ONE OF MY ISLAND HOME’S GREAT ASSETS isn’t in the San Juans at all. It’s the nearby Skagit Valley, which one crosses to get here. It’s a beautiful agricultural valley bisected by one of the West’s great rivers and edged by snowy mountains. Its saltwater sloughs, scenic bays and verdant farming fields attract migratory geese and swans, along with countless Great Blue Herons and soaring raptors that make the valley home.
With a day off from work to celebrate, daughter Lillian chose to meet me there Monday to mark her 30th birthday.
We started the day with deliciously vulgar breakfasts at our favorite La Conner cafe, the Calico Cupboard, perched on the edge of Swinomish Channel. Lillian’s platter of Eggs Benedict swam with smoked salmon circling a giant island of hash browns made from Skagit potatoes. My Morning Glory Omelette’s three eggs were a happy vessel for crisp bacon, avocado, tomato, baby spinach, and cheddar cheese, topped by sour cream and green onion. Lil eventually had to cry “uncle” to that Greenland-sized mass of taters, but I was a proud member of the Clean Plate Club.
After our late breakfast, we toddled (or, maybe, waddled) in and out of La Conner’s shops, easy targets for merchants of kitchen gadgets (she really needed that cheese slicer) and the latest books appealing to 30-year-old readers of fantasy fiction. We enjoyed poking our noses into the new nautically-themed boutique that now occupies what was the one-room town library where Barbara was the sole librarian in the early 1980s.
After a pleasant wander along the town’s delightful new (in the past decade) waterfront walkway looking across to a tribal park’s pavilions fashioned to resemble woven-cedar hats, we motored northward and parked the car for a breakfast-burning 2-mile hike on the Padilla Bay Shore Trail. Beneath a blustery autumn sky split between patches of gingham blue and darkly scudding clouds, we watched wading herons hunt for their own brunch along the muddy banks of meandering sloughs.
Back in the car, we followed Bay View-Edison Road to its terminus: the village of Edison (est. 1869, pop. 147), which holds up bravely under a massive overdose of charm.
I’m not sure what it is that makes the place so appealing. Maybe that there are only about five businesses that manage to keep their doors open, and you’d better be prepared to pay cash because credit cards are too newfangled. Or that “downtown” is only about three-quarters of a block. Now with a decidedly Rural Bohemian vibe, it has the air of being stuck interminably in the 1920s (a decade when its high school produced famed journalist Edward R. Murrow). Probably key to its commercial survival today is that it is world headquarters to Breadfarm, which might be my favorite bakery on the planet (and I’m not the only loyalist).
After Lil bought a black-olive ciabatta loaf to take home, we reviewed the “fun things to do” list I’d compiled for the day (travel editor, remember? it’s what I do). We looked at our watches, noted that the day was marching on and decided we didn’t feel like rushing up Chuckanut Drive (which doesn’t deserve to be rushed) to a Bellingham pub I liked (Aslan Brewing, which seemed appropriate because Lillian and I have been reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” to each other).
As we hesitated, we noticed a sign pointing to the end of Edison’s main drag. It included the words “brewery” and “pizza.” Perfect! A bird in the hand.
Indeed, looking out over lazy Edison Slough, I could spy yet another heron from our cozy window table at Terramar Brewing, where Lillian and I sipped some tasty brews 20 minutes later. Lil (her Guinness-devoted mother’s daughter, for sure) had a pint of Red-Eye Porter “with notes of fresh-ground coffee and bittersweet chocolate,” while I quaffed a glass of Old Number Six, described as a Blonde Steam Beer with a rounded malt profile.
Those generous breakfasts were still with us, so instead of pizza we snacked on a starter portion of roasted Shishito peppers, spiced with anchovy and garlic. Boo wah! (Burp.)
To end the day, we headed for a picnic table edging Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes where we would celebrate with massive chocolate cupcakes I had baked and a Thermos of hot tea. But as soon as we stepped out of the car a cool breeze reminded us with whirling gusto that it was almost friggin’ October.
So we parked with a view of the boats and gobbled cupcakes in the car. As far as I can remember, these might be the first cupcakes I’ve ever baked, so I had no idea how much batter to spoon into each cupcake paper. And my Barbara, who didn’t believe in doing things in a small way, kept only an oversized cupcake pan in the cupboard. So not only were they big cupcakes, they had overflowed the tin. They were Cake-zillas.
But topped with chocolate icing and maraschino cherries, they were pretty tasty.
Hard to believe she’s already 30. My daughter is a wonderful young woman. She gets most of the credit for that. But Barbara and I did good.