Seattle Times staff photographer Alan Berner drinks in the vibrancy of Lake Union in this installment of Northwest Wanderings, a column that explores places and communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

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Lake Union, that curious mix of recreational, residential and industrial, is a touchstone in the middle of a small-footprint, booming city.

Twelve-thousand-years old, carved by the last ice age, it provides a sense of place for Seattle just like the very young 56-year-old Space Needle.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher said, “You can’t step into the same river twice,” meaning that change is constant and inevitable.

Change certainly surrounds Lake Union, where once-expansive views of it are becoming mere glimpses. What is lost, or gained, depends on the viewpoint.

The sliver of the water seen from the 1600 block of Dexter will soon be gone as more housing rises.

At the foot of Crockett Street looking east, there’s only the pattern on concrete on a multistory building.

At the north end of the lake, boat-storage racks obscure the water and the Seattle skyline to the south.

For most of us, the lake is best experienced from the water itself, or from Gas Works Park on the north and Lake Union Park on the south.

For the residents of a little over 500 houseboats, life is on the water and in close proximity to neighbors.

Jann McFarland has lived in floating homes since the early 1970s and manages a cozy existence in about 800 square feet.

When you go down the stairs to a houseboat dock, she says, “It’s like being out in the country or at a resort. (It’s) the best of both worlds.”

So how does one capture the experience of the setting and the psychology of the place, asks Dennis Dimick, former picture and executive environmental editor at National Geographic. “Where am I? What is the place we have transformed?” He uses a metaphor:

“Show me the bowl, not just the soup.”

The vibrancy of this urban lake  — this bowl — will continue as long as sea planes continue to land on it.

As long as ships bound for dry dock continue to travel on it.

As long as those who do not live on it can continue to see it.