The crisp, clear autumn days of the Pacific Northwest draw you outdoors to garden, hike or just take a walk, as I did one recent Sunday. I borrowed my neighbor’s dog, Tuppie, and together we strolled down the hill and onto the campus of Western Washington University (WWU). WWU is a beautiful setting this time of year for a leisurely walk. It’s a long campus that stretches across 220 acres and backs up against the 620-foot hill of Sehome Arboretum this time of year, the deciduous trees of the arboretum turn a golden yellow and are stunning against the deep color of the towering evergreens.
The campus is full of color too as the trees there, set against the red brick and brown stone buildings, are vibrant reds, oranges and yellows and shed their leaves to carpet the walkways through the commons.
I’m fortunate to live close to campus so that on weekends, when the campus is quiet and crowd free, I can take a relaxing walk through it. The university is home to one of the finest college contemporary outdoor sculpture collections in the United States. Founded in 1960, the collection has grown to include at least 37 public sculptures in large part due to funding from the state’s one percent for art program the National Endowment for the Arts and through the generosity of the Virginia Wright Fund.
Scattered throughout the campus are monumental works by such renown sculptors as Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero, Isamu Noguchi, Beverly Pepper, Nancy Holt and Tom Otterness. It’s amazing to be able to amble through at one’s leisure, stopping along the way to study and view these public art pieces. Autumn is an especially wonderful time to admire and photograph them because the rich colors of the season seemed to bring out the weathered patinas of the works.
On this particular autumn day, I decided to photograph some of them even though I had only the camera on phone with which to do it. (Poor planning on my part.) Seeing them against the autumn palette of the campus trees and vegetation painted vivid images. Tuppie, my black and white canine companion on this day, was patient as I squatted, knelt down, backed up and moved in and out searching for the best angle that would convey what I was seeing. Fortunately, she was happy enough to sniff out the surrounding territory as I was angling about.
Red Square is an expansive red brick plaza surrounded on three sides by classroom buildings on three sides and the university’s library on one. Near the center is a big circular pool with a fountain that sprays jets of water high overhead. Noguchi’s big iron block sculpture sits diagonally from the fountain. It’s balanced on three corners with huge holes punched through its three upward-facing sides so that when standing beneath it your gaze is directed skyward. There’s something very hopeful to me about this sculpture because it raises you up, just by unconsciously forcing you to look upward. I love standing inside, watching the clouds above shift and change. And when you’re within the sculpture, it’s as if you’re observing everything outside of it unseen as people pass by.
The newest addition to the collection is a split boulder, polished on its two faces and dotted with subtle pastel dots that remind me of the colors I saw at Arizona’s Grand Canyon. “Split Stone, Northwest,” by Sarah Sze was installed in May, 2019. It sits on the grassy lawn with the university’s Old Main Administration building rising in the background. At one time, another sculpture, Donald Judd‘s “Untitled” stood near here but was removed five years ago to be restored after the welded seams that held together the structure’s steel slabs began to deteriorate. The sculpture has just recently been resited on campus, on the grassy area next to the university’s Flag Plaza at the south end of the campus. I have yet to see it in its new spot as this autumn walk took place before the piece was replaced.
One hour after I had set out with Tuppie for a 30-minute dog walk, I was back home, refreshed by having taken the time to not only stop at some of the sculptures but to capture them in the morning autumn light and color. Even though I have taken that same path many times over, today’s was like a new adventure. It’s the impact that public art, like this university’s incredible collection, can have on a person.
Today is unquestionably the biggest day of the year in Bellingham. An estimated 35,000 people come to watch or participate in the Ski to Sea race. It’s a seven-leg 93-mile relay race that starts at the top of the 10,000 foot Mount Baker and finishes in Bellingham Bay at Marine Park. During the course of it, competitors ski, bike, canoe, run and kayak. It’s likely to be one of most demanding and grueling competitive races in the country.
The race began more than one hundred years ago in 1911 as the Mount Baker Marathon organized by the Mount Baker Club as a way to call attention to the area’s spectacular scenery. But it was suspended when a racer fell into one of the mountain’s crevasses. Then, in 1973, it was resurrected by Bellingham’s Chamber of Commerce with 177 people competing on 50 different teams. This year, there are 414 teams entered in the race of eight people each.
A few years ago, I was one of those. My team, the Angst-Ridden Mamas, made its first appearance in the big race in 2004. I had decided that to be fully considered as a Bellinghamster, I needed to do the race at least once. So I signed up a few of my most active friends, paid our entry fee and started to train. This is a race that attract not only local and amateur athletes but professionals and Olympians who come to be on teams sponsored by local business. Ours wasn’t one of those.
