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Meet the buskers and merchants who live and work in Pike Place Market

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:41

(Neil Giardino/KPLU)

Farrel Thomas sits on a wooden stool, occasionally stealing away a quick spoonful of pudding before another child approaches, wide-eyed and slightly terrified.

This one wants a panda.

“You’re gonna make me work, huh?” Thomas barks.

His lumbering figure betrays impeccable technique. Claw-like hands work nimbly, bringing balloons to life. In seconds, rainbow-colored kittens, crowns, swords and flowers blossom from his weathered hands.

In Thomas’ line of work, you need a stage name that, well, pops. Mister Twister was taken, which is how he came to be known to many as the Balloon Man, which suits his own economy of words. Officially, though, he’s called Twister Thomas, and he’s twisted a decade’s worth of balloons directly under the giant neon clock at Pike Place Market.

Dressed as part swamp thing and part clown, Thomas wears a ketchup-red wig that clashes with his blond horseshoe mustache. He’s part of a pantheon of eccentrics, wanderers and troubadours that calls the market home.

Calling Pike Place Market home

Thomas lives just a stone’s throw away from his work station, at a HUD-subsidized redbrick apartment complex called the Stewart House. The rooms are small, to say the least, not much larger than a walk-in closet. But they’re cheap. Most of the single occupancy rooms rent for as little as $350 a month. Most residents who qualify for subsidies pay around 30 percent of their total income to live here. For a few lucky tenants on the fourth floor, sprawling views of downtown and Puget Sound are also included.

With more than 350 apartments here, Pike Place Market functions much like a small town within the city. And like any town, Pike Place Market has a newspaper — two, in fact. It also has a medical clinic, a food bank, a small governing body, and, of course, a great many produce stalls, butchers, bakeries, cafes, bars and restaurants. Unlike most small towns, though, about 10 million tourists pass through its nine acres each year.

Road to life in the market filled with twists and turns

Thomas, who spent decades working odd jobs in construction, came to the market in the ‘90s. After a leg injury shattered his dream of living a vagabond’s life on the road, he was turned on to the idea of balloon-twisting by a nameless clown in Portland.

Broke and living on street, Thomas moved back and forth between Tacoma and Seattle. He taught himself twisting techniques on the bus, using photocopied pictures out of library books as guides, spending many afternoons at Izzy’s Buffet.  

(Justin Steyer/KPLU)

“They kicked me out of the library for making too much noise. So, a fair trade was to blow balloons for an hour at the buffet restaurants and get a meal out of it. That’s where I learned the meaning of being a busker, barter or trader,” recalls Thomas.

Now, back to the little boy with the tall order of a panda-shaped balloon.

Thomas begins to twist, almost begrudgingly at first. His pace quickens, and soon enough he has rendered a few slack balloons into something that more or less resembles a panda. He curtly hands it off to the child.

Therein lies the magic of Twister Thomas’s work: like any performance artist, the charm is in watching him create. Thomas is one of many performers that live and work here. Each has a story.

‘It’s almost like being able to travel without moving’

(Justin Steyer/KPLU)

Emery Carl is a lean and tall Kansas native in a long, rust-colored beard and, on brisk days, a Carhartt work jacket. In between drags from a hand-rolled cigarette, he speaks about his place in the world with a contained sense of wonder. Carl has lived and performed in the market since 2002.

“I really wanted to experience a wide variety of people and places in my life,” says Carl. “Being in Pike Place Market, it’s almost like being able to travel without moving.”

Like many market characters, he’s led a life of contrasts; it’s what anchors him here. He was once a worship director and youth pastor at a Seattle church. True to his former profession, he speaks with decided zeal for life and all its perplexities. He also served in the Air Force National Guard for a decade. Among other reasons, these experiences are what led him to become a street performer at Pike Place.

“I’ve always had a real heart and desire to serve God and country. It’s about people and humanity. It’s about serving your community and what you recognize as your creator,” he says. “I found an application that fits my heart right. It’s a big part of the inspiration and drive.”

A leap of faith

Carl’s drive is unmistakable. He performs all week long, and he’s hard to miss.

On any given afternoon, he’s usually on the corner of Pike Place and Stewart Street with bells and shells tied to his shoes, two guitars, a harmonica, Rubik’s cubes, and two or three of his signature hula hoops. His show is a literal balancing act — a guitar teeters on his chin while he strums another.

“I play behind my head while spinning in a circle and I’m singing to people. Sometimes I make up lyrics if I’m inspired by what people are wearing,” he says.

But performing on the street, even in a community as obliging as Pike Place Market, isn’t always easy. For Carl, life as a troubadour is a calculated risk, at least financially.

