Glory be, what a month it’s been

Betsy Davis’s classic double-ender motoryacht Glorybe, built in 1914 and rebuilt after a 2002 fire, looks highly decorative in a May sunset while riding a mooring just off Center Island.

OH MY, OH MY, my May.

Here it’s already Memorial Day weekend, one year since my crewmates and I shoved off for our 10-week voyage up the Inside Passage to Alaska, and I’ve had such a busy month of visiting with other friends that I need to catch up with you, loyal Reefers.

Getting too busy with friends can be a rare thing when you live on a small island nobody’s heard of. Lots of comings and goings this month. For me, that’s a good thing. Winters can get lonely when the winds howl.

Jean and Daniel Farber, May 2023 park hosts at Lime Kiln Point State Park, with an old lime kiln in the background.

Early in the month, I had a pleasant stay with friends (and Inside Passage crewmates) Bill Watson and Barbara Marrett on San Juan Island, paired with a bonus visit with old chums Daniel and Jean Farber. Usually at home in Olympia, they’ve spent the whole month of May living in a travel trailer on San Juan Island where they’ve served as interpretive park hosts (and ruthless wranglers of invasive blackberry vines) at Lime Kiln Point State Park.

Daniel, who retired from a distinguished career with Washington State Parks, once again proved his acumen as a parks pooh-bah by leading me on a walking tour rich in historical narration of Lime Kiln’s old quarries and upland trails. For example, little did I know that Lyman Cutler, the American farmer whose famous shooting of a British pig touched off the Pig War standoff here in 1859, was also a founder of the quarrying business at Lime Kiln Point, which shipped lime to be used in cement for building cities up and down the West Coast. Added trivia from my own research: After Cutler sold his interest, the mining company ultimately dissolved when one partner murdered another — proving, I guess, that it’s dangerous to be a mining baron, or a pig, on San Juan Island.

A curious red fox met us in the woods at Lime Kiln.

If you’re interested in island-living lore, my trips to San Juan Island aren’t quick or easy. I hire the Paraclete Water Taxi to take me from Center Island across Lopez Sound (3 miles, $38) to the Hunter Bay County Dock on Lopez Island, where I keep my faithful old Ford pickup, Ranger Rick (county parking permit, $25 annually for homeowners on neighboring Center and Decatur islands). I drive Ranger Rick 11 miles to park in the public lot (72 hours free) at the state ferry terminal, load my Rubbermaid tote (aka San Juan Samsonite) on my old red handtruck and walk it on to the next ferry bound for Friday Harbor (often waiting longer than expected because ferry runs get canceled due to crew shortages). The good news: the ferry ride is free for interisland walk-ons.

Ten days after my return from that adventure, Galley Cat and I were on the road to Walla Walla to visit my friend Patti Lennartson. Galley Cat usually vocally protests the idea of leaving the cabin overnight, and hides under a bed if she cottons to the fact that I’m packing again. But once she was in the car and set loose from her carrier to be a free-range travel cat (as free as she can be in a Honda Civic), she seemed fine with it. As usual, she often stretched from the passenger seat to put her front paws on the dashboard to watch the world go by. I think she likes high speeds. Crossing Snoqualmie Pass, she seemed fascinated by snowy peaks, as only makes sense for someone who has spent 99.9 percent of her 11 years at or near sea level. (She lived on a boat half her life.)

Latina dancers whirl and twirl at the College Place Block Party, near Walla Walla.

Walla Walla was sunny and hot. But Patti had the A.C. cranked up in the guest room, and Galley and I enjoyed a dose of extra Vitamin D when we got outside. Along with Patti’s daughter Stevie and her partner, Kevin, we drank some good Walla Walla wine, watched a Latin dance troupe at a street fair in College Place, ate good tacos and wood-fired pizza with fresh asparagus, and generally had a fine time.

Dancers balance beer trays on their heads in College Place. That’s talent.

Came back to lovely 65-degree days on my island, where the wildflowers are almost played out. The blue camas (with edible bulb) is almost done, though the appropriately named death camas (whose foliage and bulb are poisonous) is parading white stalks of flowers in a come-hither display. Happily, Galley ignores the siren call. She likes plain old grass.

