by Mike Christie
Warmth broke itself through the depths of January’s melancholy as the smell of plants alive entered my nasal passages for the first time in months. Paths of cement covered with the styrofoam textured slush outside were nowhere to be seen along the clear paths of greenery lined with alien-like plants from the places like South Africa to the Brazilian Rainforest. This place was the opposite of what was going on outside; and outside just so happened to be the seasonal change that had plagued us since mid-November. The same change that had left our serotonin as lonely as one of the procrastinating squirrels that wandered outside of this building of life and warmth. This is the greenhouse at Manito Park, officially known as the Gaiser Conservatory. This was the starting point of a half-day adventure I went on throughout Spokane’s South Hill.
Manito Park earned the name it was given today back in the year 1903. Manito is said to mean “The Spirit of Nature” in the local Native American dialect according to the SpokaneCity.org website. Because it is winter, I spent all my time here in the Gaiser Conservatory where winter’s wet and wicked plague could be avoided, and where nature’s spirit still flourished.
Separated into three separate areas, the conservatory has everything from cacti to holiday poinsettias. Kevin Kilgore, the green thumb behind much of the life you see in the greenhouse and the man in charge of displaying some of the displays as the seasons shift talked about the recent Christmas display Manito.
“We just got done with our Christmas light display where we had a prop of four to five-hundred poinsettias we set out wrapped in lights.”
Even with the lights being down now, there is no shortness of brightness in the greenhouse. The plants colors are as vibrant and defined as the cinematography of a Baz Luhrmann movie. Stepping into the the conservatory at Manito in the dead of winter is the literal discovery of new life when all the living things around us outside seem to be sluggish and dead. In the words of the soft spoken and laid back plant caregiver Kevin,
“We’re the only display greenhouse this side of the state. It’s kinda rad.”
And rad it is, as is the neighborhood gathering place thats only a short two minute drive from the greenhouse, Rockwood Bakery. Specializing in a wide range of baked goods and assorted espresso, Rockwood has an environment that oozes quintessential bakery, with paintings and mirrors dotting the walls and wooden tables and thrift store type seating available.
Rockwood is a place of in-depth philosophical research as made apparent by the presence of Whitworth professor of Philosophy Josh Orozco sitting in a corner by the window researching. And also a place of quiet reflection seen through the presence of highly esteemed Whitworth professor of English Leonard Oakland. Oakland sat in a hidden corner engrossed in a thick book with a cover wearing a black and white photo of a face, the book looking to have either been sitting on a shelf for a long time or just purchased from a used bookstore. But Rockwood isn’t strictly limited to university professors. It also has its fair share of conversing friends, like the two women sitting next to me laughing and smiling and the two men with their children who sat near the entrance of the muffin and espresso scented space.
After sipping a latte with coconut milk, the milk substitute inspired by still feeling the warmth of the exotic nature of the greenhouse in me, I headed back to my car and made the short 5 minute drive north to The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, a building whose beauty would make it hard for God not to claim it as his house. The Episcopal cathedral, with its firm completion date in 1961, features numerous stained-glass windows, gothic high reaching ceilings constructed entirely with Idaho sandstone, and an organ featuring 4,095 pipes, all of which I found out from a simple brochure they had available when you walked in.
But the church isn’t just a pretty place, they still have weekly services.
“To be a member of this community, there’s nothing you have to do except accept Jesus as Lord. We do not determine for people how to interpret scripture; in fact, we believe no preacher has the right to tell you what God’s opinion is,” said Reverend Bill Ellis, who took a break from constructing his sermon to chat with me. His words show that not only is this building a welcoming sight, but also a place offering a welcoming and inclusive take on Christian theology.
To end my morning excursion, I drove down to the hipster haven of Downtown Spokane, Saranac Commons. Located on Main Street near Division, this modern food court of sorts plays host to affogato – a coffee bar that features the the espresso ice cream dessert baring their name, craft beers, and my personal favorite – Mediterranean food. Being a native of Detroit, a place known for this style of food, I’m used to good Middle Eastern/Mediterranean, and Saranac Commons Mediterrano was the first experience I’ve had with it in Spokane. I ordered a gyro whose health benefits were portrayed in a bright array of colors, from the greens of lettuce, yellow and reds of peppers, and the black of olives. Colors that drew comparisons to the ones I had seen in the greenhouse three hours earlier sat on top of the fresh lamb that seemingly melted in my mouth. It was a fantastic way to cap off a quick morning adventure around Spokane.