Thoughts from a Sammamish Walker

When I walk Sammamish trails, I am keenly aware of those who walked here before me and whose colorful stories are largely unknown to those who live here now.  My own time as a Sammamish walker began in the late 1970’s on three acres of woods my parents purchased long before the city or ‘stoplights up on the hill’ existed.  My parents paid $17,500 for land that included a seasonal stream, and they took four years to build their dream country home with the help of family and neighbors.  I hunted Easter eggs in the open fields where Safeway now stands, and we stopped for ice cream at Sadler’s on the corner of Issaquah-Pine Lake Road and 228th Avenue after a summer swim in Pine Lake.  The store had a hitching post outside and freely-roaming cats inside.

I wasn’t just a Sammamish walker.  I was a Sammamish biker, Douglas fir tree climber, two-story fort builder and frog hunter extraordinaire.  My childhood explorations that roamed far beyond our own three acres gave way to junior high and high school disgruntlement as forests were leveled to make way for subdivisions and the land and animals I grew up with disappeared.  I watched with sadness as my favorite trees, where friends and I played ‘Robin Hood’ in our very own Sherwood Forest, were cut down and the family of flying squirrels that nested every year in the bird house my Dad and I built stopped coming back.  My angst turned into passion and a career in advocacy and education in wilderness protection and leadership.

Traversing backwards in time to the era before today’s suburban families reigned supreme, long-term locals stayed hidden in the landscape.  They lived a quiet life of farming and woodworking, some ventured in the older, nearby and more established towns of Redmond, Issaquah and Bellevue for gainful employment.  In the 1930’s through the 1960’s, the resort world made the Sammamish economy go round, and Sammamish lakes presented an attractive summer vacation option for families.  Even further back, in the late 1800’s, the Sammamish area boasted a booming logging industry that supported the development of cities along the waterways of the rich Pacific Northwest forests.  One of my favorite childhood forts in Indiana Jones land (right next to Sherwood Forest) was a hollowed stump of old-growth proportions that included a characteristic notch from a sawyer platform.

Sammamish walkers’ history is rich indeed.  The name ‘Sammamish’ even goes back to early Sammamish walkers.  Prior to the 1880’s, the Sammamish (meaning ‘Hunter People’), Duwamish and Snoqualmie tribes scouted the land, fished the lakes, picked berries near Inglewood Hill Road, and had family and tribal gatherings in their largest settlement along the Sammamish Slough, near present-day Kenmore.  The Sammamish plateau held sacred sites for the tribes, as did the surrounding Cougar, Squak and Tiger Mountains.  Sammamish was a place to walk through when heading to higher elevations in the Cascades or summer berries and views.  As Issaquah developed and Seattle’s appetite reached west into the foothills for resources, smallpox devastated the tribes and Seattle governors pushed them onto reservation land, actions that often resulted in disagreements and physical battles.  The Sammamish and Duwamish (Chief Sealth/Seattle’s tribe) were absorbed into the Snoqualmie tribes for refuge.

Who knows how far back the earliest Sammamish walkers’ stories extend?  Western written histories give us a snippet of 150 years, and perhaps oral histories still circulate through local First Nation cultures.  Common anthropological beliefs attribute similar genetics between many of the ancestors of the Americas and the Russian Siberian peoples and it is believed these people may have traversed the sea somehow between 10,000 and 17,000 years ago, via a sea voyage or across Beringia, a land bridge in the Bering Sea.

The point is, stories of the land are worth telling and worth knowing while we take our walk in the woods.  The land holds the secrets of all the people through all the times.  These secrets represent the richness of experience and the symbiosis of culture and show us how we all are truly a humble strand in the web of life.  For those of us who may be advocates, like John Muir, and believe in the beauty and value of undomesticated forests, or who subscribe to sustainable practices in the domesticated lands we choose to live and feed ourselves from, or who are just discovering what a walk in the woods can do for the soul, connecting to the land is a worthy pursuit, no matter who your tribe or what time period you live in.

As a Sammamish walker now, I love the opportunity to observe a new bird prepare a nest for her young, to romp and play and get dirty as I nourish my inner child, smell the fresh smells after a rain, and feel the spongy, mossy, rotten cedar tree paths underneath my foot on a run.  I love to take the opportunity to visit a place where I’m not needed, that operates with or without me, of its own accord, in its own set of forest rules.  There, I can simply be.