The Great Outdoors

On this episode of The Desk Set, we're talking about books about nature and books about journeys. We chat with Nancy Blakey, author of By the Shore, about the benefits of spending time in nature and some of her favorite Pacific Northwest outdoor experiences. Then, we hear from cartoonist, Seattle Public Library employee, and Washington State Book Award finalist Susanna Ryan, author of Seattle Walk Report, about some of her favorite journeys through Seattle and the best way to start your own walking journey. 

Listen

A transcript of this episode is available at the end of the show notes.

Recommended Reading

Follow Susanna on Instagram at Seattle Walk Report, and learn more about borrowing a Discover Pass from the library. Check out the list below for the books discussed in this episode. 

Books About Nature, Books About Journeys






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The following books explore the benefits of spending time in nature. You can also check out the East Anglia study that Nancy references in her interview.

The Power of Being Outside




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Contact

If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to deskset@kcls.org.

Credits

The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. Most of the audio heard on the podcast was recorded at the ideaX Makerspace at the Bellevue Library. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.

Transcript

Emily Calkins: You're listening to The Desk Set.

Britta Barrett: A bookish podcast for reading broadly.

Emily Calkins:  We're your hosts, Emily Calkins

Britta Barrett: and Britta Barrett. 

Emily Calkins: And on this episode, we're talking about books about nature and books about journey. We start by chatting with Nancy Blakey, author of By The Shore: A Guide to Getting Outdoors in the Pacific Northwest. 

Britta Barrett: Then we talk to Susanna Ryan, a cartoonist and Seattle Public Library staff member. Susanna's the artist behind the popular Instagram account, Seattle Walk Report. Her drawings have been collected in a book of the same name that was recently nominated as a Washington State Book Award finalist. 

Emily Calkins:
All right, so can you please tell us who you are and what you do?

Nancy Blakey:
I'm Nancy Blakey and I'm the author of guidebooks of the Pacific Northwest. And I'm focusing on local wonders and more of the offbeat places and activities than mainstream guidebooks often do, and just interested in showing people the wonders of their own region. I'm currently working on a guide to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, and it's definitely more a micro angle than macro. There's just too much abundance to cover everything.

Emily Calkins:
Yeah. One of the things that really struck me when I was reading By The Shore is that it's kind of a unique format. It's a travel guide, but it's also sort of beautiful, it's almost like a coffee table book and it has all kinds of stuff that seems like it's beyond the standard travel guide. As you mentioned, recipes and information about wildlife and all that kind of stuff. How did the book come about?

Nancy Blakey:
I was approached by Sasquatch to write a guidebook and the perimeters were pretty big. My editor, Hannah Elnan, was just fabulous and gave me lots of freedom to choose what to bring to the guide. I just followed my passions, which, gosh, campfire cooking, stars and meteor showers, birds, foraging, hiking. I wrote the book I wanted to read on how to spend time outdoors. Got lucky enough, my son-in-law, Nick Hall, is a busy professional photographer. He kindly took time out of his schedule to give an almost cinematic perspective to the book. I just felt so lucky. Not only did I supply the words of where and how but Nick gave the visual of, "This is what you'll see." And it's just really lush photos. All the people you see in the book are my family.

Emily Calkins:
I love that. It's just a beautiful book. I think one of the things that keeps people from getting outdoors is sort of the range of equipment that's needed for some activities. So for example, one of the trips that you talk about is kayaking to Blake Island, which is sort of off the coast of West Seattle. I got all excited and then I started reading about the equipment and it's like, "Oh my god, I don't even know what a spray skirt is." So definitely not a trip for beginners, that one. Do you have some favorite low gear trips that are good for outdoor newbies or people who are intimidated by all of that equipment?

Nancy Blakey:
What a good question. I think that my audience, the perfect audience are people who are maybe even couch potatoes but just restless, just want to do something, they're not sure what or how to do it. I think we all wait for the right time, the right gear, I'll get in shape. But really, all you need is your feet. Hiking, strolling. I love foraging. We live in a lush place for mushrooms and berries and nettles and that is a treasure hunt. It's so fun to do. You don't need any gear. You just need your senses, keeping them wide open. Japanese have something called shinrin-yoku, which is a concept of strolling in the woods. There are clubs there. It's a really big deal. You move slow and you savor all the textures and the smells with your eyes. It's a beautiful way to move in the woods. Studies have shown it lowers blood pressure and really, really helps with a sense of well-being.

Emily Calkins:
Speaking of that sense of well-being, in the book you cite a University of Michigan study that basically says the benefits of being outside are essentially endless. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Nancy Blakey:
Yes, yes. In fact, one of the biggest studies came out of East Anglia in Norwich. They did a meta analysis of 140 studies on the outdoors and found that the benefits were endless. That they dropped blood pressure, it helps you with your sleep, your sleep duration, really helps with diabetes type two, lowers blood sugars. I mean, you can almost pick a health issue and the outdoors addresses it. Even more importantly, Emily, I think that for kids, the outdoors is incredible. There's no wrong moves. You can't be too noisy or too boisterous. Kids spending time outdoors move in ways that they don't in games, organized activities, soccer. That when you turn kids outside, they stoop and skip and climb and throw and twist. This is developing your tendons and ligaments as they grow.

