Eagles are mating, salmon is grilling, the moon is super — it’s spring on our rock

P1240315.JPGBald eagles nuzzle after getting frisky in a treetop in view of our Nuthatch cabin. Female eagles are usually about a third larger than males, so that might be a female on the right.

IMG_7955A FEW YEARS AGO WE HAD AN EAGLE’S NEST on Center Island. Maybe again this year?

A little research tells me that eagles tend to nest not far from where they fledged, in a place with high, perchable treetops, near water, with relatively little human activity. We’re ticking off the boxes. Bing, bing and bing.

After seeing few bald eagles here in recent years, they’re back. Recently I saw five of the big birds whirling around a crab boat that was dumping bait in Lopez Sound. Often, we’ve seen a pair soaring and circling high over our island. Their high-pitched, trilling “skree, skree” call has been a common, adrenalin-spiking addition to our island soundtrack. A high Douglas fir treetop within sight of our cabin seems to be a favorite perch.

Yesterday, we spotted two big eagles snuggled together on that tree. This morning, they were back, and there seemed to be some hanky-panky going on, with lots of squawking and flapping about on that precarious perch. Could it be love?

Today we welcome spring, and it seems the eagles know all about what’s supposed to happen in springtime in the wild world.

With sunny-day temperatures approaching 70 degrees F., our island suddenly smells green, lush and deliciously alive, after a long spell of winter.

Barbara and I celebrated last evening with a salmon barbecue on our deck. I also tossed on the grill a few Manila clams and an oyster that a neighbor kindly donated from his low-tide harvest this week on an island beach.

Tonight, we’ll watch for the Super Worm Moon, which makes a rare appearance on the equinox. Why “super”? Why “worm”?

  • It’s called a super moon — the last one of 2019 — when a full moon is at its closest point to Earth, or perigee, along the moon’s slightly elliptical orbit. That makes it appear about 14 percent bigger and about 30 percent brighter than average full moons.
  • March’s full moon is called the Worm Moon because March is when the frozen soil thaws and earthworms reappear, to the delight of robins everywhere.

Welcome spring with us. It would be a great night to make like Edward Lear’s owl and pussycat, and dance by the light of the moon. cropped-1-anchor.jpg

Here’s my retirement performance evaluation

P1240046.JPGLooking through a screen of scenic madronas toward a nature preserve on neighboring Decatur Island: One of the tranquil scenes from our frequent walks circling Center Island.

IMG_7955THE YEAR-ROUND POPULATION of our 176-acre island has swelled to more than 20, and not all are of the leisure class like Barbara and me. Some telecommute, others divide their time between Center Island and a Seattle office. So I recently heard a discussion of workplace performance evaluations.

If you, too, have been part of the great unwashed who have had to work for a paycheck, you’ve likely run up against a system of ratings in which you have to kowtow to a boss who gets to decide whether you regularly meet or exceed “expectations.”

As an official Old Fart (somewhere I have my membership card), I am nostalgic for the days when we would all just work hard, do our best, and any employer with half a wit to rub together could see that we deserved a raise every year.

But in the post-Reagan years, everything was turned over to the bean counters and there had to be — what’s the magic word? — a metric for work performance. Most of us have had brushes with some sort of performance evaluation system that seemed designed by the kind of person who would pluck the eyeballs out of a road-kill ‘possum, just because they could.

Now, having ditched the office almost a year ago, all that is behind me. And I’m happy to say that I’m the sole judge of what kind of day I’ve had.

For example, the other day I was sitting at my desk in Wee Nooke, my cedar-sided writing hut on the rocky knoll behind our cabin, and working on the latest mystery novel on which Barbara and I are collaborating, a continuation of the Murdermobile series. My eye was suddenly caught by a deer wandering by my window. The doe meandered around the knoll, oblivious to my presence, and then plopped down in a sunny bed of thick, emerald moss about 10 feet away, proceeding to take a nap.

