And now a word from our fragile democracy

JUST A FRIENDLY REMINDER that Tuesday, November 8, is the final day to cast your ballot in the mid-term elections.

On a remote island I can’t accomplish much good by holding a sign on a street corner, but I can do this much.

If you didn’t see the president’s gravely serious speech a few days ago, I urge you to give it a read.

Then, my friends, please vote like our American democracy depends on it. It just might.

After a bit of blue heaven, now comes the season of the webfoot

Viewed from the Paraclete water taxi’s transom on a pleasant first day of November, a ship on Rosario Strait churns southward toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

SUDDENLY IT’S SERIOUSLY NOVEMBER, and I’m back in my writing hut on the rocky knoll. The oil-filled radiator is cranked up high, warming my shivering knees. When did all this happen?

For the family Halloween party, daughter Lillian was a Gorgonzola (a, um, cheesy take on Medusa) and your correspondent was a giant wedge of cheese.
M.S. Burton photo.

After autumn’s sunny and dry debut until October’s final days, the Pacific Northwet is reasserting itself. About time. We have sorely needed the rain. In a matter of days, the 3-inch quilt of moss blanketing my knoll has returned from its anemic pallor to a vibrant lime green.

Still, we’ve had a happy mix of weather days. For a weekend getaway to the Long Beach Peninsula with old friends, we enjoyed a blueberry sky (on what’s sometimes regarded as the Cranberry Coast, because they grow them there). Back with Seattle in-laws two days later for the annual Halloween party, I sheltered from an onslaught of fire-hose rain.

Yet, November’s first day brought another blue-heavens afternoon. Galley Cat and I relaxed into a smooth ride on placid seas as the Paraclete water taxi transported us home to Center Island.

Now I sit with a high-intensity lamp gleaming on my keyboard to counter the mid-afternoon gloom. Rain pelts Wee Nooke’s cedar-shake roof. Outside the mullioned window, serviceberry leaves that have taken 40-degree nights like a tonic are suddenly a brilliant yellow, defying the gunmetal sky. On my desktop speakers, Bob Dylan drones his delightfully nasal “Like a Rolling Stone.” Outside, rapidly building winds set tall firs shimmying as the drumming raindrops transform from a rattly snare to a booming timpani.

It might be time to beat a retreat to the sturdier cabin and stoke a blaze in the woodstove. This is why I split all that firewood in September.

Stay dry if you can, fellow webfoots. Stay warm, however you may.

Galley Cat and me

In my recent life, as on road trips, Galley Cat has been my co-pilot.

I’M A WIDOWER, a word that through 99 percent of my life I never for a moment thought would someday apply to me. Any more than I imagined giving up journalism to become a Certified Public Accountant. Or developing a taste for lutefisk. Or voluntarily moving to Arkansas.

I was one of those lucky people who found the love of my life at a young age. She was also my best friend. In our optimistic youth, if Barbara and I ever talked about old age and death, we made a pact to blaze out together while making mad, passionate love until our wrinkled old bodies could take no more. The autopsy report would make interesting reading.

It didn’t work out that way, sorry to say. Damn, damn cancer.

I’ve kept it no secret that I’m no fan of solitude, but for better or worse I’m now the sole human occupant of Nuthatch Cabin, on a remote little island reached only by small boat or plane.

But I’m not here alone. I have a cat.

A dopey orange cat who has helped me weather loneliness and occasional depression over the past 18 months.

Galley Cat got that unusual name because she was a boat cat for most of her life. It was my lame play on “alley cat,” suggested as kind of a joke at the time. But it stuck. When Barbara and I visited a cat-rescue center in 2013, a few months after another well-loved kitty had taken up residence in the cat graveyard by the Nuthatch’s front path, my dear wife was lobbying for a sedate, older gray tabby. One that would be happy to snooze most of the day and come with no challenges.