Just when I was going to get down to work replacing planks on my deck, a delightful respite presented on Wednesday when dear friend Carol Hasse, another of my Inside Passage crewmates, texted to ask if she and shipmates on the beautiful, century-old wooden motoryacht Glorybe, moored that day at Jones Island, might put in at Center Island on Thursday.

Always say yes, friend Daniel and I have pledged, when serendipity knocks. So I got on the phone to island buddy Dan Lewis, who didn’t hesitate when I asked if his mooring buoy might be available. It was a perfect bluebird-sky May afternoon when Hasse, Glorybe skipper Betsy Davis, and fellow crewmate Ace Spragg came for a happy hour and fish-taco dinner on the Nuthatch Cabin’s deck (which will have new cedar planks soon enough).

From left, Betsy Davis, Ace Spragg and Carol Hasse depart my island.

Hasse, as anybody who has set foot on a sailboat in this hemisphere probably knows, recently retired from a renowned sailmaking business in Port Townsend. Betsy, former director of Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats, these days helms the NorthWest School of Wooden BoatBuilding in Port Hadlock when she isn’t at the wheel of Glorybe. Ace is that school’s education director after serving 11 years as sailing director, among other salty hats she wore, at Port Townsend’s Northwest Maritime Center. All this pedigree talk is simply to say that over beer, wine and a bit of good grub, we had a boatload of good nautical chat to share. I loved Ace’s stories about her idyllic childhood days of building and piloting rafts on the Chesapeake Bay (and constructing a five-story treehouse from which she and other kids dropped eggs — and anything else that seemed interesting — just to watch them splat).

The thing to remember is, friends don’t let friends work too hard. Tomorrow I get busy on the deck. Have a memorable Memorial Day.

Days of splendor arrive like an avalanche

Avalanche lilies on Center Island? That was my first guess. But, really?

THESE ARE MAGIC DAYS in the San Juan Islands.

As I sit in Wee Nooke, my cedar writing hut atop the rocky knoll, the door and windows are open wide. Buttercups at my doorstep match the sunshine streaming in. No heater today, for the first time since autumn. No hot tea to sip. I’m guzzling cool lemon-water and hyperventilating on the sweet scent of wildflowers. Our wintry days are finally done.

We’ve had a bumper crop of fairy slippers.

Besides those cheerful, buttery blooms, we’re enjoying a bumper crop of fairy slippers, aka calypso orchids. Sea blush, each of its flowers barely the size of a grain of beach sand, is starting to carpet the knoll with pink. And I was briefly flummoxed to come across what looked for all the world like avalanche lilies, those spidery blossoms of snow white on a tall stalk much more often seen on Mount Rainier than a few feet above sea level. Never encountered this flower on my island before, but this week half a dozen are bobbing in the gentle April breezes on the knoll. A little research proved that climate change hasn’t, in fact, brought interlopers off the mountain; these were great white fawn lilies, Erythronium oregonum, a common flower in the San Juans, though new to my corner. The leaves are spotted like a fawn, thus the name. (For a quick bit of education before making a wildflower safari to the islands, check out this useful guide, Wildflowers of San Juan Island National Historical Park, which pretty much applies to the entire archipelago.)

Pileated Woodpecker.
Courtesy Jack Bulmer/Pixabay

Birds are causing a flap in my world, too. The past few days I’ve been regularly hearing a distinctive call from what I believe to be a rare (for us) Pileated Woodpecker, that sartorially splendid redhead of the forest. These guys, which can be the size of a small chicken, often set the woods echoing with a burble akin to the jungle birds of old Tarzan movies. Nesting, maybe? But it might also be a Northern Flicker, whose call is similar and which is more common here. A big flicker clung and swung on my suet feeder this morning, perched as precariously as Kong atop the Empire State. Compare the two plus-size birds and their calls here and here on Cornell University’s handy “All About Birds” website.

Other avian excitement: Saw the season’s first American Goldfinch at my feeder 10 days ago, decked out in fabulous lemony plumage all fresh for mating season (there might even have been a paisley cravat there). Haven’t caught one on camera yet. But this morning, as I sat in my living room working a crossword, I looked up in time to see a large Bald Eagle swoop down through my trees, carving a wide circle directly in front of my window before perching on a tree limb by the side of the road. Wow!

I grabbed the camera, stepped outside, and called for Galley Cat. Give me credit here: I put the cat’s well-being above my hope for a photo. I’ve heard about eagles flying away with felines.

