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I’ve been asked so much lately about the source of my optimism, that I’ve decided it’s because we live in a place called UP.

Yes, there is a city called UP. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Yes, Washington has a city called UP. (Kathleen Kenna photo)


We moved here in May when I began training in Seattle and the resident photographer searched for a new home in Tacoma

“Found the best place for you!” he said over the phone.

And then, as a lover offering the best gift of all, he added, “You’ll have your own library.”

I’m grateful that we live across the street from a new, public library.  It’s always busy, especially on Sunday afternoons when we borrow books.

The city of UP suits us:  It’s small (31,144 residents — add two); growing modestly (570 newcomers in five years — plus two); and has almost everything we need within a quick walk (yes, we search for apartments based on the location of Trader Joe’s).

Checking out Chambers Bay, WA. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Dad and son on public walkway at Chambers Bay, WA. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

On land, UP covers only 8.56 miles.  Best of all, it’s blessed by water.

Sunsets here are spectacular.

The western boundary of UP is Puget Sound, with sandy beaches, rocky shores and sweet kayaking.  We walk by the Sound almost every day, and on weekends, do a 5- to 7-mile hike from our front door to water’s edge.

The southern boundary is Chambers Creek, not easily accessible.  It frames part of Chambers Bay Golf Course, a sprawling, public course used by more walkers, joggers, dog owners, and families with kites, than golfers.

It’s the jewel of UP, an emerald at the edge of the city, with industrial ruins — a one-time lumber operation turned gravel mine — and scenery that rivals Pebble Beach in Carmel.  I’m filled with gratitude just to stand there, drinking in the sight of Puget Sound.

Chambers Bay Golf Course was developed from industrial ruins. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Walkers and golfers amid industrial ruins at Chambers Bay Golf Course. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

UP’s northern boundary includes Crystal Creek, near an urban wetlands park.  Its eastern boundary is residential, bordered by highways.  Commuting in this part of the Pacific Northwest is the most common complaint of locals.

We try not to use our little Kia too much, because we’re commuters already.

While declining taxes have led to major cutbacks in public transit in Pierce County, the regular routes in our neighborhood have been spared.  We can go to the movie theater, two malls, and most services on one bus.   There’s a covered bus shelter stop at the end of our drive.

We can walk to the police station, and a new fire hall. The UP parks and recreation department is in the same building as the library.  This being the northwest, the library is separated from the parks offices by a big, double-sided fireplace.

City hall is a generous word for a small, older center that is less than a block away. (That’s where we found the City of UP sign above.)

I walk to the doctor’s office and the physiotherapy clinic.  We walk to the post office, the grocery store (there are five within two blocks, so that’s easy), yoga studio, and a couple of neighborhood eateries.  There’s a gym I’m considering joining when the rainy season starts. (It shares space with a spa and a chiropractor’s clinic.) We’re searching for a local dentist and optometrist within walking distance too.

Biggest business news in UP?  Starbucks expanded, moving to a new storefront building that seemed to have been erected in weeks.  The drive-through opened this weekend.

South Puget Sound, WA beach. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Resident photographer walks our neighborhood beach. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

We’re surrounded by small parks, including a public rhododendron garden in the woods.

Most of the original forest in this part of the Pacific Northwest is gone, but our neighborhood is graced by many old trees, from redwoods to Pacific madrones.  Private gardeners are ambitious (you should see their roof-climbing roses!).

We have an old orchard originally planted by settlers. The annual cider squeeze at Curran Apple Orchard is next weekend.

UP is blessed with bald eagles, herons, osprey, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and more.  We sometimes see deer.  Yesterday, a skunk sprayed our backyard.  A flock of Canadian geese honked overhead this morning, flying north.

The neighbors’ cats entertain everyone in our small neighborhood, from daybreak to sundown.  They spend much of their day sunning on the roof of a row of townhouses nearby.  One tabby knows how to open a patio door; no matter how many times we see her reach on her back legs and use one paw to swat at the door, I’m grateful.

Chambers Bay, WA beach. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Taking the new baby to the beach at Chambers Bay, WA. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Almost everyone we’ve met in UP is friendly.  Teens hold doors for adults and many have good manners.  Children get off their bicycles on sidewalks to let others pass.

Elders appear to be respected here.  Everyone seems to fuss over all the new babies.  Strangers still speak to each other in UP, confident that this is a safe city.

Dog owners share their pets with the pet-less.  Yesterday, a little dog named Molly climbed all over my legs when I asked her owner if he would mind sharing.

“It’s our pleasure,” he said, as I petted her for a few minutes.

Exploring our neighborhood this long weekend, the elder’s words remind me why I’m so optimistic:  I’m living in a place called UP.

(UP was first named University Place in the mid-1800s, when founders of then-University of Puget Sound bought 420 acres of land for their first campus.  Financial woes forced them to forfeit the property in 1893, but the name stuck.  While it expanded from cottages to modest suburbs, low-rise apartment blocks, and waterfront mansions, University Place wasn’t incorporated until 1995. There is still no university in this small city; Tacoma Community College sits at the border of UP.)