In Seattle, it’s easy to forget you’re surrounded by water. Even though there are bridges over it, houses nestled up next to it, ferries that shuttle cars and people on it, it’s still possible to forget that it’s even there.

Stand here, in the University District, and look to the east to see Lake Washington. A wee lake by any Michigander’s standard. Or Minnesotan’s. Really just a backyard pond to them. Or come over here and stand on Capitol Hill with me and we’ll look west to the Sound, which from up here looks just like a thin, silvery ribbon. If we head over to Ballard, land of the Swedish fishermen, you won’t even see the water. A head-scratcher, really, as to how all those crabbing and fishing boats get docked here.

Most of Seattle, come to think of it, is full of cranes dotting the skyline, filling up what has been torn down. Seattle is a bit like visiting the dentist right now: always on the lookout for ways to remove what’s old to put in something shiny, expensive and new. Like veneers.

Soon, it will be impossible to even see the water with so many modernly tall buildings guarding it from by-passers. You’ll really have to know where to look.

Ah, but come here for a minute. Over this ominous bridge, past the shipping yards, up this little bottle-necked hill, and here is the edge of where the water meets the land. An entity in and of itself. Not Seattle. Left of Seattle. West Seattle.

Stand here for a moment with the city at your back, the Space Needle ignored and huffy from the insult. And before you is a vast grayness of water. If the clouds will just lift up their skirts for a brief, teasing moment, you’ll see the islands in the horizon and the jagged, snow-covered Olympic Mountains rising out of it in the west.

It might just strike you, as it does me, how grand it all is, this watery expanse. Inside of it, a whole world exists. Whales, seals, sea lions, starfish, kelp, sea otters, and schools of fish migrating north or staying put, they’re fine where they are, thank you very much. Across it, a whole other continent is filled with other people who are nestled up against their coast looking out at their watery horizon.

It’s when I stand out there with that sea spray on my face, listening to the waves lap at the rocks below that I become quite aware how connected to something bigger, more magnificent, and magical we all are.

Photo credit: Paul David Gibson

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