But as a teenager I had grown up with a handsome orange cat that I adored. When the adoption-center aide showed us a beautiful little five-month-old tiger-striped ginger, still with kittenish ears too big for her head and an assertive, slightly pugnacious attitude despite her still-healing spay scar, Barbara’s hopes were dashed. She knew her husband couldn’t let that one go by.

Even at a very basic level, Galley is a rare animal. Because of a fluke of genetics, only one in five orange cats is female. Orange coloring in felines is carried by the X chromosome. Females possess two Xs and males possess an X and a Y. Male kittens need the orange gene only from their mothers to become a ginger, whereas females must inherit an orange X from both parents — making females much less likely to exhibit the trait.

Whether Barbara liked it or not, Galley had a particular fondness for her, obviously regarding her as a mother figure. When Galley’s cuddling and purring adoration went too far, Barbara would have to chuck her off her lap with protests of “Cat drool! I can’t stand cat drool!”

Galley Cat had a tough year just as I did when Barbara passed away in 2021, followed closely by the death of our older cat, Bosun, Galley’s buddy since the day we’d brought her home. That summer of 2021 was about the same time Galley started getting chased outside by wild foxes, which an idiot neighbor had trapped on a neighboring island and illegally released on Center Island because he apparently thought it would be fun to have more wildlife. (Even on the other island, these foxes are not native to the San Juans, but are an invasive species brought by humans.)

Can cats understand death? All Galley knew was that two of the beings she loved most had left her. And suddenly the woods she loved to roam weren’t safe anymore. More than once she’s had to bolt up a tree to escape a predatory fox. She became skittish and easily frightened. She would hiss at people she didn’t know. They thought she was a mean cat. She’s not mean, she’s just had her world shaken. I can sympathize.

She and I bonded in our solitude. After so many years of living on the boat, at age 10 she loves being outside, and I can’t deprive her of that, so I’m trusting that she’s learned how to escape foxes. I find joy — an emotion in short supply lately — when she gallops up the path to the top of the rocky knoll behind the cabin, sometimes continuing six feet up a maple tree before looking back to be sure I was watching. I cheer her on every time.

She has been good company in my months of adjusting to life without Barbara. Galley sleeps on my knees most nights, and sometimes noses her way under the blankets. Occasionally she’ll want to lick my face in the night. Kitty kisses are no substitute for Barbara’s, but they make me grin awkwardly until her rough tongue starts to take skin off and I have to push her away. Sometimes I get drooled on. (Like Barbara, I’m not wild about that.)

No cute cat videos, I promise, but this photo might help explain why I call her dopey. She’ll climb into any box, no matter the size, and try to hide.

Having a pet limits my travels since I don’t have a regular cat-sitter. I hate to take her to a boarding kennel, and she’s made it clear that she, too, hates that experience. Sometimes she accompanies me when generous family members and friends don’t mind hosting both of us. I put that to a real test recently when Galley and I went on a road trip to visit a friend in Walla Walla, a long day’s drive over the Cascades and across the state. I provided her bowls of food and water on the floor in the Honda’s back seat, along with a small litter box should she need it. As long as I let her wander freely inside the car, snoozing when she chose, she didn’t seem to overly mind the long ride. At times, she would stand on the passenger seat with her rear paws on the seat and her front paws on the dashboard, looking ahead with interest. I don’t think she’d ever seen mountains before. Once again, she proved a good sidekick.

It’s hard to quantify the value of a friend, whether human or animal. All I can say is that, in the toughest time of my life, a dopey orange cat has helped get me through.

Three cheers! Three deers! Maybe I’ll have three beers!

After no deer for months, suddenly I had a herd in my front yard this morning.


Oddly enough, it’s something to celebrate on Center Island. Our deer are returning.

Loyal readers might recall that when I first made this rock my full-time home four years ago, I used to temper the monotony of my morning bike laps by counting how many deer I passed. Admittedly, since I rode a circular course, some were repeats, but my record for three laps of the airfield — about a 20-minute ride — was in the range of 45 deer.

