Evangelical tree-hugging, along with other native plants

Oceanspray is among Center Island’s native plants I’ve sought to preserve through educational — and entertaining? — posters.

CAN TREE HUGGERS convert the masses? We can try.

I’ve given up denying the tree-hugger label. I embrace it, along with firs and cedars. I’m pretty sure I cemented my reputation on Center Island a few years back when a former caretaker cut down a beautiful big fir in front of my cabin. At the road’s edge, it was on community property, so he was technically within his rights. But it wasn’t unhealthy, leaning, or in any way an obvious threat to the public good.

For context, this was back in the days when I was still a working stiff, with a busy 40-hour-a-week job in the city. My family retreated to our cabin for a quick weekend once a month, if we were lucky. Once here, after battling through freeway traffic and squeezing into a crowded water taxi for an often bouncy voyage, my favorite decompression hour involved firing up the charcoal barbecue on the cedar deck, sipping a glass of something choice, and gazing through a curtain of big firs and maples as the sun sank over Lopez Sound.

Years of savoring that view, which includes some of the largest and oldest trees on the island, made me familiar with each one. The giant Doug fir with thick branches gnarled as an old man’s arthritic fingers. The forked hemlock with the big black hollow where squirrels nest. The Douglas maple whose dazzling fallen leaves stuck to my deck railing amid October mists.

So when I confronted the caretaker to express my dismay that he had removed a healthy big tree from my favorite view, in my emotion I blurted out, “Every one of those trees is my friend!”


It was true, certainly. But was I 12 years old?

A former logger from Sedro-Woolley, the caretaker surely repeated that line far and wide.

Incidentally, I never did get a clear explanation why he took down the tree. Maybe he needed firewood.

That was years ago. These days I’m a little more circumspect — or grown up, at least — as to how I express my tree-hugging nature. I also acknowledge that I am at least partial owner of two chainsaws. I have cut down trees — unhealthy ones — and I partially heat my cabin with wood harvested on the island.

But I continue to value the island’s lovely woods, and I believe I’ve found a better way to express that.

Two things set me off in recent times. The first occasion was when I volunteered for a work party to clean up one of the island’s little community park lots. While I envisioned picking up litter and raking fallen limbs, some of my neighbors had another idea. With machetes in hand, they undertook to denude a hillside of its salal. “Wait! Stop! That’s a beautiful native plant, what are you doing?” I — once again — blurted. “Think of the erosion that will cause.”

Salal is the most common native shrub on Center Island.

They stopped. But there were mutters and smoldering glances. Cantwell the Tree Hugger was standing in the way of “cleaning up” Center Island.

The second occasion came when a new cabin owner moved to the island and immediately clear-cut the lush and healthy salal from his property. In its place he planted laurel bushes like you’ll find at Home Depot. He lined them up to form a hedge just like you see in Bellevue or Redmond.

What’s worse, it became a copy-cat crime. A week or two later his next-door neighbor planted his own laurel hedge.

My question: Why did they bother to buy property on a remote, semi-wild island in the first place? Were they on a mission to bring the suburbs to the San Juans?

But I kept the snide remarks between me and friends.

Publicly, I set out to educate and, perhaps, entertain. For decades, I was a professional outdoors writer and photographer. So over the past couple years I’ve produced three small posters under the headline, “Getting to Know Center Island’s Native Plants.” I’ve posted them in the island’s mail shack and clubhouse, and Monique Maas, the island farmer, has shown them off at her produce stand.

So far, I’ve featured salal, oceanspray and, most recently, snowberry. Have the posters made a difference? Hard to know. Nobody’s torn them down, at least. It’s a small thing I can do without trampling anybody’s right to do what they wish with their own property.

Here’s what my snowberry poster looks like. I hope it makes people think. Maybe it will slow the machetes.

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.

Like the cousins who come in May, and stay and stay, the goldfinches have arrived

Working both sides of the feeder: A Purple Finch peeks around the corner as an American Goldfinch munches a seed.

MY FAVORITE SUMMER VISITOR showed up on Center Island last week. The American Goldfinch, our Washington state bird, is now mobbing my feeder.

Interesting goldfinch trivia from my neighbor, the Mad Birder: Goldfinches are one of the few land birds that migrate by daylight. Most fly cross-country at night, free of pesky daytime thermals — those sometimes wicked up-and-down bursts that prompt airline pilots to tell you it’s not a good time to toddle to the toilet. In darkness, birds also find it easier to elude predatory hawks and eagles.