There are several different categories under which a team can enter. We chose to skirt the ultra-competitve professional categories and opted instead to put ourselves into the Whatcom County Women’s Recreational division. Not only did we think this gave us our best shot at not coming in last, we thought it best fit the skill level and activity of our team members, who like myself were all mom’s with school-aged kids.
That didn’t mean, however, that we didn’t taken ourselves seriously as competitors. Each of us were signed up for a leg in the sport that we competed or participated in regularly. As a kayaker who frequently paddled in Bellingham Bay, I took that, the final leg of the race. Mine was a five-mile course that started at Bellingham’s marina and ended at Marine Park across the water in the historic section of town known as Fairhaven. In some ways, I felt I had one of the lighter legs in the race compared to the 8-mile run down Mount Baker or the 18.5 mile canoe paddle on the Nooksack River.
The reality is, that each of the seven legs presents its own set of challenges so that none are a ‘piece of cake’ when it comes down to it.
My paddling partner, Pat, who also entered on another team that same year, and I increased the frequency of our kayaking practices out in the Bay and lengthened the amount of time that we were in the water as the weeks leading up to race day drew closer. We tried to improve our stroke technique and build up the distance we could get on each one. We usually put in our boats early in the a.m. or late in the day when the water conditions are most optimal and the wind less likely to be a major factor.
On race day, however, you don’t have the luxury of choosing your time and the conditions can be considerably treacherous with wind, waves and currents. While the first professional and Olympian-level teams often enter the water about 1 p.m., we were left sitting by our kayaks, waiting for our mountain biker to arrive well into the afternoon. I don’t believe I got the hand-off from Carolyn, my mountain biker that first year, until after 4 p.m.
The water was choppy but thankfully without white caps. I must note here that no one is allowed in the water without wearing a certified life vest. You’re also supposed to verify that you know how to get back on or into your boat should you capsize. I had both qualifications, as did my co-competitor Pat. Even with all the official chase and spectator motor boats along the course, there was a possibility that you’d need to be prepared to be in the water. The first turn around the buoy way out in the bay was especially difficult when the wind, coming from the west this particular year, kept pushing you off-course.
I rounded that buoy giving the other nearby paddler plenty of room. My heart was thumping pretty hard as I did so. Just as I completed my turn, one of the racers ahead of me dumped out. Kayakers are also required to stop and assist if another racer needs help but as one of the observation boats was already headed towards that paddler, I kept on course.
The wind was the biggest factor on the second of the three legs of my course. It seemed to pick up and kept shoving the bow of my boat back and forth . My rudder was almost ineffective at countering the force as my boat bounced up and down over the waves like a bucking bronc trying to toss its rider. One thing I knew was that I didn’t want to wind up in the water. I wasn’t concerned about passing other paddlers, I just wanted to get to that second buoy, safely go around it and start down the final leg which I thought might be calmer water since it was more protected.
I managed to do just that and though the water was still choppy, I no longer was battling the wind as much and could actually start to make some headway towards the final buoy and the stretch to the beach in the park. I could hear voices from the shore cheering on those of us in the water. I even heard someone who recognized my yellow kayak and me call out my name.
With the hardest part of the race behind me now, I felt a surge of adrenaline in my tiring arms and lateral muscles, from where a kayaker really generates their power. I could make it. My team might not place but I we wouldn’t be the last ones in either. I expected that we would end up about in the middle of pack in our division. I had passed one other woman who I knew was also in that division. My friend Pat, was somewhere behind me.
As I neared the last buoy and I could now see and hear the crowd that had collected on the beach to watch the finishing leg. I pushed harder, grabbed the sides of my kayak with my thighs and put everything I had left into the homestretch. I wasn’t likely to make up much time on this last approach but I was determined not to lose any more either.
With a few final strokes, my kayak rammed into the pebbly beach where Boy Scout volunteers were waiting to grab the bow and help stablize the boat so I could get out. My legs wobbled and quivered as I lifted myself outside of my cockpit and scarmbled up the sloping bank to the big brass bell waiting for me at the finish line. I grabbed the cord still swinging from the previous competitor and gave the bell one big clang. I had made it. And I hadn’t capsized or lost my paddle or come in last.
My teammates waiting for me rushed over to give me a group hug. There was Connie who had started us off at 8 a.m. that morning on the cross country ski leg on the mountain, and Kathy, who took over from her for the downhill ski portion. Terri, who’s now on the Board of Directors for the race, had run down the mountain. Valerie gave us a big lead during her road biking leg to put Sue and Joanne in good position when they took off in their canoe. And Carolyn delivered to me the sweaty orange elastic wristband that we were all required to wear when she rolled across the finish line of the mountain biking leg. And our support crew–Marla and Gaye.