The down side to that was that you couldn’t plant a new tree or shrub on Center Island without fencing it. And if you love swordferns like I do, you better get used to them being munched down to the hilt. Those guys can be voracious. Nonetheless, there was something peaceful and comforting about seeing the Center Island herd grazing the grass airfield on a misty morning. It was part of our bucolic island scene.

Alas, 2021 brought more than COVID, it brought a mysterious virus that killed most of the deer in the San Juan Islands. It’s been months since I’ve spotted Bucky or Bambi on my morning ride.

This morning, as I trundled downstairs to make coffee, the first thing I spied out front of The Nuthatch was a handsome buck, antlers proud and pointy, bedded down in the tall grass beyond the salal patch.

My morning visitor, bedded down in the tall grass.

He spent the morning. In fact, as I was lounging outside on the deck with my second cup around 11, taking a break from rebuilding the cabin’s back balcony, I was starting to worry about the guy. Was he hurt? Was he, shudder, sick?

Just about then, a rustle sounded from deep in the salal, and out came a little doe. Wow, here come the deer, I reveled. And I bet a girlfriend will get his corpuscles puscle-ing.

But before he could rise and introduce himself, more rustles split the morning’s peace. And out of the shrubs came another buck, with antlers even pointier. I didn’t just have one deer in my yard, I had a whole new herd!

Just as things were looking up for the hoof-and-hatrack population, a fearsome thought sprouted in my bean: Would a battle over the doe ensue? Would this happy population explosion blow up in my face with a fight to the finish between these two young studs?


Everybody just munched on my salal and hung out for a while. It was all chill.

Bucky, Bambi, welcome back. Just, please, leave the swordferns alone.

Fat berries, soft breezes herald a new San Juan season

It’s a rich season for berries and wild fruit in the San Juans. Plump wild currants nod to visitors at the front step of Nuthatch Cabin.

THE MESSAGE CAME IN A WHISPER. A whisper of breeze. “Autumn,” it sighed. “Autumn.”

I was enjoying a cloudless Tuesday morning, lounging in my Adirondack chair on the Nuthatch’s deck, from which I looked through mossy trees to the quiet waters of Lopez Sound. A warm September day. Not a breath of air moving. What was moving were a few midges that I swatted at between sips of my day’s second cuppa and my few daily minutes with a New York Times Sunday crossword.

That’s when the branches suddenly rustled, high in my biggest fir. A soft breath of wind came with the rustle. A cool breath, spiced with the scent of the woods.

“Ahhh,” I sighed back. “It’s here.”

For days, we islanders have known fall was coming. The berries and currants have swollen like pregnant bellies and ripened with a purple from the deepest sea. Flower baskets on decks have splashed color about like an artist who knows an international oil paint shortage is right around the corner. Endless weeks of sunshine have driven me and my splitting ax to the woodpile day after day, inspired perhaps by the same instinct that causes woolly bear caterpillars to grow blacker and fuzzier.

Center Island salal bushes have borne more and bigger berries in the wake of a cool, wet spring and a warm summer. Native tribes in olden days compacted the nutritious fruit into dried cakes to help carry them through Northwest winters.

Officially, the autumn equinox is at 8:03 p.m. PDT this Thursday. The equinox is when the sun shines directly on the equator, and the northern and southern hemispheres get the same amount of rays.

That’s the official time, and the scientific explanation. But I know a new season arrived on Center Island this morning around 10:30 when a cooling breeze gave me goosebumps and a few windblown fir needles pattered quietly down on my deck railing.

Welcome, I whispered back. Welcome.

Black-and-white petunias? My artist brother, Tom, found them at the Lopez Island hardware store. The plant is loaded with blooms in a basket on my deck.
Blackberries, too, have prospered this year.
The sunny end of summer has brought out blossoms in a basket hanging from the Nuthatch’s eaves.
After days of buzzing the chainsaw and swinging the splitting axe, I have a satisfactorily bulging woodshed just in time for the first day of autumn. A bittersweet bonus: many lengths of maple from a beloved tree that came down on my roof in a freak May windstorm. I trade its years of splendid autumn color for one winter of crackling hot blazes in my woodstove.

