October moods, with marmalade

P1280653Each grape-like hardy kiwi has a stem that requires removal with a quick pinch and twist.

IMG_7955THIS OCTOBER IS QUIET IN THE SAN JUANS, except for the wind and rain.

Even on our little rock, it’s harvest time. Our friend Monique, who lives on the Center Island farm, brought us a flat of hardy kiwi fruit, part of 20 pounds that she picked from her vines. Saturday, we built a fire in the woodstove, stayed inside out of the rain and made kiwi/lime marmalade.


These hardy kiwis are smooth-skinned and grape-like, distinguished from the big fuzzy kiwi fruit you buy in the supermarket. Inside, they are very much like other kiwi fruit: bright green with black seeds, but perhaps a little sweeter and less astringent in character. We found that making marmalade from them was work-intensive, suited to a moist autumn afternoon, because each “berry” must have the stem twisted off by hand. But you don’t need to peel them; the skin is edible.

We ended up with 13 jars. We’re going to try it on crumpets for dessert tonight.

Late Saturday afternoon, the sky cleared and I went for a walk with my camera and found some scenes haunting in their beauty. Perfect for October.

P1280693Late afternoon sun piercing the conifer woods on Center Island backlights the showy colors of a bigleaf maple.

I had another apt October moment earlier in the week when Barbara was in Seattle and I was baching it with the cats. Late one night, I had turned off lights and was about to head for bed when I suddenly heard a soft, disembodied voice from out of the darkness, vaguely familiar, saying, “Hello, hello, is anybody there?” After momentarily wondering if The Nuthatch Ghost had finally chosen to manifest its ghoulish presence, and preparing myself to see the knotty-pine walls bleed and all that sort of thing, I realized the muffled voice was coming from a pocket of my jeans.

Prying my phone out of my pocket, there was daughter Lillian’s face, looking puzzled (and, really, a little ghoulish because she was in dim light). OK, everybody knows about accidental “butt calls” with a cellphone. But I think I may have made history with the world’s first ever Butt Skype.

I don’t know how that was even possible. I have enough trouble Skyping intentionally.

Next time anybody says “boo,” I’ll just ask “boo who?” cropped-1-anchor.jpg

P1280671.JPGCenter Island neighbors come in to land their small plane Saturday evening, as other Center Island neighbors graze the airfield.

Dining well, in solidarity with our Canadian neighbors (like Diana Krall)

IMG_20191014_182907277.jpgOur Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, alongside an autumn bouquet of golden maple leaves, sea grass, crimson rose hips, salal and quaking aspen we gathered along Center Island roadsides in Monday’s sunshine.


Maybe it’s because we live on a small island where there isn’t enough to do. But it’s also because my dear wife, Barbara, loves to cook, especially sage-rich dressing, butternut squash, cranberry sauce and savory mushroom gravy. So when we sparked on celebrating Canada’s Thanksgiving this year, on the second Monday of October, the day after the Hunter’s Moon lit up the night sky, the idea resonated like Diana Krall singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Mind you, our special dinner wasn’t in place of the traditional American observance on the fourth Thursday of November. This just gave us an excuse to cook and eat a bunch of that good food twice as often.

There’s some justification, too, in that Barbara’s Grandpa Burns was from Nova Scotia. And these days reverting to her Canadian roots has more and more appeal to her. (But that’s a whole other rant.)

From an embarrassingly quick read of Wikipedia, I’ll tell you that Canadians eat pretty much the same menu for their harvest celebration as folks south of their border, though the everyman’s encyclopedia notes that their variations on turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie might include baked ham, salmon, wild game, something endearingly known as Jiggs dinner (corned beef and cabbage, named after a now obscure comic-strip character who liked it), apple pie and, yes, even the occasional gooey Nanaimo bar. Oh, Canada!

Our Monday repast didn’t include turkey or anything Mr. Jiggs liked, because we pretty much eat vegan these days. But the plant-based bratwurst from the Beyond Meat folks, served with a nice truffle mustard, went quite nicely with sage dressing and all that other good stuff.

Alas, we had nothing in the cabin with which to celebrate Nanaimo, which happens to be Diana Krall’s birthplace, just 68 miles northwest of here as the pigeon guillemot flies.

