The Art of Weathering Winter: How a gardener and a gallerist embrace the Seattle gray
Walk a mile (or twelve) in the shoes of Ciscoe Morris and Tariqa Waters
By Annie Midori Atherton January 24, 2023
By Annie Midori Atherton
Trudging into midwinter, I sometimes find myself counting down the days to spring with the melodrama of a 19th-century sailor making scratches on the wall to mark how long I’ve been at sea. In an effort to enjoy the season more, I’ve been speaking with a diverse array of locals. What’s clear is that there’s no “right” way to do it.
Some, like local gardening celebrity Ciscoe Morris, test the limits of rain gear and just get out there.
When the 74-year-old north Seattle resident told me he regularly walks eight to twelve miles per day, I wondered if I couldn’t be a little more optimistic (especially given that he has four decades on me).
For others, it’s a time to hunker down and create. Artist Tariqa Waters, who owns the renowned gallery Martyr Sauce in Pioneer Square, takes the opportunity to put in marathon sessions in her studio. Curious about how people with such wildly different lifestyles approach the season, I spoke to both of them to learn more.
Morris, who is an institution in the gardening world, squeezes his walks into a packed work schedule, which includes regular appearances on Seattle news channel KING-TV, hosting a radio show in Sequim, and giving frequent “garden talks” throughout the Northwest. He’s also an avid traveler. In the past year alone, he led tours in Scotland, the Netherlands, and South Africa. When he’s in the city, though, long strolls are his go-to activity.
While walking to regulate mood may be a common habit — it even became a widespread joke when a viral 2021 Tik Tok video showed a woman “going on a stupid walk for my stupid mental health” — Morris is not your garden variety walker (pun intended). Every other morning, he takes his dogs on a four-mile jaunt (his wife takes the other days). Then, he often clocks an additional eight miles in the afternoon while listening to mystery audiobooks. His route winds through the Laurelhurst area and includes nine “really steep” hills.
“I’m totally addicted to it,” he says. “It’s so doggone pretty down there.”
The cheery Minnesota native has been in Seattle since the 1970s, when he hitchhiked here after leaving the Army. Upon first sighting the city, he thought, “My God, this is the most gorgeous, cool place I’ve ever seen.”
As far as gardening goes, he doesn’t mind that his yard gets a little rough around the edges as long as the birds are happy.
“When kids walk by, I hear them say, ‘We’re going by the jungle!’”
Tariqa Waters, meanwhile, doesn’t sugarcoat her feelings about the cold.
“It’s been a really rough winter,” she says of this season so far.
What helps get her through is spending time with her family and creating art — often at the same time. Her 18-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son are both artists, and they often work alongside her.
“In the arts, we like teaching the game,” says Waters, whose husband is also a musician.
She has a lot to teach. Her gallery recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, while she launched its street-level companion, the Martyr Sauce Pop Art Museum (or MS PAM) in 2021. Recently, her kids helped her produce a TV show featuring a host of local creatives, the first episode of which can be viewed on the Seattle Channel.
While she loves that her children live with her, she doesn’t create art in their home, which she describes as comically spare in its decor. Its white walls might come as a surprise to those who’ve seen her art, which tends toward the ultrabright, colorful, and playful. (See: a telephone shaped like a pack of Bubblicious and a giant vintage lunchbox featuring the 1960s TV show Julia).
“Home is the sanctuary and the art space is where all the madness happens,” she says. “When people come in to the space, they say it’s like walking into my brain.”
Winter is actually the best time for her to tackle projects that are tedious and time-consuming. She’ll often be in the studio from early afternoon until 9 p.m. The fact that it’s dreary out makes it easier to focus because her “FOMO” isn’t as bad. Spring and summer also tend to bring more business for her, so there’s a cyclical flow to the process.
When not working, Waters’s perfect day includes baking treats like sweet potato pie.
“I alter my eating habits this time of year, putting on a good 15 to 20 pounds on purpose,” she jokes. “I just feel like it’s a good habit to have.”
While she is trying to watch her sugar for health reasons, she doesn’t stress about it too much, adding, “I try to give myself grace in the winter.”
In many ways, Morris and Waters have opposite approaches to the season. Yet there are commonalities to their approaches. Both prioritize what matters to them and let go of what doesn’t — whether that means having a shabbier garden or a more forgiving diet. Both dig in hard to the activities that light them up inside, and in doing so, light up the lives of those who follow them and their work. By indulging in one of my interests — interrogating people about their personal lives and sharing their stories with others — I hope to do the same.
This is the second in a series of articles by Annie Midori Atherton on The Art of Weathering Winter in Seattle. Read the initial story featuring two Seattle chefs, Mutsuko Soma and Shota Nakajima here.
Annie Midori Atherton is a freelance writer covering culture, careers, parenting, and more. Her writing has appeared on The Atlantic, the BBC, Insider, and other places. She lives in south Seattle with her husband and toddler.