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I have so many memories of lynnwood, and what's it really like, that I want to write down before I forget. I used to think I would find someone who would feel the way I did about the same places and things, but now I feel that it's up to me to write them down and make them real like this. This serves too as a compass, a description of things I have seen while running. I don't need poetry. I have my own.

I'm starting with the most basic and true of all of my memories. If you go down the Burke Gilman trail, and you don't turn at Blyth Park, instead you continue towards the UWBothell and Cascadia direction, you will come to an intersection where there is a huge concrete retaining wall some distance away, maybe a hundred meters in the air to keep the dirt hill from falling down.

It's curved, there are plants growing behind it, there's a half crescent sidewalk and road in front. It's just a wall but I love it so much, I feel that have I have only truly become myself in its presence. When the late afternoon sunlight hits it, and there are no others like yourself out on the pavement by the trail by the riverside. When I can stare up at it alone. There are blackberry bushes behind it, sprawling out, through the cracks, which make it feel far more rooted than any concrete wall should. The wall shoots up in five feet increments, like a histogram, and you can imagine climbing up to the top, and looking down, were it not for the wire fence that blocks it off early. For me, because I cannot understand how it was built, so I take it as indistinguishable from magic, as part of the landscape. The concrete runs in thin ridges but is monumental in scale. I can't explain it any more but it is wonder.

It is that same religious ecstasy looking up at the highway bridge not far from the vietnamese buddhist temple, off of a three way roundabout. It is just like visiting a church. This is something I can say with extreme conviction. The pure scale of it dominates the everyday picture. It itself is so unaware of what it does. It is not the kind of great suspension bridge crossing expanses of water. It's shy, modest, not built to inspire any fanciful visions in onlookers. And yet this quality of it does exactly this for me. I am in love with a block of concrete in the wilderness.

It's a different feeling that arises on the long downhill stretches of the run towards the Brightwater wastewater treatment park, which takes you through Bothell and Canyon Park ride until woodinville. Here there is more a sense of oblivion, the sense of reducing yourself on hot asphalt until you have achieved nothing. It is a sense of daring, a realization of unlimited speed, an exhortation that tells you to go faster than anyone there has ever done before. You will pour down the hill towards downtown bothell, climb back up, pour down again, climb back up, until you have entered woodinville and you can see the iciness of the mountains ahead. You can look at the ice on the mountain far away and say to yourself, "today I will run until there is snow on the ground" which will be enough to get you all the way to the park.

And then there is Paine Field, where you can lay out on rough yellow grass and look out across the airport through the wire fence and see the very tips of planes visible. And around you you can see abandoned military buildings, weather-hardened and with the logos stripped off. You can see empty storefronts and know that you are at the end of the world. Planes take off and land here against the precipice, against the edge of a farm and everything else. There are grain silos on the airport field. It is an american pasture. You can walk across plains of grass towards a flagpole and see only gently sloping fields in every direction, wire fences, and the road behind you.

On the way to the airport, you pass trailer parks, pot shops, broken glass and bumpers scattering on the pavement, billboards, water towers, lumber yards, hardware stores, spots of highway. There is always highway parallels, pavement of some kind, on which you can travel. On the way there there's a mall, almost empty, comprised entirely of a single whistler workwear store and a carniceria. There's an anime shop which melts its display windows with kaleidescopic logos and figures, and a featureless restaurant painted sky blue which might have been an attempt at a nautical theme.

And one time they built an artificial hill here.

And in Northern Lynnwood you will think it has a different name. This place is home for airplane technicians, waitresses, bank clerks, manicurists, not the modern, routine commuters of lynnwood. Their presence is transient from day to day but permanent in nature. As you run by, you will see a collection of cookie-cutter houses silohuetted against the blue sky. They look unsettling perfect. No one is outside, there are no decorations or flowers. These houses remind you of the clean apartments from the Little Prince, modernity without excitement, sleekness without pride. Not that exactly. A girl with a sad smile. An acceptance of a kind of doom that sounds like a vacuum. A session of Kumon done in the suburbs. A goldfish circling a fishbowl. The smell of chlorine, perfume, strawberry flavoring. The comfort of a ticking clock.