I was weary and dehydrated but felt exhilarated by the race, the camraderie of my team and the sense of having accomplished and completed something I wasn’t entirely certain I’d be able to do. Now, came the best part–the party!
I carted my boat back to the community storage shed then went home to quickly shower off the salt water and sweat before going to the party. I put on my yellow competitor’s t-shirt, given to each team member registered in the race, and walked around the corner to Vicki’s house where we were joining two other teams and friends for food, drink and fun The parties are what many regard as the best part of the race!
I had barely stepped in the door when my teammates surprised me with the declaration: “We won third place!!”
“What?” I said in disbelief.
“Yes, we came in third,” one of them explained.
Then someone slipped the bronze-colored medal attached to the blue ribbon over my head. They weren’t kidding. We had managed to medal in our first race ever. None of us were expecting it. We all just wanted to finish. So when the “Angst-Ridden Mamas” was called out by the race officials to come to the podium and receive our medals, only one of our team members was still there to receive them.
In my wildest dreams I hadn’t thought we’d place in a race of 300 teams with 2,400 competitors! I was so surprised, as were my teammates, and proud of what we had done together for fun and so that I could feel a full-fledged Bellinghamster.
Our team competed in the race the following three years. While we didn’t repeat the glory of our inaugural appearance, we had a lot of fun and pride in participating and giving it our best on this one big day. As I watch racers come in today, I’ll be thinking of how it felt, how hard it was and what a great time I and my team had being part of a very memorable Memorial Day weekend!
“We are all one. No matter whether the color of our skin is brown, black, white, red, yellow; no matter whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist; no matter where we come from. We are all one,” said artist and former timber businessman David Syre welcoming guests to the dedication of the 38-foot story pole he commissioned to stand on his Whatcom County farm.
I was fortunate to have been among the 100 who attended that recent rainy day having been invited by a friend who was the guest of the artist, Lummi carver Felix Solomon. I had met Solomon just the week prior at his home where he graciously took me out to his workshop where the totem lay awaiting transport to its new home. The 35-foot cedar log had been transformed by Solomon over the past several months from a rough piece of timber into a majestic and colorful totem. Solomon had been given little guidance by the commissioning Syre, leaving it up to the master carver to come up with the figures and design for the pole.
Solomon drew on his familiarity with the work of carver Joseph Hillaire, in carving this pole, to carve both sides of the pole instead of just one. Hillaire (1894-1967) is regarded as one of the greatest Coast Salish artists and carvers of the 21st century. His work was extensive but may be best remembered for his two friendship poles carved for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, one of which went to Kobe, Japan where it was placed. Hillaire and a generation of Lummi carvers ahead of him instituted what is known as ‘story poles,’ according to Seattle Art Museum curator Barbara Bretherton. The poles are tall like totem poles but they tell a story.
Solomon’s story pole represents “The Creation of Life Story.” At the top of the pole is the eagle, the being that flies closest to the spirit world but is still connected to the earth, according to Solomon. The moon in its talons represent feminine energy and the reproductive cycles.
Directly below are placed the faces of five animals found on Mount Baker, the Nooksack River and in the Salish Sea–the wolf, the mountain goat, the bear, the cougar and the sea wolf or Orca.
Next comes the design which Solomon received special permission to use in this pole, the Sun Dog, which was on the door of the Lummi Nation chief when they signed the Treaty of 1855 with the United States. In that treaty, the Lummi relinquished much of their native homeland but they retained the rights to the natural resources found there, specifically the salmon, and have seen themselves as protectors of these resources ever since. It is one reason the Lummi Nation has been a key activist in local, state and regional environmental issues.
Below the Sun Dog design is a concave oval that Solomon says represents the Lummi elders and ancestors. The crescents on the side are the voices that pass down the tribe’s stories from one generation to
On the back side of the pole are rain clouds that pour into the Nooksack River with the River Woman holding a basket of life in her hands. At the bottom can be seen spirit dancers, two-legged humans who were the last to be created.
In order to accommodate the 39-foot cedar log from which the totem was carved, Solomon had to expand his workshop by building on an addition. The massive totem took Solomon months to hand carve once he worked out the design. It had to be specially engineering with hidden reinforcements from the bottom so that it would stand securely once positioned into place. Just sliding the pole from Solomon’s workshop and hoisting it carefully onto a flat-bed truck for transport to the Syre farm was in itself an engineering feat. Solomon gratefully recognized those responsible for that part of the project during the dedication ceremony.