Boatyard daze: Pondering the future with a salty old friend

Daughter Lillian shines our sailboat’s green stripe as the boat perches on stands in Seattle’s Canal Boatyard. Unintentionally but appropriately, the boat’s color scheme of green, white and red mirrors the Italian flag.


Naw. What kind of a question is that?

I’m enjoying a lazy day back on my island after six days away, four of which were spent in hard physical labor at Seattle’s Canal Boatyard during the necessary every-three-years haulout of my beloved old Westsail 32 sailboat, Sogni d’Oro.

Daughter Lillian and I sanded and repainted (two generous coats) the boat’s ample, full-keeled bottom, among other tasks. A modified-epoxy, copper-infused antifouling paint is key to keeping barnacles and long streamers of kelp from taking up residence on the hull of Sogni d’Oro, whose name is the Italian version of “sweet dreams.”

The Cantwells haven’t a drop of Italian blood, as far as I know. But my late wife Barbara and I had enjoyed memorable travels in Italy in 1989, the year we made the boat ours. (“Bought” isn’t the right word.) At the time, we were smitten with all things Italian. These things happen.

If nothing else, the exotic name is a good dockside conversation starter with folks who ask “what’s that mean?” and “how the heck do you say it?” (“SO-nyee DOH-ro”). My daughter and I still say it to each other when we bid each other good night.

The boat means much to me and Lillian. My family lived aboard the sailboat for the better part of 25 years. When Lil was born in 1991, Barbara and I brought our little girl home from the hospital to a marina on the Columbia River in Portland, where we lived at the time. In the mid-’90s, we took a great sailing adventure to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez. The full-keel boat was meant for ocean cruising, and given the right wind and sail handling, she charged through waves like a sea-going locomotive. On one memorable passage, hundreds of leaping dolphins surrounded us as we plunged through the seas.

Once settled in Seattle, for 20 years we threw off the mooring lines and spent two weeks every summer exploring every cove and cranny of the San Juan Islands. It’s how Barbara and I fell in love with these islands and ended up retiring here.

When her mum and I moved to Center Island in 2018, now-adult Lillian moved back aboard Sogni d’Oro at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Marina. She and her cat, Tiberius, are the boat’s liveaboard stewards now — with a healthy bit of elbow grease and wallet-loosening from Papa come haulout time.

In recent years, the boat has mostly been “dock sailed,” as sailors snickeringly describe it when a vessel doesn’t leave the marina. It’s a matter of some regret for us. But sometimes rocks poke up in your life’s plotted course.

For me, these four days in the boatyard were like an intimate reunion with a salty old friend. In our head-to-toe Tyvek painting suits (which on a warm day feel a lot like wearing a portable sauna), Lil and I scraped barnacles from the prop and restored the bronze shine. We applied $500 worth of paint. We hand-cleaned and polished the fiberglass topsides and the gleaming green stripe beneath the teak cap-rail. Lillian sanded and refinished 32-feet of rub rail. Everything below the waterline got inspected, cleaned and restored.

In the Travelift’s slings, a spiffed-up Sogni d’Oro sails through the boatyard on the way to relaunch. A somewhat unnerving development since our last haulout: The boatyard’s new Travelift is operated by remote control. Nobody sits in the driver’s seat.

Someone asked if this might be my last haulout. It’s a lot of work. I’ve always insisted on doing it myself, and ain’t nobody getting any younger. I love my good old boat, but, I admit, Lil and I discussed whether it might soon be time to find someone new to love her.

For now, I’m still basking in the glow-slash-exhaustion from all that we did to spiff her up.

I do still have a lovingly restored 1957 runabout, a 10-foot plywood sailing dinghy, an 8-foot inflatable Zodiac with outboard, and a two-person inflatable kayak. I still have boats to “mess about in,” as Kenneth Grahame memorably put it.

