It’s hard to beat the beauty of Seattle Center’s south fountain lawn during Winterfest, especially at night. Thousands upon thousands of white lights encrust the trees surrounding the expanse of grass, making you feel you’ve stepped inside a wedding, or coronation, or Camelot.
The grown-up me kept walking, but the girl inside stayed behind. She ran to the center of the circle, spread her arms wide, and spun herself dizzy before dropping to the grass below. I think she’s still there on that lawn, still staring at all that white delight.
At the far end of the lawn sits a carousel. We stood for a moment and watched the blurry smiles of the riders as they passed by. Beyond the carousel, we saw flailing arms whizzing past an open window — skaters enjoying a spin around the Holiday Ice Rink. Though no snow dotted the ground outside, by leaning over the open railing and breathing in the icy rink air, I could almost pretend we lived in some wintry location, with weeks and weeks and piles and piles of dependable, billowy snow. I breathed as deeply as I could and let my imagination have its way.
Adults skaters clutched each other, or just the air. The tiniest of children skated around with the aid of a clever metal contrapion — the skater’s version of a walker. Their faces said, “I’m doing it!” as they grinned at the onlookers. And they were.
We honed in on one interesting skater. The man was about 40, clearly new to skating, and dressed head-to-toe in hockey attire. Had he been sitting on a bench off to the side, clutching a hockey stick, you’d assume he was a bonafide team member. All that was lacking was the ability to skate, but with the rest covered, he’d finally turned his attention to that last pesky detail.
We found it difficult to break away from hockey man. But the chilly air had birthed a hankering for a latte, so we crossed the short distance between the rink and the Seattle Center House, and made a beeline for Starbucks. “One triple grande eggnog latte; one double tall reduced fat eggnog latte,” we ordered. With the spicy concoctions in hand, we settled at a table outside Starbucks and dug around my backpack until we’d unearthed a can of smoked almonds and my sister’s caramel corn. You’d be surprised how well almonds and caramel corn go with eggnog lattes. We sipped and nibbled and gawked at a sea of fascinating bodies and faces. We listened in on nearby conversations and shared one of our own. And when we’d eked every ounce of enjoyment out of that particular spot, we loaded up again and moved on.
Just feet from our table was one glassed edge of an enormous miniature train display. I’ve seen in year upon year, but I never tire of absorbing all those minute details — the cottony wisps of smoke arising from inch-wide brick chimneys, the Victorian shoppers frozen in mid-stride as they leave the town bakery, the matchstick-sized logs stacked in a farmhouse woodshed. The same longing crept over me that visits every time I take in that sight: I want to be four inches tall and living in that display. I want to enter the steps of the steepled church and ski down the wrongly-scaled mountain. I want to buy bolts of fabric in the mercantile and visit the elderly woman in the yellow clapboard house. I want to ride the train as it crosses beneath the bridge, and wave at the massive people ogling me and the other residents of Tinyville.
Dave, perhaps sensing I was about to break a rule and hop the glass enclosure, suggested we leave the train display and head back to Key Arena. I agreed with reluctance and shot a wistful parting glance at my people. But just a half-minute later, a new diversion caught my eye. The man behind the glass window at Seattle Fudge was working on a giant rope of pink taffy. We pressed up against the glass and watched him work. After a minute or two of hypnotizing rotations, he tugged the snaky rope off the stretcher/folder contraption and aligned it on the cutting/wrapping machine. That, too, was mesmerizing. Dave — who is a mechanical genius and could fix anything you set in front of him if you gave him silence and a half an hour — watched for a minute and explained how the wrapper worked. I have no idea how his eyes were able to slow time long enough to dissect and analyze those working parts, but I took him at his word.
We returned to Key Arena and took our seats, and watched the Sonics beat the Celtics, 118-111. And I have to say, I wasn’t much impressed. They seemed … nonchalant. I suppose when you make a couple million dollars no matter what you do, you lose the gumption to fight. They weren’t hungry — not in the way that my son and his teammates were hungry, hours earlier. Not in the way that the man on the ice rink was hungry. Sometimes, getting what you want takes all the spark out of you.
But it didn’t matter. The win didn’t factor into my day, and a loss couldn’t have marred one second of our time in Seattle. It had a been a perfect, memorable, beautiful day.
And now you’ve been there, too.