Originally, the ceremony had been planned to take place around the totem. But rain forced organizers to move it to under the tent that had been erected for the grilled salmon luncheon that followed. Before the ceremonies began, Beverly Cagey brushed the pole with branches of cedar, blessing it while her husband, Jack and their grandson, Hank, accompanied with singing a chant and drumming.
Guests gathered beneath the big tent, just steps away from the log cabin that stood close by the Nooksack River. Nooksack tribal drummers led the small procession that included both the artist and the patron down the short path from the cabin to the tent where Darrell Hillaire, Lummi Nation elder, stood at the microphone waiting to introduce the speakers and witnesses and welcome the day’s guests.
Syre spoke and told how he viewed this story pole as one of unification. Solomon thanked him for the opportunity, gave a brief description of his work on the pole and recognized those on his team who had assisted during the process. Then, as is tradition, Solomon presented the four ‘witnesses’ he had designated for that day with ceremonial blankets which each of them draped over one shoulder for their turn to speak about what they had ‘witnessed’ that day. Among them was a childhood friend of the host, a Nooksack tribal member, who remembered the times the two had together playing along the river and in the woods on the farms where they grew up. They had not seen each other in nearly 50 years and had, as
the friend put it, “a lot of catching up to do.”
Jack Cagey, a Lummi Nation elder, stood from his place at the table where I was sitting and spoke of the need for greater communication between generations, for the need to talk face-to-face and not just through electronic devices. Another of the witnesses, Candy Wilson, read a poem that I found particularly moving, the name of which I unfortunately missed in her introduction. Their words were eloquent, appropriate and heartfelt. Clearly they were speaking about more than just the pole; they were making a case of for humanity and the practice of it towards one another.
Ninety-minutes later, the ceremony drew to a close and everyone was invited, elders first, to share in the grilled salmon luncheon that had been prepared especially for the day. The meal is as much a part of these ceremonies as the ceremony itself because it gives time for those who gathered that day to share not only food with one another with stories across the table.
By the end, the rain that had steadily fallen had stopped so that people could walk across the field to where the story pole towered and admire Solomon’s finished work. Indeed, it is a commanding and colorful piece. It is one of Solomon’s finest accomplishments to date. The public isn’t likely to see this fine story pole unless they catch a glimpse of the eagle’s upward extended wings from the country road that passes close by the pole’s location., ut it’s sure to stand for a very long time on this private property as a powerful reminder that, in the words of Syre: “We are all one.”
Bellingham is a town that loves its bicycles but even more of them than usual could be found all over the surrounding streets and roads this last Saturday when hundreds of cyclists pedaled between 22 to 100 miles in the Tour de Whatcom. The popular charity biking event is in its 13th year and this year benefited the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition.
It’s a colorful display of bicycles and cyclists as they whip across county roads, past lakes, through farm country, by rivers and along beaches with views of snow-capped Mount Baker rising in the distance all the way. The tour started and ended at the award-winning Boundary Bay Brewery in downtown Bellingham located directly across from the Bellingham Farmers’ Market which was also in full swing yesterday. In fact, that’s why I was there. I spent two hours yesterday distributing postcards to people to promote the upcoming July 26th outdoor adventure film evening–Sports Shorts–being presented by CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival at Fairhaven’s Village Green.
Afterwards, I wandered over the market and Boundary Bay for a closer look at the activity. Boundary Bay’s beer garden was filling up with cyclists who had just come in and were thirsty and hungry. Outside, a long line of cyclists strung down the street as they checked in their bikes into the secured bike parking lot set up in the street. Other muscle-weary cyclists were receiving rubdowns under the purple canopy of the Massage Envy tent. And some, as did my friend Audrey who rode the 22-mile route in the tour, mingled with the marketgoers to have a bite of lunch there.
The entire place was bubbling with bikers, beer and booths full of farm fresh food and crafts. It brought back memories for me of the summer my family and I spent a month in Bellingham prior to deciding to move here permanently.
We had rented a house from friends (long before VRBO or Air BnB existed) for the month of August. It gave us a chance to explore the area and experience it as if we lived here. One Saturday, we strolled down to the historic Fairhaven area where we discovered a road bike race was about to get underway. At that time, the race–the Old Fairhaven Bicycle Race–began on Fairhaven’s main street and the course tracked up and down the hilly Fairhaven area to eventually finish a little further down the street from where it started.
We nabbed a ringside seat with two of our sons at an outdoor table in front of the Colophon Cafe. The Colophon was favorite spot with my sons because of its ice cream counter where big scoops of the cold dairy delight were heaped on top of waffle cones for a dollar or so. The boys ordered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my husband and I had bowls of clam chowder. We ate and watched as the nearly 20 riders whizzed around the corners. Other race watchers stood behind or sat upon the hay bales that had been places along the street for the purpose of blocking off the streets and marking the course. It was truly a fun afternoon and one that I’ve long remembered. The photos I took that day preserve the day not only for me but for my sons who have long since grown up.