Maybe next year, eh? 1-anchor

‘Dump Day’ means a Lopez Island adventure

IMG_20191011_140203081.jpgScattered on and around vintage farm machinery — some of which might still be used on occasion — October pumpkins are offered for sale at Horse Drawn Farm on Lopez Island.


Those words don’t carry magic for most people, but we love our trips to Lopez Island, usually prompted by the need to dispose of trash and recycling at the Lopez Dump.

We buzzed the three miles across Lopez Sound on a pristine autumn Friday with a cloudless sky, calm air and flat waters. After a couple weeks of idleness, WeLike’s new Evinrude purred the way our cat Bosun does when we’re dishing up his favorite fishy Friskies. Once we arrived at the Hunter Bay public dock, Ranger Rick, the teenaged Ford pickup that serves as our Lopez wheels, started on the first crank. How many 15-year-olds are that cooperative?

I quickly settled in to the wave-a-friendly-index finger mantra of Lopezian driving each time we passed another car. Whenever I drive on the mainland now I have to quell the impulse to wave at passing drivers. It’s too bad, really.

We took care of business at the dump, then picked up a cinnamon roll and some cookies from Holly B’s and Americanos to go from the Lopez Coffee Shop, next door. (While I was waiting for the coffee, a local teen came in the back door and asked the owner if there was any little job he could do in exchange for a free drink. He was soon emptying trash cans. A nice little slice of island life.)

We then drove toward our favorite lunch spot at the Fisherman Bay Spit to enjoy the Kicken Salad sandwiches Barbara had packed. “Kicken” is a term recalled from our daughter’s toddler years, when she couldn’t say “chicken.” We now use it to refer to  imitation chicken made from mycoprotein. With mayo and chopped green onion, we can’t tell the difference, and it’s our new favorite picnic food. No hormones or cholesterol, and no cluckers bought the farm.

Along our route, great blue herons waded in shallows edging the narrow isthmus between San Juan Channel and Fisherman Bay. The heather-like ground cover on the tideflats shone with colors of amber and cranberry in the bright October sunshine.

As we munched at our customary bench, where we usually see nobody else, a couple suddenly appeared from around a rock and strolled directly in front of us, stopping a short way down the embankment for a lengthy drinking in of the view of sparkling water, moored boats and autumn colors at the entrance to Fisherman Bay. “Hmmm, whose personal space can we invade today?” I mimicked snarkily, sotto voce, to Barbara.

When they finally departed, the woman apologized for intruding. “It’s a beautiful view,” I said, forgivingly. Starting to walk away, she suddenly turned on impulse and asked, “Do you live here?” We explained that we were from the next island over. “We’re from Montana, and this is all new to us, so we’re just taking this in for the first time,” she said wistfully.

“Enjoy your visit!” I called after her, feeling about two feet tall.

After lunch, we made our October pilgrimage to Horse Drawn Farm, our favorite farm stand, on Port Stanley Road. I picked out a pumpkin for our Halloween jack o’lantern and Barbara filled a bag with field-fresh produce.

A stop at the wonderful Lopez Library, a bit of supermarket shopping, then back to the boat for a smooth ride home with a full-on view of snowy Mount Baker looming beyond the opening of Lopez Pass.

Just a Dump Day. 1-anchor

Back on our rock after coasting down Oregon’s gorgeous seashore

P1280237.JPGYou never know who you’ll run into on an RV trip down the Oregon Coast. Here, T-Rex confronts Barbara outside Prehistoric Gardens, a roadside attraction near Humbug Mountain.

IMG_7955ABSENCE MAKES THE ROCK GROW FONDER. Or makes us fonder of our rock. Or something…

We’re glad to be back on Center Island after a week in a rented 25-foot motorhome roving the Oregon Coast, cats and all. This was a reprise of a trip we did almost 10 years ago for a Seattle Times story, sampling the pleasures of the “shoulder season” when rental costs were lower, an RV let us care not about occasional rain, and crowd-free campgrounds made a coastal tour a carefree treat.

That all remained true except for the “crowd-free” part. In the ensuing decade, lots of new folks have moved to the Northwest and many retiring Baby Boomers have added to the ranks of RVers, along with a friendly new crowd of techno-geek younger folks pulling self-contained, solar-powered pod trailers that resemble tiny spacecraft on wheels. This time, reserved campsites were advisable.