“I traded a faith-based income with the church for a ‘faith-based income’ [as a street performer].” I have no idea how much I’m going to make. Every tip is a miracle, and nobody has to [tip],” he says.

Perhaps for Carl, that’s the draw of life and work in the market: he gets to perform on his home turf every day. Even on a bad day, he’s in a place he loves.

His living arrangement here is more like a dark hideaway than an apartment, but it’s one that accommodates his unconventional lifestyle. For someone as accustomed to the limelight as he is, it’s a quiet refuge after a day’s work, mere steps away from the throngs of market visitors. For Carl, it’s home.

“Home is where the heart is,” he says with a laugh, “and I’ve got a big one.”

(Justin Steyer/KPLU)

‘I’m going to have to be dead for them to get me out’

Beth Wasserman loves the market, she says, because it’s like her family: big, happy and dysfunctional. For about a year and a half, she has lived in the Stewart House and sold jewelry on Craft Row at the north end of Pike Place.

For Wasserman, there is no turning back from this lifestyle.

“I’m going to have to be dead for them to get me out of the market,” she says with a straight face.

But why? What is it about life and work here that is so appealing?

The answer is part financial and part philosophical, says Wasserman. The Stewart House remains one of the most inexpensive places to live in downtown Seattle. More importantly, the market is where she feels inspired, and where she says she has found a community of like-minded artists.

“Maybe we have gypsy blood. Maybe we like wandering. Maybe we don’t want to stay in one place or we’ve had a house for 30 years and decided ‘I don’t want this anymore; I want a freer lifestyle,’” she says.

For a ghost tour guide, a life among the spirits

Like Thomas and Wasserman, James Pallata lives in the Stewart House, in an haunted apartment. It’s only fitting for Pallata, the lead tour guide of Market Ghost Tours.

(Neil Giardino/KPLU)

“Things will just randomly shift at night. I’ve heard grunting. I’ve heard groaning. I’m the only one there, and it’s not me,” says Pallata.

It’s said that pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work, and for Pallata, a longtime horror fan, being paid to share some of the hair-raising accounts of this historic market is a dream job.

“I get to tell people about ghostly and sometimes horrific things. What more could I ask for?” he says.

‘It’s close to utopia’

Like any tour guide, Pallata is a good talker. When he’s not elaborating on the market’s paranormal underbelly, he speaks of Pike Place and his life here with endearment. For him, being a small part of the market’s 107-year history is an honor. He loves what he does, which brings him joy.

“As a representative of the market and as a tour guide, I like to share that joy,” he says.

Pallata is a self-described Army brat who has bounced around the world. At long last, it seems, he’s found a home, even if it is one he shares with spirits. For Pallata, that’s perhaps just part of its charm.

“Every morning I wake up and realize that I’m in Seattle, I’m doing backflips. It’s close to utopia,” he says. “Living in the market is just icing on the cake.”

How meditation is changing Monroe’s maximum-security inmates

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 05:00

Seven maximum-security inmates sit in a room with their eyes closed, not making a sound.

Shackles bind their hands and feet, confining them to a metal chair bolted to the ground. A guard stands nearby. Yells and clanks from the hallway stray in through the open door.

This is what meditation class at the Monroe Correctional Complex looks like. The students, murderer and rapists among them, listen as volunteer teacher Cathy Iacobazzi walks them through a practice session.

“What would it be like if you took all of the opinions that you have about yourself and just set them aside for right now?” she says. “Right now, the only truth that you need to know about yourself is: I am the one who is breathing in. I am the one who is breathing out.”

But inner calm doesn’t come easily for most. After a session of 10 rounds of breaths, one inmate asks: “Does practice make it easier? Is it like riding a bicycle?” Another inmate says the lunch he ate prior to class is sitting heavy, stealing his focus.

“It’s a brutal kind of practice,” Iacobazzi tells them. “It takes a lot of work. But the results you get — being able to focus … what a benefit. And you get to choose to do that. It’s your choice. You get to do that. No one can stop you, no matter where you are.”

The students ask questions, express their doubt. But when she asks them to try again for another 10 breaths, they close their eyes and breathe.

‘When you’re alone in that cell, the mind tends to wander’

It may not be easy, but the inmates willingly attend the voluntary class. For one, it means another hour away from their small, barren cells where they spend 23 hours of most days, alone. But also enticing is the idea of a free mind.

“When you’re alone in that cell, the mind tends to wander to the future, and that’s where anxiety is. Or the mind wanders to the past, and there are regrets and depression,” says prison psychiatrist Ryan Quirk.

Meditation, says Quirk, helps inmates think in the present moment — “when decisions happen”— instead of dwelling on what was, or what could be.