See a bank building as a dark brown glass geodesic sphere and watch your reflection flicker past it. And as in so many places, you see the whole town from above, a Macdonalds and a Burger King, a scatter of financial stores, convenience stores. Then you enter it and leave it. See barbed wire fences. You will pass a young asian boy in a taekwondo uniform, belt hanging loose, who stares at you from the parking lot of an empty shopping complex, the smell of drywall and decaying leaves around you, and wave back at him. And then you hold four fingers up to the sun, and continue running towards the field.

And there is so much more to the north which I have not said. It is a wilderness with a veneer of civilization, with aggressive billboards for casinos and nihilist memetics by beef jerky and vodka distributors. It's a place where there is an abundant amount of graffiti run on the vast open walls and sides of buildings, which say everything and nothing at the same time. It is a place where you can find more than two jumbo bags of gummy worms scattered on the pavement and road detritus that will make you crave sugar. It is a place where you will find Italian restaurants, plaster on sidewalk, with a blown-up photocopied Mona Lisa. It is a place with used cars and wavey puffguys. It is a place where you can stand on a rock in an empty grass field and do stretches. Like in the south, it is also a place where the road and the telephone poles feel like the only constant thing, where it sometimes feels like city officials threw up their hands and groomed miles of road, spitting them out, laying it down with no purpose, and producing more seven-elevens and apartments and low strips. The trees are gone, replaced with fences or empty lots, the land becomes flatter. Until you get to Everett.

In Everett, the highway dominates, and its rushing sound can be heard from any place. Unfortunately, you cannot get near the highway here. The area near the city hall bears several distinguishing architectural features; yet there's no sense of history. There are many industrial buildings, some of which have been turned into restaurants and other similar things. There are also quiet neighborhoods with little free libraries and cute lawn decorations.

Then there is the martha lake route which is beautiful for its sense of oblivion as above. There is one section in particular by alderwood mall, where if you cross to the left you will find normal people and costco, but when you run down it you are clearly a madman and no one cares about you. In this section at the end of the three mile mark there is a section, after a long, boring slog in the Maple Rd. neighborhood, where you break out onto the road and sprint euphorically downhill to a lamp post and a Seven Eleven, which marks the beginning of the downhill section to Martha Lake. You can see the snowy mountains from there, and the stoplights ahead, and a huge stream of cars every time. I still have no clue what those mountains are called. Lol. Sorry.

Every downhill has an uphill though. On this first uphill section of the Martha Lake road, there is are several intersections. Once at the first intersection, trying to get to Paine Field and crossing through the neighborhoods, I pushed three abandoned shopping carts a quarter mile back to the Fred Meyer. In this direction, you can explore pretty far, and find bulldozers and foundations for new stylish block apartments and big hills pockmarked with stumps; I think it's called Cascadia, but that might be a different north branch off Martha Lake. At the second intersection, there is a large expanse of dry grass by the highway upon which I have planted native northwestern wildflowers. In the summer I hope they appear. And also at the top of this hill there is a large billboard and an advertisment for self-storage in Lynnwood, which is supposedly what lynnwood is all about.

And after you cross the top of the first hill you can stop at Martha Lake, or you can continue by the five by one apartments and keep going all the way to Mill Creek, and at the mill creek intersection where there is a historic and cute mill by the neighborhood sign, you can go north, which is what I usually do, or you can do what feels like a portage across the top of it. The portage will take you all the way out to Silver Firs and beyond on an unmarked but well traveled trail if you follow the large electric towers, or you can follow the road north past the business centers of Mill Creek to an athletics complex, and a center and cluster of shops with a dome on it and a clock face. This shopping center feels so old and familial, it reminds me of a british TV show with talking lions I used to watch when I was younger. It is made of brown brick, and has large geometric shapes on its front and top. There's a large dead pond-wilderness-estuary. If you follow the north path you will eventually see a restaurant on the lake by Silver Firs, and you can stop there as well. You can hop from log to log in the shallow areas of the lake.

And then there is the breathtaking, fiery monster of a road that is Aurora. Ringed in by car dealerships at the first intersection, if you continue hopelessly down south you will find the promise of greater and greater civilization in Aurora, passing the ranch 99 market and the Burlington's and then hitting the corner, and once you have passed that corner around the fifth or sixth mile you know that the rest of the way south will take you directly to seattle, and it is so amazing to see geography that matchs your intuition. The first time when I ran to green lake I saw the skyscrapers appear I was blown away. But first to describe the trek to aurora.