As I continued tapping at my keyboard, I took great pleasure in looking up every few minutes to see my fuzzy woodland companion still there, at peace. It was a simple thing, but rarely have I been filled with such a sense of well-being.

Little moments such as that fill our days. Bringing coffee to my sweetie in bed most mornings. Walking the circle road around our island together, spying a peeping flock of golden-crowned kinglets. Buzzing over to Lopez Island in our fun old runabout. Sharing a good curry Barbara has whipped up in the cabin’s modern kitchen. Snuggling together under the covers on a cold night.

All those things exceed my expectations. I think I’ll keep this job. 1-anchor

Happy Washington’s Birthday. A new beer god is born.

P1240232.JPGThe latest home brew: Ready to sip, with sunset and pretzels.

IMG_7955YES, THAT HEADLINE SAYS “BEER GOD.” If you can’t hyperbolate in your own blog, when can you hyperbolate?

Part of making the transition to a new life in which one doesn’t set the alarm clock is the unearthing of skills long hidden behind the veil of working for a paycheck. As loyal Reefers* (*see blog title) know, home brewing has been an aspiration of mine for almost half the years I’ve been aspirating. Only now did I get around to it.

The first effort was a flop. Unwelcome bacterial beasties apparently got in to my batch of Nutty Nuthatch Brown English Ale, rendering it sour and unpleasant.

Second time around I was absolutely obsessive about sanitizing every bottle and piece of equipment — two or three times — and it paid off.

Last evening I popped the cap on my first longneck of Nuthatch Brewing’s Chinook Way Full-Hopped IPA. And I’m not too shy to tell you it was spicily, amberly, artisanally, intoxicatingly good.

Notes of cinnamon and caramel blended with the light flowery scent of the Chinook hops that are partly responsible for the beer’s name. The other factor is that “Chinook Way” is the name of the modest one-lane gravel road above which our Nuthatch cabin perches. (Somebody apparently once had overly grand ideas for this tiny island, just as the founders of Anacortes long ago gave their city wide, wide avenues to accommodate the traffic that has only now arrived, or how Port Townsend was convinced it would become a bustling commercial seaport at the Pacific end of the transcontinental railroad.)

Announcing my brewing success on George’s birthday has a certain aptness. Fun fact for February 22: By the start of the 19th century our first president was one of the largest producers of whiskey in the United States.  (We magnates of the spirits industry believe in sharing the glory.)

So, I’m motivated to make another batch of beer. Who knows, maybe by the 22nd century Center Island will be the base of a giant American brewing empire.

And if “hyperbolate” — which I would define as “the overzealous application of hyperbole” — isn’t a word, it should be.

It would also make a good band name. 1-anchor

 

 

After the storms: Broken dock… and overdue library books?

P1240222.JPGRecent winter storms on Lopez Sound tossed and flexed the Hunter Bay public dock until it snapped in the middle, marked by a hastily erected blockade. Our remote island, seen in the middle distance, just got more remote.

IMG_7955WE’VE HAD PLENTY OF GREAT TIMES on our island since moving to the San Juans full-time last spring. But it hasn’t been all beer and skittles. (And who would eat those icky-sweet Skittles with beer, anyway?)

The latest challenge blew in with the northeasterly winds a week or two ago, when one of the big state ferries plying Rosario Strait reported gusts of 90 to 100 mph. Coming from that direction, the wind had miles of open water to churn as it blew southward down Lopez Sound, colliding smack dab with the Hunter Bay county dock. That’s where we tie up when we want to visit our neighboring island for grocery shopping, library visits, garbage disposal and so on.

The waves pitched the dock up and down so hard that it broke in two, like a brittle twig snapping in the middle. Timbers broke and steel rebar twisted like shoelaces.

The outcome: Where four or five 20-foot boats could moor previously, now there’s room for only one boat on the shore side of the broken dock. The rest is closed off by a wooden barricade.

Bad news for us outer islanders who rely on the dock as our lifeline to the “bright lights” of Lopez. The dock was already often full on busy weekends in the islands.