“They have a better opportunity to act from a decision as opposed to just on impulse,” he says.

Cathy Iacobazzi walks inmates through a lesson about the human brain. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

The meditation class is part of the prison’s Reintegration and Progression Program (RAPP), which includes aggression control training and lessons on healthy living. Some RAPP classes are recognized by the state as evidenced-based, meaning course attendance has shown a correlation to a lower recidivism rate.

Iacobazzi’s class, first offered last August and now in its second 10-week term, is not yet old enough to apply for evidence-based certification, which requires at least seven years of data on inmates after their release. Still, Monroe officials say the class has shown promise.

Six of the 13 inmates who completed Iacobazzi’s first meditation class have been released from the maximum-security unit to the prison’s general population, says program manager Mike Walker. Those six, he says, are the ones for whom “the light came on” during class.

It happens at a different time for each student, says Iacobazzi.

“I have had the experience, especially last time, of men who likely weren’t interested in what I was teaching become interested, and then really start to pay attention, really start to ask questions,” she says.

The class doesn’t aim to convert inmates into devout believers of the teachings of meditation; the idea, says Iacobazzi, is to gear them with coping tools.

“Right from the beginning, I say, ‘Don’t believe anything I’m telling you unless you can, inside your own consciousness, inside your own being, you can go, ‘A-ha! Oh, that makes sense,’” she says.

‘Some of these guys have never said ‘thank you’ before’

(Justin Steyer/KPLU)

Then there are the more subtle lessons the inmates learn in class: in sum, how to socialize. To facilitate a classroom setting, the prison purchased eight special metal chairs that accommodate shackles and allow violent offenders to congregate. The chairs have proven effective at other prisons, including the Washington State Penitentiary.

“It allows for a therapeutic environment while at the same time maintaining the safety and the security of the unit,” says Quirk. “It’s often thought that you have to sacrifice one for the other, but this shows that there can be a balance.”

Sitting in the same room and attending class together teaches these inmates “social skills you and I learned growing up,” says Walker.

“A lot of these folks didn’t have that opportunity. Some of these guys have never said ‘thank you’ before, and that’s one of the social skills that they get to learn,” Walker says.

The classroom setting “makes’em feel more human, too,” says prison superintendent Margaret Gilbert. “You know, you’re not caged up; you’re like anybody else. You’re sitting there, having a conversation.”

The lessons help prepare maximum-security inmates for release back to the prison’s general population, or in some cases, directly to the outside world. They also give prison officials a chance to gauge how inmates might handle life in a less restrictive setting.

“[Before these programs], you didn’t really have an opportunity to see how they were going to interact with other people, and a lot of them would come back,” Gilbert says. “We [now] get to see how they do speaking up in class, interacting with each other and with the officers. That really does give us a good idea of, you know, is this offender going to make it, or do we need to extend the program a little bit longer?”

Using tokens to reinforce good behavior

To encourage progress, Walker has devised a reward system of tokens inmates can earn through good behavior — “for not getting an infraction, for participating in class, for doing their practice work, for using their skills on the tier.”

On a typical day, an inmate can earn up to four tokens. On class days, the maximum jumps to six. Collect 50, and the inmate can cash in for a phone call, or, for 50 tokens each, have dinner with other inmates in the same room, albeit shackled to their chairs. Both are “big incentives,” especially those who can’t afford to call home, says Walker.

“It’s working so far,” says Walker of the system. “Some of these guys were getting citations every day, and multiple ones at that. And they’ve had nothing since August.

“Two guys that would not speak to each other four months ago are now having, for all intents and purposes, dinner together. It’s all part of the changes we’re seeing them go through. They’re learning how to be social.”

‘It’s learning about myself, learning about others’

Asked just four weeks into the class, the inmates say the course has started to change them in palpable ways.

“What it’s helped me with a lot is a lot of anger issues, fear of the unknown and anxiety. And if I find myself getting angry at the staff or something, I go into meditation, bring it down,” says inmate Rick Danielson. “Isolation brings on a lot more stress than you’d have if you were outside.”

“It’s learning about myself, learning about others, learning about me being in control of a situation. And when I’m not in control of a situation, then I back out instead of putting my hands on somebody,” says Robert Griffin.

‘They’re people. They’re suffering’

Most of Iacobazzi’s students have violent pasts, but she prefers not to know their history.

“They’re people,” she says. “They’re suffering. How do we lessen suffering is all I’m trying to get at.”

Her goal is to share with them what she herself has learned from 40 years of studying meditation.

“You can either throw up your hands at the state of the world and feel helpless, or you can do as much as you can to try to make sense of things,” she says, adding she hopes to impart on each inmate at least “one little trick” to help them cope.