You put on your running shoes and run out of the cul de sac. You take a right to the west, which is not such a popular choice for me these days. There is usually a lot more options going left (east), where your choices are between Reverse I-5/Brier/Burke Gilman/Eastside etc. going straight or Kenmore/Burke Gilman/Seattle/etc. going right, or Classic I-5/Lynnwood/Paine Field/Woodinville etc. going left on the major 44th. But I used to run right a lot, when I was first exploring, probably because there was less traffic. You get your first burst of speed usually on the downhill section of the 212th, maybe a third of a mile away. Then you have an uphill climb. This can be through the alternative route, through the wastewater and trash collection complexes of Lynnwood to the medical building and then James Village. Or through the main route, which I take about 90% of the time, which will take you west all the way to Edmonds (which I will have to write about later). So then on the main west route, you end up popping up on Aurora between two car dealerships, maybe 0.6 miles in. And then I almost always go left (=south) from here, because going north after going west takes you to the Dennys and the Red Lobster and the city center which is untraversable and boring.

Going west on this initial stretch on the side of Aurora is very exciting. That first view of aurora is awe-inspiring: the road goes on for a very long way south, and it is a wide (four? five? six?) highway of a road, with many streetlamps, forest, and stores along the side. Once you get past the initial car dealerships in Lynnwood (and this is probably very south lynnwood), you will enter Edmonds, and pass a convalescent equipment store, a Dick's Drive In, and what is Edmond's "international district" of asian food stores. Then you will pass a gaming castle store (?), a kitchen supply store, asian art portfolio for college and an investment accounting businesses, and come over the top of that first gritty stretch of aurora.

After that and a lot more running in between, you will find yourself crossing the point, the corner of no return, and when you cross it you will find more and more low wooden stores in shoreline. A home depot, tattoo stores, the Krispy Kreme donut store, car dealerships. And then also a dead Rat's Nest roller rink, pink and green dragon casinos, an oasis themed nighclub. There are walkways to cross above at some intersections. A block of apartments covered in a red mesh. There is a graveyard at some point. And then eventually after eleven or thirteen miles you will find yourself in Green Lake, blending seamlessly, running alongside all the other people to the kayak rentals and store and timer.

And then there is the Nile Shriners and the Golf Course which feels so unreal. Early on, running by Lynnwood I would take the Lake Ballinger Lake route fairly often. This would take you south, and slightly west almost to Aurora and by the point of No Return by the gutted Burlington and the family pancake house. It is also bordering the Regal Cinebarre, and the gritty section of bothell under the interstate where there is no sidewalk. I would rarely finish the route however, but instead explore closer to the lake; where there's a huge grassy development that is the Nile Shrine golf course. On the inside, it is almost a paradise: there is an groomed walkway, oaks, sprinklers and a well maintained series of paddies; but outside of this area, where a grim marker and electronic sign stand at the entrance, where the vast majority of cars are, is a dirty gravel pathway, and a psuedo-highway of the 76th, that becomes more and more residential the farther south you go. It reminds me of an affluent gated community like in Get Out, a single beam of sunlight, a bordeline-kitsch egyptian enclave, appropriately named by the Nile Shrine. Among gray skies and yellow lawns it stands out, an manicured passway and sprinklers and a paradise of greenery within the walls, there is a lodge and content, folks, in golf carts, and huge maple trees and cultivated shrubbery. It is an island in the grittiest section of Bothell, among cars and the outside, where the shoulder blends seamlessly with dirt and gravel. It has gates, which are always open, but tell you that they can close at any time.

And there's the pathways west to Edmonds, where if you start from home and run all the way, into the ocean, actually splashing into the water and staring out at the open sky, you can get exactly four miles. It's the same route you take to get onto Aurora, but when you reach Aurora, when the wilderness of the arterial beckons, you keep going straight towards Edmonds College. Then there's this huge hill that you hit a half mile out, and as you round the top, you can see in front of you all the lights and the ocean. It's a "Cake by the Ocean" mood, and you are so fast you worry about tripping and breaking your neck.

And from Edmonds downtown, you can go north or south, going north takes you to a beautiful meandering section of woods running the hills by the ocean. There are a bewildering variety of plants streaming down the hillsides as you continue trudging up. Going south takes you past the industrial sections of Edmonds, a long walkway fenced from the highway, and then to an intersection and a low sprawling cluster of houses.