I phoned the frazzled county engineer, whose main message to me was that his crews were desperately overworked after the big storm. Understandable. He took down my name and number and said someone would get back to me.

I followed up with emails to the engineer, the county manager and the county council, just so everybody would know about the dock’s damage. So far, we’ve no idea when repairs might happen. It could be months.

We’ll get by, but life on this remote island just got more remote. And, hey, I have library books that are due in a week. 1-anchor

P.S. Skittles, besides being a fruity American candy, was a popular English pub game akin to bowling, thus the old saying “beer and skittles” referred to leisure time with your drinking buddies.

P1240209.JPGBarbara stretches her legs, tramping in recent snow along the Center Island air field.

Happy snowy birthday, Barbara

P1240161.JPGThe birthday girl models the “grumpy cat” sweater she just finished knitting.

IMG_7955YES, I’LL STILL FEED HER, yes, I still need her, now that she’s 64.

As Barbara’s elder sister Ann, in Brisbane, wrote to her, “Now’s it’s your turn to put up with that stupid song for a year!”

Today’s my sweetie’s birthday. In 1955, five weeks before her due date, Barbara Alice Burns was born at Northgate Hospital in Seattle. In the Eisenhower administration, as the Cold War was getting serious, her parents had just moved from Massachusetts to North Seattle, and she made her debut at the shopping-mall hospital only because it was the closest to their new rental home when Barbara’s dad frantically put his ready-to-pop wife in a cab while he stayed home with their other four little ones.

“Obviously, I was born to shop,” Barbara has always said, tongue-in-cheekily referring to her birth hospital, now replaced by acres of mall parking.

This weekend, we were supposed to be celebrating with daughter Lilly in an oceanfront inn at Cannon Beach, Oregon, but the weather gods said, “Not so fast!” Phrases such as “snow apocalypse” filled the weather forecasts, convincing us that hours of driving wasn’t a good choice.

Happily, Barbara and I managed a quick overnight trip to Seattle to share some celebration time with our daughter, returning to Center Island before travel got too nasty.

P1240167.JPGIf you can’t wear sox like these when you’re 64, when can you wear them? Barbara models some birthday gifts.

As it turned out, the snow mostly bypassed our island, where we got less than 2 inches. What we got instead were more windstorms and frigid temperatures, so island life has been challenging enough in recent days. Meanwhile, Lilly got five inches of snow at Shilshole Marina where she lives with her cat, Tiberius, on our cozy old sailboat, Sogni d’Oro.

Several more inches of snow is expected across the region starting this evening (it has just started as I write this). So we might get our share of white stuff.

P1240173.JPGBucky and friends come by The Nuthatch looking for handouts in the cold of winter.

This belated winter blast has caught our island’s natural world offguard. An obviously pregnant doe has been hanging around our cabin, and when she came by yesterday I asked Barbara if she had any food I could put out for the Mama to Be. My wife handed me a bagful of small carrots and broccoli florets that we’d snacked on earlier. I tossed the carrots to Mama Deer, who eagerly chewed them down. I didn’t think broccoli would appeal to a deer, but at Barbara’s urging (“Folic acid is important for her!”) I tossed them as well, and they were gobbled right up.

P1240159.JPGDaffodils from our yard bloomed when we brought the premature buds in from the snow.

We’ve had many woodpeckers at the suet block hanging from one of our small firs, and today a big Northern flicker. Just before the snow arrived, Barbara stepped outside and cut a handful of daffodils that had already budded out in our side yard, ready to bloom in the next couple weeks. They were so tightly budded we weren’t sure they’d actually flower when brought inside, but their chances outside didn’t seem good. Happily, they’ve opened just in time to decorate the birthday dinner table. Some are small blooms, because they were preemies, just like Barbara. But they’re still beauties. Just like Barbara. 1-anchor

When I get older losing my hair, Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine, Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?
You’ll be older, too. And if you say the word
I could stay with you.
I could be handy, mending a fuse, when your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside, Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?
Every summer we can rent a cottage, in the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear.
We shall scrimp and save.
Grandchildren on your knee: Vera, Chuck and Dave.
Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say: yours sincerely, wasting away.
Give me your answer, fill in a form, mine for evermore.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?
— John Lennon / Paul McCartney

Chilling on Center Island

P1240150.JPGA female downy woodpecker chows down on a suet block to keep up its energy in our cold weather outside The Nuthatch cabin.