Nancy Blakey:
Kids today have less and less time outdoors for unstructured play. It's really critical for health, not only as a child, but growing into an adult. Your joints are stronger, for example, because you've used them as they were developing. I think that all of us know the feeling of going outside and just feeling this ... It's got a whole different feel to it. All of our senses are heightened, the smelling, hearing, our sight. They think it might be a vestige of our hunter gatherer days when we had to hunt and all the senses had to be on high alert in order to survive. We still have that within us. So when we go outside, all of our senses are heightened.

Nancy Blakey:
I used to do childhood education speeches, and one of my favorite speeches was on the outdoors. I loved asking the audience for a childhood memory. It didn't have to be the best or worst, just a childhood memory. I'd say, "Raise your hand if it was outside," and 99% of the people raise their hand. It's remarkable. It's not that we don't have childhood memories indoors. But outdoors is just much more resonant, much more significant, it sticks with us. I don't think we lose that as adults either.

Emily Calkins:
It's interesting hearing you talk about children. I have a three-year-old and when you are talking about the forest bathing and that sort of moving slow and noticing things, I feel like for little kids, that's kind of the default. As a parent, sometimes I'm like, "Okay, we need to pick things up a little bit." But being outside is so great for her because there's so much for her to notice. She sees things and points things out and picks things up that I'm sort of have trained myself not to do because I'm always sort of looking for the next thing. But it's fun to be with her because she's so sort of naturally tuned in and slowed down in a way that I think adults sometimes lose.

Nancy Blakey:
I think so. I mean, the kid's eye-view walking with a child is a whole different experience. I think that it's important for adults, when we take our children outside to move at kid's speed, to slow down and not rush and make a goal, we have to make it here by a certain time or ... We've got a lot to learn from them. I just spent the weekend hiking near Mount Hood with my three-year-old grandson and a baby, nine-month-old in a pack, and I had to move at kid's speed and it was so beautiful. It was just the leaves falling or the questions or splashing in the lake, just watching the ripples, throwing rocks. I think that Jude spent half an hour doing nothing but throwing rocks in the lake and looking at the different ripples from the different sized rocks. It was so meaningful. Instead of just the march around Trillium Lake because I had a three mile loop to do, we did half the loop and played. It was great.

Emily Calkins:
So we talked a little bit about low gear trips, hiking and foraging. In the book, do you have any trips or activities that you think are hidden gems for experienced outdoor people? People who are used to being out in the Pacific Northwest?

Nancy Blakey:
Well, I think, yes, I do. It can be scaled up or down. I love biking in the San Juan's. You can take your bike on the ferry and just hit an island. The San Juan Islands was very biker friendly. I have spent time - you have panniers and you put your camp gear or stay in bed and breakfast and put your overnight stuff in panniers and just stay and stroll. The other thing, I love kayaking, as you noted. There's a Hope Island paddle that you can camp out on Hope Island. It's very little known. If you put in at Arcadia Point, which is about a 30 minute drive north of Olympia, it's less than a mile to paddle to Hope Island. It's primitive campground. It's not like you're going to have all the amenities but just sleeping under stars does something to you and you feel remote. You've got this own space.

Nancy Blakey:
This time of the year, Emily, I love the bioluminescence. I mean it is out in full force. And at night it's just gorgeous. You can do a bioluminescence paddle, either guided or take your own kayak. Hidden Cove on Bainbridge Island has really incredible bioluminescence, Bellingham. There's lots of kayak companies that will give you a tour. I talk about a memorable evening just watching. It's like the northern lights in the water. You can see schools of fish and seals arrowing by and it's got this green glow. It is really incredible.

Nancy Blakey:
This is a great time of year to do it. Preferably with not a full moon and obviously a clear night so it's safe paddling. But that's really memorable. Every summer, friends and I go to Deer Park Camp in the Olympics to watch the full moon come up and park camp up there at Deer Park. And then there's a meadow nearby that we take our camp chairs, watch this splendid full moon, summer full moon come up. And then you're up high. There's lots of hikes to do from Deer Park in the Olympics. So you've got your base, you watch the full moon and then you get to hike by day. It's a really wonderful way to spend a weekend.

Emily Calkins:
That sounds lovely. So we're heading into fall and winter, which is the time when Seattle's sort of famously wet weather comes out. I think it drives many people inside. Can you share some tips for getting outside even when it's cold and wet?

Nancy Blakey:
Another good question. Rain gear, just rain gear. We live in the Pacific Northwest and everyone should have good rain gear. I think the bottom line, Emily, is you never regret spending time outdoors, no matter the weather. You don't come back from being outside and go, "Gosh, I wish I didn't do that." You always come back thinking, "Wow. Okay, I might be a little bit wet or a little bit cold, but I was out there when no one else was." It fills you up, it really does. I think that it's important to keep it simple. Don't do a complicated hike or anything that needs a lot of gear. Nothing tricky. I mean, just head out the door.

Nancy Blakey:
I mean, the Pacific Northwest is just rich with walking opportunities and with the right gear and dressed in layers, you're set. The Norwegians have, well, the Scandinavians actually have outdoor school for kids which we're experimenting with during the pandemic. But it's year-round. So you've got five-year olds outside in Norway in the winter. They have a saying, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear." That if you dress warm and layers and appropriately, you can pretty much go anywhere and do anything and stay warm.

Emily Calkins:
So you mentioned a little earlier, the pandemic is leading to outdoor preschooling. I'm wondering if it's changed your relationship with the outdoors at all?