To an eagle, the Mad Birder’s theory goes, the half-ounce bit of feathery lemon zest that is a goldfinch is dietarily akin to celery: You burn more calories in the chewing than you actually gain. “Oh, there goes one of those flashy little yellow guys. Not worth my time!”

But the goldfinches add so much color to the view out my front window, I’m happy to fatten them up on as many sunflower seeds as they can chomp. Welcome back, Washington’s trademark ball of fluff.

Ooooh, scary goldfinch face! It seems they don’t always want company at mealtime.
“Hey, there’s plenty for everybody, bud! Are we good now? Huh? Huh?”

Squish! Squish! Squish! The wildflowers are loving it.

Sea blush adds a cotton-candy color to the rocky knoll behind Nuthatch Cabin. The native wildflower is more prolific than ever this spring on my island.

IT’S A SOGGY SUNDAY on Center Island, continuing a moist and cool spring throughout Western Washington. Halfway through May, Seattle has already recorded 2 1/2 times its historically average rainfall for the month.

Other than the extreme crankiness among Washingtonians who will wave their GORE-TEX-swaddled arms and shout that we get enough friggin’ rain in November, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is that invasive grasses and weeds are loving it. My little half-acre of paradise is looking like the 12-year-old kid who hates haircuts after spending a summer with his grandfather who doesn’t see too good. We’re talking shaggy.

Blue camas mingles with other wildflowers by the front step of my writing hut. The starry flower’s bulbs were once a staple in the diet of Northwest tribes, who steamed them like potatoes. Don’t confuse the bulbs with those of the aptly named (and toxic) death camas, which has a spiky cluster of white inflorescence. The two types of camas often grow in close proximity.

The good news is that the wildflowers are going nuts, too. If you get a chance to take a hike soon at Iceberg Point on Lopez, Turtleback Mountain on Orcas, Young Hill on San Juan Island, or just about anyplace in the islands with an open meadow and occasional sunshine, prepare to be wowed. Blue camas flowers, golden buttercups, pink sea blush, chocolate lilies and more have been outdoing themselves this month. I need look only as far as the rocky knoll behind my cabin.

Rain, rain, go away. Soon. But thanks for watering the flowers.

This post is also available on audio. Listen to my Cantwell’s Reef podcast.

Island hopping across the continent for a late-winter refresher

The new World Trade Center, originally known as Freedom Tower, dominates Manhattan’s skyline as you walk westward on the pedestrian pathway across the venerable Brooklyn Bridge.

I CALLED IT MY “NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT” TOUR. And Friday when I told my Center Island friend, Monique the farmer, that I’d just returned from New York City, she grinned and agreed. “Wow, you can’t get much more different from little Center Island!”

This journey, my first real travel experience since the COVID plague froze us in our tracks two years ago, came about quickly and without much planning. My old friend Daniel Farber told me a few weeks ago that a cousin had offered him use of her vacant Brooklyn Heights apartment, and that he and wife Jean planned to make the pilgrimage from their Olympia home to spend the entire month of March there. It had a guest room. Would I like to visit? After a long and quiet winter on Center Island, I didn’t take long to say yes.

Free lodging in one of the world’s priciest cities. A free air ticket, thanks to my Alaska mileage account. Good times with good friends. The pandemic seeming to ease. The math was easy.

When I talk about island hopping, I understand that Manhattan is really the well-known island of New York. But Brooklyn is on an island, too (the west end of Long Island). I’d never set foot in Brooklyn before. So I told Daniel I’d come for three nights and all I really wanted to do was explore Brooklyn on foot and eat lots of good deli food.

We did that, and more.

Wherever I’ve traveled, I’ve always treasured first-morning impressions. I love to get up early and walk to a viewpoint or a beach, a bustling market or a famous park, and fill my mind with pictures the way colored-chalk scrawlings enliven a sidewalk.

The night after my evening arrival, Daniel had slept poorly, so I let him snooze as I finished my coffee and slipped out the door onto Hicks Street, a row of dignified old brick apartment blocks. Directly across the street from ours, tucked between two residences, squatted an ancient firehouse that looked like Ghostbusters headquarters. In three quick blocks of walking, with a left on Montague Street, I was on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, an 1,800-foot-long walkway cantilevered over the hillside with a spectacular view of Lower Manhattan and the East River. A swivel of my head took in everything from the Statue of Liberty to the Brooklyn Bridge. The air was crisp, the sky was blue, colorful ferries skittered everywhere, and the 1,776-foot World Trade Center spire, originally known as Freedom Tower, dominated the stupendous island scenery. It’s America’s loftiest skyscraper.

