Solstice Giraffe


My neighborhood has hosted a summer solstice parade since 1989. Without really knowing anything about it, I attended the festival the first summer I lived in Seattle (1993) when it just seemed like any other summer festival and the Fremont neighborhood seemed very far away from my central area apartment. I still have the batik bedspread I bought that year. Now I live two blocks from the parade route and have a much more intimate understanding of the festival.

It’s not your regular summer festival. The parade rules:

  1. No printed words, signage or recognizable logos.
  2. No live animals (except guide animals).
  3. No motorized vehicles (except motorized wheelchairs)
  4. No functional weapons.

The festival is a completely nonmotorized, noncommercial celebration of sunshine, life, art and creativity. The better for basking in the sun, a festival of this sort involves a fair bit of nudity.  Most famously, naked cyclists. I used to love their creative body paint costumes, the double take when you tried to figure out which riders were clothed and which were not.

But the naked cyclists have proliferated in recent years, in my opinion to the detriment of the festival. Just as the belly dancers once did, the cyclists’ numbers threaten to overwhelm the parade. Many of the newcomers don’t bother with artistic paint designs. Worse, their fame has drawn hundreds of pervs from the suburbs who have no interest in the rest of the celebration and just want to take pictures of naked people.

But the rest of the festival is still there, and it is still filled with incredible creations. Like this 15-foot-tall puppet from 2014.


Ghost of Solstice Past


Now it is winter solstice, but my neighborhood is best known for its celebration of the summer solstice. Here is a float from the annual parade a few years ago.

There’s No Place Like Home

I disagree with Dorothy.

I disagree with Dorothy.

My family watched The Wizard of Oz recently. My sense of the movie has changed every time I’ve seen it, but one thing has always stayed the same:

… if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?

Oh hell, no! There’s a whole big wide world out there and it is full of things you can’t even imagine till you get your ass out of Kansas. You only get one shot to explore it. Life is a story that you write; it should be worth reading. Your back yard is just a little old back yard.

I have always needed to find out what’s on the other side of the rainbow. When I was Dorothy’s age, I filled a drawer with tour brochures requested out of the back of National Geographic. I took the first opportunity I found to get the hell out of Dodge, and to this day it doesn’ feel like travel if you don’t need a passport to get there. But I’ve never quite become fully nomadic. Some string has always pulled me back to a home base and sometimes I am reminded there’s a reason home base has always been Seattle.

I was walking my daughter to school, when I smelled the rich aroma of the Theo Chocolate Factory. Inhaling deeply, I thought, “Holy shit! I live down the street from a chocolate factory. No one lives down the street to from a chocolate factory except for Charlie Bucket.”


You know how you watch romantic comedies and think to yourself, “How does a single mother afford to renovate a fire house in the Haight?” or “Who actually lives in a floating house on Lake Union? There are only like a hundred of those.” The people in stories never have lives as prosaic as our own. If our lives are stories, they desperately need editing.

I remember telling myself a few years ago, “This is the part of the story where they say two sentences like ‘The next four years were dark for our heroine, and then one day…”

And then one day, I smelled chocolate in the morning and realized I had a life worthy of fiction.

Follow the polka dot road.

Follow the polka dot road.

A ship’s mast sailed past the kitchen window as Dee bid farewell to her preschooler, the dog, and the nanny. The ship itself, cruising through the canal from Puget Sound to Lake Union, was hidden from view. Dee left her tumble-down post-war cottage just as the sun was rising. Not that you could tell the sun was rising, because the cloud cover would give the sky the same Ansel Adams-gray cast all day. She walked her third-grader down their street with the polka dots painted down the middle. (Someone repainted them in the middle of the night every year in June; she had her ideas, but had never figured out who it was for certain.) They talked about Shakespeare. Third-grader X believed that all love stories ended with a marriage, but the two of them had press tickets to see Romeo et Juliette at the ballet. Dee was expected to write for a parents’ magazine about taking (ahem) “tweens” to the ballet, and she would rather not have to leave early with an eight-year old in tears.

You kiss by the book(let)

You kiss by the book(let) Romeo

The smell of chocolate cooking at the organic, fair-trade factory down the street filled the air as she explained the difference between the tragedy they would view next week, and the comedy they watched at the neighborhood brewery/theater at Christmas. The British-style pub hosted a panto every Christmas season. The cross-dressing fairy godmother and double-wedding ending from this year’s panto had been exactly suited to X’s taste.

British Panto at the neighborhood pub.

British Panto at the neighborhood pub.

Dee kissed X goodbye. She watched her little girl cross the street to school and walked to the corner to wait for the bus in the icy wind. It had only been a couple of weeks since New Year’s Eve fireworks over the lake had wakened the whole family, but she already couldn’t wait for summer. Then the neighborhood would close the streets to celebrate the Solstice with a parade in celebration of life and art. In honor of the sun (whether it showed or not) hundreds of belly dancers, dozens of body painted bicyclists, and everyone else in fairy wings, festival clothes, or birthday suits would march from the canal to Gasworks, the city park ornamented with the rusted sculptural remains of industrial process, where they would put on a pageant that Dee had never yet managed to attend. When you could see the origin of the parade route from your crumbling back deck, it hardly seemed worthwhile to walk all the way to the park for a show, especially with little kids in tow. Instead, they would join their neighbors for a block party with vegan burgers, drum circles, kegs from the brewery, and a cover band. The kids would play in the street and practice circus arts with the neighbor who juggles knives.

Kids have a ball at the festival. (Sorry)

Kids have a ball at the festival. (Sorry)

In my neighborhood, we celebrate Solstice by painting our bodies to look like storm troopers. What do you do?

In my neighborhood, we celebrate Solstice by painting our bodies to look like storm troopers. What do you do?

And for just a couple of days, Dee would forget all about the wide world and really believe that there’s no place like home.

Wherever I may roam...

Wherever I may roam…