One of my favorite things about riding around Seattle is the multitudes of little side spots where you can transport yourself, if only for a moment, out of the urban landscape and into a different place altogether. Sometimes these are simply tiny inspirations for daydreams, like stumbling across a set of stairs which wind up into the overgrowth and out of sight. Sometimes it’s walking into a stand of trees and suddenly leaving the cement behind. And sometimes it’s heading to a park and finding the green blotch on the map hides the area’s true nature.
A sunny spring day is the perfect time to head out and look for these moments of inspiration. After more than a year in Seattle I hadn’t set foot in Ravenna Park, despite it being only a few miles away. All I knew of the park was the green salamander it draws on the city map just above the University District, so it seemed like a perfect destination for a quick jaunt.
The park isn’t particularly large, just a few blocks wide and sweeping a slow curving diagonal through the streets, forcing the traffic to move around it. Once you come across the park, the reason for the odd shape becomes clear – the park can’t be properly represented on a street map, since its defining characteristic is depth.
The park is largely a ravine that drops impressively below street level, pulling you away from the surface of Seattle quite literally, even without the ragged woods providing a curtain along the boundary of the park. It didn’t seem like the paths dropping down to the valley floor would play nicely with my road tires, but a wide graveled path along the edge worked well enough and provided a stark enough teaser of what might be found below, as the right side of the path edged behind well-made yards, while the left side dropped off into a small wilderness.
Midway through the park, a bridge spanning the ravine gives a glimpse of just how far away the center of the park recedes from the edges. It’s hardly a blip on the map from the edge to the center, but in order to move from one to the other you need to enter at the end and wind down. In the middle at the bridge, there’s no way to get from one level to the other, leaving the joggers running by in an entirely different world. One day I’ll be back to move along the floor, but this time I was left observing from above before moving across the bridge and wandering back to Seattle through the winding streets cut off from most by the contours of the park. And there, not in the park and yet still outside of the city, spring’s wildflowers were waiting in the tall grass, enjoying the sun as much as the people moving and flitting about the park’s paths.