“Sipping this spiced amber ale is like drinking a slice of pie,” according to Northern Brewer, the outfit from which I order my beer ingredients. Spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, it’s flavored to fit right into the autumn menu. Barbara and I shared the first bottle this afternoon. And who says pumpkin pie doesn’t go with a bowl of corn chips and roasted almonds?
A pair of trumpeter swans swims in a Lopez Island marsh off Fisherman Bay Road. They winter here after spending summer breeding months in Canada or Alaska.
HONK! HONK! The Lopez trumpeters have arrived.
We’ve always enjoyed the migrant populations of trumpeter swans in the Skagit Valley every winter. These birds, stretching up to 6 feet in length, are North America’s largest native waterfowl.
It’s a stirring sight when two or more fly overhead with their long, snowy necks outstretched and giant wings spread wide, often filling the cold autumn air with a honk that, to be honest, sounds more like a Model T Ford than a brass trumpet. Gives you shivers, nonetheless.
In our first autumn in the San Juans, a year ago, we were pleased to discover that Lopez Island is another stop for wintering trumpeters. A small population inhabits a wide mid-island wetland just off Fisherman Bay Road, a couple miles south of Lopez Village.
A few weeks ago we saw the first arrivals, coming from summer breeding grounds in coastal Alaska and Canada. This week we returned with my camera, and counted about a dozen of the big birds.
Once hunted to near-extinction because their plumes were valued for quill pens and women’s hats in the 18th and 19th centuries, trumpeters are now considered a “recovering” species.
Whenever we visit Lopez in the colder months, we make sure to drive Fisherman Bay Road and listen for the Model Ts in the sky. That’s “T” for trumpeter.
- Trumpeters take an unusual approach to keeping their eggs warm, covering them with their webbed feet. That makes sense since sitting on them might be hazardous, as adult trumpeters can weigh more than 25 pounds.
- The trumpeter’s scientific name, Cygnus buccinator, is from the Latin Cygnus (swan) and buccinare (to trumpet). Humans have a buccinator muscle in our cheeks — used to blow out candles and to blow into trumpets and other musical instruments.
— thanks to The Cornell Lab’s website, allaboutbirds.org
Center Island’s oldest apple tree still bears lots of fruit, enough for many of us to share.
FIRE-HOSE RAIN AND WHIRLING WINDS have been November’s trademark for years in the Pacific Northwest. But the first eight days after Halloween this year were some of the prettiest of our island autumn.
The falling maple leaves, dry and spicy of scent, were the kind you could kick your way through with a satisfying scrunch. Center Island’s oldest apple tree gave us more than one bag of crimson fruit destined for pie and Brown Betty. And I had a bonus week of firewood gathering for the winter, after going in halfsies on a new Husqvarna chainsaw with neighbor John, the other charter member of the Center Island Writer’s Guild. (Seeing the two of us with our new saw and accompanying shiny new safety gear, one island wag dubbed us “Paul” and “Bunyan.” He didn’t say who was “Bunyan.”)
If not for her blue harness, our Galley Cat would almost disappear among fallen leaves on our knoll.
But if the birds and squirrels know anything, we could get a blizzard any day now. They’ve been in feeding frenzies all week, hoovering up the sunflower seeds from our feeders and gobbling suet blocks like they were Pop Tarts.
Squirrels literally ate the face off our Halloween jack o’lantern.
Today, rain arrived, but on Carl Sandburg’s cat feet, not with galumphing galoshes. A misty, quiet Saturday, perfect for a fire in the woodstove, Van Morrison on the stereo and bottling my latest batch of beer (Lopez Pumpkin, ready to uncap just in time for Thanksgiving).
Hatches are battened. Let the storms do their worst.
A squirrel dines on the remains of our jack o’ lantern, sitting on a stump next to Trudy, a garden bunny who followed us from our Bremerton house to the San Juans. Pumpkin beer is on our Thanksgiving menu. The squirrels don’t get any.
I was going to carve our jack o’ lantern this year to look like Rudy Giuliani, with the bug eyes and hornrimmed glasses. But Barbara said it would be too scary. So I just did the bug eyes.
AS MAPLE LEAVES DRIFT to the ground like lazy snowflakes in the watery autumn sun, and fewer and fewer of our island neighbors are spending time at their holiday cabins, Center Island is feeling more and more like Sleepy Hollow.
We’re off to my sister-in-law Margaret’s annual costume party in Shoreline. Happy Halloween.
Ghost bird? As I snapped this photo of a chestnut-backed chickadee chowing down at our feeder, another bird flitted by just in synch with my camera shutter, leaving a birdie blur in the center of the photo. Or was it… something else?
Each grape-like hardy kiwi has a stem that requires removal with a quick pinch and twist.
THIS 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.
Late 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?”
Center Island neighbors come in to land their small plane Saturday evening, as other Center Island neighbors graze the airfield.
Our 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.
HAPPY CANADIAN THANKSGIVING, a day late.
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?
Scattered 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.
IT WAS A DUMP DAY.
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.
You 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.
ABSENCE 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.
Galley 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.
Sea 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.)
Barbara 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.
Cape Blanco Lighthouse, built in 1870, was one of our Oregon Coast stops, where we enjoyed a tour led by volunteer docents.
These 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.
WELCOME 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.
Mountain 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.
A 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.Your 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.
Lillian 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.
Seen from atop Maple Pass, 10,541-foot Glacier Peak peeks through clouds from 30 miles to the south.
“We are Puget Sound” is new from Braided River, the conservation-advocacy imprint of Seattle-based Mountaineers Books.
IT’S SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION TIME.
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.
Fishing from the rocks at Deception Pass State Park: This is one of my photos featured in the book.