“What a thrill it is to me to provide an idea to a person chained in a chair that they can have impact in their life and in their world,” she says. “I’m planting seeds. Even if they don’t fully blossom in the 10 weeks, you know, who knows how far down the road something is going to take root and start to grow?”

(Justin Steyer/KPLU)

Seattle’s deaf community hoping to build understanding through film festival

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 05:00

Editor’s Note: KPLU does not typically provide audio transcripts of radio stories. However, we’ve made it available in this case in hopes of making the story accessible to all readers. You can also find captioned video of the interview below.

People who are deaf or have hearing loss often find themselves misunderstood, says Patty Liang.

It happened to her once on a plane. A representative from the airline labeled her as disabled, which resulted in someone meeting her at the gate with a wheelchair.

“I don’t need a wheelchair,” Liang said through an American Sign Language interpreter. “I can walk just fine. I can see just fine. Those types of things happen.”

And that’s the point of the Seattle Deaf Film Festival — “to show the variety in our community, and what their experiences are, and how different they are,” said Liang, the festival director.

Take, for example, sign language. It’s used in the films, but the selections come from around the world, so it’s not all American Sign Language.

“We want to learn about other communities and our commonalities that we share,” Liang said. “Everyone is different, but we do have those commonalities, and it’s a good way to support each other.”

The films have audio, and are subtitled as well. There are dramas, documentaries, a category of films for mature audiences as well as family-friendly selections, too. Some of the films deal with serious issues. In the Dutch documentary “Onbeperkt,” we meet 29-year-old Simone who has Usher Syndrome, a rare and incurable genetic disorder that causes both hearing and vision loss.

“Tomorrow I’ll finally get the results of the eye test,” Simone says in Dutch. “I’m a little bit nervous.”

There are comedies, too. “Still Here” is a British comedy about aging Deaf club performers who rally around one of their own who falls ill.

Liang says the film choices are varied because the deaf community is varied.

“Some people identify as deaf,” Liang said. “Some identify as hard of hearing. Some identify as just having a hearing loss. So the community, it’s not all the same. There’s no formal census.”

Still, there are some things that everyone shares, says Liang.

“The deaf community still has feelings, emotions, creativity — the same as everyone else in this world,” she said.

The Seattle Deaf Film Festival runs from April 4 to April 6 at the Northwest Film Forum on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.

American Sign Language interpretation for this story was provided by Cameron Larson. 


Losing voice to ALS, Kent man recording all he’ll ever want to say

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 13:00

It’s hard to imagine a more devastating diagnosis than ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. For most people, it means their nervous system is going to deteriorate until their body is completely immobile. That also means they’ll lose their ability to speak.

So Carl Moore of Kent worked with a speech pathologist to record his own voice to use later, when he can no longer talk on his own.

Carl Moore, a former helicopter mechanic, was diagnosed with ALS 20 years ago. He has had unusual longevity for someone with ALS but expects someday to rely on his wheelchair and speech generating device. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

‘It’s almost like preserving a piece of yourself’

Most ALS patients only live a few years after diagnosis, but Moore, a former helicopter mechanic, is the exception; he was diagnosed 20 years ago. At the beginning, he lost use of his hands, and it wasn’t until years later that he found that the symptoms were affecting his speech.

“You can hear my three-shots-of-tequila speech,” he said. “And it does get worse as I get tired.”

So several years ago, before that slur crept in, he recorded hundreds of messages and uploaded them to the speech device he’ll someday rely on. The machine looks like a chunky tablet computer, and it would normally sound like a robot. But thanks to the recordings, it will sound like Moore instead.

“It’s almost like preserving a piece of yourself,” he said. “I’ve taken auditory pictures of who I am.”

Moore has banked messages range from the practical (“I feel tired.”) to the absurd (“You know what? Your driving sucks.”) and somewhere in the middle (“Hey, my butt itches. Would you give it a bit of a scratch?”).

Moore is kind of a snarky guy; some of his messages can’t be played in decent company. It’s a part of his personality that he’s rescuing from the disease. And it’s not just for his own benefit. Message banking also helps his caregiver and wife, Merilyn.

“If it’s a computer voice, I think it’s harsh,” said Merilyn, “whereas if it’s his own voice, I can feel like he’s actually speaking those words.”

‘Everything was about loss except the possibility of communication’

John Costello, a speech pathologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, is credited with inventing the clinical use of voice banking. He says it can make a big difference in people’s quality of life.

“If you wanted to say something like, ‘You’re the love of my life,’ having that in synthetic speech is devastating,” Costello said.

One patient’s wife, he says, contacted him shortly after her husband’s death.