Nancy Blakey:
Again, the outdoors has always been my solace. Seven years ago, my husband died suddenly of a heart attack. He was on delivering a motorcycle to a friend in Mexico. It just devastated our family. It came from nowhere. It was right before Christmas. We were shattered. I was shattered for a long time. I did not see how I could put things back together again. And yet, the outdoors became my solace and gradually began spending more time outdoors. Then Hannah asked me two years later to write By The Shore, which really became the whole stepping off place of getting out of the gray zone.

Nancy Blakey:
I had to go clamming, I had to look for meteor showers, go hiking, or that luminescence paddle in the name of research. Then it dawned on me, "Why aren't I doing this more often? Why did it take a book deadline for me to run really throw myself out there?" But after Greg's death, it became stepping stones, "Okay, this week, I've got to head to Shi Shi Beach on the ocean and camp out and write about it." Family came with me, friends came with me. I did a lot of solo hiking, a lot of solitude, and worked my way through it. So the pandemic, in many ways, is like another little death of safety, of the way things were, that it's pretty much changed everything.

Nancy Blakey:
I'm not an anxious person at all. In fact, friends and family worry about me because I just kind of throw myself out there. But COVID-19 has given me an awareness and a low level anxiety. Where are we going, what's going to happen to the economy, the degradation of the environment that's happening under the current administration. I worry about stuff and I found that doing this research for the mountain guidebook that I'm working on, it was so similar to By The Shore. It's like, "Here I am hiking to this overlook, to drink in this absolute, the wonders and beauty of the mountains, of the Pacific Northwest and just filled with peace." Filled with, "Yes, the world can lurch along but here I am."

Nancy Blakey:
I think being outdoors also keeps you very present. You might have a goal, "I want to reach this point to this hike or this paddle." Or, "I want to find X number of mushrooms, chanterelles for dinner this weekend." But it really keeps you present. It keeps you immediate, because the wind might be blowing, you're aware of sounds and smells that you don't have necessarily, that you could shut out when you're indoors or just walking to the car. So it has changed my relationship in many ways and strengthened it to the outdoors. You see that with the crowds, these pandemic crowds and all the trailheads. I've never seen the trailheads or a parking lot so busy, so crowded. Mostly people are, and I take it very seriously, I take the COVID very seriously, most people are wearing masks and step off the trail and that's been reassuring.

Nancy Blakey:
I've avoided the big huge hotspots, the beaches and places where you're going to have a huge gathering of people without masks or rules. I have found that if I go early, I think that's key. Number one, this summer during this pandemic, if you go early and if you're at the trailhead or where you want to be at 8:30 in the morning, between 8:30, 9:00, you'll almost be sure to find a spot to park and you'll start out solo. You'll start out with just you and your friends. If you wait until late morning or noon, you'll be fighting for a parking place and joining throngs of people. So midweek is fabulous. Early in the morning, you'll have an exceptional experience. If you can only do it on weekends, again, make it early.

Emily Calkins:
When can we look forward to the mountain guide?

Nancy Blakey:
It's going to be out in the spring of 2022. It's just been a joy. Definitely, I could not do everything. It ranges from the coast mountains near Whistler down to the south cascades in Oregon. So lots of territory to cover. I've just focused on the quirky, offbeat places. I'm not doing bend. I'm doing the Umpqua and I chose Squamish over Whistler. Just this really off the beaten path that most people wouldn't ... they'd go to the bigger places and it's just been a joy, an absolute joy this summer.

Emily Calkins:
Do you have any favorite books about the outdoors? Books that you go back to when you're doing your research or planning?

Nancy Blakey:
Well, not so much...for the research, there are so many great books on the outdoors. I think one of my number one books was Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. I've read that book a couple of times. He's so evocative of writing about the outdoors, poetic, and has such a keen eye. There's a book called The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs. Are you familiar with that? It's just such ...

Emily Calkins:
I'm not familiar with that one.

Nancy Blakey:
He writes about water in the desert. And again, just a poetic writer with a keen eye. I learned so much. That's one of my top outdoor books. Then Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, of course, Annie Dillard. That's a treasure. But as far as outdoor guides, we have some really good local writers. Romano writes hiking books. It's not Craig Romano I'm thinking of. The Mountaineers publish him and he does a wonderful job about hiking, hiking trails, even Cascades, the Olympics. Definitely have almost all of his books. We're lucky, we've got a lot of great local writers that will detail the outdoors, whether it's foraging or hiking. But as far as the epic books that inspire you about the outdoors: Arctic Dreams, Secret Knowledge of Water, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Emily Calkins:
Wonderful. Well, thank you, we will put those in the show notes so our listeners can find them and borrow them from the library. Then our last question is, what are you reading now?

Nancy Blakey:
Well, I'm reading a book called The White Cascade, the Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche. And it's about the 1910 avalanche, right near Stevens Pass, that killed 96 people. The author is Gary Krist. He did such a good job of ... It's a page turner and the things leading up to it and during and after, and it just kind of informs that whole corridor and it gets so much snow up there. Really have enjoyed reading that. And then I'm reading a book from my library here on Bainbridge Island called Costalegre by Courtney Maum.

Emily Calkins:
Oh, yes. Is that the one where they're in Mexico?

Nancy Blakey:
Yes.

Emily Calkins:
Where the mother is like an art collector?

