Wildflowers and wider horizons as April whispers of change

Fairy slippers, aka calypso orchids, greeted me on a birthday walk around my island property Thursday.


Don’t get me wrong, my wardrobe preference still tends toward duck boots, a wide-brimmed Pendleton hat and plaid flannel shirts lined with fleece. But yesterday, as Galley Cat and I commemorated my long-ago day of nativity, the Nuthatch estate honored me with my first springtime sighting of blooming fairy slippers, the tiny ornate wildflowers also known as calypso orchids.

These four-inch-high ornamental beauties of the sheltered forest floor (the genus Calypso takes its name from the Greek, signifying concealment) seem to like a certain patch of ground in the back corner of my little half-acre, where a side path leads up my rocky knoll. For the past few weeks I’ve been watching for them. It was a birthday treat to find a half dozen in bloom yesterday.

Visitors look over the Japanese Garden’s koi pond, where rain soon turned to snow last weekend. Thomas Cantwell photo

I had another busy week coming and going from Center Island. As a pre-birthday treat for myself, I took Galley on a long road trip to Portland/Vancouver, my old stomping grounds from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. I stayed in Vancouver with an old friend and colleague from The Columbian newsroom. While there, I also visited with my brother, Tom, in Northwest Portland, and friends Ken and Kate, who live in a houseboat on a back channel of the Columbia River.

Tom, my eldest sibling, had recently moved back to Oregon from a few years in southern Arizona. He hosted me for a breakfast of homemade pear scones at his cozy apartment, after which we ventured out on a very rainy Sunday to Portland’s beautiful Japanese Garden, one of America’s best.

While we worried at first about getting soaked, we found that a wet and misty day perfectly suited the garden’s peaceful atmosphere. And as we stood by a koi pool fed by a waterfall trickling down a rocky wall, pond-dimpling raindrops turned to enormous wet snowflakes. Suddenly we were meteorologically transported to Sapporo. It felt magical.

In the garden’s gallery, we marveled at the glass art of Japanese artisan Rui Sasaki, who gathered clippings of plants from this garden and from her native country and sandwiched them between glass plates before firing in a kiln, where the plants turned to ash, hauntingly etching their image in the glass.

Your correspondent with Rui Sasaki’s glass art. Thomas Cantwell photo

Later, looking out at rain pelting down on the Columbia, my houseboat friends and I rocked and roared to favorite old tunes like the Turtles’ “Happy Together” before feasting on Kate’s delectable roast chicken dinner. Back in Vancouver, my friend Deborah prepped her latest favorite New York Times recipes. I do OK in the Nuthatch kitchen on my own, but these were a few days when I ate particularly well.

Monday, my Vancouver friend and I took a walking tour of the newly developed Vancouver waterfront, a jaw-dropping transformation from the industrial riverbank I knew in the ’90s. Millions of dollars in investment has transformed a half-mile or so of shoreline that once housed tenants such as a Boise Cascade paper plant. New occupants include three fancy hotels, scores of glittering, high-end housing units, wine-tasting rooms from vineyards across the Northwest, and a variety of restaurants, including, to my surprise, a new iteration of The 13 Coins, a long-lived classic eatery that formerly occupied the Seattle Times building where I last worked. My friend and I ate lunch there.

A skater zooms along a public walkway fronting the newly redeveloped Columbia River waterfront in Vancouver, Washington.

While I didn’t see much in the way of affordable housing, the developers gratifyingly included an extensively landscaped waterfront public space, walkways, and an over-the-water viewing platform. Interpretive placards told the history of the area, and informative art installations were keyed to Northwest rivers and other relevant topics.

Remembering Vancouver’s past in a historical placard on the waterfront: Prune Queen Faye Vance honored a long-ago cash crop. 1919.

Seeing this riverfront’s transformation was of particular interest to me. As a reporter for The Columbian in the early 1990s, I spent months on a reporting project aimed at seeding the cleanup and revival of the city’s neglected riverfront. It’s been a long time coming to this, but I could feel a scintilla of pride in the result. (A Columbian reporter recently wrote about my little role in the Columbia waterfront’s revival.)

It was a long road-trip for me and Galley Cat. We were glad to get home late Tuesday. Our little island is a quiet retreat from which we can contemplate our next foray, and contentedly watch spring arrive, wildflower by wildflower.