Embracing the hush after summer’s rush

The deck garden at Nuthatch Cabin is finally blossoming at full throttle just in time for fall. Late blooming is part of living in the island woods, where sunshine is filtered and marine breezes keep us cool.


This is not a bad thing.

Two days after Labor Day, big yellow maple leaves are drifting to the ground. Apples on the gnarled tree by the clubhouse are blushing red. My deck garden is at its blooming peak.

As I caught the water taxi from Anacortes back to the island yesterday after a Labor Day retreat on the Washington coast, I passed a couple of neighbors carting luggage up the dock as they departed for their winter abode in South Carolina. Another neighbor couple has a snowbird refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Not me. I love the autumn months here. Peaceful and pleasant. After countless happy families came on countless vacations to Center Island, featuring boats of every size jockeying local waters to catch toothsome crab and shrimp, suddenly there’s ample dock space. Crystal-clear days mix with morning showers that bring the forest moss back to its fulsome fullness, rivaling the 1970s emerald-green shag carpet I had in my Bellevue bedroom when I was 14. (I actually bought the rug with my paper-route money. Weird kid.)

As at mainland golf courses and swimming clubs, Labor Day is the last social occasion of the summer on Center Island. There’s always a salmon barbecue at the clubhouse. People play pickleball. Hermits that we’ve always been, Barbara and I customarily entertained visitors at our own cabin, on the island’s far side from the frivolity.

This year, daughter Lillian and I journeyed to the ocean beach for a delightful Labor Day rendezvous with old friends, Deborah Willoughby and her kids, Jay and Clara, from Vancouver, Wash. These “kids” all spent their early years together, when I worked at The Columbian newspaper along with Jay and Clara’s parents. This year, Lillian and Jay both turn 30.

On the foggy beach at Seaview, we were drawn to a hand-engineered driftwood version of, um, Stonehenge? But the murk made it hard to tell if it could be used to tell time. From left, Clara Willoughby, Lillian Cantwell and Deborah Willoughby.

We spent a couple nights at the funky-licious (not a term I’d normally employ when clean and sober, but I can’t think of a better descriptor for this place) Sou’wester Historic Lodge and Vintage Travel Trailer Resort, in Seaview on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula.

OK, how would you describe a place that rents nights in dozens of streamlined, slightly down-at-the-heels caravans that look like what Lucy and Desi pulled in “The Long, Long Trailer”? And shows short films in an old school bus, features a library of VHS movie tapes and vinyl LPs in the lodge lobby, offers do-it-yourself tea service in a bug-size trailer called the QT, and regularly hosts indie musicians and traveling artists? All within a short walk of the Pacific beach?

We prepared dinners on a 1950s push-button General Electric range. We played card games. We walked miles on the foggy beach. We ate brownies and sipped wine on the lodge’s slightly mossy balcony while listening to an outdoor concert by an earnest, lovelorn musician from Santa Cruz. We toasted Barbara, to whose memory the weekend was dedicated. She loved the beach.

Long Beach’s saucy celeb

The getaway concluded with arcade games, bakery pastries, saltwater taffy shopping, wildly zigging go-kart rides, and the requisite stop to pay homage to Jake the Alligator Man at Marsh’s Free Museum in the town of Long Beach. In the Olympics of American kitsch, we’re talking a 10, even from the Oklahoman judge.

Back home, this morning I awoke to the drool of drizzle on the Nuthatch’s metal roof. I trekked across the island and ran a load of wash at the clubhouse. This afternoon, the sun is blazing warm and I’m sipping peppermint tea and listening to Jack Johnson as a soft breeze tickles its way into the open windows of Wee Nooke, my writing hut on the rocky knoll. Galley Cat wanders in and out for a kitty treat every 10 minutes.

You take Carolina or Texas. It’s a quiet September in the San Juans, and I’m so there.

5 thoughts on “Embracing the hush after summer’s rush

  1. Just the opposite here, Brian. Temperatures rising into the high 20s Centigrade – freesias and jasmine scent the air. Summer comes early.


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