Nancy Blakey:
Right. Yes. It's based on Peggy Guggenheim and her relationship with her daughter, Pegeen. It's really, it's great. It's a sweet, different book. Nope, sweet's not the word I would use. It is eclectic. I love the format and it's a nice counterpoint to an avalanche disaster. Those are on my bedside table.

Emily Calkins:
Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for being with us today.

Nancy Blakey:
My pleasure, Emily. Thanks for having me.

Susanna Ryan:
My name is Susanna Ryan and I make an Instagram comic called Seattle Walk Report, which last year came out as a book called Seattle Walk Report: An Illustrated Walking Tour Through 23 Seattle Neighborhoods. Basically, what I do is I just go on long walks around the city and then I make comics about the kinds of things that I see. So I take notes as I walk and then I come back home and try to figure out how to make that into a comic. So it's kind of like, I see it sort of like a travel journal for my own city. And it's just a fun way to keep track of my walks and all the stuff that I see along the way.

Britta Barrett:
When you're not walking, what are you up to?

Susanna Ryan:
So by day, I work for the Seattle Public Library. I just celebrated 10 years there. So that's kind of my main thing that I do. So Seattle Walk Report just kind of something I do on the side.

Britta Barrett:
For listeners who haven't seen your work before, can you describe what a typical page of the Seattle Walk Report might look like?

Susanna Ryan:
Sure. So usually across the top, it will say something like Seattle Walk Report, and then I'll say something like, "I walked five miles from Capitol Hill to the U district," or something like that. Then it might be that maybe I saw 16 dogs on that walk. So I might have dogs and then 16 tallies or draw an especially cute pug that I saw on the sidewalk or something like that. Usually there's kind of four different sections to it. So I might have some tallies of some stuff I've seen and then I might have an odd free dresser that was on the sidewalk. I might lovingly draw the dresser, things like that. So it's just kind of like a chronicle of the walk or something I overheard or anything like that.

Emily Calkins:
I'm so curious how you decide, sort of like what to take notes on. Like at the beginning of the walk, you're like, "Today I'm going to count dogs," or I feel like I saw one recently that was like, "I saw three guys carrying stacks of library books." How do you decide so that you don't miss counting something?

Susanna Ryan:
So when I first started, I would set up before the walk ... When I first started making the comic, I would set out before the walk and think, "I'm walking around South Lake Union. So I bet I'll see some ducks and I bet I'll see some guys in sunglasses. I bet I'll see this or that." So then I'd start tallying those things as soon as I would see them. As time went on, I found that by doing that, I was sort of going into walks with a preconceived notion of the types of things that I would see. So with time, it actually became more interesting to not set out with any sort of preconceived notions and just kind of see what happens.

Susanna Ryan:
So typically, what I'll do is, say I'll see one penny on the sidewalk, I'll go, "That's kind of interesting." I'll just kind of make a mental note of that. And then if I see another penny on the sidewalk, I'll be like, "This is going in my notepad." So then I'll start the penny tally. So most of the time, if I see something totally extraordinary where I know I'm not going to see like 17 more fedoras on the sidewalk or whatever, I'll just make a note like, "Fedora, amazing, that's great." But when it comes to stuff like the tallies, I try not to think ahead of time now about the kinds of things that I see. I think in a lot of ways, that's just made the comic better and more genuine. And it's allowed me to kind of see my environment in a new way by doing it that way.

Britta Barrett:
When you're out on your walks, it sounds like you encounter a lot of cute cats and dogs and other creatures. Are there any neighborhood celebrities when it comes to animals?

Susanna Ryan:
That's a great question. I mean, I can't say that I have favorites, because they're all my favorite. But I certainly have animals in my own neighborhood that I'm always kind of looking out for. There's this one corgi who always sits in a window. He just has this expression on his face all the time. Like he's seen it all and whatever. So I'll wave at him whenever I walk by. There's a particular cat who I really like. Then one time I was petting that cat, and then the owner walked up and wanted to have a conversation and I was like, "Oh, no, I'm just here for the cat" So there's certainly celebrities in my own heart, little dogs and cats around town.

Britta Barrett:
Speaking of avoiding people, is it correct that you mostly walk alone?

Susanna Ryan:
Yes, it is correct. Occasionally, I'll invite somebody along but it tends to be ... I'm kind of in my own head as I'm walking. I'm just kind of seeing what I see. I find that when I walk with other people, I'm focused on kind of ... I want to make it fun for them. I'm focusing not enough on my surroundings, I guess. I also don't want to subject somebody ... I think a lot of people think, "Walking 10 miles, that's fun." But five miles in, I'm like, "I'm ready to keep going." And everyone else is like, "I just want to go home. This isn't as fun as I thought it would be." So I do tend to walk alone.

Britta Barrett:
What's the difference between a walk where you have a destination in mind and one that's more about the journey?

Susanna Ryan:
That's a good question. It's sort of interesting, because say that in the before times, before the Coronavirus, when I was walking to work every day, I would typically walk the same way to work because that was just the most efficient way to get there. I would find that, every day I would find something new even along the routes that I have walked a million different times. And so it was kind of fun to see these little changes in the environment. Whereas when I'm walking without a destination, I try to really go out of my way to make sure I'm not taking the obvious path.

