From age two to age 20, 1957 to 1975, I lived as the youngest of three children in our family’s 5-bedroom, 3-bathroom, Bell and Valdez-constructed home, built upon a typical ¼-acre lot in Lake Hills; a model post-war unincorporated sprawling suburb of Bellevue, which in turn was a classic post-war incorporated suburb of Seattle. When Bellevue annexed Lake Hills in 1969, it increased the city’s population by roughly a third, up to 60,000, most of whom – it seemed – were Boeing engineers and their familial and economic support network.
In this middle class juvenile idyll, all the houses on our block contained kids, and we roamed each other’s yards, grazed for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our mom’s kitchens, played tag football between the concrete curbs of the 36ft-wide asphalt-paved street, and on warm and dry summer days, headed down the block to The Woods for mysterious adventures.
My way to The Woods passed only four homes, down SE 8th and across 168th SE. About two miles long and a half-mile wide, The Woods was a yet undeveloped part of Lake Hills. Extending from SE 8th, it stretched eastward about three hundred feet of relatively flat-terrain second growth Douglas fir-salal forest before a precipitous drop off in a series of east-west ravines down to West Lake Sammamish Parkway. Further to the south, Old Growth forest characteristics took hold, and a dramatic – and artificial – seasonal waterfall became a rare but exciting destination. But those were beyond my childhood’s daily roam, which focused almost exclusively on the top of the nearby slope.
Perhaps I would tell mom or dad where I was going on those languid summer days or perhaps not. We were free range fowl then. Parents just assumed that everyone had everyone else’s back.
Often, I would seek out one of my friends, but sometimes just solo trek down the block, across 168th, turning right down its steep half block and then left at the dead end on SE 9th. Veering left again, I’d be into The Woods.
The Woods was an escape and a place of independence. Even a dollop of potential danger. As my feet left the asphalt and took their first steps onto the soft soil, I was instantly transformed and away.
What did we kids do all those days in The Woods? There was the tree fort project we partially completed, though it sadly lacked in the complexity and scale of our Swiss Family Robinson aspirations. There were the tunnels we dug in “the clearing” – a clearing that we kids made and expanded with our diffuse energies. There were the first kisses. That was cool.
I went off to college and came back occasionally to visit the folks in their Lake Hills home. By the mid-1970s, Dad was heavy into wellness – diet, exercise, and meditation. He took me on his morning constitutional, down to The Woods, but this time turning right at the end of SE 9th, not left as had been my way. We walked briskly down a well-trodden path he called his Trillium Trail to a quiet grove of fir and cedar. This was his place for meditation, and we TMed together for 20 minutes.
He and Mom strode the Trillium Trail together for years.
My section of The Woods was leveled and replaced with huge homes in the 1980s as Heron’s Gate, following the developer’s unwritten rule that subdivisions are always named for the nature they’ve destroyed. Trillium Trail became the northwestern trailhead to Weowna Park, with the preponderance of The Woods saved by the city of Bellevue in perpetuity as a touch of wildness in the middle of urbanity. No, Weowna is not a fortuitous Native American transliteration, but a playfully shmushed name of civic pride.
Dad passed in 1980. Wellness could go only so far when fighting against a scarred heart and floppy mitral valve. Mom passed in 2005 of Alzheimer’s, 20 years after moving away from Lake Hills.
Big sister Laurie and I had been acceding to mom’s wishes for years. Spreading her ashes in special places of meaning to her and to us. On August 1, 2017, when mom would have been 98 years old, some of her remaining ashes were driven along SE 8th, down the 168th SE hill, parked along SE 9th, walked down the Trillium Trail to the familiar grove of fir and cedar, and laid upon its sacred ground. I churned them with a nearby stick into the thick humus, merging family memories with the active decay and abundant life that is The Woods.