Too soon to say. In the end, I might just find someone new to love my island cabin, and move back aboard Sogni d’Oro. Lots of sweet dreams happened there.

It’s gettin’ too goldurn modern on this little speck o’ dirt

Here’s the high-falutin’ street address for my cabin on the cowpath loftily called Chinook Way.

WHAT ARE THINGS COMING TO on this island that nobody’s heard of?

From the time that hopeful real-estate magnates subdivided this 172-acre rock into half-acre lots in about 1960, until just a few years ago, nobody felt the need for street signs.

On the island map, Nuthatch Cabin’s gravel cowpath was called Chinook Way. Another was Makah Street, another Haidah Street, and one was Wishkah Lane, which pretty much sums up the Greater Center Island traffic grid. People knew what road their cabin was on. Nobody needed to mark the roads with signs.

Most folks marked their property with the lot number from the original plat, because when you invited some new fellow you met on the dock to drop by for a beer, he needed some way to find you.

Then, a few years ago, bureaucracy arrived on our remote isle. The county made us post street signs.

OK, fine. Some island do-gooder got out his jigsaw, cut the letters from wood and cobbled together some pretty innocuous signage.

Now, Friday Harbor’s latest thing is a push for each of us to post a county-assigned house number — not the lot number — in front of our cabins. Sheesh.

They say it’s important so that emergency services can find us.

A minor point to make: We live on a little island with no fire department. No fire engine or medic unit is ever coming here, unless maybe the whole island is aflame. And by the time anybody gets a fire truck here on a barge, the place will just be a smoking ember among the Read’s Bay eelgrass.

As for law enforcement? I think a sheriff’s deputy has been on the island twice in the nearly 20 years since Barbara and I bought here. When it does happen, half the people on the island know in advance. They are at the dock to meet the sheriff’s boat, wave their arms and point the way to the trouble.

So far, posting your street number isn’t mandatory. Nonetheless, at the foot of my front path yesterday I planted a shiny new 7-inch by 10-inch reflective metal sign, delivered by Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service to the mail shack at the end of Center Island International Airport (aka our grass airfield).

Call it caving to peer pressure, maybe. Or thinking about the seconds that might be saved if I have a major stroke and use my Airlift Northwest insurance to call for a helicopter evac.

Or just call it being a good citizen. There are still some of us out here.

It doesn’t mean we can’t grumble.

It takes a little magic to accomplish chores with no stores

A pry bar is my friend as I rebuild the Nuthatch’s deck. That, and lots of bug repellent.

IT’S LIKE PAINTING THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, maintaining my little piece of the rock. I start a project at one end, and by the time I’ve made it to the far side, it’s time to start over again.

After my 10-week voyage to Alaska and back, there’s plenty of deferred maintenance at the Nuthatch, the cabin whose name honors Center Island’s most common bird, with its endearing bandit-masked face and its call like a tin horn that a 19th-century child might have found in a Christmas sock. Of course, you also have to be a bit nuts to live here. No shops, no garbage trucks, no Starbucks.

The helpful meteorologist has given me day after day of pleasant sunshine the past two weeks, during which I’ve gotten back to rebuilding my slowly crumbling 25-year-old wooden deck. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has contributed a bumper crop of mosquitoes and no-see-ums, so I’ve started every day by liberally spraying my T-shirt with bug repellent. Supplementing that: the fun new handheld bug zapper, like a battery-powered handball racquet, sent me by a friend. It emits a satisfying crackle and spark every time a little blood sucker meets its maker.

My new battery-operated bug zapper adds a bit of sport to outdoor chores. Care is required, however. Instructions warn against swatting your own nose with it.

Understand, the deck rebuild isn’t a quick project. It’s in about Year Four, and it happens plank by plank. Being nuts enough to live where I do, acquiring fresh lumber generally involves a boat trip to Skagit County. Once off the boat, I trek over to the long-term parking lot across from the dock and revive my 11-year-old Civic for a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s.