Susanna Ryan:
If something looks interesting, like there's a cool-looking alley or a side street or whatever, I'm going out of my way kind of to go out of my way. And it's totally focused on the journey and not the destination. But both ways of walking are really fun. It's really fun to see small changes, like someone just put a pumpkin out on their stoop of this house I walk by every day or whatever. Then it's also fun to see like, "Wow. There's this street a couple blocks away from me that I've never been down before and there's this really funky mailbox there or whatever." So both of them are really fun.

Britta Barrett:
When you mentioned alleys, it reminded me of one of the pages where ... Many of your comics include historical notes or fun facts. And I was thinking about the alleys in the International District. Can you tell us a little bit about your research process?

Susanna Ryan:
Sure. So, I think the alleys that you're mentioning, it's Canton Alley and Maynard Alley in the International District. And they're some of the few alleys that officially have names, most alleys don't have officially designated names. I really knew that I wanted to include those in the book, because I just thought that that was a really fun thing. But I thought that just drawing the two alleys would be a little bit boring. So typically, what I do is I use the power of my Seattle Public Library card to go on the Seattle Times historical archives. It's a fully digitized and searchable archive of the Seattle Times from 1895 to present. What I'll do is I'll search for a particular term. I think in this case, I just looked up Canton Alley. I sorted it to see what were the first results for this, when was first mentioned in the Seattle Times? Just kind of a fun way to get some interesting little tidbits that may be ...

Susanna Ryan:
It goes beyond what's on the Wikipedia page, or the first page of Google results or whatever. And you can find some interesting little tidbits from history. So that's what I did in that case. And in it, I found that Canton Alley and Maynard Alley were given bilingual Chinese and English street signs. I can't remember the exact year but it was sometime in the 1960s, which is lightyears ahead of when the rest of the streets got bilingual Chinese and English street signs. So I just thought that that was really cool and interesting. There was a photo of some representatives handing over this bilingual street sign for the alleys and I just thought it was really cool. So the Seattle Times historical database is always pretty much my first stop. Then from there, I'll kind of go and check out other either like UDub Special Collections Online or MOHAI or Seattle Public Library Special Collections. But Seattle Times is always my starting for the most part.

Britta Barrett:
A lot of the humor in the book is so regionally specific. I'm also thinking of this one comic you posted on Instagram about the number eight bus that just never comes. Which is something I think Capitol Hill residents can really relate to. Are there any other jokes in there that you think like, "Man, if you don't live here, you just won't get it"?

Susanna Ryan:
I think about that a lot. I went on WorldCat.org, which I'm sure you know is a worldwide kind of catalog of different libraries and books and whatever. I wanted to see what was the furthest library that carried Seattle Walk Report the book, and it was in Australia. And I was like, "What do these people over there ..." And it was checked out, I checked. I was like, "What does this person who currently has this book checked out thinking about all of this stuff?" I think part of the reason why it works or why it resonates with people is because it is extremely specific.

Susanna Ryan:
People have asked me, "You should do a Portland Walk Report book or a San Francisco Walk Report book." And I think that would be really fun from a walking point of view. But I think kind of the magic of it all is that I do kind of know the city so well and I know the culture so well. And I kind of know what the little kind of in jokes are or what each neighborhood is kind of known for or that sort of thing. I don't know. I'm flipping through the book right now just looking at it and it is true, there's just a lot of little things that are really specific to certain neighborhoods that I think would might kind of fly over the heads of people who aren't as familiar.

Britta Barrett:
Like the Beacon Hill Library rock?

Susanna Ryan:
Yeah, like the rock outside of the Beacon Hill library or little things like that. I mean, it's just fun to have been given the freedom to really let that sort of really specific regional things get into the book. So that was really fun for me.

Emily Calkins:
Speaking of specific regional things, right now we're in the middle of what I think is the best season in Seattle. It's gorgeous summer weather, but soon we'll be back into what everyone else thinks of as Seattle weather, which is cold and rainy. Do you have tips for walkers for continuing to get outside when the weather is not so accommodating?

Susanna Ryan:
Definitely. I mean, I think the key is, first of all, embracing the fact that you're going to get soggy and kind of preparing for that. I feel like for a while, I would just kind of deny the fact that it was raining. And so I'll just be like, "I can just put on a hoodie and a hat and I'll be fine." Then I'd be soaked 15 minutes later and my shoes would be all soaked through and whatever. I think the key is just to prepare and embrace the fact that you're going to get soggy. Good footwear is really important. Some waterproof boots or shoes are really great. I don't use an umbrella. It's very Seattle of me, I know. But I just find that if you get a long coat with a big hood, that'll do the trick just fine.

Susanna Ryan:
I also ... What was I going to say? Last year, I got myself waterproof pants that you put over your regular pants. And I was like, "Wow, I'm deep in this now." I'm the kind of person who has my waterproof pants and is out there looking like a little, I don't know. But it's just funny. So now I'm totally, I've got my giant coat, I've got my waterproof pants, I've got my waterproof boots and my waterproof notepad, and I'm just ready to go. So I think just embrace it.

Emily Calkins:
I was going to ask like, "How do you take notes?" But it sounds like you have special rainproof note-taking material, too.

Susanna Ryan:
Yes. There are these little notebooks, they're called Write in the Rain and they're completely waterproof. You could put them under the sink and the pages don't dissolve or anything. I think it's actually a local company who makes them. Highly recommended, not sponsored by Write in the Rain.