That was the same summer too, that my oldest son, Matthew, learned to ride a bike. Neither I nor my husband recall now where we got the bike, but unlike in Los Angeles where we lived, the sidewalks of Bellingham’s South Hill proved a great place for him to hop on and take off. He wasn’t a particularly coordinated kid when it came to physical activities but once he figured out how the chain drive of the bike worked, riding it was no problem. He returned to L.A. ready to ride with his friends and we returned to L.A. convinced, in part by community events like the bike race, that we wanted to make Bellingham our new home.
Summer is a reason in itself to celebrate in the Pacific Northwest but this summer, there’s one more thing to celebrate and that’s the silver anniversary of the Bellingham Festival of Music.
I’ve written before here about the festival which happens every July since I moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham. In fact, the festival is one of the reasons that brought me and my family to Bellingham. Although I didn’t realize, the festival at the time we first began to consider and explore this area was only three years old. As the three visits we made before deciding to relocate here were all in August, we missed the festival but became aware of it.
Soon after settling in, we began to buy tickets to attend some of the concerts and we’ve been faithful festivalgoers ever since. Through the years, we’ve heard some amazing music performed by an orchestra with top-notch players from major orchestras around the country, including the N.Y. Philharmonic, the L.A. Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony and the Montreal Symphony. And the guest artists who have soloed with them are world-class. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m sitting here in my small community listening to the kind of classical concerts that you usually only find in large, metropolitan cities.
For any music festival to have survived 25 years is an accomplishment, let alone one that thrives in a community of 100,000 (and less when it first began) and now runs on all volunteer help. Much credit must be given to the festival’s hard-working boards who put in hours and hours of time all year to bring the festival together.
A salute must also be given to the man who’s been the artistic director and conductor since the beginning, Michael Palmer. Palmer, who I’ve come to know in recent years, has a gift for pulling together musicians, most of whom only play together once a year, to present tight, strong performances of classical favorites as well as contemporary new pieces. It’s a strenuous and demanding job in the three short weeks of the festival’s duration.
Of course without such talented and professional musicians, the festival would not nearly be the quality it is. Sitting among the ranks of players are the first oboist for the Boston Symphony, the first violist of the Cincinnati Symphony, the first clarinet and flutist from Atlanta’s Symphony and the first bassist from Seattle’s Symphony, to mention but a few.
This year, much to my delight, also joining the violin section is a young woman named Rachel Frankenfeld Charbel who grew up in Bellingham, played in the Sehome High School orchestra before going off to college at the University of Texas in Austin to study music. She was among one of my sons’ closest friends as a kid and now plays with the Cincinnati Symphony. It makes the festival’s 25th anniversary particularly special to those of who have watched her mature into the fine musician she now is.
Also special to Bellinghamsters is the Calidore String Quartet that has become recurring guest artists at the festival. This young, gifted ensemble has emerged as a major chamber group winning awards, prizes and recognition throughout the world. To have them return every year for the festival is a special treat for all of us. The violist also happens to also be a Bellingham native and coincidentally, a classmate of Charbel’s.
Only three concerts remain in this year’s 25th anniversary season; one this evening with guest violinist Simone Porter playing Prokofiev’s “Violin Concert No. 1 in D Major;” a free chamber concert on July 18 at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art and the final closing concert on July 20 featuring the festival chorus singing Poulenc’s “Gloria” with the orchestra. If you’re in close range, I encourage you to attend one of these and if not this year, plan to go next year and celebrate yet another season with the Bellingham Festival of Music.
On this weekend in the U.S., people are honoring the memories of the country’s military who died in action. But another memorial is on my mind today prompted by an article that appeared the other day in the local newspaper. That is the beautiful totem pole memorial that stood along the trail of Whatcom Creek on the edgeof Whatcom Falls Park in our city.
Sadly, the totem was recently removed, I read in the Bellingham Herald after someone vandalized and ‘tagged’ the pole with graffiti. Not long ago, a friend of mine had told me that the box that sat atop the pole, was missing and wondered why. Now the entire pole and the two carved wooden benches that sat beside it are gone after city workers removed them and placed them in protective storage until they can be restored.
While the city’s action is commendable, that of the vandals was disrespectful and, frankly, inexcusable. I am giving those individuals the benefit of the doubt that they apparently are unaware of that they not only did they deface a significant Native artwork, but in so doing they insulted the artist, the Lummi Nation and the families of those killed in the 1999 Bellingham pipeline explosion for whom the pole was intended to memorialize.
