Tag Archives: Tacoma

Food storage sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Like peas n’ carrots

The air has gone from crisp to cold. The leaves are thinning on the trees. And apparently half the vegetables in Washington are currently in our root cellar. I think that means it’s November.

We’ve already dipped into the pumpkins for tomorrow’s festivities—and if you find yourself in the States at the moment, here’s wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Sturdy Gertie

Seventy-five years ago today, the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in a spectacular tangle of twisted cables and swaying concrete. You can actually watch “Galloping Gertie” meet her doom on film (complete with cheeseball movie reel narration, sped-up footage and sound effects), readily accessible thanks to the magic of the internet.

The only casualty was a dog. But the collapse was an incredibly high-profile event—and not just because at the time, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. You see, it had been designed by famous engineers, including lead designer Leon Moisseiff (co-designer of the Manhattan Bridge) and consulting engineer Joseph B. Strauss (chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge). These guys were leading scientists who applied cutting-edge theories in physics to their work—but even they had never encountered what would come to be known as “aeroelastic flutter.” The conditions were just right, and that was it. (Though I’m sure I’m not the first to add that people should listen when we say it gets windy here in November.)

Thanks to the interruption of World War II, it took a decade for the bridge to be redesigned and rebuilt. “Sturdy Gertie” opened in 1950, and westbound traffic still travels over that span today. Luckily for us (and knock on wood), Gertie’s plenty solid this time around. No galloping from this baby, please and thank you.

Fourth of July sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Fire up the grill

We have a tradition of spending the Fourth with some friends who live down the street from us. We bring the old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream crock and the croquet set—they fire up the grill.

Fourth of July sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The best part, though, is watching the fireworks over the bay.

To everybody reading in the United States, have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Chambers Bay golf course sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hole in one

Since I was thinking about examples of American ruins at the time, my plan was to head across town to sketch the remains of the old sand and gravel quarry at the site of the Chambers Bay golf course. But when I got there, the trail that leads to the ruins was closed while they set up for this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament.

I’m no expert on golf, but it’s been fun to learn more about the Chambers Bay course in the run-up to the event. The course is both public and brand new—just eight years old—which makes it an unusual choice for the U.S. Open. But it’s an absolute marvel of design and difficulty. Chambers Bay is many times larger than a traditional Scottish links-style course; the combination of sheer size, rugged terrain, tricky fescue-and-heather landscaping, and the strong winds that sweep through the Tacoma Narrows make this course one of the most challenging and unpredictable in the entire world. Add to that the stunning panoramic views of Puget Sound and the islands, and it’s no wonder the USGA thought the world would want to feast their eyes on Chambers Bay.

The tournament opens on Monday, and thanks to the expensive tickets and the maelstrom of golfers, spectators, media and security descending upon my town, the likes of me won’t be able to get anywhere near Chambers Bay. But that’s okay—I got to have a front row seat for the transformation. When it’s all over, there won’t be any ruins left behind to commemorate the event—there won’t be any trace left at all. All the more reason to have the evidence recorded in my sketchbook.

Library doors sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Under the archway

Unlike Monday’s mystery door, this is a door through which I pass so often, it’s become routine. I know this place so well that I took it for granted, barely noticing the beautiful detailing around the entryway.

Well, a sketchbook is a good cure for that—there’s no better way to appreciate something than to spend an hour peering closely at it.

Port of Tacoma sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Morning mist

On this morning, my city felt like a stage set of paper cut-outs. I just about killed this sketchbook dead by working and reworking the flimsy paper for this drawing—but even as the paper threatened to give out on me, I found myself wanting to add more and more layers. Capturing reality accurately proved elusive that day, but when I look at this page now, I remember the moment with perfect clarity.

Which, I suppose, is the reason I do this stuff in the first place…

Kalakala sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The swan song of the Kalakala

There are restoration success stories like Lucy…and then there are others without the happy ending. In my part of the world right now, a floating rust bucket is the talk of the town. That’s because at long last, an odyssey spanning nearly 90 years, thousands of miles and a whole lot of folly is about to come to an end.

From the 1930s through the 60s, the M.V. Kalakala was a swingin’ Art Deco ferry in Seattle’s Black Ball fleet. Her unusual (and flawed) design made her either a shining star or a laughing stock, depending on whom you asked—but either way, she enjoyed a fair amount of fame. She was the recipient of the first-ever commercial on-board radar system (FCC license #001!), and even made a cameo in the popular “Black Ball Ferry Line” song by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.

Once she was retired from ferry service, though, she went into a long, slow decline—beached and converted into a cannery in Alaska, then later towed back to Washington as the unfortunate victim of restoration projects that never made it off the ground. I’ll spare you all the twists and turns of the Kalakala story—a quick Google search will give you a whole host of written words, photographs, and even sketches by other folks who can tell the tale better.

Kalakala sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Normally this is just the sort of story that would get me up in arms, ready to send a donation to the save-it fund and spread the word far and wide. But this time, I think I’d prefer to see the Kalakala sail off into the proverbial sunset. She deserves a better end than rusting through and sinking in a swirl of toxic chemicals, in a town that bears no real connection to her history.

Still, I’m glad I’ve had a chance to catch glimpses of her over the years. And I didn’t want to miss the chance to sketch her, even if only from a distance. She’s slated for demolition at the end of this month—I’m glad the weather held out long enough to give me a couple of good views of her.

Wishing you fair winds and following seas, Kalakala.

Mantel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Decking the halls

When we head to the mountains on Sunday to get our tree, the holiday decorating will officially begin. At our old house, most of our decorating focused on the mantel—since we don’t tend to go overboard with that sort of thing anyway, sometimes it was the only place that hinted at anything festive. At our new house, the fireplace is even more central to our lives and the rhythm of our home. I’m excited to see what the season brings, and how the mantel will rise to the occasion.

Mt. Rainier sunrise sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mountain shadows

A lot of people are going to be up early today to participate in holiday craziness—but for me, this time of year has a completely different incentive to be out before the sun. Because if you live in the South Sound area and you’re very, very lucky, you might catch that rare phenomenon where the sun rises behind Mt. Rainier and casts a massive shadow on the clouds above.

The moment doesn’t last long—about the same amount of seconds as alpenglow does. And the conditions have to be absolutely perfect for it to happen: clear enough for the mountain and sun to be visible (which almost never happens in winter), but with just enough mid-level cloud cover to give the shadow a reflecting surface. And you can only see it from certain areas where the sunrise is perfectly aligned behind the mountain (like the solstice sunrises with which places like Stonehenge and Mission San Juan Bautista are intentionally aligned). All of this makes it so uncommon that we’re lucky if conditions are right once a year.

In my six-plus years here, I’ve only seen it in person twice—and on Monday, I was finally lying in wait with my sketchbook. It felt like winning the lottery.