Lurking among the foliage, my eagle visitor hung around for 10 minutes, during which I kept Galley Cat inside.

Galley, for once, responded immediately from somewhere in back of the cabin. “Whadda ya want, Pops, whadda ya want?” she trilled, weaving in and out of my ankles while I click, click, clicked the camera shutter in the direction of our national bird, seemingly oblivious of the 10-pound ginger tabby who was doing her best to trip me. As soon as I got my photo, I shooed her inside.

That’s my report from the San Juan Islands on this exceedingly clement day in late April. I hope you’re relishing similar days. Wherever the seasonal wonders find you.

Earth Day gifts

IT’S A BIG YEAR for hummingbirds at the Nuthatch cabin’s feeder. I’ve needed to refill it almost daily. Working in my kitchen, I’m frequently alerted to their visits when my ear senses the thrumming of wings beating more than 50 times per second outside my window.

Some sip on the fly.
Others make a coffee klatsch of their visit.
As with many species, some are brighter than others.

Happy Earth Day

I REMEMBER APRIL 22, 1970. I was 14 years old, in Eighth Grade, and the first-ever Earth Day was a big deal to me.

I was attending a brand-new public school in Bellevue, Washington, that had opened its doors the previous fall. It was a modern new building, a school that celebrated modern ways to teach and learn. My teachers encouraged participation in this new concept of environmental responsibility. There was a feeling of optimism and hope.

My Earth flag flies from the cabin’s deck rail as a Nuthatch grabs a seed from the feeder.

I took it to heart by joining up with Bellevue’s first-ever organized — very loosely — recycling effort, led by a local high-school student. We crusaded under the ill-advised name of C.R.U.D., the Committee for the Recycling of Unwanted Disposables. Eastside Disposal placed free dumpsters in my school’s parking lot and promised to cart away and recycle the glass bottles we collected. My job was to sweep up any broken glass, and remove items such as the dead fish that some thoughtful citizen left for us. (The very smelly fish was, apparently, unwanted, and here was a place to dispose of it.) C.R.U.D. was a tiny start; a microcosm of a movement.

As I awakened this morning, I checked my email and read historian Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters From an American” post about Earth Day, and how “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson planted the seed. The post also chronicles then-President Richard Nixon’s significant role in passing environmental legislation, including establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. I was shaken to be reminded that such landmark changes in our political landscape came under the aegis of a president that many of my generation so detested. Compared to present-day Republicans, the man was a saint (which is an excoriation of today’s GOP much more than an exoneration of Tricky Dick).

Today, I’ve hung out my Earth flag, and my to-do list includes organizing a bin of recycling to take to the mainland when I leave tomorrow for a visit to Seattle. Symbolic little things. Admittedly, recycling hasn’t saved the planet. Maybe it has helped focus our thinking. While I love my island retreat, on days like this I wish I lived where I could join a crowd of people intent on taking action for the greater good.

With the emergency klaxons sounding about climate change, it seems Earth Day 2023 is once again about hope. Reminding us all of prior progress, and embracing the possibility that new generations will commit to more effective and lasting measures — political and otherwise — means this day is still relevant.

Do you have any Earth Day memories? What does Earth Day 2023 mean to you?

Into the social whirl (with a tale of ‘Nudes and Prudes’)

Blooming daffodils paint the valley floor east of Best Road in the Skagit Valley. The golden blooms are peaking this week.


With just me and the cat and not a lot of neighbors around, I’m sharply aware of the necessity of scheduling off-island time in the off-season. Dear Barbara was happy to be a hermit. I’m more of a social animal. On a small island nobody’s heard of, it’s a challenge.

Due to a variety of circumstances, some recent plans got postponed (Galley Cat had a bad cold, then my daughter had a bad cold, etc.) Now, several social occasions and road trips have become stacked on top of one another. Not complaining, but I’m flapping as fast as I can.

Dave and Jill Kern on the dock at Joemma Beach State Park, on South Puget Sound’s Key Peninsula.

It started with me and Galley road tripping through daffodil fields of the Skagit Valley last Thursday on our way to the Kitsap Peninsula. We spent three days there at the end of last week with Dave and Jill Kern, old friends from my days at The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. From their home near Port Orchard, my hosts and I had a fun road trip exploring the nearby Key Peninsula, a remote backwater that is home to communities such as Home (yes, that’s the town name), a tiny burg on a shallow bay of South Puget Sound.