“She wrote to me that the work we did was the only bright forward movement. Everything was about loss except the possibility of communication,” Costello said.

The person helping Carl and Merilyn preserve that possibility is Roberta Kelley, a speech pathologist at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital. Kelley says ALS is a relentless march toward disability and death. But voice banking lets people snatch something back from it.

“It gives the patient something to do when they have no control over the disease,” Kelley said.

Yet for all its benefits, in Kelley’s clinic, only a fraction of patients actually do it.

“The ones that don’t do it can’t deal with it,” she said. “They don’t want to think about using an electronic piece of equipment to talk. So most of them nod, smile and do nothing.”

On preserving messages of tenderness, intimacy

(Courtesy of Carl & Merilyn Moore)

Heartbreakingly, many patients come back hoping to record their voices after it’s too late.

Carl, on the other hand, brings a mechanic’s pragmatism to the project, and he’s clearly having some fun, too. Besides letting him razz Merilyn for years to come, the recordings will become an archive for her.

“I see this also as a legacy, which will feel like his presence with me even after he’s gone,” she said.

So Merilyn wants to make sure Carl has banked the really important things, which raises the question: Where, among the witty barbs and the practical lines, were the messages of tenderness, of intimacy?

“My conversations are mostly sarcastic,” Carl said. “She asked me before we left if I had the phrase ‘I love you,’ and I realized I didn’t.”

(Courtesy of Carl & Merilyn Moore)

He says he’ll make more recordings at some point, sooner rather than later. The trouble, he says, is his voice has already gone downhill.

“We’ll see how it works out. I’m not comfortable with recording my voice as it is,” he said.

“I think that it’s important that we capture you as you are now,” Merilyn said. “We love you as you are now just as much as eight years ago.”

“So I will record, ‘Yes, dear,’” said Carol.

Later, Carl dug back through his hard drive and discovered that he had, indeed, recorded himself saying “I love you.” So he added it to the device that will someday speak for him.

With second dam nearly gone, new era blossoming on the Elwha River

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 05:00

The slow-motion demolition of two hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River is radically changing the landscape near Port Angeles, but it’s not a scene you can witness on your own. Just a handful of dedicated photographers and filmmakers have been given permission to place their cameras at key posts near the Glines Canyon Dam to capture the changes as crews of skilled technicians carefully notch into the concrete walls and place dynamite in just the right places.

The demolition can only take place when endangered fish are not running up stream, and even getting up to the site during drilling work requires a special escort approved by the National Parks Service. The federal agency is carrying out the careful work of what is known as the largest dam removal project in the world, and it’s nearly done. Only a small stub of the century-old Glines Canyon Dam is now left on the Elwha, almost invisible under the water line. Its sibling downriver, the Elwha Dam, has already been removed.

On a recent icy day, I found crews at work, chipping away at the remaining piece of the Glines Canyon. Working from the top down, they had notched the upper dam down to just 15 to 20 feet.

“This dam, built in the ‘20s, is 210 feet high, and it’s a big dam to take down,” said Don LaFord of URS, the engineering firm overseeing the dams’ removal. “It’s a long way to the bottom. We’re getting there, slowly but surely.”

Footage of the demolition of the Glines Canyon Dam by John Gussman.

LaFord, who worked on the Kingdome implosion 14 years ago, says compared to the Elwha, removal of the Glines Canyon Dam has proven more difficult.

“The Elwha Dam was built in 1910. And it was only 110 feet high,” he said. “The concrete in there was of poor quality, so it broke out pretty easily. We actually just used hydraulic hammers to take that dam down.”

‘Wild gawkers watching ‘once-in-a-lifetime project’

Even when the last stub of the Glines Canyon Dam is gone, the spillway will remain standing. Jutting out between the rock walls, it will show visitors where the dam once stood.

Hanging onto the railing, you can peer hundreds of feet into the gap where a floating barge and a drilling rig look like tinker toys on the edge of disaster.

A river otter looks on as crews work nearby. (Courtesy of Kim Sager-Fradkin)

There’s a man cage on a cable that flies the demolition workers up and down through the sky. It’s work that could make you dizzy, but Aaron Jenkins, project superintendent with contractor Barnard Construction, assures me it’s safe; workers are always strapped in.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime project in a national park, in a beautiful area,” he said. “And [we are] trying to do the best job that we can, keep everybody safe and bring the ecosystem back to where it should be.”

The hardest part, says Jenkins, is dealing with winter winds and other weather dynamics that require them to stop and start frequently. But the job does have its perks. Jenkins enjoys spotting wild gawkers like elk, deer and even a seven-point bull elk.