Britta Barrett:
The gear aspect is interesting to me and also seems kind of cultural that Seattle was really about that scouting, "Be prepared motto." I'm thinking about when I was in the Netherlands, and the approach to biking there was so different. People were biking in what I would consider formal work attire, in heels and, you know. They weren't spandexed up quite the same way we do, even though their weather and climate is very similar. I feel like there's so much utility to having all the tools you need to be successful but at the same time, it's maybe what's kind of intimidating about biking or hiking or anything like that is like, "I need all this stuff to do it."

Susanna Ryan:
Yeah, definitely. Before I started walking for fun, I was not at all an athletic person in the slightest, walking included. It was just not a part of my life, I would so much rather spend a Saturday in the dark inside reading a book or drinking tea or whatever. Outdoors? No, thank you, I'm good. I was always sort of intrigued by the idea of walking, like I would check out kind of Seattle walking books from the library or whatever. And one of the things that kind of intimidated me from even just starting was feeling like I needed to have certain things, I needed to have the boots, I needed to have the whatever, massive amounts of water and all this stuff.

Susanna Ryan:
And then the second thing that kind of made me skeptical of walking was it felt like you needed to go to a certain destination in order to have a great walk and you kind of need to take this guidebook and follow the route exactly. What I realized was that you don't need anything, really. That you can just set out your front door any old day for any old amount of time and just have a great adventure in your own neighborhood. I mean, I encourage people ... I do think that especially foot care and that kind of thing is important. So if you get really into walking, I definitely think that there are some things that are worth the investment.

Susanna Ryan:
But for the most part, I just want to say to people, "You really don't need anything special, you just need yourself and kind of the desire in some small way to do it, and just let it grow from there." As somebody who doesn't ... I don't even know how to drive but as somebody who doesn't have a car, it always felt like I can't even get to the destination where a "good walk" is going to take place. So it was really liberating for me to just find adventure and fun in my very own neighborhood just blocks away from where I live.

Britta Barrett:
For folks who maybe aren't already walkers or who have ability issues or if they're like me and your greatest foe is a modest incline, are there flat walks that you think are particularly great around the city?

Susanna Ryan:
There are some great flat walks. One great one, it's a little bit longer, but the nice thing about it is that you can kind of drop off at any point so you can kind of make it however long you want to be. It's the Lake Union loop. So it just goes around Lake Union. I don't think there's any inclines at any point. And it's pretty, I think it's paved all the way around the lake so it's pretty smooth sailing. It seems for the most part, it's not super busy. It's never crowded like Green Lake is or whatever.

Susanna Ryan:
And it's a great way to just kind of get to know this city. I always recommend it for people either if they're visiting or they're new to walking, because it will take you through Fremont, a little bit, you'll see the houseboats in Lake Union, you'll see the Fremont Bridge, you'll see all these different sorts of things. So it's a great ... Gas Works Park is along the way. So it's a great way to get the lay of the land. And it's about five miles, I think, the complete loop, but you can easily make it much shorter than that and still have a nice scenic walk. So I think that's probably the best, most straightforward kind of flat walk that I can think of.

Emily Calkins:
I think a lot of people are finding themselves more close to home, not getting in the car and driving places these days, but because of the pandemic, just kind of opening their front door and walking with a pet or a family member. How do you encourage people to start noticing things if they're used to just kind of walking towards a destination? How can you cultivate that noticing?

Susanna Ryan:
I think, one piece of advice I always give people is that act like you're a investigative reporter. And you've been sent on a mission to this neighborhood or right outside your house and you're just kind of on a fact-finding mission to gather material for whatever this thing is. Just look at your environment like you've never seen it before. Instead of thinking, "I kind of know what my neighbor's house looks like." Or, "What the building next door looks like." Instead of kind of making an assumption and building a picture, you might really look at the building, and just notice it, just be present with it and see like, "It's interesting how that window is a little bit different than that window." Or, "I wonder why they chose this particular shade of yellow," or whatever it might be.

Susanna Ryan:
So instead of kind of assuming you know what things look like, actually look closely. Look closely at the utility cover below your feet, look closely at the tree, find something to focus on a sidewalk crack, find the best sidewalk crack in your neighborhood. So just kind of be present. I mean, a lot of that, too ... I'm not anti-technology by any means but part of that, too, I think it's just like putting your phone down, going out without any time limitations if that's a possibility for you. So don't be like, "20 minutes from now, I have to go to the store," and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Just kind of give yourself the freedom to make it as long or as short as you want it to be, and just to be present with your surroundings.

Britta Barrett:
That's great advice. Are there any particular buildings around town that you think are your favorites or a fun surprise? One of my personal ones is the Talking Books and Braille Library.

Susanna Ryan:
It's such a great building.

Britta Barrett:
It's so different from everything else around it.

Susanna Ryan:
Yeah, it most definitely is. One of my favorite buildings, a longtime favorite of mine that I actually, it's in the book, but then I recently redrew it for the comic online is the old fire station on 23rd and Yesler in the Central District, Fire Station Number Six. It's this cute little Art Deco gem and it has these little lightning bolts kind of on the design. It's just so lovely and so cool. It's across the street from the Douglass-Truth Library, which is a great old library building. And just the combination of those two across the street from each other, it's like this best friendship that has existed there for 90 years between these two buildings, or so I assume. I just love that building.

Susanna Ryan:
Another one I really love is, people have different names for it, but the PacMed, Pacific Medical Building in Beacon Hill, just kind of sitting there as a steady Art Deco presence. Such a beautiful building. Art Deco really speaks to me for some reason and there aren't a lot of great examples in Seattle, but it's fun to look around and try to spot them. But between PacMed and that old fire station, those are probably my two favorites.