Today, Home is a quiet assemblage of pleasant waterfront domiciles, but it was founded in 1895 as a utopian community for free-thinkers, anarchists, nudists and adherents of free love. The community’s founders chose the remote location, hidden from the rest of the world, for a reason. But after a self-proclaimed anarchist assassinated President William McKinley in 1901, the Home anarchists drew the ire of self-styled patriots in nearby Tacoma who almost descended on the community with pitchforks and torches. (Home was spared only because a steamboat operator refused to transport the vigilantes). As years went by, fractures grew within the community, with Home residents staking out various moral grounds, leading to factions being labeled “Nudes and Prudes.” (Read the Wikipedia entry, it’s a hoot.)

Dave and Jill had no idea of the colorful history just down the road from them. I had fun sharing the story that I had learned from an earlier sailing adventure in the area.

Galley and I returned to the Nuthatch on Saturday evening, and I was up and about early the next morning to hop aboard WeLike for a trip to Lopez Island. I was invited to brunch with friends Lynn Thompson and David Foutch at their holiday home overlooking Outer Bay on the southern tip of Lopez. Besides gorging with my friends on tasty pastries and muffins from Holly B’s Bakery and Barn Owl Bakery, along with fruit salad, flagons of good coffee, and Lynn’s tasty quiche with goat cheese, I got to meet new friends Ande and Scott Finley, Lopezians who are active with Transition Lopez Island, a coalition of locals working toward a regenerative, resilient future. The conversation was lively. They told me about vacationing in their electric car. I told them about my Center Island neighbor who is building an electric-powered, carbon-fiber hydrofoil catamaran.

Lopez friends and Eddy the Springer Spaniel pause at Lopez Island’s Iceberg Point monument commemorating the Treaty of 1908, which finalized the boundary between the United States and Canada.

On a hike around nearby Iceberg Point we saw wood ducks, harbor seals and the season’s first wildflowers.

This coming Saturday Galley and I hit the road again for three nights in Vancouver/Portland to visit more friends and have a reunion with my brother Tom, whose 10-week cabin-sitting experience for me last summer helped convince him to return from Arizona to the Northwest. I’m having breakfast with him in his new Portland digs on Sunday. Dinner with friends that night. A day of walks and exploring with another friend on Monday.

Whew. This butterfly’s wings are getting a workout. After a quiet winter in my island cocoon, it’s a good thing.

A satin flower, Olysynium douglasii, was among the first blooming wildflowers on Iceberg Point on Sunday.

Glorying in a few days of spring

Sailboats sit at moorings on Fisherman’s Bay, just off Lopez Village, as seen from my lunch spot.

THE OFFICIAL, FARMER’S ALMANAC-SANCTIONED spring equinox might not be until 2:24 p.m. PDT Monday. But spring arrived today in the San Juan Islands.


The sky was clear, the seas were calm, the thermometer pushed 60 degrees, and Center Island’s docks were nearly full. All over my island people were outside hammering, hoeing, washing down and tidying up — doing all the celebratory puttering that comes with the end of a long winter.

I celebrated a few days early by relaunching my 1957 runabout, WeLike, on Thursday. It had sat forlornly on a trailer since November. Doing my part as a spring-inspired islander, I checked over the boat’s electrical system, added fresh fuel, drained the water strainer, ran the bilge pump and gave the boat a good scrub.

Then I buzzed over to Lopez Island yesterday for a blissful day of normal stuff you do when it’s not winter.

At Isabel’s Espresso, I sat outside on the deck and read a book while I sipped a good coffee. I stopped in at the supermarket for fresh produce. I took a sack lunch and strolled out to a favorite bench at Fisherman Bay Spit, where rogue daffodils were starting to bloom in the pasture of a long-deserted farmstead. I ducked into the public library and checked out a real book. What a delight! One gets overly reliant on Kindle when you live on a remote island.

Galley Cat, too, is reveling in the warmer days, gamboling up and down the rocky knoll. Returning inside today after an hour out inspecting the grounds, she smelled all sun-washed and fresh, like linen sheets that had dried on a clothesline.

It’s supposed to rain on Monday, the Weather Service says. But for a few days, we got a jump on the season of renewal, in all its glory. Hallelujah.