“A big bull elk used to stand up the hill there and watch us every day,” he said. “They’re curious little fellas.”

River otters stop by, too. Jenkins says they’re playful and appear to be watching the removal process, undeterred by noisy equipment.

“Oh, he’d swim around out there, when there used to be a lake, and come up to the barge and watch us, and hang out all day,” said Jenkins.

‘Over time, people began understanding each other’

Even in the icy winds, there’s a lot of laughter in this town these days, perhaps because so much nature once harnessed to produce electrical power is now coming back to life.

“It’s just such an amazing story of how our culture has changed,” said Barb Maynes, public information officer with Olympic National Park.

Maynes says it’s a wonderful time to live in Port Angeles. She’s been watching the dam removal process since its very difficult beginnings decades ago.

“It’s the largest dam removal,” said Maynes. “It definitely shows what can be done, not just the technique or science or engineering; it’s all of that.”

But what’s most impressive isn’t the scale of the project, says Maynes; this is a story about people “listening and working together, and being able to get past their initial reaction to an idea.”

Maynes says little about two ongoing lawsuits surrounding the dams’ removal. One deals with the effects of sediment on a municipal water treatment plant, and the other with the use of a new tribal hatchery to keep salmon running during the removal process. For many in Port Angeles who are hosting dam visitors from around the world, even the millions of dollars those suits may cost seem to have faded into the background.

 “This began in so much conflict, disagreement and bad feelings. And over time, just through conversation — and I think this is a huge part of the meaning for PA [Port Angeles] — over time, people began understanding each other, to a point where even proponents of dam removal can celebrate and honor the role that the dams played,” Maynes said.

‘We’ve waited a hundred years for this’

People whose grandparents built the dams are once again enjoying walks on sandy beaches where, for decades, there were only cobbly rocks alongside a paper mill that has long gone quiet, says Maynes.

(Courtesy of John Gussman)

And if you squint, in the distance, you might see smoke rising from the smokehouse on the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s reservation. With the dams now gone, salmon have returned in bountiful numbers. Last year, the tribe saw the largest Chinook run in decades.  The smokehouse is once again bustling, and the tribe’s children are learning to clean fish for the first time.

“We’ve waited a hundred years for this,” said tribal chairwoman Frances Charles.

The removal of the dams has also uncovered pieces of the tribe’s history, including the tribe’s creation site just upstream of the Elwha Dam.

“The Elwha Valley has been the home of the Lower Elwha Kallam Tribe, since time immemorial,” said Rainey McKenna of Olympic National Park. “For them, that’s of great significance, because they now have renewed access to that site. So that’s great cultural significance.”

With the dams gone, the river valley is fast-evolving. Before long, the river will open up, says McKenna, and plants will grow.

“Once the vegetation returns and the forest grows up, it’s going to be hard to tell what was once here,” said McKenna. “This place is going to feel very different five years from now, 10 years from now, 100 years from now.”

Photographer and filmmaker John Gussman’s documentary on the Elwha River, “Return of the River,” will be released this spring. You can watch the trailer on the film’s website, elwhafilm.com.

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is showcasing “Short Takes on Dam Science” at Seattle’s Neptune Theater Tuesday at 7 p.m. The museum’s exhibition, “Elwha: A River Reborn,” runs through March 9. 


Why this nature builder says round homes are better than square ones

Fri, 02/07/2014 - 05:00

When SunRay Kelley starts building a home, he doesn’t always know how it will end up looking. But his trademark style has a few recurring traits: tree stump foundations, soft curves in place of sharp corners and, adorning the exterior, accents of swirling curlicues.

“Whimsical is maybe a good word,” said Kelley, describing his style. “Definitely fairy tale-type stuff.”

A walk around his nine-acre homestead in Sedro-Woolley feels like a journey to the land of make-believe. Eight Kelley-built homes sit sprawled on the land his grandparents homesteaded in 1920.

Life on the homestead

Kelley, 62, grew up on the lush land, in a traditional-style house. After reaching adulthood, he began transforming the place into a wonderland in the woods, complete with streams and trout ponds, a wood-fired sauna and even a suspension bridge in the works. He and his wife live on the land with their tenants, practicing what they call a “chop wood and grow your own vegetable lifestyle.”

“I got a mission here, and that’s to regrow the Garden of Eden to its fullness,” said Kelley.

SunRay Kelley shows his felt hat.
(Martha Kang/KPLU)

The couple grows some two dozen types of fruits and vegetables. All the water used at the homestead comes from the mountain above. The homes have a generous number of windows to soak up the sun’s rays, the namesake of the heliotropic man originally named Ray. (He likes to joke it was his parents’ usual introduction — “This is our son, Ray” — that prompted him to change his name to SunRay.)

