From a 6-foot-7-man living in a tiny home and a bipolar artist who explains the disorder through graphic novels to a tear-inducing art exhibit on the Japanese internment and a couple whose cactus bloomed for the first time in 16 years, 2018 was a year of showcasing bold, interesting folks, icons and trends in Herald Features.
Reporter Sharon Salyer got the scoop on the wheat and barley research happening at Washington State University’s Bread Lab. Features editor Sara Bruestle dug into the history of the 125-year-old Monte Cristo Hotel in Everett. Reporter Evan Thompson went to Darrington’s Summer Meltdown and discovered he likes much more than just electronic music.
Here’s a look back at some of the people, places and things that made for a memorable year.
Everett adventurer on the trail of the spirit bear
For thousands of years, legend has told of white bears that hide deep in the forest on British Columbia’s north coast.
These rare and elusive spirit bears, found in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, were kept a secret for generations. The First Nations people who also call the rain forest home feared that if word of their existence spread, the bears would be killed as trophies.
Today, the spirit bears epitomize British Columbia’s 21-million-acre coastal temperate rain forest — a reminder of the importance of protecting the only corner of the planet where you can spot the almost mythical white relative of the black bear.
Dan Clements, of Everett, was lucky enough to photograph the spirit bear in the Great Bear Rainforest.
“It’s where myth and reality merge,” he said. “The history of the indigenous people and their story of the spirit bear is just really fascinating.”
Tiny homes: Owning houses the size of your average living room
Less stress, more money.
That’s tiny living in a nutshell for Everett resident Michael Miller. “I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been,” he said.
Miller, 50, always wanted a tiny home, but a divorce was the tipping point. He finished building the 245-square-foot space last year. It’s at Lakeside RV Park in south Everett, the only RV park in Snohomish County that allows tiny homes.
Living in a tiny house is a different experience for folks accustomed to regular-size homes — in other words, nearly all of us.
“It takes a specific type of person to be able to do this, quite honestly,” Miller said. “You have to be able to release 80 percent of the crap you’ve accumulated over a long time.
“I didn’t need all that stuff.”
Wheat wizards: Washington lab baking better bread
When Steve Jones left the rolling wheat fields of Eastern Washington’s Palouse to direct Washington State University’s research lab in Mount Vernon, the crops he thought he’d be working with were cabbage, cucumbers “and maybe even tulips.”
He was in for a surprise. Skagit Valley farmers told him: “We want you to work on wheat and barley.”
Jones, who had been a wheat breeder on WSU’s main campus for 15 years, said he was thrilled to take on the challenge.
He saw local farmers growing wheat and barley as a rotation crop. It helped return nutrients to the soil, but they were losing money on it.
“Wheat is a cool-season grass — that kind of gets forgotten,” he said. “What we determined pretty early on is we can grow wheat really well. In this part of the state, we get four times the yield we get in Kansas.”
History of a hotel: Everett’s dreams gave rise to Monte Cristo
It’s been 125 years, but the Monte Cristo Hotel still holds promise.
The building at 1507 Wall St. is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for representing Everett’s economic prosperity in an earlier era.
While its purpose has changed throughout the years, the building’s quality has inspired the Monte Cristo Awards — which recognize neighbors who help make Everett special by taking pride in their property.
Though the original was built in 1892 and a second one replaced it in 1925, the hotel got its start in 1890. It was in a dream.
The city’s founders, Henry Hewitt Jr. and Charles Colby, had a grandiose vision for a new city on the Port Gardner Peninsula.
Hewitt and Colby worked to attract investors from the East Coast by sharing their plans for a great industrial port flanked by Port Gardner and the Snohomish River.
The land was cleared for a nail factory, a barge works, a paper mill and smelter — though the stumps were left in the building frenzy. The plats between the river and bay were swiftly filled in with homes, schools, churches and theaters. A wharf, sawmill, warehouse and a hotel were also built during this time.
While numerous buildings were erected between 1891 and 1893, it was that last one — the Monte Cristo Hotel — that was as grand as the dreams of Everett’s founders.
After 16 years, cactus gives Everett couple a big surprise
Inga and Werner Opitz had given up on their flowering cactus.
It hadn’t bloomed in 16 years.
“We were so upset,” said Inga, 89. “We were ready to throw it out.”
The north Everett couple bought the orchid cactus in 2000. It bloomed in 2002, giving them just one flower.
That bright-red flower was spectacular.
Then there were no more blooms for the better part of two decades.
“It had one bloom, and then nothing,” Inga said.
“We threatened to throw it out. We were sick of it standing there,” said Werner, 91.
But then last month, there was a flower explosion.
The Opitzes, who both retain the accents of their native Germany, were so surprised by its sudden change that they called The Daily Herald to report it.
“Lo and behold, look what happened anyway,” said Werner, who spent most of his working years as an electrician at Western Gear Corp. “A bud showed up. There wasn’t a thing on it for 16 years. All we had to do was let out a threat, to let it know that we don’t approve.”
At the height of the flowering season, in May, the cactus — an epiphyllum hybrid — had 24 blooms.