Practicing catch-and-release with my cabin’s chimney. (Sheesh)

A Dark-eyed Junco like this explored my chimney and woodstove this morning.

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, Will S. wrote, and as I breathed a sigh of relief this morning I decided he was right.

But this is definitely the year I replace my chimney.

Being Daylight Savings Sunday, I was lolling in bed reading John Grisham and finishing my coffee and avocado toast at what some might call a late-ish hour of the morning. But I had that “spring ahead,” lose-an-hour-of-sleep excuse for lolling.

That’s when I heard the skittering.

For a moment I tried to convince myself it was a Nuthatch — the bird for which my cabin is named — outside messing about in my metal roof’s gutter, as they often do. Getting a sip of water, perhaps; the drainage isn’t all that great.

But then I heard it again: a sound like fingernails lightly brushing metal, and it wasn’t coming from outside. I recognized that sound.


I had another bird down my chimney.

Loyal Reefers might recall a couple Novembers ago when this happened before. That time, I got paranoid about what was in my chimney, imagining anything from a hapless bird to a squirrel or raccoon (or, as several merciless readers suggested, a skunk).

At that time, try as I might I couldn’t figure out how to open up the chimney and release the creature, which had fallen into the lowest reaches of the woodstove’s metal flue, the eight feet or so that connect the stove with the cabin ceiling. The chimney has a conical cap up top and I expect it was screened when it was new, but the screen has probably disintegrated with rust and heat over the years. Rising high above my rooftop, it’s not easily inspected.

Unable to catch-and-release that first time round, I went with Undesirable Choice No. 2: Refrain from building a fire and let nature, uh, take its course. It was several days before the skittering stopped.

Eventually I discovered a way to remove the fire bricks at the top of the woodstove and was able to remove the poor dead sparrow.

As I lolled in the loft this morning, I resigned myself to another unpleasant days-long “death watch.”

But then I realized: Now I know how to open up the stove from inside. I could try to get the bird out. If I could free it from the chimney, maybe I could capture it in a large trash bag and set it free outside, hopeful that it wouldn’t be caked with soot and creosote. I had to try.

Meanwhile, Galley Cat, who usually snoozes the morning away on her heated cat bed downstairs, had come up to the loft to see me. Vocal and wide-eyed, she was clearly trying to tell me something.

Descending the stairs and crossing the living room, I saw what she was trying to communicate: “Pops!” (she calls me “Pops”)… “Pops, there’s a birdie in the woodstove, you can see it in there!”

Sure enough, this bird was no longer caught in the chimney, it had squeezed its way down past the firebricks and made it into the stove’s main chamber. There it was, clearly visible, fluttering behind the glass: a very unhappy Dark-eyed Junco. For goodness’ sake.

OK, Rescue One, suit up and respond to an avian distress call at 1366 Chinook Way.

Adrenaline flowing, I grabbed a trash bag from the pantry. Plopped the feline in the bathroom, behind a closed door. (She was certain she could help. I demurred.) I hoped to bag the victim as I cracked open the stove door, but in case it got past me I opened wide the glass slider and a side door.

Happily, the Junco wasn’t caked with creosote. It remained perfectly mobile, which it proved the moment the door was cracked. Despite my best efforts with the trash bag, I had a Junco flying around my living room.

Unfortunately, it didn’t find the open doors. It bumped against one of the big front windows, then flew through the kitchen and thumped against a window by the sink, where it decided to stay and flutter about.

Now, I have to say this for that bird. Whether or not it knew I was trying to help, it did me one huge favor. Anybody who has heard the sad tale of the duck that got into our sailboat’s V-berth, which ended with a very long afternoon at the laundromat getting our bedding de-ducked, will know these things can end badly. I’ll just say it bluntly: No matter how frightened it may have been, the Junco did not shit inside my house. Thank you. Were the roles reversed and a giant songbird was chasing me with a trash bag the size of Mount Constitution, I can’t promise I’d have been so reserved.

Anyway, I sidled over to the kitchen with my trash bag opened wide. The bird tried to take cover in a potted plant sitting behind the sink, but I swooped and scooped.

As first, I didn’t think I’d caught it. Songbirds don’t weigh much, and under the feathers there’s not a lot of bulk. I very lightly gripped the bag closed while I searched around the plant and among the dishbrushes. My home invader wasn’t there. So I carefully peeked into the plastic bag cradled in my fist and saw a pair of fragile bird feet sticking out. It wasn’t struggling, perhaps just resigned to its fate.

