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.

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.