And back on the original end, in the wilderness sections with firs and pines, where the asphalt shoulders are narrower, is the vietnamese buddhist church temple deity structure. It's not too far, maybe three miles. It is very close to the highway-church, but not within sight. Around two bends of the road maybe. You stumble on it by glimpsing a flash of color, then its tall rolling gates. It is fantastically decorated, with twenty meter tall buddhas and exquisitely colorful metalworked dragons perched on the edges of the rooftops. There are many vans, two large ornate doors, many smaller statues and fountains, all which comprise only the outer perimeter of a place you cannot see into. The allure of such a place is the simple absurdity of its existence. It encapsulates the magic that you don't know until you have stumbled upon it. The unknown unknowns.

Beside that place, there is a section of the guardrail that is removed and you will enter a place that is or used to be a homeless encampment, in the wilderness. There is a tree there that has beautiful blossoms, like a cherry tree. And there is a meadow in this alcove of the woods, blanketed with small yellow flowers, that stretches all the way from your feet back to the guardrail.

And then there is the huge meadow, out by Blyth Park, where the sides of the world cave in onto yourself. There are tall trees and short grasses, the whole scene so perfect it feels like you're in a nature documentary, or in a movie. You will come across an abandoned thing, a veranda or something, south of the main section, where there is a brick fireplace lying in overgrown weeds and with a strip of caution tape flung across it. Someone probably had their wedding here, long ago.


And then there is the Mill Creek branch of Swedish. Its is smaller than the Seattle Swedish. It is like an elementary school compared to the Seattle Swedish. Flatter, cheaper covered walkways, fresh clean concrete; no coffee shops, gift stores, imposing decor. It's presence cannot be felt from more than a block away. Yet it strives to impart the same brand image as the other Swedishes, comfort, security. This branch is next to a block of muted colorful apartments. Behind this, the highway roars and you can cross onto through a wire fence and come right up next to, and see the lights across from the Mill Creek strip malls, and the cars rushing in front of you. Here you feel like a wild horse.

And then there are the shimmering spot of woods in Mountlake Terrace. It is in the direction of the Mountlake Terrace high school, where you continue down the road on the left side, past the apartments, past the stormwater reserve. There is a small dirt trail and you must cross a river to get inside, but you end up ducking into what is truly a real wilderness, full of tall bracken, mossy, with boulders and cedars and firs. There are old, well-used camping chairs and what seems like a lego set on the ground, and the small trail slopes upwards against the side of a few very quiet and old homes. Walking along to the top, you can find a graveyard at one end. I have never been able to replicate this experience, despite visiting multiple times, but once, getting lost here, I stumbled onto a tall water tower at the end of a grassy meadow. There, I crossed a low concrete wall that is broken in several places and a valley full of rocks and logs. There is a dragon graffitied along the side of the wall, hundreds of feet long, interspersed with slogans and messages from the few people who come across the trail. Perhaps I will never visit that place again. Its a refuge lost in time and space.

And then there is the great, long, wall, the location of which I am not too sure of but it is somewhere in the Northgate direction and running alongside a large highway, which is probably I-5. This wall stretches from end to end of a quarter mile, and the sheer scale of it will surprise you the first time you glimpse it, rising out of the fog and in stark contrast to the gray skies. It separates the homes from the highway. You can get on top of the wall and onto the side of the highway if you're careful enough. The roar of the cars above the wall make you feel, not small, not insignificant in the same way that the highways themselves do, but electric. I think about, if all of them were to stop, then this barrier would somehow go limp, the power of it lost. You would be able to simply walk across the top.

And then there is Kenmore and Bothell. Kenmore is the easier one to get to on a line south. There is a valley at the end where both sides are high concrete, athletic wires, and higher trees, and you will come across an garage and auto shop who's claim to fame is that it is entering the second half of the century in business.

There are several paths towards Kenmore, but my favored one that I took on my way to the Eastside was through Atlas Rd to Locust, which is a risky hundred meter section downhill without a bike lane or pavement. The advantage of Atlas is how conventional it is up to this one dangerous section: simply running Brier towards the Brier park and turning early, and also how simple the route is once you get onto Locust. You will pass many quiet suburban neighborhoods, community churches, and eventually when you see the stylized apartments you know you're getting close. Finally the view from Atlas is a good one, above the construction and empty bases of houses being built you can see across the valley to the powerlines cutting through the forest across from you.

