Ducks: Nature’s Great Generalists

Walking around Olympia’s Capitol Lake, blissfully unaware that less than half-a-mile away police were launching canisters of tear gas at protesters, I found myself watching a file of ducks standing on a fallen tree. As I studied them, heads tucked slightly under their wings to shelter from the wind, it occurred to me what utterly odd animals they are.

They look like footballs with heads. Their only defense is their rounded little beaks. Their stubby legs are comically insufficient. In the air, they’re nowhere near as fast or agile as hawks, eagles, or owls. Their swimming is woefully sub-par compared to seals, otters, and, of course, fish.

Aberdeen, Washington: Not the Lying-Down Kind

Yet, somehow, some way, ducks are a fantastically successful species. They’re everywhere, and in large numbers. That’s when it occurred to me that ducks are nature’s great generalists. They aren’t great anywhere, but they’re pretty good everywhere.

Ducks can swim pretty good. They can fly pretty good. They can handle the land pretty good. The only thing they’re really great at is being ducks. This is their real super-power: they’re pretty good everywhere.

As a fan of generalization, and as a man who isn’t fond of the hyper-specialization that is favored in modern society, my respect for the duck elevated tremendously as I realized the true wonder of their success.

Mallard duck swimming in water.

If you were to line up every animal species in the world and show them to a blind panel of judges who had never encountered Earth life before, no one would pick the duck to thrive the way it has.

The only reason we don’t realize how ridiculous ducks look is because they’re so dang successful that they are ubiquitous. We’ve been seeing them consistently since we were kids. They’re just part of the background noise at this point.

But, seriously, look at them…really sit down and look at them. They’re absurd, like one of creation’s inside jokes.

That’s part of the reason they’re so lovable, I believe, and why they amuse us so much when we take the time to observe them. They’re strange accidents of the animal world. They’re also wildly successful despite their supposed absurdity.

I texted this observation to my brother, who got a laugh out of it. So, I figured maybe it’d be an entertaining thought to share with you all, as well. That’s all.

Keep Northwesting, friends.

Hidden Treasures of Tumwater Historical Park

Music History Done Right: Peter Blecha and Sonic Boom

Any second-rate hack can mash a group of facts together into a book. Fortunately, Peter Blecha is no such hack, and Sonic Boom is no such book.

Blecha’s Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from “Louis Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit daisy-chains the stories together into one cohesive narrative. From Richard Berry to grunge, Blecha shows how each artist and each artist’s era flowed into the next, borrowed from the past, and built something brand new.

I read music history books on the regular. Glancing over to my bookshelf right now I see Waging Heavy Peace (Neil Young), Songs in the Key of Z, Bruce (Springsteen), and Testimony (Robbie Robertson)…among others.

As someone with such an absurd number of music books, I can say that Blecha’s Sonic Boom is one of my very favorites, and not just because I live in the Northwest, nor because I came of age in the grunge era. It’s just a damn good book.

After reading Sonic Boom, I realized that Nirvana and grunge didn’t erupt out of a vacuum. The Northwest music scene has always been categorized by a gritty individualism. It’s got a garage-rock heart, and it’s always had a garage-rock heart.

Aberdeen, Washington: Not the Lying-Down Kind

Now, when I listen to Louie Louie, I hear its premonitions of Smells Like Teen Spirit, and when I listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit, I hear the ghost-strings of Louie Louie. As a lover of history, that is the thing that I most appreciate about Blecha’s work.

In examining the Northwest musical currents, Blecha reveals the heart of the whole region. It’s this glowering, laughing thing in wet overalls covered in wood chips. It’s got a brilliant smile full of missing teeth. It’s carved out of granite and fog and sewn together with train rails.

You can’t get what the book’s got to give simply by looking up the individual parts on Wikipedia. I sound like a car salesman but I don’t know Blecha and this isn’t content marketing. It’s just how I feel.

Blecha’s a real writer in an age of hacks (this includes me). Read his book. It’s a good one.

Northwest Nuggets: Nirvana Becomes Nirvana at the Tacoma Community World Theater

On March 19, 1988, Nirvana played under the name Nirvana for the very first time. This historic moment didn’t happen in Seattle, nor even in Aberdeen—it went down at the Community World Theater in Tacoma.

Before going by their new name, Nirvana went by Ted Ed Fred, Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, and Bliss (which is intriguingly similar to the term “nirvana”). You can see all these names listed on the poster promoting the event.

Thankfully, the Community World Theater event was recorded—a feat that wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous in 1988 as it is today. You can hear the whole show on the Youtube video below.

For a whopping five dollars, people were given the privilege of participating in music history—even if they didn’t realize it at the time. Who could have known that grunge was about to explode out of the then-remote Pacific Northwest?

The Community World Theater recording has the best “Big Cheese” version I’ve ever heard—EVER. In these pre-Grohl days, the band sounded fantastic. It may be my imagination, but in some ways they sound tighter in this early show than they did after they went Big Time.

The band they opened for was named Lush (if anyone out there has more info on this band, I would LOVE to hear it). There were also other “special guests to be announced.”

The Community World Theater was located at 5441 South “M” Street, from 1987 to 1988. I’m working on finding people who were there. If any of you happen upon this blog, please do contact me.

