Joseph Anderson

Licton Springs

For more than forty years I have been walking around in Seattle and never made it to Licton Springs, nestled in an unpromising location between North Seattle College and Aurora Avenue North. Last week I made a slight detour from my normal commute from the park-and-ride, parked nearby, and after rambling among lawns and picnic tables and jungle gyms for a few minutes I came across the spot, pictured to the right. This spring was well known by indigenous people and in fact its name, though it sounds comfortably Anglo-Saxon, actually comes from Liq’tid (LEEK-teed), the local (Whulshootseed) word for reddish mud. So it has been doing its thing for who knows how many hundreds or thousands of years, a place where the water comes out of the cool earth and stains the rocks nearby red with its mineral content. It is not dramatic, but it has been here for a long time, and I feel fairly sure that it once received appropriate acknowledgement as a portal between worlds, or a place of mystery, or some other representation of Spirit among us. Sometime in the white-man era a decision was made to put a collar of concrete around it; I’m going to view that as a modest form of honoring. And I find myself wanting to honor this spot more, to dance around it in the moonlight, festoon it with marigolds or cedar fronds, call to the spirits of its depths to be mindful of us in our folly.

Ever since coming back from Japan I have been actively pining for the close-to-the-surface sacredness that was everywhere evident. Devotion there is a casual and natural thing (I wrote about it here). Here in the secular Northwest devotion feels like a form of insanity, when actually what is insane is to disregard the miracles bursting into being all around us.

Between my bus stop and my downtown office there is a beautiful ring of basalt pillars twice as tall as I am, truly a stone circle that any druid would envy. For a long while I have touched one of those columns as I pass by in discreet acknowledgement of its power. But for the last couple of months I am doing more: I stop, rest my forehead against its rough surface, and say a brief prayer of gratitude. I expect that it looks odd to the many commuters around me, and might make them uncomfortable, but really where is the madness? I do my best to avoid feeling self-conscious (I am usually not successful) but I’m going to keep it up. And maybe you’ll find me dancing around the odd innocuous but potent circle of water in the ground called Licton Springs.

These musings have been brought on by the book Native Seattle, and especially perusing its maps of locations as named by the original inhabitants.  I have written about it elsewhere; I’m not saying it’s a trend or a new project, but it might be…