The 15-foot cedar log pole was created by the Lummi House of Tears carvers under the direction of Lummi Nation’s master carver Jewell James. Its bright, bold and beautiful paint was applied under the supervision of head painter Ramona James. The pole took months to carve and paint before finally being erected and dedicated during an Earth Day ceremony in 2007. “The pole is to restore the stream and its habitat and to remember the three boys who lost their lives,” carver James told American Profile reporter Heather Larson.
James referred to the three boys–Liam Wood, 18, Wade King and Stephen Tsiovras, both 10, who were killed when the Olympic pipeline (now owned by British Petroleum) carrying gasoline exploded dumping an estimated 277,000 gallons into the creek that runs through Whatcom Falls Park, located in the middle of Bellingham. Liam was fishing after having just graduated from high school; Wade and Stephen were playing, as they often did together, further down creek. It was a day that darkened the sky over Bellingham as the black cloud billowed above the park. The explosion literally stopped life in town as everyone, myself included, wondered what had happened and emergency first responders rushed to the site.
The explosion made national news, changed national pipeline regulation (although the families of those who died will tell you not enough) and some believe awoke Bellingham to the dangers that unregulated and aging pipelines pose for not only our city, but others like it throughout the country.
I was present, along with a few others, on the day of Lummi Nation gave and dedicated the totem and benches to the city. The ceremony was emotional and moving with other Pacific Northwest Native Nations witnessing the event in order to pass the story along to the next generation. Those gathered listened solemnly as carver James spoke eloquently about the need to promote healing for all those impacted by the explosions, wildlife as well as human life, and about the importance of being good stewards of the environment. Members of the Lummi Nation, also delivered a heartfelt messages for the family members attending. Lummi drummers and flutists played. Blankets were draped around the shoulders of the deceased boys’ young friends, now high school students, participating in the unveiling during the ceremony.
Then, James asked the family members of the victims to bring forward the items that they had brought to be placed into the memorial box positioned atop the totem. One by one the personal belongings of Stephen and Wade were handed up the tall ladder to the tribal member who carefully laid them inside. A teddy bear, a baseball card and cap were among the things. The lid was fitted tightly and sealed. Tears streamed down the faces of not only the family members but others who were that day.
And, as the ceremony was ending, two solitary eagles soared and glided over head, just as James had told Wade’s mother, Mary, earlier that day that they would.
It was a day I’ll never forget. When I read about the vandalism of the totem and its removal, my heart ached. The city is apparently intent on repairing and restoring the totems and benches but in the meantime, there is a huge emptiness where they stood in the opening by the creek. The runners, walkers and visitors who pass by it will miss it. The totem served as a somber, dignified reminder, as well as a memorial, to those who tragically died on that early June day in Bellingham. That’s what’s on my mind this Memorial Day.
A company called Light is introducing a new compact camera that uses new technology. They enlisted some photographers to mention it in their blogs and to write about one of their favorite locations to shoot or a unique spot in their city. I was one of those contacted for Light’s #VantagePoint project.
A request like this isn’t easy for me because I have so many favorite spots and so many favorite images that I’ve created over the years. But I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to you about one of my favorite local subjects (besides the people I photograph). And that is Bellingham’s old City Hall building, now part of the Whatcom County Museum of Art.
It’s an iconic building in town and safe to say probably the most photographed in Bellingham. Completed in 1892, it served as the town’s official city hall until 1939 when new offices were built and the museum moved in.
The noble red-brick and Chuckanut sandstone structure was designed by local architect Alfred Lee in the Second Empire style of Victorian architecture. According to the City’s website, is “currently one of this style’s most exquisite example in the Pacific Northwest. This building epitomizes the general characteristics of this French inspired style, which are tall, bold and purposely three-dimensional. Some of the design elements are also an eclectic mixture of the Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival style.” It includes a high mansard roof, classical columns on either side of the main entrance, and a prominent, central bell tower, all of which draw the photographer’s eye.
I have photographed the building, or elements of it, from a variety of spots, angles, times of day and year. It has been the setting for many of my senior portrait sessions and the choice of seniors who want their portrait to reflect something uniquely Bellingham. And I’ve used a variety of cameras over the years from my Mamiya RB67 and Nikon F5 film cameras, to my digital Nikon D700s to (yes,) my cell phone cameras. It all depends upon what I may happen to have with me or what I’m using at the moment. The images included in this post were taken on all of these various cameras.
The building now houses part of the museum’s collection and its spacious Rotunda Room is frequently the site for concerts, including the Bellingham Festival of Music‘s popular free lunch-time chamber concerts. I even photographed one of those this past summer.