IMG_7955TO SHOW YOU HOW COLD IT IS: I had to bring a case of beer in off the back porch so it wouldn’t freeze solid.

It’s the coldest day of the year so far at our island hermitage. The thermometer outside was stuck on 20 degrees F. when we got up this morning, and it hasn’t risen more than 5 notches this afternoon. Adding significantly to that, we have steady northeasterly winds scouring frigid Canadian air down out of the Fraser River Valley, with frequent gusts to 30 mph, giving a wind chill effect of a decidedly unbalmy 8 degrees.

We had the season’s first snowfall yesterday, but it came and went without leaving anything on the ground, unlike much of the Puget Sound area, where we’re hearing reports of up to 8 inches.

It’s a battle to keep the cabin warm today. We hauled out our big oil-filled radiator and plugged it in overnight, but it still got down to 50 inside overnight, and despite keeping the woodstove fire banked all day, it’s only 60 degrees inside. Barbara and I are making good use of long johns and hot coffee.

Earlier, I pulled on four layers of ski togs and tramped across the island to check on the WeLike at the dock, happy to find our old runabout weathering the winds OK at one of the inner slips. But a boat on the outermost pier was coated in ice from the wind-driven whitecaps. Another had snapped a mooring line and was swinging on its bowline. Spray from Reads Bay had coated the end of the dock with a half-inch of solid saltwater ice. Time to get out the Yaktrax!

Meanwhile, we’re keeping the feeders filled, though it’s a challenge to keep up with the appetites of the local avian crowd, doing their best to keep up their energy and not turn into birdsicles.

Warm wishes, as we wish for warmth! 1-anchor

Happy Groundhog Day, it’s time to picnic

P1240093.JPGBarbara soaks up the sun on our picnic rock at Point Colville.

IMG_7955PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL SAYS SPRING IS COMING EARLY, though I suspect he’s just trying to cheer up everybody who’s been caught in the Arctic Vortex, or Wintermageddon, or Freeze-aroni, or whatever they’ve been calling it.

Barbara and I celebrate this time of year with an annual winter picnic, which we enjoyed a couple days ago at Point Colville on Lopez Island.

Our vintage runabout, the WeLike, is running again, thanks to my installation of new fuel filters, including a Racor prefilter system similar to what we’ve had on our sailboat for years. Though this engine is gas and the sailboat has diesel, I still go by what I learned many moons ago in my Portland Community College marine-diesel repair class (for readers of James Herriot, I call this my two weeks with Professor Malleson): When an engine stops running,  first check the fuel, then check the fuel, then check the fuel again.

P1240111.JPGCastle Island, center left, from Point Colville. Rumor has it puffins hang out there.

Anyway, the boat got us to the Hunter Bay dock on Lopez and we enjoyed the short hike through old-growth firs to the rocky balds of Point Colville, part of San Juan Islands National Monument. The point provides many perfect “sitting rocks” for a picnic with a broad view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Range and some snowy, jagged peaks of the Cascades.P1240099.JPGName those peaks: Can you help me identify these snowy Cascade peaks seen looking east from Lopez Island? I’m guessing maybe White Chuck, maybe Glacier Peak, maybe…?

We munched Barbara’s “salad sandwiches” (an Australian thing, with sliced beets, tomatoes, lettuce and a bit of vegan cheese) and basked in the bright winter sun, which felt pretty good on the old bones this time of year.