Nonetheless, our week of rolling down the coast was fun and adventurous, and bringing the whiskered friends — ill-advised as it might have seemed to anyone familiar with the term “herding cats” — turned out a fine idea. They were good travelers, fuzzy bed-warmers on cold nights, and cozy company. Happily, the rental outfit we used, CruiseAmerica, welcomes pets at no extra cost.


P1280510.JPGGalley Cat perches in one of her favorite viewpoints, on the dashboard of our rental motorhome, at Oregon’s South Beach State Park campground, at Newport.

We spent several hours most days driving from one campground to another along the beautiful coast highway, except for one treasured layover day at our favorite Oregon park, Beachside State Recreation Site, where we snagged a campsite with an in-your-face view of ocean waves framed by a few windblown spruces. As much as we have been true-blue tent campers most of our lives, we had to admit it was pretty nice to sit in our cozy dinette on a cold October morning looking out our RV’s big window at the Pacific surf.

P1280393.JPGSea stacks like gigantic shark fins dot the Oregon Coast along Highway 101 south of Port Orford.

We stretched this coastal trip from wild Cape Lookout, west of Tillamook, southward to Harris Beach, not far from the California border, where the sand is jumbled with chiseled, house-high rocks resembling a bunch of toys left scattered by unruly giant children.

Barbara added nicely to her lifetime quota of beach walks, her all-time favorite leisure activity, and I took a lot of photos and interviewed other campers for an upcoming piece for Journey, the glossy magazine published by AAA of Washington. (My dear wife generously recognizes that I’m constitutionally incapable of traveling without writing about it.)

P1280443.JPGBarbara looks out from a viewing deck at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, south of Florence.

Driving a gas-guzzling RV was a guilty pleasure that we really enjoyed for a week. Now we’re very happy to stay home for a good while in our cozy cabin in the San Juans. With our new electric-powered ductless heat pump, installed last spring, we rely less on firewood for heating on these cool autumn days. So these guilty pleasure-lovers feel a little less guilty about our carbon footprints in the sand.

Meanwhile, with winds and rain, autumn is getting serious here. My next trip to the city will be for my sister-in-law’s annual Halloween party. We’re working on our costumes, with a planned trip to the Take It or Leave It recycled-clothing warehouse at the Lopez Dump this weekend. Ah, the fine traditions of October. 1-anchor

P1280186.JPGCape Blanco Lighthouse, built in 1870, was one of our Oregon Coast stops, where we enjoyed a tour led by volunteer docents.

Looking for larches, we found an awesome autumn

P1270367.JPGThese golden larches were lonely near the top of Maple Pass last weekend, as most of the iconic deciduous conifers of the North Cascades were barely starting their change of color. Wintry weather this weekend could speed up the process.

IMG_7955WELCOME TO A NEW SEASON. My loyal reader might remember when daughter Lillian and I hiked Maple Pass last year just before Labor Day. This year we repeated the epic day-hike to the top of the North Cascades, this time on the brink of the autumn solstice in a quest to see larch trees turning golden to greet the fall.

We lucked into a gloriously sunny late September day, in a season when snow can often frost this 6,000-foot-plus alpine catwalk.

We didn’t luck into a lot of golden larches. We found a few, but we were a week or two early for eyepopping hillsides of them.

P1270297.JPGMountain huckleberry and other colorful foliage dapple a hillside above jewel-like Lake Ann, as seen from the Maple Pass Trail in the North Cascades.

But we did glory in the colors of burgundy-leafed mountain huckleberry and flame-red wild sumac, all spiced by the freshest air this side of Cape Flattery.

We camped again at delightful Klipchuck Campground, a few miles west of Mazama, and then spent a night in a cabin at Pearrygin Lake State Park, just outside of Winthrop.

P1270493.JPGA ground squirrel looks for a trail-mix handout.

It was Lillian’s first visit to the Methow Valley’s Western-themed Winthrop, where we enjoyed the treats at Rocking Horse Bakery (with its eye-catching logo of a wild bronc playing a Fender Stratocaster), the Chewuch River views and tasty IPAs at Old Schoolhouse Brewery, and the well-done exhibits on gold mining and pioneer life at Shafer Museum. At the artists cooperative, we bought a gift of a ceramic serving plate painted with autumn aspens to take home to Barbara.P1270426.JPGYour humble correspondent atop Maple Pass, elevation 6,650 feet.