When you visit Bellingham, which I hope you’ll do one day, be sure to stop by the old City Hall. It’s likely to be as memorable for you as it has been for many photographers and visitors before you.
I’ve not seen or tried out the new Light camera but according to the company’s website, the camera, Light L16, is sold out until 2017. You can check it out yourself.
Summers in the Puget Sound area, where I live, don’t officially start, weather-wise, until July 13, according to local meteorologists. But in Bellingham, summers begin when the musicians from around the country arrive for the Bellingham Festival of Music. That happened last week.
The Festival, now in its 23rd season from July 1-17, is one of the things that I look forward to every summer. In fact, the Festival is one of the amenities that attracted us and ultimately convinced us to move to Bellingham. It must be a draw for the musicians too as every summer, 44 musicians from major orchestras across the U.S. and Canada (plus additional players as needed) assemble here to play two weeks worth of some of the most beautiful music in the world. We like to think that they are also playing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
It all begins with a welcoming picnic for the musicians, conductor Micheal Palmer, the chorus members, sponsors and the families who host the musicians in their homes during their stay. This year’s picnic took place at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal which offers a terrific view of the Bay and Bellingham. It’s an ideal spot for returning and new musicians to meet this year’s Festival board members, local sponsors and the home hosts.
The potluck picnic, provided by the Festival Board member and volunteers, is tasty and plentiful. Following appetizers and drinks, with local prize-winning microbrewery Boundary Bay serving up some of its finest beers, the picnickers head off to the buffet table and dinner. Afterwards, this year’s Board Chair, Karen Berry, officially opened the season by introducing maestro Michael Palmer who, in turn, introduced this year’s team of musicians.
Section by section, starting with the first violins of course, the musicians took their turn at the podium to share with the evening’s guests their answers to the question: “What was your most embarrassing moment as a musician?” There were some great ones: insects falling onto instruments and being flung into the audience, missed cues, parts of bassoons falling out during performances, women’s undergarments landing on violin scrolls during a Tom Jones’ show, auditions that turned out well despite mishaps and being encouraged to pursue other professions. It all made for some entertaining anecdotes.
Many of the Festival’s musicians have been coming to Bellingham for years. They have become a ‘family’ in the sense that they know one another’s spouses and children, have forged long-lasting friendships with their home hosts and share in the joys and sadness of one another’s lives. Last summer, one of the musicians stayed beyond the Festival dates in order to have her wedding in Bellingham. This year, a group from the orchestra is throwing a baby shower for an expectant father who’s playing here while his wife, nearing her due date, remained at home.
This long-term bonding has, over the years, made the orchestra tighter when they play together onstage. At least that’s my belief having now gone to concerts for the past 20 years. Although together for only a short time, with rehearsals only days ahead of each concert, they meld into a solid sound. I have often found myself astounded to be sitting in my own backyard–nearly literally as the concert hall at Western Washington University where they play is within walking distance–and listening to world-class performances.
For Festival goers, the concerts are a bargain with ticket prices topping at $45 for premiere seating in a small, intimate performance hall of just 650 seats. I recall the many years that I lived in Los Angeles and
was a subscriber to the L.A.Philharmonic. Travel time from our home was 45 minutes at least, depending upon traffic, bargain tickets were usually no less than $45 and in the top tiers of the 3,000 seat hall, plus parking costs and don’t forget money for the babysitter. Granted, I no longer need to pay a babysitter, but all the other costs of hearing live classical music and experiencing outstanding performances in as beautiful a natural setting as you’ll ever find make the Bellingham Festival of Music an incredible deal. Especially for us locals.
If you don’t live in the immediate area, you can spend the week vacationing and enjoying the classical music concerts at night and any one number of activities during the day–strolling the art galleries and shops, tipping a few brews on the ‘Tap Trail,” hiking or biking on one of our many trails, playing golf on one of 22 courses here, fishing, kayaking or sailing on the Bay. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.
June 10th marks a day of both great tragedy and great celebration in my small city of Bellingham, WA. That’s because 17 years ago on that date, a pipeline carrying gasoline from a refinery north of the city and that runs through our Whatcom Falls Park, in the middle of the city, exploded.
The fireball that erupted when the Olympic Pipeline ruptured sent flames down the park’s stream burning everything in its path, including three boys, an 18-year-old who had just graduated from high school and who had gone to the park to fish and two 10-year-olds who were playing downstream in the water.
I was just about to leave with my own 10-year-old at the time, for his baseball game in a school ball field located not far away from the park. As I was standing by my car, I suddenly saw a giant plume of thick, black smoke curl up in the sky and over the general area where we were headed. Although I had no idea what was the cause, I recognized it as some kind of oil-related fire because I had seen one exactly like it when the pipeline ruptured and exploded near my home in Los Angeles as the Northridge earthquake in 1996, just three years previous.