Kelley is a man of the land from head to toe. During the warmer months, he likes to wander around barefoot, his soles toughened, “because that also connects me to the earth.”

And he dons a felt hat. Made from the wool of a former four-legged tenant, it has softened from years of wear.

“One of my renters got the sheep and talked me into letting her have it. And it ate my garden, and I was a little disgruntled, you know. And she felt bad, so she made me a hat out of the sheep’s wool to compensate for it eating my garden,” Kelley said.

‘Forget the straight lines’

Kelley has never been one for straight lines. He’s preferred generous, embracing curves since his college days at Western Washington University.

“They give you a T-square and a triangle, and tell you to go draw plans. But they also give you what they call the French curve, you know, which is just [a tool for] gorgeous curves. So [I thought,] ‘forget the straight lines and go crazy with the French curve,’” he said.

Kelley’s experiments with the French curve inspired his first creation, the Earth House, which he built while still in college. Since then, he’s built homes of circular designs along the West Coast, as well as in New Mexico, Colorado and Costa Rica. His proudest achievement to date is the Harbin Hot Springs Temple in northern California. This year, he’s working on a project in Vermont.

Building with wood and cob

For material, the self-described organic architect uses “anything I can get my hands on — stone, straw, metal. Obviously, wood has been my primary thing.” Most of the wood comes from Kelley’s own land.

Another favorite of Kelley’s is cob, a pliable mixture of sand, straw and earth that allows him to build in non-straight lines.

“That media’s really fun. When I discovered cob, I said, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve been looking for all my life!’ And yet a lot of people who work in this medium, they’re still trying to pull’em into this idea of square boxes. But the material’s not saying that at all,” he said.

‘Once you live in a round house, you never go back to a square house’

Kelley’s passion for circular designs reaches beyond a desire to build unique houses; it’s his attempt to shape the lives of the inhabitants. The idea, he says, is to build dwellings that foster connections with both Mother Nature and other people.

SunRay Kelley takes in the sunlight while working in his outdoor workshop.
(Martha Kang/KPLU)

“Nature, to me, is the great healer. Nature surrounds us all the time, yet if we’re isolated all the time, or we’re in a car, or we don’t spend time outside, we’re less connected from the rest of the whole of us. So that isolation that we’re feeling increases,” he said. “But if we go for a walk or we jump in the pond, all these things invigorate us, connect us and bring us joy.”

Then there’s the dynamic inside the home. In a round and open house, people don’t section off into their own corners, which helps them open up to each other, says Kelley. And the difference hits them at a deep, primordial level.

“We’re conditioned to accept shapes and forms that aren’t comfortable, which is not allowing the love that’s around us to flow back and forth naturally. And we accept that, because that’s all we know. But once you’re in a space that’s round instead of square, all of a sudden, the energy moves. It’s happy,” he said.

Kelley often hears from clients and tenants who’ve experienced the difference, and he says their words are proof he’s on the right track.

“It’s all about our choices, you know, but unless people know there are good choices, it’s hard to get’em awakened,” he said. “Once they find it, then they’re on board; there’s no going back. Once you live in a round house, you never go back to a square house.”

What to eat on Lunar New Year and why: The symbolism of the Chinese tradition

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 05:00

Gold symbolizes good fortune.
(Martha Kang/KPLU)

Come Lunar New Year, Chinese families celebrate with a huge meal that often takes days to prepare. And more is better; the idea is to fill the table with dishes that symbolize abundance and prosperity, says Hsiao-Ching Chou.

“You want to show abundance and have as many different types of food as possible, from land, from air, from sea,” said Chou, a former Seattle food writer. “And then there’s all these different layers of symbolism.”

Some of the dishes are homophones of words that symbolize good fortune, happiness or family, says Chou. Others just happen to be the right color.

“We have a bowl of oranges and other citrus, because the golden color symbolizes good fortune,” she said.

Homemade dumplings: A family affair

Perhaps the most nostalgic item on Chou’s family menu is the homemade dumplings — pockets of homemade dough filled with meat and Chinese cabbage.

Three generations of the Chou family are busy at work, making dumplings.
(Courtesy of Hsiao-Ching Chou)

The dumplings are a holiday staple, their bulbous shape reminiscent of gold ingot. And making them is a family project. Someone rolls out the dough into thin rounds while someone else fills and pinches them shut.

“It’s not meant to be a solitary thing. You usually have a room full of people, and a bunch of different people standing around a table and a counter,” said Chou.

This is how generations have learned this and many other family recipes, which are rarely written down, says Chou. She remembers watching her mother make them for years, and, once old enough, finally getting to help and learn. (Lucky for us, she has put together a recipe and a how-to video, seen below, due to popular demand.)