I’ve found good coverage of the Community World Theater at Nirvana Legacy. The best resource I know of, though, is at Mike Ziegler’s site.

I’m a freelance music journalist, and I would be sincerely grateful and interested to talk to anyone who was at this particular show or even just the Community World Theater in general. So, if you, dear reader, happen to be such a person, please do let me know.

Thanks, friends. Keep Northwesting.

Nomad

Getting High With Pacific Parasail

No, not that kind of high, you heathens. Weed may be legal in Washington state for the time being, but that’s not the Northwest Nomad’s thing. The kind of high I’m talking is 1,000 feet above the Puget Sound with the excellent folks at Pacific Parasail.

On a beautiful September day we boated out from the Ruston Way Ram and onto the open water of the Puget Sound. Half the fun of the Pacific Parasail trip, by the way, is the boat ride. You get fantastic views of the Ruston waterfront (I was unable to spot the terrible, mysterious bike, however), Point Defiance, and the area about Thea’s Park.

Parasail lifting up behind a boat on the Puget Sound.

There were six of us in the boat, which I believe is maximum capacity for each trip. Going up by ones or by twos, we took turns spending about 10–15 minutes in the parasail.

You can opt for 600 (roughly as high up as the Seattle Space Needle) or 1,000 feet high. I opted for 1,000. It’s only ten dollars more, and I figured if I’m going to do it then I might as well do it all the way.

The boat moves fast, but you feel almost stationary up in the parachute. Only when we were first going out from the boat and then when we were nearly back on it did I  feel like we were moving quickly.

Tacoma Budget Trip: Point Defiance Park

The views from up high are incredible. I also enjoyed just chilling out in the boat while the others went up. All in all, it’s about an hour on the water, though I assume that’s dependent on how many people are in the boat.

The two guys running the boat were funny and entertaining.

I’m not sure if the experience was the sort of thing I’d want to do again, but I’m glad I did it once. It’s a chance to see Tacoma in a whole new light, and it’s invigorating.

I’ve parachuted many times, and while I wouldn’t say this experience was anywhere that much of a thrill, it definitely gets the blood going. The adrenaline rush is almost certainly dependent on the previous life experiences of each person. One of the women on the boat had never done anything of this sort and was ecstatic when she came down.

If you’re looking for a new experience in Tacoma, give Pacific Parasail a try. I think you’ll be glad you did.

(All Northwest Nomad posts are honest accounts of the Northwest Nomad’s experiences. I’m not affiliated with Pacific Parasail in any way. I paid for my trip like any other customer.)

 

Hidden Treasures of Tumwater Historical Park

On any nice day (and even on many not-so-nice days), you’ll find crowds of people hanging out at Olympia’s Heritage Park and walking around Capitol Lake. It’s with good reason, of course, as both are excellent places to enjoy the outdoors. Not far at all from those spots, though, is the much quieter, secret gem of Tumwater Historical Park.

You can actually walk the whole way from Heritage Park to Tumwater Historical Park without having to cross any streets (the park’s location is pinned to the map at the end of this article). You can follow the paved walk that goes around the lake and then dip down the trails leading through the Interpretive Park and walk the whole way without having to worry about traffic.

Olympia, Washington—An Endless Procession of the Species

Or, you can just drive there. It’s simple enough to find.

Either way, you’ll find a spot much quieter and more private than Heritage Park. Even on sunny days, the number of visitors never strains the park’s capacity. I don’t know why this is. I only know that the huge grassy space and trails there rarely have more than a handful of people.

I’ve had many days where I bummed around Heritage Park and found it crammed with people, then skipped over the the Historical Park and found it nearly empty.

Even those who know of the park, I think, largely don’t realize all the hidden historical gems there. I assume this is the case, anyway, because I’ve been going to this park for years and only recently learned that it’s named Tumwater Historical Park and that it’s full of neat stuff.

I usually go there to relax in the lawn and get some sun or read a book in peace and quiet.

For starters, the park is an official Blue Star Memorial Highway point. I’d never heard of this organization until stumbling upon this marker (which is in the parking lot and concealed by bushes), but it’s a project of the National Garden Clubs.

The markers are placed in honor of the United States Armed Forces. I have to say that I found it somewhat disrespectful that park maintenance has allowed this sign to be partially swallowed up by vegetation, BUT it’s also kind of cool because now the sign is sort of like a hidden artifact.

What is not so hidden is the pair of houses you can find atop the hill where the road leads down into the park.

House at Tumwater Historical Park.
The interior of this house can be toured at certain times. It’s got beautiful landscaping and an educational flower garden.

 

A house from the early 20th Century.
As the placard in the lower screen says, this is a house from the early 20th Century. It’s so beautifully maintained that I didn’t realize it was a historical site until happening by and seeing the placard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These sites aren’t going to blow many minds, I’d wager, but they make Tumwater Historical Park a great little spot for a lazy weekend afternoon. For history buffs such as myself, they’re a bona fide destination.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than taking in some history, and Tumwater Historical Park is a great place to explore and feel the tides of Time lapping around your feet.

You don’t even need to visit the historical sites to enjoy the park. It’s got a huge playground for kids and a great big stretch of grass for soaking up the sun or throwing a ball around.

But, if you happen to be a history enthusiast, it’s got some real magic to offer—and it’s all free!