Brooklyn Bridge guy wires frame Lower Manhattan.

Once everyone was up and about, we walked miles that sunny day, through interesting residential streets crowded with authentic brownstones the color of a russet potato fresh from the earth. Pausing to admire the gorgeous Brooklyn Public Library, we ended up at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and lunch in Crown Heights.

Tropical blooms brighten the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s conservatory.

More than one night, we blissfully dined on Mediterranean-style food from two Atlantic Avenue institutions, Sahadi’s deli grocery, run by a family from Lebanon, and a Syrian bakery called Damascus. The smokiest, richest baba ghanough (their spelling) this side of Beirut. Spicy and delicious Za’atar chicken. Dips and spreads, pies and pastries.

The second day of my visit was cold and cloudy. When not pouring rain it was snowing. We hopped the subway to Manhattan and wisely spent the day indoors, first touring the Whitney Museum of American Art in the West Village. Highlights: a special exhibit of African-American artist Jennifer Packer’s studies of people with haunting faces and clothed in colors so vibrant that you had to wonder if the paint was made from human blood and maybe the zest of mandarin oranges. Another favorite for Daniel and me was a historical montage and film of a whimsical, miniature kinetic circus created by Alexander Calder. It showed me a whole new, quirky side of this artist known for monumental, plaza-filling sculpture.

We spent the afternoon, delightfully, as part of the studio audience at a Rockefeller Center taping of NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” The former “Saturday Night Live” comedian spent off-camera time chatting amiably with the crowd. (And yes, they really do have strobe-like signs that flash “APPLAUSE” when they want you to clap.) Sorry, I don’t have any photos; the not-so-amiable handlers in fancy suits made it clear that if you took a photo in the studio you would (A) be forced to erase it, and (B) get thrown out.

Perhaps the thrill of the trip was my final morning, well in advance of my 5 p.m. flight home, when Daniel and I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Blue sky had returned. We arrived at the bridge as the sun flooded the skyline of Manhattan, ahead of us. The 1.1-mile span is an engineering wonder, built over a period of 13 years between 1870 and 1883. Its arched 272-foot Gothic Revival towers make it a colossal work of art.

Unlike most bridges, the pedestrian pathway is suspended in the bridge’s center, above the traffic lanes, separating you from the noise and rush of cars. Striding along, it felt like a peaceful walk in the sky as we gazed at the continent’s tallest building framed by a galvanized spider web of suspension cables. The bridge carries 10,000 pedestrians a day, but we never felt crowded.

Daniel at the less shiny end of the financial district’s bull.

Once on Manhattan, we wandered through the Wall Street district, past the fabled bronze bull, and back to the river’s edge to catch a passenger ferry back to Brooklyn. (Statuary trivia: Bronze statues worldwide have parts that passersby rub for good luck, such as Scottish philosopher David Hume’s big toe in Edinburgh, or John Harvard’s left foot at Harvard University, and consequently those parts are always shiniest. The shiniest part of the Wall Street bull: its beefy testicles. God bless ballsy America.)

Back to Seattle on Thursday. Back to Center Island Friday. Saturday morning I took a home COVID test. It was negative. I love my little island, but the effect on my morale of a getaway to someplace completely different: Definitely positive.

Center Island’s February surprise

A snowy morning frames a view of Lopez Sound and Lopez Island as seen from the southwest corner of Center Island.

I’VE OFTEN REMINDED OTHER ISLAND FOLK that February can throw just about anything our way, and after a springlike month that had us all scoffing at Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day prediction of more winter ahead, Center Islanders woke up this morning.

To snow on the ground.

It was one of those surprise snowfalls that began well after dark last night. And unlike rain, heralded by its rooftop patter, snow parachutes to the ground unannounced. So one had to be really paying attention to avoid a gee-whillikers moment when first looking out this morning.

OK, it was just an inch. Nothing to flap about, but a late-February surprise nonetheless. I worried about the narcissus that is starting to bloom in the side yard.

The nice thing was that by dawn the sky had cleared to that watery, light blue you get only in winter, as if someone put a capful too much bleach in with the baby boy’s blanket. As the sun came up while I sipped my first coffee, from the Nuthatch’s front window I saw an accenting blush of pink like watercolor paint brushed boldly across the treeline of Lopez Island. Below my front deck, the salal thicket sparkled.