“My father used to say, ‘You have to learn how to make dumplings from your mom because how are you going to feed your husband someday?’ Very traditional he was. And I took that to heart — not just because I wanted to feed my husband one day, but because I wanted to learn how to make them because I loved to eat them,” Chou said.

In Chou’s kitchen, her mother, Ellen Chou, rolls the dough and Hsiao-Ching fills them.

“For 30 years, we’ve stood side by side, making dumplings. And she rolls out the wrappers, and I fill and pinch them,” Hsiao-Ching said.

These days, Hsiao-Ching’s children, 7-year-old Meilee and 4-year-old Shen, are also part of the production line. Their dumplings are flat, not bulbous like their mother’s. Still, their faces beam as they squeeze the dumplings shut and hold them up for their mother’s inspection.

Watching them work transforms Ellen back to her own childhood lessons.

“My sister and I, when we were little girls, we made all different shapes of the dumplings in the kitchen. And my mom would say, ‘Ohhh, this is dinner, not for you to play [with]!”’ she said.

After the wrapping comes Meilee and Shen’s favorite part: the dumplings get boiled, then served with dipping sauce.

“I think, to this day, homemade dumplings taste better than anything you find in a restaurant,” Hsiao-Ching said.

A whole fish (do not flip!)

Meilee eyes the whole fish. (Martha Kang/KPLU)

A whole fish is another important staple for the holiday, says Hsiao-Ching. The type of fish isn’t so important; what matters is that it’s cooked and served whole.

Hsiao-Ching likes to steam a whole trout topped with thin slivers of ginger and scallion, and dressed with soy sauce, cooking wine and sesame oil. As she opens her aluminum steamer to remove the fish, an appetizing aroma fills her kitchen.

“You get the smell of the ginger and the onions, and the sauce. And you get hit with the sesame oil, which is fantastic,” she said.

It’s very important to keep the fish whole when cooking, and even when you’re eating, says Hsiao-Ching.

“You want to have the head and the tail … to symbolize a good beginning and a good end to the year, and also a year of prosperity,” she said. “You never want to flip the fish. Even after you’ve eaten the top layer of the fish, you never want to flip the fish, because that symbolizes bad luck. You don’t want to flip the ship, so to speak.”

‘Lion’s head’ meatballs, long noodles and whole vegetables

The meatballs cook in a glistening wok. (Courtesy of Hsiao-Ching Chou)

Also on the menu are lion’s head meatballs — softball-sized pork meatballs braised with heads of Chinese cabbage. The meatballs symbolize the lion’s head, and the long pieces of cabbage its mane.

Hsiao-Ching has added to the dish long cellophane noodles, another must-have on Lunar New Year.

“You keep those long, because you want to have symbolic noodles — long noodles for longevity,” said Chou. “So you have these meatballs, which represent family unity and abundance, and you have these noodles for a long life.”

Wholeness is a theme in this meal. Hsiao-Ching even serves the vegetables whole. She pre-steams whole baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, then later warms them in a wok with chicken broth and a dash of soy sauce.

On sticking fortunes and sticking to traditions

To finish the meal, Hsiao-Ching serves nian gao, or what’s known as New Year Cake.

“It’s not cake like we think of it in the western world; it’s more rice flour,” she said.

The gelatinous, steamed cake is available in a number of flavors (Hsiao-Ching likes red bean), and it takes a simple preparation.

“Slice it up, dip it into a little egg and hand fry it gently to warm it through. And it kind of softens, like the consistency of a mochi,” she said. “And the symbolism in that is ‘nian’ sounds like “sticky’ [in Chinese], and you want all your good fortunes to stick around.”

Preparing a traditional new year meal is no small task for a busy mom of two with a full-time job, but Hsiao-Ching hopes to keep the tradition alive for years to come.

“Now that I have kids, and we’re lucky enough to have my mom live with us, too, it is an evolution. It is also a cumulative experience, and it does bring us back to the history of all of this in our family,” she said.

Related story: For lion dancers, Lunar New Year marks culmination of a year’s work


Local photographer turns more than 7,000 photos into starry animation

Wed, 01/08/2014 - 13:56

Vimeo user Donald Jensen created this star-studded animation, titled “Cascade New Years,” which he made by stacking more than 7,000 still images.

“The result is the visible tracing of the star trails instead of the usual movement of the stars across the screen,” Jensen said.

Jensen adds most of the sequences used in this animation took more than three hours to capture.

Here’s another animation Jensen shared last month. Jensen describes Chromation as “a black and white tour of the Northwest.”