It might make more sense to have a pickup truck for this purpose, but my noble pickup, Ranger Rick, lives at the public dock on Lopez Island, waiting for my next trip to the dump. The bought-and-paid-for Civic is my mainland car. One is not made of money; one makes do.

So the speed with which the deck is rebuilt depends not only on my leisurely attitude toward home repairs, but on how many eight-foot planks can fit inside a Honda Civic four-door sedan.

Now, there is actually a bit of fun involved here. See, the rear seat of the Civic folds down so that there is clear space down the center of the car from the trunk through to the dashboard. When I wheel out into the parking lot with my cart laden with half a dozen 8-foot-long boards, pop open my car’s small trunk and stuff in the planks, one by one, I can’t help but feel like a conjurer. Penn, minus Teller. Siegfried, if not Roy. I’m sure I’ve mystified many a fellow hardware shopper.

I’ve also brought deck boards back from the lumber yard on Lopez Island on occasion, using my 20-foot runabout, WeLike. The conjuring trick is pretty much the same.

This week I’ve replaced six rotting boards. That might not sound like much but progress is evident. The old wood is generally soft enough that when I pry up the boards, the nails securing them to the frame below stay in place as the board pulls away. I then yank the old three-inch nails from the framework, which is generally in good shape. Yanking out nails that long is often a matter of throwing all my 166 pounds into leveraging the hammer claw. Sometimes it’s been a near thing that I haven’t catapulted off the side of the deck when a nail finally gave way.

There is sawing to make pieces fit. Sealing the old nail holes. Two coats of stain to delay the march of time and onslaught of weather. A spray of copper-infused preservative for the raw wood ends. It all takes time.

But the deck hasn’t fallen down yet. And it looks better after every little trip to the lumber yard.

Back on the rock: Paella with pals, and a bittersweet memorial

A bubbling vat of paella on a neighbor’s deck was the lure last week to a Center Island block party, easing my transition back to landlubberly existence.

BACK TO THE REEF, and the rock also known as Center Island.

I needed a writing hiatus for a few weeks after returning from the Alaska adventure. It’s been a period of readjustment to the landlubberly life, and to daily existence shared primarily with Galley Cat, with whom I’ve enjoyed a joyful reunion with many shared runs up and down our rocky knoll.

It took a week or so until I was waking in the morning without the inclination to jump out of my bunk, get coffee water heating on the Force 10 stove and climb down in the hold to complete the morning engine checks so we could weigh anchor.

My past three weeks of land-based confinement has hardly been solitary, though. After a couple of days reuniting with my brother Tom, who was my cabin watcher/cat sitter for 10 weeks, I was invited to lunch on Lopez Island with old friend and Seattle Times colleague Lynn Thompson and her family.

Shortly afterward, The Mad Birder and his wife, Carol, invited me next door with three other neighbors to share a bounty of Dungeness crab, freshly hauled from Lopez Sound. That led to another party two days later after neighbor Steve, a restaurant chef from Nevada, took the crab shells back to his holiday cabin to create a stock from which he whipped up a splendid vat of paella, colorfully aswim with fresh San Juan Channel shrimp, Read’s Bay crab and Center Island Farm vegetables. I was among the dozen or so neighbors who got to partake of that locavore lovefest on a sunset-view deck thanks to Steve and his wife, Dawn, the organizing force behind their family-owned eatery.

Neighbor Steve, the paella king of Center Island.

As cabin-owners come and go on our rock, you never know who will be your next neighbor. Right now, we’re enjoying an amiable mix of compatible friends along our dead-end spur of Chinook Way, the grandiose name of the gravel cow-path winding through our thickets of salal and Nootka rose. Three of us are sailboat owners (four, when you count the neighboring farm). Among others is a family with three energetic boys, ages 5, 7 and 9, who added an element of fun to the block party. The kids’ mom told me they are fans of a YouTube channel called “Outdoor Boys,” and the youngest had recently learned of the edibility of seaweed. So as we prepared to sit down to paella on Steve and Dawn’s deck, this adventurous 5-year-old, expertly wielding a pair of chopsticks, doggedly ate his way through a bowl of some sort of kelp. I like that spirit.