Galley Cat is no fan of snow, though she didn’t let the cold, white stuff stop her from a paw-mincing climb up the rocky knoll with me to inspect the Back 40. Frosty toes sent her scooting back inside as soon as the cabin door was open, however.

My writing hut, Wee Nooke, is a cozy retreat among the snow.

It was a good week here, with a four-day visit by daughter Lillian, who brought her cat, Tiberius, along for the first time. Galley growled at the feline interloper, and Tibbers spent a lot of time hiding under a bed in the loft. But by visit’s end there was a tolerant sheathing of claws. If only the Russians could follow their example.

Tomorrow, Galley and I head across the water to visit Friday Harbor friends for another session of planning our upcoming Alaska voyage, and to meet another crew member. Take heart. More sunshine is in the forecast, and March is coming soon.

Mr. Fix-It rides again on Center Island

The doughnut-shaped part that needed replacing sits atop my tool box in the cargo area of my golf cart, Mr. Toad. As always with a DIY repair, kitty supervision was key.

FEW THINGS ARE MORE SATISFYING than repairing something yourself, especially when you live on a remote island with no Mr. Fix-It shops just down the road.

It’s especially satisfying when you’re fixing something about which you know very little, such as my golf cart, Mr. Toad. And the fix works.

I’ve never been a golfer. Until a couple years ago, when Barbara needed more help getting around, I never had reason to own a golf cart, though the electric-powered flivvers are the preferred method of personal locomotion on Center Island, where covenants prohibit personal vehicles powered by internal combustion.

I still prefer to walk (the only way you get to see the Golden-Crowned Kinglets mobbing trees along the airfield), or ride my bike, which I do for exercise when the weather is nice. But my golf cart, which dates to the Clinton Administration and is named for the speed-happy amphibian of “Wind in the Willows,” comes in handy when it’s time to lug trash to the dock or transport groceries back to the cabin.

After buying Mr. Toad in summer 2020, my first big fix came last fall, replacing the bank of six 6-volt deep-cycle batteries, which cost almost as much as I paid for the whole darn buggy. But the new batteries gave me the needed oomph to get up hills again.

Then all was fine until recently, when a new problem became apparent. Instead of accelerating slowly and smoothly, Mr. Toad began hopping in short bursts. No matter how carefully I trod the accelerator, either it wanted to sit still or go full-tilt, which seemed perfectly fitting for its fictional namesake who was imprisoned for his reckless driving. But it didn’t make for a relaxing ride to the clubhouse.

I can occasionally be clever with tools (see “A tool chest full of memories on Father’s Day,” June 2019). After taking a community college class in marine-diesel repair years ago, I never had to pay for someone else to repair my sailboat engine. But I knew bupkis about what made golf carts go, other than the batteries.

Here’s where the internet earned its keep, which is a big admission coming from me, Mr. Luddite 2022. I asked Google, “Why is my golf cart going herky jerky?” Within minutes I was watching a YouTube video in which a well-fed, jovial little man in Texas told me all about my E-Z-GO golf cart’s inductive throttle sensor and showed me how to change it.

From online research, I found other possible fixes, including a part that cost $400. But the inductive throttle sensor could be had for $23.99 on Amazon. I always like to start with the cheapest likely fix and go from there. I hit the order button. The part would arrive in six days.

The Chinese-made part was sold by a company that inexplicably calls itself 10LOL. That’s the numeral “10,” followed by the letters “LOL.” I wonder where some of these Chinese companies get their names, and who is advising them. Don’t they know that in the U.S.A., “LOL” stands for “laughing out loud”? Maybe the Omaha-based marketing consultant who helped them pick that name is laughing all the way to the bank.

The new part looked just like the old one: a doughnut-shaped piece of hardened black plastic, about two inches high, topping a small platform with a couple of electrical hookups. It didn’t look like anything that should make a difference to how my golf cart accelerated, but it did the trick for that well-tummied Texan. I said a Hail Gary (most fix-it guys on YouTube are named Gary) and proceeded.

Happily, the part came with detailed, illustrated instructions that showed every step needed to make the replacement in my model of golf cart. Even though it involved time-consuming removal of a lot of bolts to access the part, which hid in a little box beneath the floor mat, I was done in an hour.

I took Mr. Toad for a test drive. The acceleration is once again as smooth as a frog pond on a sultry August afternoon.

I feel like such a master of the wilderness.