I, like hundreds of other residents, instantly turned on our radio in hopes of learning what was happening. And I told my son that we were in no way going to the baseball field. The news was spotty and unconfirmed but one local caller to the station knew exactly what it was: a pipeline explosion in the park.
We learned later that was precisely what had occurred. A faulty valve at a pumping station located 30 miles south failed to open. Workers, thinking it was yet again the faulty valve, overrode the controls to close the valve, causing the pressure in the pipeline to build and burst in the park.
My oldest son, Matthew, then 14, says he “remembers looking up to see the plume like it was yesterday. I’ll take that image to the grave.” As will many who were living here at the time. It was a day that awakened the residents of Bellingham to the potential dangers and disaster, both for the environment and in human life, that unmaintained and unrestricted pipelines carrying gasoline, trains transporting noxious coal and tanker trains loaded with flammable oil can have on a community. We learned that lesson long before the accidents that occurred in West Virginia, Quebec and most recently in nearby Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge just this month.
I have no doubt that it’s one reason why companies wanting to place a shipping terminal just 20 miles north of here in order to send coal to China encountered such strong opposition from local and state residents. Building the terminal would have meant that as many as 25 trains a day would have rolled from Wyoming, across the farms and ranches of Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington, up the coast of Western Washington, through Bellingham along its waterfront and past neighborhoods with houses standing less than 100 feet from the rails. It would have meant that the fishing grounds, where the Lummi Nation people have harvested salmon for hundreds of years, would have been jeopardized and likely threatened all the sea life dwelling in that deep water area of the Salish Sea.
Five years ago, environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben spoke at rally at the Village Green to kick off the campaign against the coal trains. At that time, he told the crowd of approximately 1,000 that “Bellingham, by sheer accident of geography, is the front line in the global battle against the use of coal.”
This past Friday, June 10, an estimated 1,000 people gathered again on the Village Green. But this time, they were there to celebrate the recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to uphold the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights and deny the permits required to build the coal terminal as well as the announcement by the state’s Department of Natural Resources that it had denied the land lease also required.
Some warn that the project is still alive until the local permit application at the county level is denied but those at the Village Green on Saturday were jubilant with these latest turn of events and what they hope will put an end to the coal terminal.
And those of us, who, like my son and myself, remember the June 10 of 17 years prior, also paid our respects for the event and lives lost that sparked the debate here and derailed the coal train terminal.
I had planned to write something else for my blog post today, but decided after participating in today’s Climate March that I needed to write about this instead. I, and about 750 other Bellinghamsters, gathered in chilly 30 degree weather this morning in Maritime Heritage Park to show our support, along with marchers in 2,000 other cities throughout the country, for the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change which begins tomorrow, November 30.
After a moment of silence for all the victims of recent terrorist actions in Paris and elsewhere, the group was rallied with signs bearing environmental slogans and set out on a short march through downtown Bellingham. The mood was not exactly festive but determined as people made their way en masse to a downtown building that currently serves as the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary space.
People poured into the building to the lively beat of drummers positioned at the front doors. Shortly afterwards, Lummi Nation elder Darrell Hillaire introduced the guest speakers who took to the stage and spoke about the importance of taking care of our environment as one day we will all meet our creator and have to account for our actions. They instructed us to ‘listen with our hearts, instead of our ears,’ when it comes to climate matters because if we do, it will stay with us.
The Lummi Nation will send an Indigenous Delegation to Paris later this week to participate in the conference and to present the video, “The Earth is Alive” which has been made especially for the big event. The Lummi Nation has taken center stage in the environmental arena locally as they work together with other environmental groups such as ReSources, Climate Solutions, 350 Seattle and the Sierra Club to block the construction of a shipping terminal that would threaten and likely destroy their fishing waters.
Treaties made back with President Ulysses S. Grant gave the Lummi Nation protection of its natural resources, salmon being among them. They argue that building the proposed shipping terminal, intended to ship coal from here to China, would jeopardize and break that that treaty.
No decision has yet been made regarding the terminal but it has bonded, and in some cases, divided the entire county and the state. At stake is the environmental well-being of the entire corridor that runs the length of the Salish Sea as increased train traffic, up to 25 trains per day, would run to and from the terminal carrying loads of coal destined for export.
Today’s march, while part of the larger worldwide effort to show solidarity for climate justice, was much more personal to those in Bellingham.
More of my photos from Bellingham’s Climate March can be seen on my Portfolio page.