A few days ago, I forced myself to do something which I rather dislike. Not because the task was unpleasant, which it was in the sense that all things associated with death are, but because I was terrified of that look I would see in my father’s eyes. That look of mortality, of fleeting time, of disbelief, of instant heartache. For a friend of my dad’s had passed away quite unexpectedly and being the good daughter that I am, I bought a bottle of whiskey and drove over the mountain pass to commiserate at his house.
Once I arrived there however, my solidarity faltered as I remembered that summer day, not too many years ago, when I had spontaneously driven over that same mountain pass and up my Dad’s gravel driveway into a memory of sadness and shame. As I pulled up to a stop & jumped carelessly out of my car as only a young girl can do, my Dad lurched forward out of his office and onto the porch in a way which immediately told me something was wrong. At first I thought he was in the throes of a heart attack but as he choked out the words while I rushed towards him, I understood that it was my Uncle Brian who he was talking about, not himself. And in that moment I experienced my first sense of shame, because I was grateful it wasn’t him. Whether it was right or wrong, that emotion was the first thing I remember about my Uncle Brian’s death. As a world wholly new and painfully sharp sprang up around us that day, that day of sudden and young death, my first thoughts were still, at least it wasn’t you Dad. Thank God, it wasn’t you.
And that is why it took me a few hours after driving that mountain pass to finally muster up the courage to go and find my dad. I stood there, alone, with the bottle of whiskey tucked under my arm, and braced myself. I knew that same look was coming and that once again, I would feel that guilty sense of gratitude that it wasn’t him. For the thought of a world without my Dad breaks my heart, it’s something that I fear I simply could not bear. So when I look my father in the eyes, his grief makes me sad, sad because his friend was a good man and the world is a little less bright without him, sad because his own mortality is something I cannot stop. Yet he is still here, we still have time, and for that, I am unashamedly grateful.
Anyone who has ever driven over I-90 near Mercer Island has probably caught a glimmer of the Mercer Slough far below the tangled ribbons of concrete freeway. As motorized humanity hums above it, the Mercer Slough Nature Park meanders its’ way thru 320 green acres and serenely offers visitors a peaceful escape just mere steps away from the urban hub of Bellevue. It always amazes me that places like this still exist in the march of constant urbanization, yet some still do and Mercer Slough is one of the better ones.
With over seven miles of trails and a 2.4 mile long canoe route, the Slough is the largest of Lake Washington’s remaining fresh water wetlands. There is also an Environmental Education Center that focuses primary on freshwater wetland ecology and which offers classes for both adults and children throughout the year. On the day that my buddy Jillian and I went, we had the park pretty much to ourselves which was ideal since we had four wild children in tow. Being a wetland, the trails traverse mostly flat terrain which makes it nice for those wobbling toddler legs and letting them run free without fear of a nearby cliff edge was an added bonus.
After London and Lucia discovered an abandoned pump house leftover from the park’s bygone agricultural days, I attempted to convince them that we were indeed spending the night inside. Seeing as they are observant little things, they quickly pointed out all the reasons that just wasn’t true from our lack of proper sleepover material to the two feet of algae covered sludge which carpeted the floor of the building. I decided then that should I want to trick my children with a lie in the future, I had better bring my A game.
Leaving the floating pump house behind us, we stumbled into the Slough’s picturesque Blueberry Farm. Established in the 1940’s, the farm is run by Bellevue Parks and provides an inexpensive & tasty place to pick local blueberries. The children, of course, could not be contained and I am almost certain that they nearly ate their weight in berries. Jillian and I cautiously looked around for lurking farm police, but none appeared and the kids joyously went on stuffing themselves. Unbeknownst to us at the time, it turns out that the blueberry farm is actually currently closed due to the nearby sound transit construction, so all our harried, sideways glances were unneeded.
Feeling buoyed by the fact that, should a natural disaster occur, our children would be excellent foragers, we headed back towards the car with full bellies and late summer tans. The Mercer Slough had been explored, harvested and enjoyed & since it is so close to all things urban, I could still hit up Whole Foods on our way home. Does a Seattle summer day get much better than that? I’d be hard pressed to say yes.
Mercer Slough Nature Park
2102 Bellevue Way SE
Bellevue, WA 98005
Open everyday 7am-4pm