Mountain, City, Sea

Mountain, city, sea – a bustling port and a moody, constantly shifting sky – that’s us…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

Travel Tacoma ( has a simple summary of the appeal and possibilities of the greater Tacoma area; Mountain, City, Sea.

This intersection, which most of us take for granted, is, they believe, what sets us apart.

It takes someone from somewhere else to even notice those characteristics (though I have to admit that when I travel, no matter how wonderful the location might be, I always have the sense that something, one of these elements perhaps, is missing).

The premise is basic; every city has at least one of these features, some have two, but none, except Tacoma, have all three.

You could conceivably argue that some cities, Vancouver, BC for example, also have all three, but I would counter that the Tacoma area has two more easily-overlooked features; our Port and our sky.

Tacoma Venn diagram, design by Morf Morford and Danielle Nease

Up until mid-September, virtually all of us took our sky for granted. And then, in what has become an almost annual event, our skies turned blurry and brown, hazy and, in all too many cases, hazardous.

In theory of course, every city, even every town or rural area has the sky.

We, as most of us have discovered, take our clear skies for granted. Many cities, even many rural areas have dusty, polluted skies. In Beijing they have a term for the sky over the city – Beijing Blue. This is something approaching a cynical joke because, even twenty or so years ago, the standard sky color was the same dirty-dishwater gray color of freeway overpasses. The sky, in other words, was indistinguishable from the color of concrete. That blurring only added to the inescapable sense of foreboding that seemed to hover over much of the city.

My bias as someone who grew up around here is that the sky is always changing. Even our smoke is not here long.

Almost no matter where you are in the greater Tacoma area, you can glance out and maybe see the mountain or the sea, but we can almost always see the sky. It might be blue, white or a thousand shades of gray, but our sky is always in motion.

Montana might be Big Sky Country, but we are Sky in Motion Country.

Our sky might be the color, even texture, of concrete, but we know, even though we might not put it into words, that whatever our sky is, it won’t stay that way for long.

Whatever our weather might be one moment, it probably won’t be the same in ten minutes.

And we also know that, whatever the crazy weather might be doing, Mt. Rainier is in fact, always there.

That was the loose translation of the native name for the mountain – the one who is always there.

We, more than most cities, have a vivid mixture of the wild and the urban, within sight if not reach, the permanent and the temporary, the current and the historic, open spaces and clearly defined spaces, and private and public access points.

Oddly enough though, like our blue skies, most of us don’t notice what we have in front of our eyes.

When I go to a new area, I literally see everything for the first time. When I drive, or even better, walk or ride my bike through familiar areas around town, I try to see things I’ve never seen before and notice those things that I, and probably most people, have never noticed before.

There are opportunities everywhere. And, like our weather, the more things are in motion, the more opportunities there are. There’s an old saying that luck is the intersection between being prepared and unexpected opportunity.

Tacoma is dense with unexpected possibilities, stunning views and interesting neighborhoods.

Even the shape of our city is like some extended appendage reaching for its destiny, making a geographical connection with points distant and promising.

Our Port is a perfect example of being prepared to interact with vastly different and distant parts of the earth, from Asia to the American mid-west, the Port of Tacoma is a crucial link. Whether you are talking about soybeans, cars or technology, it all goes through the Port, our Port.

We are the vector, the grand intersection across time and space. Our work and our structures cross borders and years and cultures.

We take it as a given that we will have business partners, friends even romantic relationships from all over the world.

We have grown to expect food, music and clothes from who knows what corner of the world, and like our terrain – and our weather – we don’t expect much to stay the same for very long.

The mountain is always there, but as I am sure you’ve noticed, it too has its moods and its range of colors from white to pale blue, to bright pink and a few more shades of alpine pastels unique to the conditions, the weather, the time of day and our point of view.

Mountain, city, sea – a bustling port and a moody, constantly shifting sky – that’s us.

A swirling mix of nature, work and history have made us who we are.

We are not like other places.

People have lived here for untold millennia, and that influence, barely perceptible most of the time, rises to the surface in unexpected ways or even in aspects we might never recognize, but it is there, humming beyond the surface and adding its tint to the ever-changing surface of this place we call home.