Monthly Archives: January 2015



Sometimes it is all you can do to keep your head above water. When this happens, I know to take a long walk in the woods. Or, since moving to the country, hang around home and clear brush and fallen branches. And then there’s another tactic: get away.

Even if where you live is off the coast of Northern Washington, over the border with Canada in the outer reaches of an archipelago of islands in the Salish Sea, one may still feel the need to get away.

So my friend and I volunteered to count swans on Shaw Island last weekend for the Washington Department of Fish and Game, under the umbrella of Preservation Trust. Shaw is but a short ferry ride from San Juan Island, but in its way, worlds away.

You have to remember that an island is always a place apart.

My friend and her husband have been living in a trailer on site while building a custom home. This makes our remodel look like a walk in the park—although we did live on a boat for a few months. Boat, trailer, much the same. Small.

On a moored boat one may have to fend off otter. Into a trailer, mice will creep. And as much as she hates to do it, my friend sets mouse traps. When she catches one she puts on gloves, picks it up by its tail, walks down to the edge of Egg Lake and places the little mouse on a stump over the water. An offering to the eagles.

We live on a land of waters, and where there is water there will be birds. Salt water birds stay all winter, like us. And like us, they are easier to track.

But on this morning we were looking to report on the migratory pattern of swan upon Shaw Island. Dressed in outdoor gear, bearing binoculars, notebook and pen, we left in the dark to catch the first morning ferry. The irony was that at sunrise my friend’s lake, Egg Lake, would be full of swan. Trumpeter swan. But others would be responsible for the count on San Juan Island that morning. We were off to Shaw Island.

Our jeep drove down every open road on island—all 7.7 sq. m.–through heavily wooded forests searching for ponds, coves, inlets, anywhere swan might be found. Light green lichen dangled from branches like chandeliers. Out my side window I became mesmerized with the pattern of fences. Split-rail fences in every state of standing and collapsing, covered in emerald green moss.

We stopped in all the public places on Shaw—all three—to inquire. The grocery store was closed. A librarian opened the library for us. The postmaster inquired of his customers, and no, no one had seen swan on island for perhaps a year.

With no swan to report to the Department of Fish and Game and a couple hours before the next ferry, we turned our jeep into Our Lady of the Rock, a Benedictine Monastery for women. Here traditional habit-dressed, Gregorian-chanting cloistered nuns are “living out the liturgy through prayer, praise and contemplation” upon 300 acres of forest and farmland.

We didn’t see any nuns either.

Final Count

swans: 0

nuns: none

But we introduced ourselves to the Cotswols Sheep, Highland Cattle, Ilamas and alpacas, poultry and Jersey dairy cows. Said a prayer in the chapel and purchased infused vinegars. Got home and wished we had purchased herbs, mustard, and teas, as well as their famed “Monastery Cheese.”

I’ll be back, perhaps as a guest.


“This is my life and I don’t pretend to understand it.” Thomas Merton from his journals in solitary hermitage



Filed under trumpeter swan

Time After Time

Clock on the Mantle -1

The old clock always knew where it was going. Not us. We didn’t know we would uproot our lives in the city and move to the San Juan Islands. And we didn’t know what the house would be until we came home with a 9 1/2 foot yew log for a mantle and didn’t want to cut it down. But when we realized that a rock wall would be best behind it, it was decided then, I think, the house would go Lodge Style.

From that moment on I looked for rustic furnishings and rugs. Our hardwood floors were already distressed. Like a dock, I thought at the time. It was summer then, and I was thinking along the lines of a beach house. But in moving over to Lodge Style, everything worked in concert. Including all our “nicer things:” candelabras, linens, chandeliers, art and books.

And an heirloom of mine, an eight day time and strike mahogany shelf clock, circa early 1800’s. Today, the heartbeat of the house. So tightly wound in its packing crate, it started ticking when placed upon the mantle. That’s why I say the old clock always knew where it was going.

Pano from the Beach

Give me a day like this and I re-appreciate passing time. The season is turning and we will all be coming out of the darkness like moles. The sun is something we’ll have to adjust to again. It all rushes back to me: light filled days and nights, how awake we will be, and what we can accomplish.

Soon we’ll drop household projects and favor everything outdoors. What is done in the remodel will be done. Our priorities will shift.

It will be far more important to hold the seawall, reinforcing it with logs and rocks. We will want to build another set of Adirondack chairs with ottomans for the upper deck, staining them in the sun. Pick up a picnic table, cook and eat alfresco. Vegetables to get growing; an old deer fence to reinforce first. Forage for clams, oysters and crab on the beach.

Essentially we will live outside. Hang a hammock, and call it a day.


Filed under crab