I’m writing this in my notebook while leaning against a tree in Greenwood Park, a city park around the corner (actually two corners) from my house. It’s a really nice park. And it’s a nice day; this morning was chilly and rainy, but in the late morning the sun came out. It’s probably in the sixties now, shortly after noon, and I’m wearing shorts.
Greenwood Park exists thanks to the civic-mindedness of Shig and Kunio Otani, who bought the Greenwood Greenhouses from Senosuke and Miyoshi Nishimura in 1958 and kept them in operation for 41 more years. In 1999, the Otani brothers sold the land to the city of Seattle, which turned it into this fine neighborhood park. Both the Otanis and the Nishimuras were imprisoned in internment camps for Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.
I know all this from reading the posters on the walls of the Greenhouse Gate that stands at the corner of the park nearest my house. In the lower right corner of one of the posters is a color photo of the Otani brothers in 1999, standing together and smiling amid a sea of Christmas poinsettias.
Greenwood Park covers the area between N 87th Street and N 90th Street, and between Evanston Avenue N and Fremont Avenue N. (In Seattle, streets run east-west and avenues run north-south.) Most of it is a gently sloping grass meadow; at the north end are jungle gyms and a play area, currently sealed off with yellow caution tape, and restrooms. Today I also noticed two homeless tents. On March 22, the day I took a long walk with my friend Paul Loeb – the last time I saw a friend of mine in person – we parted ways at this playground and noticed an array of seemingly abandoned toys and tricycles strewn around, as if in the wake of an alien abduction. Also incorporated into the park are a commemorative few yards of the tracks of the Interurban Railway that used to run from downtown Seattle to Everett, about twenty miles north of here. Seattle would be better off today if the streetcar had never been replaced by automobiles and freeways in the first place, but that’s true of any American city.
Jenny and I have been enjoying Greenwood Park since we moved here in 2012, but more so over the past year. In the first weeks after my surgery last August, I was told to take a walk every day. At first I could make it only as far as the Greenhouse Gate at the near corner. When I became able to walk to the north end and around the park south on Fremont, it felt like a watershed accomplishment.
In recent weeks, as Jenny and I have noticed when our daily walk takes us past the park, the grass has been going unmown. We think it’s because the Parks & Rec department has redeployed its employees to help enforce social distancing in Seattle’s popular larger parks, like Green Lake, and like Magnuson and Seward parks on Lake Washington. Last weekend it hit the low eighties both days, and predictably there were reports of crowding in the larger city parks. We’ve been watching with interest as the grass in our little neighborhood park has grown increasingly unkempt with clumps of tall grass and dandelions going to seed, but also graced by seas of delightful little white English daisies. Yesterday we noticed that the edges of the meadow – but for some reason only the edges – had been mown. As of today, so has the parking strip along 87th.
Along the east side of the main grass area is a line of trees, and on the other side of those was a basketball court and a p-patch, and between them a derelict lot. Over the past year or so that has been transformed into a very well-considered addition to the park. Jenny and I have watched the addition taking shape, with the planting of young trees, ferns, currants and other shrubs, newly planted grass, and a concrete area with two ping-pong tables, four square, tetherball, and hopscotch. Painted on the concrete between the ping-pong tables is the cheerful slogan LET’S PLAY. There are also steps and a ramp through the trees, as well as a nifty new slide imaginatively positioned to take advantage of the height difference between the new area and the playground. I think of it as the slide of opportunity.
Leaning against that tree and writing in my notebook today, I noticed a young man with long red hair and a scraggly beard, wearing a hi-vis vest. “Excuse me,” I called to him. “Can you tell me anything about the schedule for opening the new part of the park?”
“As far as I know it’s open,” he replied. “People can go in there. I’m takin’ down the fence now.” And sure enough, with that he hoisted the section of chain-link fence right in front of the new steps and carried it away.
So I believe that, by sheer serendipitous timing, I became the very first member of the public to walk through the new addition to Greenwood Park. Jenny’s been predicting that they would open it quietly on a weekday, without fanfare, and it turns out she was right. A few minutes later I spied on the ground the sign that had been attached to the chain-link fence along Fremont Avenue:
The contractor overseeing this
jobsite is diligently managing a
Safety Plan that includes
precautions to reduce the spread of
We appreciate your co-operation in maintaining a healthy work
Parks & Recreation
When I looked up I noticed a masked man loading tools into the bed of a pickup. “It’s looking good,” I called to him. “Thank you!”
“Yeah, it’s been a pride to work on it,” he called back. “It’s a great little park.”
“It sure is,” I said. “Especially on a great day like today.”
“Have a good one.”