I’ve spent month’s trying to write about Seattle. How to describe the city, what things make it interesting, the features and attractions that draw travelers and enchant residents. There are so many things to write about that it became an exercise in redundancy. There are a hundred tourist guides to list the best restaurants, the best museums, the best space needle, the best legal cannabis stores that have generated over a billion dollars in the past three years. Really. It’s mind-boggling.
Amidst the dozens of local tours, you can learn all about Seattle’s history starting in the mid-1800s. An immense logging industry at one time supplied almost half the world with some of the finest lumber. The real fun started in the midst of the gold rush — the city exploded to support miners before they set off through the thousand miles of nothing between Seattle and the maddening dream of Alaskan gold. The last city before the endless expanse of the north. The city also burned down three times, but half a century later it was well on its way to becoming a center of technology. The local government began promoting the tech industry in the ‘60s, and they set the foundation for Seattle’s eventual rise to the tech giant that it is today.
You can find out all about the region’s incredible array of outdoor-y stuff. The rugged Pacific coast, and rain forests of the Olympic Mountains. Two giant volcanoes — one that gets more snow than any other mountain in North America, another that’s utterly majestic and ready to explode and kill us all. There’s world-class skiing and adventuring in the Cascades an hour to the east, and beyond that some of the best wine vineyards in the world. And 75% of the country’s beer hops are grown there too. And Walla Walla is in a legit desert. The Puget Sound is the most biodiverse sea on the planet, and the resident Orca whales are super cool.
Seattle is great. I just proved it with legal weed and all that other cool shit. So after reading all of that, now you know all about it too!
Until recently, you could sum up my thoughts about Seattle like I was reading from a Lonely Planet guide — all the things that make Seattle a nice city. The bragging rights, so-to-speak. Only after I left did I start thinking about everything else that truly makes the city great. The stuff you take for granted, the good and the bad that make Seattle feel like an incredible place to live. The emotions you’ll experience that will either drive you away or draw you in forever.
As you get to know Seattle, you learn about the problems faced by a city growing far faster than it can accommodate. Traffic sucks, public transit is slow, housing prices are skyrocketing, and government can’t keep up with the constant effort required to quickly make changes. Seattle spends more on social programs than any other city in the country, and we have the largest homeless population in the country. Fortunately Washington has one of the highest voting rates in the country, and the average citizen is allowed to raise support for putting measures on the ballot. Thanks in large part to that, Seattle has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and people fight to keep it that way.
Everywhere you go, you’re reminded that you’re somewhere special, near the end of the world. The vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean is a whole lot of cold nothing for a few thousand miles. You can hike the Cascades up and down for years, and you can die real quick on Rainier if you’re unlucky — do it right and your body will never be recovered! Two hours to the north, Vancouver is a sight to behold in its own right, and Canada is just great in general. And then it’s another thousand miles of more nothing to Alaska…where there’s even more nothing.
The point being that living in Seattle, we’re here for a reason and we’re all in it together. For the most part, we all really love it here. Like so many others, we were drawn here by the need to get away, to do something new in this strange, enchanting city at the end of civilization. We all knew about the rain, but few can ever truly embrace the hundreds of dark, wet, overcast days. Even the most resilient will often sink into despair after living in darkness for 100 days at a time. But at some point we do so willingly. At least the dark, damp environment grows the softest lawn mosses and makes for a city that’s lush and green year-round.
But then there’s summer in Seattle. It’s like nothing else, really. It’s short, generally from the 4th of July to late-September. Certainly no later than that. But it’s what makes winter despair worth every damn minute. I experienced it for the first time when we moved here in 2012. That summer broke a record for the longest stretch without rain, and it was a sublime welcome to the Pacific Northwest. The happiness that people feel during a Seattle summer is quite tangible. I once again felt that same excitement yesterday as I flew into Seattle — the last day of winter, with a perfect sunset in a nearly cloudless sky. The air is still cool, but the days are quickly growing longer while the sun grows warmer. Suddenly, people are happier. It’s a nearly instant transformation that sets over the entire city in that very moment. The first beautiful day that heralds the changing seasons.
Suddenly the traffic becomes slightly more bearable when you can get home before sunset. You start to pretend that we’ll not need your rain jackets, and the thought of fully abandoning them will occasionally ruin a hike or kill you on Rainier if you’re unlucky. You’ll make excuses to start going on walks in the evenings. You’re able to sit outside for dinner with increasing frequency, if not while being cold because you didn’t think you’d still need a jacket. It’s hope. It just gets better every day.
When summer finally arrives the morning after July 4th, so begins one of the greatest human experiences — usually a solid three months of cloudless skies, temperatures in the mid-80s, and the most blissfully warm, comfortable heat. You can be outside all day and not be hot. And make no mistake, you’ll be outside a lot. You and everyone else in the whole damned Pacific Northwest. The world is truly alive, from San Francisco to Anchorage. One giant swath of happiness, reveling in summer. There’s no better reward for battling half the year in darkness. It feels like it lasts forever, and you love every minute of summer. Every damn minute. In fact, you’re so happy that you welcome the first fall rains that begin turning the air crisp and cool. The next couple months are the most perfect, and it’s only once the heavy, cold November storms set in that you begin the cycle anew.
Do that a few times and you’ll begin to really appreciate everything that goes on out here. A deep respect develops for the sometimes oppressive northwest climate that dictates the livelihood of everyone living here. You begin to understand how the world around you directly impacts your happiness and well-being. Everything in the Pacific Northwest is connected, and the rich biodiversity that developed has been revered and cultivated. Seattle has so much to offer; people come here for a reason. They want something new. They live for the future. They embrace the local economy, they encourage sustainability, and they promote high social standards.
I of course had those experiences, felt those emotions, and shared those ideals, but I never started putting it all together until I left. Indeed, one last Mighty-O donut and we were off, and the immediate understanding of what it all meant began forming in my mind. Exactly what I was leaving behind — everything that made Seattle incredible. A city so far out of the way. There’s nothing like it in the world.