While Maple Pass was a jawdropper, attracting us and hundreds of other hikers on the sunny Saturday, Lillian and I found special delight in marking the solstice with a quiet Monday-morning hike under clouds and occasional raindrops to pretty Cedar Falls before we headed back over the pass toward home.

P1270532.JPGLillian at Cedar Falls, celebrating the autumn solstice.

Lusting for larches yourself? The deciduous conifers that poke like birthday candles from atop autumn mountaintops should be turning golden quickly as temperatures atop Maple Pass are forecast to plunge into the 20s by this weekend. But if you’re tempted to make the hike, be warned: Several inches of snow are in the Maple Pass forecast as well, with four inches possible Friday night.

It’s a season of surprises. 1-anchor

P1270411Seen from atop Maple Pass, 10,541-foot Glacier Peak peeks through clouds from 30 miles to the south.

Got a love affair with Puget Sound? Here’s a new book to fuel your passion

IMG_3015.JPG“We are Puget Sound” is new from Braided River, the conservation-advocacy imprint of Seattle-based Mountaineers Books.


If you’ve just been dying to know what Brian did with a lot of his time in the months after he left The Seattle Times, take a look at “We are Puget Sound: Discovering and Recovering the Salish Sea,” which hits bookstores this month.

This is a handsome new photo-lush softcover from Braided River, the conservation-advocacy imprint of Seattle-based Mountaineers Books, publisher of all those hiking guides I grew up with. Their “100 Hikes” guides by Northwest mountaineering icons such as Harvey Manning and Ira Spring launched me and many another Washington teenager on to the trails of the Cascade Mountains in the 1960s and beyond.

Taking a fresh look at the inland sea we know and love, and the people who are helping to preserve it, this new book seeks to remind us all of our long ago and unfulfilled commitment to clean up Puget Sound. David Workman is the primary author, along with fellow writers Mindy Roberts and Leonard Forsman. My contribution was the chapter on recreation, spotlighting more than 30 of my favorite places to visit, hike, camp and sail around Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, along with 25 of my photographs. Many other photos are the work of Brian Walsh, who was one of my housemates from college days in Olympia.

“We are Puget Sound” would make a dandy gift for any Washingtonian who loves the water.

Just saying. 1-anchor

P1200929.JPGFishing from the rocks at Deception Pass State Park: This is one of my photos featured in the book.

Sweet sights and sounds of a stealthily changing season

P1270203.JPGHand-hewn signs from a previous visitor mark the split-rail fence above a beach at James Island, a marine state park four miles from our Center Island dock.

IMG_7955IT’S A DELICIOUS PHENOMENON that I can sit outside, laptop in my lap, in the old mahogany-stained Adirondack chair that my brother built, and tap out random notes about what I’m seeing and hearing.

I love this about our new life.

It’s the Friday after Labor Day and it’s as if someone clicked a Woolly Mammoth-sized switch that has stanched the flow of summer visitors to our island.

It’s delightfully quiet, but that doesn’t mean silent. As I lounge here on the deck outside Nuthatch cabin, I hear the murmur of waves on Lopez Sound, which on this sun-dappled September afternoon sparkles crazily through the trees before me. A breeze with a cool promise of autumn ripples the leaves of our big Canadian maple with a sound like playing cards gently shuffled. The migratory birds have heard a summons and embarked on their long haul, so the flippity-flippity of visitors to our feeders is less frantic. The wild currant bush clinging to our little cliff is plainer without the procession of regal purple finches or the goldfinches’ buttery schmear.

Still present and accounted for: the beloved nasal honk of nuthatches who, in cunning bandit masks, raid the endless supply of Amazon-delivered sunflower seeds that chips away at our bank balance. (We think they’re worth it.)

In the salal bushes, a spotted towhee whinges like a second-grader forced back to school.

I don’t even need to look up when I hear a haunting “wooo, wooo, wooo” that I know is the signature flap of a raven’s plus-size wings as it passes overhead, throwing a fleeting shadow across the sun.

There’s the occasional buzz of small airplanes, which come and go a lot to these islands (like the seaplane that carried our daughter home on Tuesday from a lovely Labor Day Weekend visit). Once in a while I hear the whoosh of a boat heading for Lopez Pass and homeward to Seattle. Up high, the faint and far-off roar of a passenger jet brings travelers home from Europe. (We once excitedly spied Center Island from a homeward flight on Icelandair.)P1270161.JPGDaughter Lillian boards a 10-passenger de Havilland Otter seaplane operated by Kenmore Air as she departs Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island after a Labor Day visit to Center Island.

