Seattle is growing literally before your eyes; it’s projected to more than triple its population (from the current 700,000 to 2.5 million in the next 3-5 years, and it’s noisy. By the time we came left breakfast that first morning Pioneer Square and walked the few blocks back to 1st Avenue, a rectangle about four feet square had been jackhammered, and a construction worker had jumped down to work inside it. Large-scale construction was everywhere.
Bainbridge Island was almost shockingly quiet after the jackhammer intensity of downtown. Tourists often hop the 35-minute ferry from Seattle and just hit up the shops, restaurants, and galleries of the Winslow area town center.) But we also wanted to check out the Bloedel Reserve, a 150-acre nature sanctuary on the island that alternately describes itself as “a living work of art,” and “a museum in nature.” In fact, we had decided to rent a car during our stay primarily for this purpose (more on this later).
Once the home of timber barons Virginia and Prentice Bloedel, the grounds reflect the owners’ love of the natural world and progressive belief in its therapeutic effects, as well as the emphasis on texture Mr. Bloedel’s colorblindness inspired. Sculpted paths lead visitors through meadows and marshes, past carnivorous plants and birch groves to the former Bloedel residence, which boasts a peaceful view of Elliott Bay and offers a wayside rest for walkers. Guests are invited to peruse the books and play the piano in the restored rooms, which also showcase family photographs, Mr. Bloedel’s collection of mathematical instruments and business ledgers, and other historical memorabilia.
After the residence, the landscape changes once again; the center part of the reserve juxtaposes the precise sleekness of Japanese rock gardens with the mystical fairy quality of gardens boasting over 40 varieties of mosses. (Plant species are not marked along the trails, to encourage the immersive quality of the experience, but if you just can’t stand not knowing, the Residence does offer some plant and animal identification information.)
When we checked in at Bloedel and learned that the exploration of the grounds usually takes about an hour and a half, I blanched a little. We had brought another family along with us, and among us we had four children ranging from age eight down to four. But the combination of the company and the oft-changing landscape did their magic in keeping everyone engaged. (This choice might have contradicted the Bloedels’ desire to help people reconnect with the natural world, but our allowing the kids to snap some photos for part of the time did propel them forward.)
The Bloedel brochure encourages visitors to compare how they feel after they walk to how they felt at the beginning, and indeed it was so. My jetlagged, overcaffeinated, strung-out-from-travel-and-celebration body felt relaxed and expansive, as if I had taken a shower consisting of fresh air and mosses. “Forest bathing” is a hot trend; the Bloedels had been onto it nearly 100 years ago.
From Bloedel we headed back to Winslow, where the cozy Streamliner Diner graciously squeezed in our party of eight shortly before closing time at 2:00 pm. The diner serves delicious fare with a range of options especially pleasing at late-brunch time: I successfully crafted a satisfying vegetarian lunch while others enjoyed waffles, huevos, and meatloaf.
On the return ferry, we enjoyed popcorn from the snack bar while a jazz duo serenaded us, and we watched the sunset color the city skyline.