The San Juans pivot from Dog Days to delight

A Red-breasted Nuthatch grabs a sunflower seed from the feeder outside Nuthatch Cabin, where maple leaves are already turning yellow as the season progresses.

IT’S BEEN A PRETTY PERFECT AUTUMN DAY on Center Island, which feels odd considering it’s the middle of August.

If you’d asked me three days ago I’d have told you it was definitely the Dog Days, though Galley Cat doesn’t much cotton to that terminology. It was hot, seemingly airless and — thanks to wildfires in British Columbia — smoky. From my deck, the setting sun blazed crimson as it dipped below Lopez Island.

But today we’ve definitely had what my late Aussie-raised spouse used to call a cool change: Highs in the 60s rather than the upper 80s. There was a distinct rumor of (dare I speak its name?) fall as a goosebumpy breeze murmured through the leaves of the big Douglas maple that grows out of the rock on which Nuthatch Cabin perches.

Autumnal, also, because that maple’s leaves are already turning yellow and starting to drop, though that seems more a symptom of rain deprivation, I’d say from years of observation. Last summer, wet by San Juan standards, the tree stayed green until around the September equinox.

In any case, this day has felt pretty blissful. Gray and chilly at first, it was a good morning for staying inside and treating Sunday like a proper day of rest. In my case that meant having a scrambled egg on avocado toast with my second cup of coffee while watching the Christmas episode of the PBS Masterpiece Mystery series “Grantchester” (a great binge watch if you’re into British vicar-turned-sleuth themes).

Later, telephoning a Walla Walla friend, I wished I could share some of the island freshness. There, wildfire smoke was causing abysmal air quality and the temperature was 102.

Glenn, the grumpy cat cookie jar we bought years ago on the Oregon Coast, covets the 42 oatmeal cookies I baked. He’ll get them soon enough.

The sun broke through here by midday and it was so nice I couldn’t help myself going out to scrape lichen off the deck I’m refinishing. I can say I redeemed my determination for a restful Sunday by setting the timer on my phone so that I didn’t work longer than 30 minutes.

Then, well, I did some work in the kitchen, but only because my incorrigible sweet tooth demanded that I bake a batch of my diabetes-friendly oatmeal cranberry/chocolate chip cookies (using Stevia sweetener, sugar-free chocolate and Skagit Valley-sourced whole-grain flour, so they’re really more of a health food than a confection, when you analyze it).

Now it’s late afternoon. I’m sitting in the Nuthatch’s living room next to the open slider with that delicious breeze wafting in as birds outside flit back and forth between the feeder and the deck’s bamboo water fountain. I’m sipping a tot of good New Zealand sauvignon blanc and listening to the fountain’s gurgle, the breeze’s soothing whispers and the sublime orchestral soundtrack to the old Robert Redford production of “A River Runs Through It.”

The only thing that would make it a hundred times better would be if I were sharing it with Barbara instead of just the cat.

But one of the nice things people said about my sweet wife was that she knew how to make herself happy while making others happy around her. I’m trying to take a lesson from that.

I still have bad days as well as good days. But life, like summer, goes on.

Look closely to find the deer who enjoyed this restful Sunday resting among the tall grasses, salal and wild roses in the front clearing outside the Nuthatch.

5 thoughts on “The San Juans pivot from Dog Days to delight

  1. I wonder if that deer would like a salt lick?The good days will eventually outweigh the bad days my friend, sweet memories have a way of outlasting the darker times.


    1. No more salt licks! 🙂 (This good friend sent me one once, in the mail. A 50-pound solid block of salt. The deer, who live on an island surrounded by SALTwater, never touched it. The Nuthatch proprietor had to haul it to the dump.)


  2. Brian,

    This cloudy gray and cool day here on this other island to the south is also delightful, and made more so by this post of yours. Your essay touches many levels of sense and feeling, rather like the attached two-pager by Brian Doyle. Your writings, too, leave readers changed. Especially if you would please share the recipe for the cookies!!!


    Here’s a link to the essay from Brian Doyle’s “One Long River of Song.”


    1. Hilary, I absolutely love the Doyle essay (especially the line about “the goat or even a senator”). I will read more of him. For that, I should mail you a whole box of cookies, if only it was less complicated from my little island. At least you get the recipe, quite happily:

      Diabetic-friendly Oatmeal Cranberry/Chocolate Chip Cookies
      This is based on Nana Burns’ Oatmeal Raisin cookie recipe, modified by her son-in-law Brian Cantwell to suit diabetics and chocoholics.
      • 1 cup butter or margarine
      • 1 cup packed Stevia-based brown sugar (I use Swerve, available online or in many supermarkets.)
      • ½ cup granulated-sugar substitute (available in Stevia or other forms, measures cup for cup like white sugar)
      • 2 eggs
      • 1 tsp vanilla
      • 1 ½ cups whole-grain flour (I like a combo of whole-wheat, oat flour and rye flour, which has a lower glycemic index)
      • 1 tsp baking soda
      • 1 tsp cinnamon
      • ½ tsp salt
      • 3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal (NOT instant oatmeal)
      • ½ cup no-sugar-added chocolate chips (I like Lily’s Dark Chocolate Baking Chips, sweetened with Stevia)
      • 1 cup dried cranberries (usually sweetened with sugar; reduced-sugar cranberries available online if desired)
      • 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

      1. Preheat oven to 370 degrees.
      2. In a large mixing bowl, soften the butter or margarine for 15-30 seconds using microwave. Then add brown and granulated sugar substitutes and beat together until creamy.
      3. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat well.
      4. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, and mix well into other ingredients.
      5. Add oatmeal, chocolate chips, cranberries and nuts. Stir well until all ingredients are at least lightly moistened.
      6. Spoon by rounded tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet or silicon mat. Bake for 15 minutes at 370.
      7. After removing from oven, let cool for a minute before transferring to cooling rack. Makes 3 dozen+ cookies.


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