‘Crying’: Visitors reflect on ‘Americans Interned’ exhibit
Some 3,000 people visited the Schack Art Center’s summer exhibit “Americans Interned,” portraying some of the experiences of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
The power of the works by Everett artists Jan and Chris Hopkins is measured in part by some of the messages written in a guest book by those who have seen the exhibit.
“Our parents’ families were at Minidoka,” referring to the Idaho site where more than 9,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned, wrote someone with family ties to Bainbridge Island.
Another wrote: “Thank you for this moving, powerful exhibit.”
One entry is a single word: “Crying.”
She destigmatizes bipolar disorder with her graphic nonfiction
Artist Ellen Forney, who teaches at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, has published two graphic books, “Marbles Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me,” and her new graphic memoir, “Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life.” She uses words, pictures, humor and intense honesty to provide insights in living with a bipolar diagnosis.
Forney, 50, was interviewed about her upcoming talk in June at the main branch of the Everett Public Library.
Two of her murals, “Walking Fingers,” and the 40-by-10-foot “Crossed Pinkies,” commissioned by Sound Transit, are displayed at the Capitol Hill light rail station’s west entry near Seattle Central Community College.
She recently curated an exhibit at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, on graphic medicine, using comics to explore medical issues.
At Cornish she teaches studio comics, graphic novels and literature, and a class on graphics and medicine.
Everett sports-talk radio personality reflects on his career
Jeff “The Fish” Aaron has signed off.
Best known for his sports-talk program on the Everett radio station KRKO 1380 AM, Aaron left the station following its recent format change, switching away from sports talk to music. As the station’s afternoon radio host, Aaron interviewed famous athletes, featured local sports and shared his opinions on the teams.
After 16 years on the radio here, Aaron plans to move to the Phoenix area where he’ll pursue his broadcast career and continue to expand his pub trivia company, Fame Trivia USA, to Arizona restaurants and bars.
Here, Aaron, 57, of Lake Stevens, reflects on his love for radio, his fishy nickname and what he’ll miss about the show.
Views at 2,200 feet: Soaring over Snohomish in hot air balloons
As the balloon lifted up and out of Snohomish, the only thing that broke the silence of the ride was the occasional deep, breath-like exhalation of the big nylon balloon’s burner.
“As we crossed the Snohomish River, we could see beaver swimming and deer,” Dennis Wilbanks John said.
For years, Wilbanks John and his wife, Victoria, who live near Snohomish, had watched the brightly colored balloons float overhead on their flight path over the valley.
“When they go up, they’re probably 2 miles from us,” Wilbanks John said.
Earlier this year, he got a chance to soar up, up and away himself.
Summer Meltdown: Musical ecstasy in Darrington
For the past few years, Herald reporter Evan Thompson hasn’t been interested in expanding his musical tastes.
The Summer Meltdown Festival here has changed that for good.
The Darrington Bluegrass Music Park, held each August, is four days of eclectic music. The festival, in its 18th year, features more than 40 acts.
Bassnectar, a San Francisco DJ whose real name is Lorin Ashton, and one of the event’s headliners, is the reason why Evan was interested in the festival. That was shortsighted, in retrospect, because some of the other acts blew him away.
Evan fell in love with three bands in particular: Fruition, Twiddle and Flowmotion.
They played folk-rock, reggae, Americana, funk, blues and soul — genres Evan doesn’t listen to in his free time. But he found them intoxicating at Meltdown.
A swift spectacle: Birds return to their roost at Monroe chimney
Our favorite bird is back in town.
Thousands of migrating Vaux’s swifts are visiting the old chimney of the Wagner Performing Arts Center this month.
At dusk, the small birds swirl into the chimney to roost for the night. As the sun sets, the swifts circle and call out to the others as if to synchronize the dive. Then they pour into the chimney, each of them finding a foothold among the rough bricks, overlapping like shingles inside.
Monroe has one of the largest congregations in North America. As many as 26,000 Vaux’s swifts have been seen entering this chimney at one time. The spectacle happens during the birds’ spring and fall migrations between Canada and Mexico.
Swift-watching has become a ritual for Monroe since 2008. Swift Night Out, now in its 11th year, celebrates the birds’ fall trek through the city. Hundreds will gather in September on the lawn of the former Frank Wagner Elementary School to watch the phenomenon.
On late-fall hikes, there’s no shame in turning back
Herald reporter Evan Thompson had a feeling November is a tricky time to be hiking mountain trails.
He was right.
While it’s not technically winter yet, climbs that were possible in October are a different beast these days.
Evan and his friend learned this the hard way when snow and waning daylight cut short their hike to Green Mountain Lookout near Darrington.
They had been dead-set on reaching the lookout, perched at about 6,500 feet with a panoramic view of the North Cascades. But they learned that there’s nothing wrong with turning back.
So what if their hike didn’t end with striking a pose for Instagram at the summit? They still got a chance to enjoy nature and breathe clean air. And their failed attempt also inspired Evan to get educated about safely hiking mountain trails this time of year.