One thing I adore about Seattle is its proximity to the natural world.
This morning, en route to work, I got off the bus at Convention Place Station (as usual). CPStation is at the north end of the transit tunnel, through which many of the downtown buses (and eventually light-rail trains) travel. The station is not in the tunnel, but at its northern entrance, and so when you leave CPStation, you climb up not through a series of underground passages, but up staircases in the open air.
The architecture of CPStation is primarily tubular steel and glass. Sort of an amalgam of I.M.Pei’s Pyramid at the Louvre and the Crystal Palace of Victorian England. Well….sort of. A really small-scale sort-of.
The stairs up from tunnel-level to street-level are covered by a long glass canopy that keeps us commuters dry in rain but lets the sunlight in (whenever the sun decides to show up). Beneath its glass roof, in amongst the whitewashed pillars and beams of tubular steel, sparrows live. Lots of them. And so, this morning, as I climbed the stairs, the air above my head was thick with birdsong. Chirps and warbles echoed off the tempered glass, the flutter of wings magnified by the hard materials that surrounded me. I hear this every morning, but today it struck me and I stopped, stood on the mid-flight landing, and listened.
I’ve spent time in large cities–San Francisco, Jerusalem, London, Paris–and in all others the sounds were sounds of people, the scents were the scents of machinery and refuse. Yes, there are parks and areas of green in all cities, but Seattle just feels more…infused with the natural world.
We have the peregrines in Belltown, the eagles of Magnolia, and the ospreys of Ballard. Get off the bus in uptown and you can smell low tide down at the wharves, the breeze carrying the sweet scent of seaweed and salt through the streets. Go down to the waterfront, under the Pike Place hillclimb, and you’ll see herons fishing at dawn. There are trees throughout the city, and not small trees, either, all filled with birds. Gulls stand on ledges, their cries echoing through the concrete canyons. Down in the SODO you will hear the machinery of the Port but also the bark of seals. In the north, the city is bisected by the Ship Canal, and down at the locks you can watch salmon swim up the fish ladders (if they make it past the sea lions). On Beacon Hill, coyotes howl (one year an unfortunate youngster ended up in a downtown elevator, caught on security cameras, and had his fifteen minutes of coyote fame). And, of course, look to the east or look to the west, and you’ll see water and, beyond it, snow-capped mountains. Lakes, rivers, streams, all have defined the shape of Seattle, from its bridges to its double-shoreline. It’s a city, but not utterly so, and it surprises me all the time.
Today, it was the sparkling song of a hundred tiny sparrows, building their warm nests among the cold steel beams.