Paraphrasing Bill Murray in one of our favorite movies, which we will watch (again) tonight (possibly several times): “Yep, spring is coming early, just about March 21.” cropped-1-anchor.jpg

Oh dear, bad beer: At least the labels looked great

IMG_7955FIRST TIMES ARE OFTEN LEARNING EXPERIENCES, and thus it was with my first batch of home brew. Oh, well. Few lovers are Casanova on the first date.

We had a spectacular sunset over Lopez Sound on Friday night, and it was the “opening date” for my bottles of Nutty Nuthatch English Brown Ale, so Barbara and I opened the first bottle so we could step out on the deck and toast the peach-melba sky.

Well, the first bottle we opened didn’t pop when the cap flipped off. It was flat. The cap hadn’t sealed.

The next bottle opened with a pop and fizz, though, so we split the bottle into 6-ounce tasting glasses, stepped out into the fresh January air and raised our brew to the sky before taking a sip.

Hmmm. Took a bigger gulp. Hmmm. Looked at each other, and in unison dumped the rest over the deck railing. It was sour and unappetizing.

“I’ve actually had worse,” Barbara said, offering cold comfort to the brewmaster.

At least it looked good. I was proud of the bottle labels I’d created using my daughter Lilly’s artwork of a nuthatch, which also graces a sign at our Nuthatch cabin’s front door.P1240087.JPGIf looking good was all that counted, this would have been boffo beer.

Not sure where I went wrong with the beer, though temperature control could have been a factor. The instructions said to let it brew in a dark place with temps ranging from 60 to 75 degrees. We don’t have spare closets in our cabin, so the best solution I could come up with was to nest the gallon brew jug deep in a bin of bath towels in a corner of the bathroom, where I kept an oil-filled radiator set to 63 degrees. But I think the beer still got too cold one frosty night. P1240085.JPG

Ah, well, mustn’t grumble, as the Brits say. I’ve already brewed a new batch, an IPA this time. And I ordered a new case of bottles with special flip-down, wire-sealing caps like you see on some European beers, to help ensure a proper seal.

Keeping fingers crossed, trying to hold my mouth right, scratching a stay and turning three times. We’ll get this right. cropped-1-anchor.jpg

Fly me to the moon (or the ER)

P1240011.JPGAir mail, Center Island-style: When UPS packages come on the San Juan Airlines plane, the pilot hops out and totes them to our mail shack. The Nuthatch cabin is about 200 feet into the woods from the far end of the field in this picture.

IMG_7955AIR TRAVEL WAS A KEY PART of my life as a travel writer, and planes and helicopters continue to play a role now that I’m living at The Nuthatch cabin on a little island in the San Juans. The roles are different, however.

While Barbara and I still fly away to interesting places now and again, the primary purpose planes play in our daily lives is to deliver packages sent via UPS and FedEx. (The U.S. Postal Service delivers to Center Island by boat.)

Even if I’m sitting in my favorite wicker chair in our living room I know when the orange plane from San Juan Airlines is delivering our UPS packages. We can clearly hear the pilot buzz our grass airfield to clear it of grazing deer before he lands. That little orange plane sounds like a RAF Spitfire strafing a beach.

With the popularity of Amazon Prime, the volume of packages delivered to our island has soared. We even use it to order cat food and bird seed, both of which we go through a lot of.

Helicopters, too, are now part of our lives, though we hope to never see the inside of one. That’s because we just signed up as members of Airlift Northwest, a UW Medicine-affiliated air-evacuation service, which serves our islands with helicopters based in Bellingham and Arlington. For $79 a year, they’ll cover whatever air-evac cost isn’t covered by our personal medical insurance in the event of an emergency. From Bellingham, a helicopter flying 150 mph would cover the 25 miles to our island in 10 minutes.

It seems a prudent precaution when you live in a place where the only medical equipment consists of the DIY defibrillator in our clubhouse and the bandages in the bottom drawer in our bathroom.

Best wishes, loyal readers, for good health and never needing a helicopter ride. 1-anchor