries. Examples include muskitoes, musketas, mosqueta, muskeito, musqueetoes, muscato, moscheto, musqueto, and moschitoes. Cide comes from the Latin -cīda, meaning killer or slayer. 

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