I still have busy days when I work in my writing hut, do repairs to the cabin or fixes on the boat. But today Barbara and I packed a lunch, hopped in WeLike and buzzed over to little James Island, a marine state park 15 minutes away. In all our years of cruising the San Juans we had never stopped there. We found a picnic table with a splendid view of Mount Baker and passing ferries. This Friday after Labor Day we had the island’s craggy firs and red-bark-peeling madronas all to ourselves.

P1270233.JPGWeLike sits all alone at the James Island dock on this peaceful Friday after Labor Day.

And when we got home, I sat down outside in my brother’s old chair, read a book, sipped a beer, snacked on Thai Lime & Chili almonds (a Trader Joe’s bit of wonderfulness), and turned on my laptop for these few minutes.

I hope the stealthily approaching autumn sneaks some good things in to your life. For this week, that’s all the news from Center Island.1-anchor


Center Island a la cart

IMG_2997-1.JPGMaster builder, with freshly painted cart (soon to have wheels added). It’s a key cog in the Center Island transportation network.

IMG_7955LIVING ON OUR 176-ACRE ISLAND, our world has shrunk. No worries about gridlock. No horrible Seattle traffic. But we have our own transportation issues.

Center Island’s covenants prohibit use of privately owned internal-combustion vehicles on island roads, so most people scoot around on electric golf carts or something akin to that. One homeowner had a cool, funky old mini electric truck formerly used in a big warehouse somewhere, but it wasn’t designed to go up hills (we have one called “Cardiac Hill,” named by people who walk up it) so his tiny truck didn’t get him everywhere in quick fashion. It had a tendency to stall halfway up hills. (You might say it had cardiacs on Cardiac.)

Recently, our board of directors revisited the rules because more and more electric vehicles are coming into reality, and our narrow gravel lanes just aren’t suited to a Tesla or a Leaf. One thing we’ve learned on this island: “If you allow it, it will come.” (Big boats, big houses…what can I say, it’s the U.S.A.)

So to preserve our island’s character the board redefined what was allowed, in terms of size and horsepower, so full-size cars (other than our few community-owned pickups) won’t be zooming around here anytime soon. They also restated the island speed limit: 10 mph.

It’s not relevant to Barbara and me. So far we’ve resisted the golf-cart thing. We’ve never golfed, and we know walking is good for us on a small island where getting enough exercise can be a challenge. From The Nuthatch cabin to the community dock is .7 mile, just enough to stretch our legs.

But an exciting new item in our lives — and this shows you how living on a tiny island really changes your perspective on what’s exciting — is our dock cart.

There was an island-wide yard sale recently and we shelled out $10 for an old dock cart. The frame was pretty rusty and the plywood a bit rotting, but the wheels and axle were solid and heavy duty. It was just the thing to tote groceries or supplies across the island without having to bother with a pickup truck.

After a month I decided I’d spruce up our cart and brought home some fresh plywood and some Rustoleum paint. The problem was that as soon as I started disassembling the rusty frame I realized that, uh oh, the rust was all that was holding it together. The metal frame just fell apart.

I basically ended up building a whole new cart from spare lumber I had in our shed and a bunch of nuts and bolts my dad had collected over the decades. I knew I’d find a use for them someday! I reused the old cart’s handle and wheels.

Barbara convinced me the cart needed to be the same color as our 1957 runabout, so I got some turquoise spray paint and now it’s all done and looks spiffy.

One wag of a neighbor who occasionally sees me pushing my cart suggested I should paint flames on the side. I’m not sure. We only just got away from living life in the fast lane.

But if I find some orange paint, you never know. cropped-1-anchor.jpg

Brian Cantwell’s Deer Ranch

P1270031.JPGWhen I was a kid in Alabama and my family took road trips to Florida, we stopped at a corny 1960s roadside attraction called Tommy Bartlett’s Deer Ranch. There were lots of tame deer that would eat out of your hand if you bought the little packet of Tommy Bartlett’s Deer Food. I was reminded of it this morning when Barbara and I looked out from our front window to see this doe and her spotted fawn cuddled among the long grass, salal and Nootka roses below our front deck at The Nuthatch. We kind of like having our own deer ranch. cropped-1-anchor.jpg