Keeping my grip loose, I quickly strode out onto the deck, put the bag down and opened it wide. The Junco flew away, and I don’t think it stopped until it hit Lopez Island.

All’s well that ends well. But, sheesh, it’s time to get a chimney with a screen.

Fleeing my rock for the City of Subdued Excitement

Sailboats scoot across Bellingham Bay.


When I flee the seemingly endless winter on Center Island and seek a place with more live humans, I guess you might call me an “off-my-rocker.” Kind of goes along with living in a cabin called the Nuthatch.

Anyway — forging prosaically on — when I need to get away and have just a day, I like to go to Bellingham.

This week I decided a necessary grocery-shopping trip would be a good opportunity for a northward pilgrimage to the City of Subdued Excitement, as Bellinghamsters like to call their town.

OK, I mean, right there — not only does the place have a great self-deprecatory, tongue-in-cheek slogan, but residents go by a name that conjures a vision of a town full of anthropomorphized rodents driving around in little cars. I appreciate a community with a sense of humor.

They also have almost as many craft breweries and brew pubs as Bend, Ore., which everyone knows adds significantly to the quality of life.

When my family returned from a 1990s sailing trip to Mexico after two years of being off the grid careerwise, Barbara and I realized we could start afresh wherever we chose. We hoped to make a go of it in Bellingham, a congenial college town on a beautiful bay, a half-day’s sail from the San Juans and practically in the shadow of Mount Baker and its razzle-dazzle ski area.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Newspapering was my life, and I did get hired and worked for one day at the local daily, the Bellingham Herald. But I was young, a bit cantankerous, and just returning from the freedom of the wild seas. That first day on the job, after I’d expressed enough disagreements with the corporate policies of the Herald’s parent company, Gannett, one of America’s worst newspaper chains, the newspaper’s H.R. director and I mutually agreed that it just wasn’t a match made in heaven. So my family sailed south into Puget Sound and I ended up at The Seattle Times. A happy ending, as it turned out.

From a viewpoint along Chuckanut Drive, the road to Bellingham offers panoramas of islands and saltwater in a varied palette of blues.
Chuckanut Drive curves

But I’ve always enjoyed visiting Bellingham, about which I wrote numerous travel stories for the Times. These days I like going even if only for a quick trip to the sole Trader Joe’s in Northwest Washington. From the water-taxi dock in Anacortes, it’s an easy hour’s drive.

I got a pleasant sunny day for this trip, and I found time to get off Interstate 5 and chug northward on scenic and serpentine Chuckanut Drive, the original northbound road that skirts the base of the Chuckanut Mountains, a foothill spur that geologists say is the only place the Cascade range meets the sea. It adds only about 15 minutes to the trip, but it’s a superb quarter hour. Starting from the Samish Flats, where I saw a fluttering flurry of snow geese, my red Civic snaked along boulder-strewn cliffs, passed chattering waterfalls and skirted moody panoramas of islands and saltwater.

An overwater boardwalk is part of the waterfront trail crossing Bellingham’s Boulevard Park.

Reaching town, I navigated the old-town Fairhaven district and pulled off at Boulevard Park. A narrow strip of land between the bay and the main north-south railroad tracks, the park offers shoreside benches, picnic tables, a kids’ playground and a waterfront path and overwater boardwalk that stretches miles into downtown. It’s my chosen stop when I pack a lunch. On breezy days, I’ve watched kiteboarders fly high out in the bay. The park even has a good, locally run coffee shop. Very civilized.

After lunch, my day was devoted to grocery shopping. But if you’re there with more time, Bellingham has a bunch of fine museums, dedicated to history, art, and even electricity (the eyepopping Spark Museum); a distinctively spired performing arts center (the 96-year-old Mount Baker Theatre); a variety of pleasant walking trails (such as a waterfront amble on Lake Whatcom), and the aforementioned breweries.

The excitement, though tastefully subdued, is earned.

Source: Google Maps

Febrrrr-uary ends frostily

Cottony clouds crowd the Cascades on a recent sunny but cold day. Looking east from Center Island across Decatur Island to Rosario Strait.

DECEMBER TOOK A JAB AT IT, but February has again tussled its way to the title as the San Juan Islands’ winter month with the most unpredictable and weirdest weather.