Britta Barrett:
The other two little hidden gems I love are the walruses on the outside of the Arctic Club downtown.

Susanna Ryan:
Did you know, I have a fun fact for you, which is that was the first time that colored terra cotta was used in an outdoor building in Seattle and it was a big deal. I think the Seattle Times talked about how, "These beautiful walruses stand in contrast to the dark gray skies or whatever." I'm just imagining seeing those walruses when they were put up there in the 1910s or whenever it was and how beautiful they must have looked against that dark gray Seattle sky.

Britta Barrett:
I love that. Speaking of contrast, the last one I want to mention, have you ever seen the Jailhouse Plaza Garden Sculpture?

Susanna Ryan:
No.

Britta Barrett:
How to describe it? It's kind of like a pastel skate park made by the Memphis School of Design, if you can picture that.

Susanna Ryan:
I can't but it sounds amazing.

Britta Barrett:
It's outside the jail, which is just such an incongruous setting for it but it's like hidden public art piece. So if you ever happen to be walking around there, take a look.

Susanna Ryan:
Thank you for the tip. That sounds amazing.

Emily Calkins:
So going back to that little fire station, when you posted about it on Instagram, I think it was a couple of weeks ago, I guess it was a couple of months ago at this point. It was because the city has owned it for a long time, and they're transferring it to a community land trust. That has happened as part of the sort of ongoing unrest and discussion around Black Lives Matter. So for the most part, Seattle Walk Report is about really small moments, sort of humorous observations. But there are kind of these bigger things that are happening in the city like gentrification or Black Lives Matter, or the homelessness crisis that's going on. How do you decide when to sort of get into those more serious issues and when to kind of stay really small and focus on exactly just what you're seeing?

Susanna Ryan:
You know, I struggle sometimes to find the balance. You know, I never thought that I would be somebody who has any sort of platform or anything like that. So it's kind of a weird feeling to feel like, "I need to have something to say at this moment." Or, "I need to have the exact right thing to say." I even struggled when the lockdown started happening and different things like that, coupled with like, "Is this even the right time for little mundane, silly comic? Does this matter to anybody?" And it seemed kind of like it did. It feels like, people are saying, "We need you now more than ever. We need this kind of focus on the mundane or just these little things to notice in your own neighborhood."

Susanna Ryan:
I think for the most part, really, there's so many people doing so much great work and reporting and interesting conversations being had. In a lot of ways, I kind of just want to defer to those voices and let them kind of be the experts on different things. It's definitely hard. It's been hard to find the way forward in a lot of ways, or feel like it's really that important right now that I'm just going on walks and talking about dogs and that sort of thing. So I don't know, I do struggle with it. Yeah, it's interesting.

Britta Barrett:
You originally published anonymously. I think that changed around the time the book came out. Has that changed anything about your approach to your work?

Susanna Ryan:
I thought it would more than it had. So yes, I was anonymous until the day or the day before the book came out, which was actually a year ago yesterday. So I'm celebrating one year of not being anonymous anymore. But when I started, I did not at all intend to be anonymous. But then as it grew, it just kind of became like, "It's kind of fun to keep myself out of it." I think it kind of keeps the experience of walking and stuff kind of more authentic to keep myself and my life sort of out of it. I was worried that when I wasn't anonymous anymore that I just wouldn't have the freedom as much anymore to do what I want to do or say what I want to say or that somehow my life at the library might be impacted since I'm in a public-facing job at the library. And I just want to ... When I'm at work, I want to be able to focus on that and not talk about Seattle Walk Report or whatever.

Susanna Ryan:
It was an adjustment for the first couple months. I'd say I was getting recognized a lot more than I would expect and I kind of felt like, "I have to be ..." You don't really recognize how freeing it is to be in a grocery store and just be like I'm in a grocery store, I'm in the frozen food aisle, I'm looking at the frozen pizzas and nobody knows me. To kind of have that anonymity, I can't say the word, in everyday life. I guess, I just adjusted to it with time. And of course now, I'm not out and about as much and people are stopping me on the streets or whatever, but it was just kind of a weird adjustment.

Susanna Ryan:
But I don't feel like it changed the comic at all, which was what I was most worried about. I still feel like I can just kind of be my genuine self. I was concerned about it but ultimately, I'm really glad. Up until the last minute, we were going to publish the book anonymously and not have my name on it at all. And I'm really glad that we ultimately made the very last minute decision to stick my name on there.

Britta Barrett:
That makes you wonder to sort of what it feels like to be Instagram famous, like growing those followers? And then how does one really translate Instagram account into a book?

Susanna Ryan:
Well, I mean, I think, in my case, it was a little bit unusual. Now, having met other people who have had books published and authors and different things, I didn't really go through the traditional avenue, I did not at all set out to make a book, I was just like, "Instagram seems like the perfect format to just kind of like put this thing out in the universe. And if anyone sees it, that's great. And if they don't, that's fine. I'm just kind of making it for myself."

Susanna Ryan:
What ended up happening was that about nine months into making the comic and people slowly starting to follow along, the new editorial director for Sasquatch Books, a local publisher here in Seattle, just reached out to me one day on Instagram and just said, "Hey, do you want to talk about making a book together?" So I was like, "Whoa. Yeah, I do." As somebody who loves books and the whole thing, that sounds amazing. But it was totally not expected and totally not something I had set out to do initially.

