The Woods

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.

13 thoughts on “The Woods

  1. We had a woods in Federal Way when we moved there in 1956 (cheaper houses than wealthy Bellevue). We made forts, had sword fern battles, played being horses by changing the gait to a gallop. My best pleasure in our woods was knowing all the paths, the knowing my way around, being familiar and on home territory. We also had a sand pit with “cliffs” where we weren’t supposed to go — but did. 

    Our house is still there, The last time I drove past, the slope down to the street wasn’t nearly as steep as it had been when I had to mow it with the  hand mower. And in the late sixties our woods and the sandpit both became Sacajawea Junior High and sports field.

    Thanks for the reminder. Well done.

    Judith

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    1. Well, you might be surprised that our suburb wasn’t THAT ritzy back then. My memory was that our parents purchased the house for $19K with help from the GI Bill. Public policy and massive post-war middle class expansion provided for relatively inexpensive home ownership at that time. The homes were big, well-constructed with relatively large lots. But land was cheap, and so were asphalt and utilities and with so many kids flying around, those 5-bdrm homes filled up fast.

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  2. Hi Daniel!

    Nice story. I love that you spread your mom’s ashes in places that meant so much to her. Did you do the same for your dad or was he buried?

    I do have to ask if you feel that your experiences with The Woods were actually the seeds that developed into your interest in working for State Parks as a career? It’s obvious that those years made quite an impression on you because you write of them so clearly and with passion.

    My favorite line in your story?

    “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.”

    I never thought of subdivision names like that before but you are absolutely right!

    Thanks for the fun reading, Daniel.

    Love,

    Cathy

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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  3. Glad you enjoyed it, Cathy.

    As for my dad, no, he had a traditional Jewish burial on the family plot on Long Island (don’t tell anyone, but some of Mom’s ashes were placed next to his plot surreptitiously).

    As for the State Parks connection, it was not a conscious motivation. I remember when I started at State Parks, I didn’t think I had any connection with the agency at all. But after working there for awhile and got to know the system better, I was shocked at just how ignorant I was of its importance in my childhood.

    Turns out, some of my family’s most enjoyable experiences together were at Washington State Parks. We spent many summer days at Lake Sammamish SP – I even went to Jewish summer day camp there. We of course, went to the ocean beach regularly which is managed by State Parks. I rode horses at Sun Lakes and Bridle Trails SPs, camped at Moran SP and walked the bridge at Deception Pass SP. As a kid, I just didn’t think of those places as all being managed by a singular agency. Rather, I just enjoyed them.

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  4. Lovely, Daniel

    From: Daniel’s Derekh
    Date: Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 9:13 AM
    To: davidhanig@gmail.com
    Subject: [New post] The Woods
    Daniel Farber posted: ” 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 Be”

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  5. Wonderful memories of a childhood very similar to my own, Daniel. In fact, for a time I played in those same woods, near your waterfall, when my Boeing-shuffled family rented a home for eight months near Phantom Lake. It warms my heart to know that some of Ruth’s remains added to the fertile ground along your parents’ “Trillium Trail.”

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    1. I didn’t remember that you lived near Phantom Lake. Where was the home your folks purchased?

      As for the “waterfall,” I read an interesting history of that artificial storm drainage outfall. Apparently, it was connected with agriculture around Phantom Lake and an attempt – I think mostly successful – to lower the lake level to open up farming on its periphery. I encourage you to read the book “Strawberry Days” about the history of Japanese Americans and Bellevue. Fascinating and we know some of the families mentioned in the book.

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  6. I must say I am very jealous. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. You know, the place a tree grew. Nice read Daniel

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