We’ve had hail (pelting down like a million icy little meteorites on my deck, more than once). We’ve had frigid Fraser Valley gales (combined with big tidal swings that make crossing Rosario Strait to Anacortes a rocking, sloshing, life-challenging adventure, more than once). We’ve had blowing snow, we’ve had frosty nights. And, yes, we’ve also had pristine sunny days, such as today, most of which have never warmed above freezing. And, oh my, the starry nights.

Galley has donned a cunning Argyle sweater against the February cold.

“I’m done with the cold,” the Mad Birder grumped on a recent visit. He moved here from California, which by rights might make him bitter about our February freezes, but today Los Angeles has blizzard warnings, so go figure.

Extreme cold tends to keep us otherwise hardy islanders indoors by blazing fires much of the time. By now, with the month of March parading our direction as if to a John Philip Sousa composition, our feet are decidedly itchy.

I have done a few things other than binge-watch all four seasons of “New Amsterdam” in recent weeks. On a day when the earth wasn’t frozen I finally dug a hole in which to plant the five-foot Charlie Brown fir tree that had been living in a root-bound pot on my deck for many months. Daughter Lillian brought the tree up a couple years ago. It was Nuthatch cabin’s Christmas tree in 2021. When much smaller, it had served as her Christmas tree on the sailboat in 2020, after being dug up on Auntie Sarah’s Camano Island property. So it’s a well-traveled little tree, finally properly planted and surrounded by deer fencing next to the porch of Wee Nooke, my Center Island writing hut.

Wee Nooke’s newly planted tree.

Wee Nooke needed a new tree. We originally erected the 36-square-foot cedar shed in the shade of a sizable shore pine that leaned artfully over its roof until the pine blew down a few winters ago. Had the tree fallen about 10 inches to the left my Nooke would have been transformed from man cave to matchsticks. If the Charlie Brown tree ever gets big and old enough to blow down, I am confident I won’t be around to be squished. Always look on the bright side of life, I say.

I bottled a gallon of beer this week, brewed on the Nuthatch’s stovetop a couple weeks ago with the help of Lillian and partner Chris when they were up for a quick visit. The beer fermented in a jug next to a miniature electric radiator beneath an upturned plastic storage tote behind my bed. I got to drift off to sleep to the comforting “boop-boop” of the jug’s venting gases that told me the yeast was happily working its magic.

Made with a popular strain of pungent, citrus-scented hops called Cashmere, this brew is dubbed Cashmere Blonde. Lillian educated me that cashmere wool comes from Cashmere goats, so I found an image of a wildly-horned, blonde Cashmere goat to go on the bottle label. The ale will be properly bottle-aged in time for me to quaff with Lil and Chris on their next visit, possibly while we brew another batch, in mid-March.

Meanwhile, if robins are harbingers of spring (a highly dubious assumption, I see them here in December) (but I digress)… If robins are harbingers of spring, we should be headed for warmer days. Yesterday I saw about a hundred of the red-breasted harbingers pecking for worms on the grassy field that is Center Island International. So I guess “seeing red” isn’t always a bad thing.

Until spring has sprung, Galley Cat and I send warm thoughts your way.

The latest label from Nuthatch Brewing.

The San Juans’ winter wonders

WINTER IS QUIET, winter can be lonely, but winter can also be a time of unique beauty on my island.

Here’s a sampling of photos captured during my walks around Center Island in recent weeks, starting with our pre-Christmas snowfall and concluding with recent cool days mixed with sun and showers.

It was starting to look a lot like Christmas at The Nuthatch after heavy snow fell just around the solstice.

Lopez Sound was just as cold as it looked. Taken from the southwest quadrant of Center Island, looking toward Lopez Island.
A neighbor’s chairs make for a cozy place to sit — in July. Looking toward the southern tip of Decatur Island.
Looking up the snow-laden trunk of one of the island’s largest madrona trees.
This week, with the snow only a memory, watery winter sunshine lit the back path up the moss-cushioned rocky knoll where my writing hut is situated, behind the cabin.
A pair of Bufflehead ducks (female, left, and male, right) didn’t see eye to eye during a paddle this week on Reads Bay, a short distance off our Center Island dock. They are likely wintering in the San Juans from a summer breeding ground in Alaska or Western Canada.