Susanna Ryan:
The Instagram fame thing or whatever you might call it, the thing about it is that nothing really changes in your life. I still got to pay my utility bills every month, and I still have the same problems that other people have. It really doesn't mean ... I don't want to say it doesn't mean anything, because I'm so, so thankful. As somebody who's always been kind of like a little bit of a weirdo or ... I just remembered that in third grade, I won the Most Unusual Sense of Humor Award. As somebody who's just kind of always been ...

Susanna Ryan:
Saying that I felt like an outsider sounds so dramatic. But as somebody who has never really quite fit in in the way that people are expected to fit in, it's been so beautiful, I think, to kind of have people embrace me for exactly who I am and to find a sort of dedicated crowd of people who want to hear what I have to say or who say, "Hey, this made my day better," or that kind of thing, when I'm just been my truest self. So I think that's kind of maybe the upside of it, but also, I don't get that mixed up with ... I don't know. It's all just numbers too, in a lot of ways. I don't just sit around with a crown on alone in my living room and think like, "Wow, 18,000 people know my name or have seen my art," or whatever. I don't know.

Britta Barrett:
Do you have any suggestions for other comics you think folks should read?

Susanna Ryan:
Well, that's a good question. In the Instagram comic realm, there's a Instagram artist named Tessa Hulls. Her Instagram handle is just her name, T-E-S-S-A H-U-L-L-S. And that's kind of one of the examples. She has done these really great comics about reporting on the CHOP or the CHAZ, when that was happening on Capitol Hill. That's one of those cases where it's like I would much rather step back and let somebody who has the skills in this sort of reporting and comics journalism to really shine. She is going to do a way better job than I'm doing. She's made some great comics and I think she has a book coming out but I don't know all the details about that. So Instagram-wise, I definitely recommend checking her out because she's very local.

Susanna Ryan:
Other comics, I feel kind of it hasn't been a great year for me for reading many adult comics. I've read a lot of great kid's comics this year. I tend to try to keep up on kids, graphic novels and that sort of thing, just because at work, we have so many kids who are big graphic novel fans. So I'm trying to think of some great ones I've read recently. One of them was ... Now I'm blanking on the titles. It's been so long since I've been back in my beautiful library. There was the book Sheets, it's a kid's graphic novel. That's really cute. I think it won some awards. I'm blanking on the author of it right now.

Britta Barrett:
If I'm remembering correctly, is that the one about a family who runs a laundry service that might be a little bit haunted?

Susanna Ryan:
Yes, exactly. And there's a cute ... On the cover, there's like a cute ghost in a washing machine so that's really cute. Then there's this newer series by someone named Kayla Miller. I think the series is called Click, and it's very Raina Telgemeier-esque, kind of tween stories of friendship and different things like that. I mean, I've read way too many kids graphic novels and I kind of need to stop. But if you're reading what you love ...

Emily Calkins:
You don't need to stop. You should read whatever you want to read.

Susanna Ryan:
Absolutely.

Emily Calkins:
I always want to hear what people are reading so thank you for sharing that with us.

Susanna Ryan:
I actually have read two other ... Not for my book bingo because that's just tragically bad. But two other books that I've read recently that I really loved is there's a newer book called Nature Obscura: A City's Hidden Natural World by Kelly Brenner. I think it just came out a couple months ago. But she's a local author so she talks a lot, she kind of ties in these different nature in the city, kinds of things to Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest, specifically. So it's a really fun, engaging read. And even if you're kind of like, "I don't know. I'm not in with all the nature lingo or know this bird from that bird." It's still a really great, engaging read.

Susanna Ryan:
Then I also recently read another book that's a little bit older called Hum Bows, Not Hot Dogs by Bob Santos, Memoirs of a Savvy Asian American Activist, about Bob Santos, who was kind of an instrumental figure primarily in the 1970s and into the 1980s, in the preservation movement in the Chinatown International District area of Seattle. That's another great engaging read that I really liked, that's one that I've been meaning to read forever and then I was finally like, "Today's the day. Now is the time." So highly recommend that, Hum Bows, Not Hot Dogs.

Emily Calkins:
Nice. Thank you. We will put those and the kid's graphic novels in the show notes too, so that listeners can find them. Where can people follow you online?

Susanna Ryan:
So on Instagram, I'm @seattlewalkreport. I don't have a Twitter. I mean, I have a secret Twitter just so I could take the name. But that's primarily the best place to find me, Seattle Walk Report on Instagram.

Britta Barrett:
Awesome. Well, you've definitely inspired me to keep an eye out for more zip ties and cats on Instagram out of my walks. Thanks so much for being with us.

Susanna Ryan:
Thank you so much for having me.

Britta Barrett: If you're interested in reading more about the benefits of time in nature, we'll also include a booklist in our shownotes with more resources that discuss how forest bathing, foraging, kayaking, and other outdoor activities can improve your mood and potentially your health.

Emily Calkins: And in order to help you spend more time outside, KCLS is now offering Discover Passes, which is the pass to Washington State Parks, that you can borrow with your library card. To learn more about the Check Out Washington Discover Pass Program, go to kcls.org/museum where all our museum and other passes live.

Britta Barrett: Thanks for listening!

Emily Calkins: Happy reading.