"The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." -Marcel Proust
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At Seattle's Discovery Park, we hike along a dusty, rolling, shaded trail, shafts of sunlight filtering down through the canopy of green.
Not many towering firs in these woods; bigleaf maples and alders predominate here, early colonizers taking advantage of a previously disturbed habitat and a sure sign that this forest is far from pristine.
Joggers run by in a steady flow, early afternoon escapees from office jobs, checking their fitness watches and adjusting their ear buds as they speed past, churning up clouds of dust in their wake.
Well-placed trail signs helped us find our way from the loop trail to the beach trail, but we can also navigate effortlessly by the sound of nearby traffic prowling along side streets adjacent to the park.
Gracie stayed home today. Dogs are allowed on most of the trails in Discovery Park but not on the beach.
And that is where we are heading.
Shortly after we turn off the main loop to the South Beach Trail, we encounter a steep descent and a series of stairways. The going definitely gets a bit tougher though we have left most of the runners behind, a trade-off we are happy to make.
Intermittently, the trees thin and we are afforded delicious glimpses of the water, the islands, the sun and sky.
Yes. This is what we came for.
Energized by these harbingers of things to come, we hike on, ready to be stunned by breath-taking views at the beach.
As we follow hairpins down to sea level, we're surprised to find that the trail bottoms out not at the actual beach but along the park road, and we traipse the last couple hundred meters along this ordinary city sidewalk.
And just across the street, we see a sign marking the entrance to, um, what? A sewage plant? We can't see it but we can sure smell it, so there's no mistaking that it's there.
Well, forget all that. We come to where the sidewalk ends, navigate a paved trail through the dunes, hop down to walk in the coarse grey sand of the proper beach, and without slowing our stride, march on to our ultimate destination, the West Point Lighthouse.
There she is. We struggle a bit to find the lighthouse's best side. This lady has seen some better days and seems to be overdue for some restoration work. Cyclone fences surround the old girl; other visitors have wormed their way inside the yard and pose themselves here and there against the building. It's hard to get a good shot.
Oh well, never mind. We head back down the beach to catch more views of the wide open water.
Dune grass, beach logs, plenty of dried kelp along the high tide line.
These are all familiar friends, and we are happy to see them.
But we feel a bit hemmed in, squeezed between the forlorn lighthouse to the north and the houses on Magnolia Bluff to the south. As if they were constricted, our lungs fight for air, but we can't seem to take the deep, full, satisfying breaths we long for.
Even the beach itself is a tiny slip of a thing, pinned against the dunes and pushing back against the tides to defend every square inch of sand.
The sun is setting earlier these days, and before long we notice shadows falling deep around us.
Up the hill we scramble.
We take advantage of the high cliffs for a few more photos, and make the best of our journey back to the car.
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Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle and considered the crown jewel. I'd been to the park a couple times when my kids were very young, with legs too tiny for proper hiking, so lately I've been itching to explore the wilderness areas and take in the forests, beaches, meadows and bluffs for which Discovery Park is so well known and loved.
What I found was a scrappy bit of woods and a tiny, tired beach, hemmed in by the city, obviously adored by city folk but honestly, much too tame for me.
And as I sit down in the car to strip off my dusty shoes, take a long sip of cool water, and split a series of Clif bars with my second-born, I am struck by a new idea.
What I have discovered today is that I am fortunate, lucky, blessed beyond words to live here in the Pacific Northwest. Within just a few hours' drive of my house, I can explore beautiful and pristine wilderness to find
towering old growth evergreens,
otters swimming through kelp fields,
glaciers descending volcanic peaks,
sunsets over crashing waves,
anemones waving in tidal pools,
islands and ferries dotting the water,
rustic, rocky beaches with room to play.
If Discovery Park is not my favorite example of this incredible fortune, well, no worries. I certainly have plenty of other options and I leave this park for others to enjoy.
I know there are plenty of other wonderful adventures waiting for me here in the Pacific Northwest, and I'm very thankful that I've discovered anew how lucky I am to call this magical place my home.