Over good food and drink, we all pondered our island existence. Because our cabins face west overlooking Lopez Sound, with the frequent reward of a sinking sun setting the saltwater sparkling brighter than a Tiffany’s display case, we decided our neighborhood’s new nickname should be “Sunset Strip.” There was serious talk of carving a sign.

A couple days later longtime friends Ken and Kate from Portland joined me for three nights at the Nuthatch, giving me a chance to barbecue, one of the things that makes life worth living (in case you didn’t know). Hickory-smoked vegan burgers with Lebanese spice one night. The next: thick-cut pork chops with a crust of fresh island rosemary, minced garlic and romano cheese, grilled with apple-wood smoke.

All that camaraderie and good food was lovely. But stress and emotion wasn’t absent from my return to the island. On my calendar, these days led up to last Sunday, August 21, when we committed my dear Barbara’s cremated remains to the Salish Sea. It wasn’t an easy day to plan for.

Sucia Island, a 90-minute boat ride to the north, was the location. For some 20 years, my family and I would spend a couple weeks of every August poking around the San Juans in our cozy old Westsail 32 sailboat, Sogni d’Oro. On those sojourns, Sucia Island State Park, near the Canadian border, became perhaps our favorite place in the world. In our wills, Barbara and I both requested that our remains be cast on waters around Sucia.

For a day trip with a dozen family members and friends, I chartered the Paraclete, the water taxi that I routinely use for passage to and from Anacortes. It was a day of good karma; just before arriving at Sucia, we encountered a pod of orca. For my sister-in-law Jane, who spent much of her childhood around the San Juans, this was the first time she finally saw an orca in the wild.

The picnic crowd near Barbara’s bench on Sucia Island. From here you can see far into Canada.

The Sucia visit included a one-mile hike to a new memorial bench honoring Barbara. The bench installation took more than a year to bring to fruition. The effort’s success can largely be credited to the persistent persuasive powers of my friend Daniel Farber, a retired official with Washington State Parks, along with dozens of friends and family who donated to a GoFundMe campaign. The bench’s bronze plaque reads: “For Barbara, who loved this island, from Brian, who always sat beside her.” I’m sorry it doesn’t acknowledge the many others who played a role in the bench’s creation. Barbara and I chose the wording some time ago, paraphrasing a line from a favorite old movie, to be adapted for whomever went first.

The bronze plaque on Barbara’s bench.

Barbara loved to picnic, so we all brought sack lunches and sat on the bench or on the rocky hillside sloping down to the water. Barbara’s sister Julie made a couple loaves worth of sandwiches; ham-and-pickle and chicken salad, according to family tradition. Her brother Mark brought a toothsome potato salad. For the first time in my life, I made deviled eggs, another family favorite.

After lunch, we reboarded the boat and motored a short ways offshore while snacking on chocolate-coated cream puffs, one of Barbara’s favorite desserts, baked by daughter Lillian. We toasted the memory of a dear wife, mother and sister as we scattered her ashes into the sea along with armloads of summer flowers, many provided by our friend Monique from Center Island Farm.

Daughter Lillian tries out the park bench honoring her mum.

It was a bittersweet but wonderful day. A regrettable follow-up: At least three people who made the trip came down with COVID within days. Sigh. Their symptoms are mild, thanks to vaccinations. I’m feeling fine, so far. One way or another, it seems likely that we’ll all catch this stupid bug eventually.

The Mad Birder summed up the day.

“Regardless of the consequences, Sunday was beautiful, and … the bench is soooooo perfect.”

Lillian and I have resolved to revisit that bench every summer. Barbara will be sitting beside us in spirit, I’m certain.