Another path is taking the MLT high school path, which will take you past a pizza place at the mile mark, and then through a meandering forest course by an arterial and then takes refuge in a quieter section of houses. Here there are large, rambling properties with their own verandas and fields and brooks and porches. There are two little free libraries here. From this path, you turn at the corner and go up a small concrete bridge to an architectural firm, and then turn from there to eventually get to Log Boom Park past the city hall and Third Place Books. From there you're on the Burke Gilman, and can choose between a target on the eastside or Seattle.

And there is also the famous I-5 reverse course, the route I have taken most often and which rounds to just under five miles. For this you will go Larch, and then down and to the left, and then after passing through a small neighborhood and a playground, you will turn right and pass an elementary school. You can continue straight up this way to get to the uphill section of this busy street section of Lynnwood characterized by a Barnes and Nobles and Nordstrom Rack, and continue from there through a series of shortcuts to the great wall, or you can turn left here and do an extended section towards towards the busy intersection where by the Brown Bear car wash there is always an american flag raised, always a four-foot tall statue of liberty raising a light and holding her book. From here, on the great asphalt with cars rushing by in every direction, you can cut the run short to three miles by going left, across I-5 to the City Center and then left again and uphill to home, or you can continue uphill past the Barnes and Noble and then crusade up in a left-curving ramp bridge above I-5 and the interurban trail to Mill Creek.

Here, on the ramp bridge above I-5, is one place that's always inspired into my essays, because it is so transparent, so easy to explain what it's all about. Standing on the bridge you can see the setting, watery shimmering sun, the political billboards, many cars rushing back and forth in below you in very quick flashes of light, the green highway signs below, the cars streaming far into the left and turning out on the right. You stand firm on the concrete, eyes dilating, more permanent, more alive than anyone else there. You have finished the longer half of your run, and wait for the light to change so you can turn left and travel up beside the river of cars.

The scattered forest lines your right but not to the left, where the road blots the sun in a series of bridges and strip buildings. You can see the cars exit the highway on the ramp below you, you can see far in the distance the girders and sheets of apartments under construction in the Alderwood Mall jumbo boulevard complex, cranes patiently waiting beside. And between there and you is just the road and a succession of malnourished saplings on the pavement.

Further up on your way back home, you will walk right by the eternal ressurrection, the demolition and raising and pumping of buildings from the asphalt. And then as you go up the long, very long walkway on the reverse of the I-5 and cross the tipping point, you will see a snowy mountain in the distance, and the clouds, and feel the wind, a yard full of electrical transformers and complicated boxes below, see the cheap hotel with the cupped plants across the barrier to the right, and speed up or slow down as you make your way to the City Center.

Here there is also a walkway across the highway, which you could have taken earlier for the three-mile run, where the sight of sheer concrete and asphalt absolutely dominates your presence and you can see the cars below you. Here I like to imagine, during a rainstorm, someone will park their car on the shoulder, roll a piano carefully onto the walkway, pull up a chair, and play symphonies, loud delicate music, through the rain. There's so much absurdity, of existing alongside cars, of living with the roar of the highway. But we add little groomed walkways to transport us along side, to create a great museum, and then forget that they exist.

What I want to share is not any specific experience, but the extreme pleasure of running or walking freely, on roads and off roads, of exploring even in the dullest, most boring places you know. There is so much richness in suburban neighborhoods, in rows of convenience stores, in flatlands and the most dystopian environments. Go a mile in any direction and find yourself in a completely different place. Find a telephone pole, a rock, a dried streambed above the infinite expanse of grass or houses. See things in a way they aren't meant to be seen.

I thought I could only love expanses of wilderness, great towering mountains, clouds, lakes, and that the encroach of modernity would erase it. Now I know that I am two or three hundred years too late, that we have always been concerned about such things, and that the experience of physical discovery will never change. There is something, not nature but maybe a force of it, that evolves out of the most boring places, a new series of images which has the power to draw people irresistibly, liminal spaces, bleak beauty, transit centers, power lines, sunsets, rainstorms, lofi music, walking at night, walking alone. The shudder of homogeneity becomes a beautiful shudder.

Any place that is ignored has this feeling to it. Lynnwood's Wikipedia page is an absolute boring mess of facts and dates. Any town in America, a sign of globalization, a wreck of roads, where the transit center and the city center and the business centers are all far apart, a place with only chain restaurants and car dealerships, a commuter town on the edge of the interstate, the boring suburbs, there is always something interesting, uniquely interesting; and beautiful about it.