Monthly Archives: December 2014

Bertha Blues in a Sinking City: A Brief History of Seattle’s Shifting Landscapes

David B. Williams talks Seattle geology in front of the Exchange Building's 3.54 billion-year-old gneiss feature.

David B. Williams discusses Seattle’s surprising geological history. The marled stone behind him is 3.54 billion-year-old gneiss that can be found at the base of the Seattle Exchange Building.

In the past week, Seattle received more bad news about its ill-fated tunnel construction and Bertha, the infamous tunnel-borer that has now been stuck under the city for a year. New reports indicate that Pioneer Square has sunk an inch since Thanksgiving and that a number of historic buildings and roadways are newly compromised by the beleaguered tunnel project. In this guest post, author David B. Williams places these recent developments within the city’s complicated history of reshaping its landscape, arguing that the shifting ground should come as no surprise.

[Crossposted from]

Another day, another problem with Bertha. This time it has to do with cracks and settling and groundwater and planning and fixing and… It’s amazing how many problems that Bertha has had! I want to focus in on the newest map released by the Washington state Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Below is a zoom-in on the map, where I have added an outline of Seattle’s historic shoreline in red. You can clearly see that the areas of greatest settling correspond to where the city was filled in around what is known as Maynard Point (also known as Denny’s Island, but this is a made up name that probably didn’t come into existence till the 1960s). Maynard Point was a mound that rose perhaps 20 feet or so above sea level. It connected to the main part of Seattle by The Neck, a low spot that would periodically be covered by tides, converting the mound into an island. The Point has also been buried by fill. Continue reading

Poetry and the Politics of Chinese Immigration on Angel Island: Q&A with Judy Yung

In the early twentieth century, most Chinese immigrants coming to the United States were detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay. There, they were subject to physical exams, interrogations, and often long detentions aimed at upholding the exclusion laws that kept Chinese out of the country. Many detainees recorded their anger and frustrations, hopes and despair in poetry written and carved on the barrack walls.

Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, Second Edition tells these immigrants’ stories while underscoring their relevance to contemporary immigration issues. First published in 1980, this book is now offered in an updated, expanded edition including a new historical introduction, 150 annotated poems in Chinese and English translation, extensive profiles of immigrants gleaned through oral histories, and dozens of new photographs from public archives and family albums. In this Q & A, Judy Yung—one of the book’s three coauthors—discusses the Angel Island Chinese immigrant experience, remarkable poetry engravings on the barrack walls, and more. 

Could you give us a snapshot of a common Angel Island immigrant experience?

Judy Yung: From the beginning, the Angel Island Immigration Station has been known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” but in fact, it was very different from its counterpart in New York. Built in 1892 to welcome European immigrants to America, Ellis Island processed immigrants through within a few hours. They were given a cursory physical exam and asked 29 questions mainly to test their sound minds and ability to support themselves in America. Only 10% of the 12 million who came through Ellis Island were detained, usually for a few days, for legal or medical reasons.  In contrast, Angel Island was built in 1910 to better enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from the country. At Angel Island, Chinese immigrants were thoroughly examined and interrogated and often detained for weeks and months at a time.


Chinese men’s dormitory, 1910. Courtesy of California State Parks, 2014.

Upon arrival in San Francisco, all Chinese newcomers were taken by ferry to the Angel Island Immigration Station for the medical exam and immigration inspection. Aside from the line inspection and eye exam by medical officers, they were subjected to an invasive exam of their blood and waste products to detect parasitic diseases such as hookworms. If found with these diseases, they could seek medical treatment at the immigration hospital, but it would be at their own expense. Following the medical exam came the dreaded hearing before the Board of Special Inquiry, in which Chinese applicants were interrogated for days and asked hundreds of detailed questions about their family background, village life, and marital relations in an effort to verify their identities and right to enter the country. The same questions were asked of their witnesses, and discrepancies in their answers could mean deportation. When denied entry, 88% of the Chinese applicants chose to retain an attorney to appeal their cases to immigration authorities in D.C. and the higher courts if necessary. They usually succeeded in their appeals, but it meant staying locked up on Angel Island for an additional six months and added expenses. Continue reading

Photo Essay: Exploring the Great Bear Wild

“Through breathtaking photographs and moving prose, McAllister’s Great Bear Wild presents a compelling case for the urgent need to protect, in perpetuity, one of the most magnificent ecosystems on the planet—the increasingly threatened Great Bear Rainforest.” –Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace

Great Bear Wild combines more than one hundred full-color photographs of the astonishing biodiversity of the Great Bear Rainforest with essays that illustrate the  threats that climate change, oil pipelines, and resource extraction pose to the region. Author and photographer Ian McAllister has dedicated his life to documenting and preserving this remote ecosystem and cofounded the organization Pacific Wild to support his efforts. Read more about McAllister’s conservation activism in this Q&A. In the meantime, we invite you to take a visual tour through the stunningly beautiful world of the Great Bear Rainforest and to meet the animals and sea creatures who inhabit it.

1. Spirit bears remain an iconic symbol of the fragility and uncertainty facing Canada’s northern rainforest.

Photo by Ian McAllister.

Continue reading