Tag Archives: Pacific Northwest

The Long Way Home


After nearly nine months away we pulled in the drive and the bank of mom’s daffodils was the first thing to greet us. I call them mom’s daffodils, but in truth she never made their acquaintance.

A few years ago a couple large bags of daffodil bulbs were lying around in my mud room, waiting to be planted, when my mother in Boston was suddenly hospitalized for a major operation. The surgery was to be performed in two parts, and between surgeries mom suffered a massive stroke. The decision was made not to proceed with the operation, and my sister and I moved into mom’s hospital room to camp out for what would be the remainder of her life.

Returning home was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, which I exhibited by lying around, doing nothing. Much like the bags of bulbs in the mud room.

That’s when I heard her voice. She was right there, at my feet, standing at the end of the sofa. My mother, prodding me to get up and get going, and not come undone over this. “Life goes on,” she kept saying. She suggested we start with the bulbs and get them in the ground before winter. So off we went, trowel and gloves in hand, planting all the bulbs together. 

Life goes on.

And now that voice is prodding me to clean up my house and grounds. After the initial display of daffodils it was all downhill for me. I opened the front door, put down our baggage, and was struck senseless by the clutter of our former lives. Our gravel drive looked like the forest floor, and tree branches had been blown upon decks. Everything was everywhere, just too much stuff, covered now in dust. Who lived like this, I wondered?

Every trip to Southern California is a lesson in minimalistic lifestyle and décor for me. This time we lived it by designing a condo as stark and white and natural as can be. I have to say we grew quite fond of the aesthetic, and found that by starting from scratch we could do it. I nearly forgot about all the stuff I had left behind, and grew to think I didn’t need it. Now here it all was, assaulting me. All my carefully curated pots and vases, throws and rugs, books, candles, paintings, sculpture, photographs, baskets, pillows, and did I mention books? Thousands of books. 

I see myself in homes. I can reconstruct my entire life through a home. It is both a talent and a flaw. One place, so minimalist in sensibility, and the other, you could almost call maximalist. I am trying to chip away at it, hoping to strike a balance. Balance being the hardest thing. I mean, where else are you going to go with a chandelier you fell in love with in Venice except to hang it? As well as the Raku pottery school of fish on the wall, all the framed drawings and photographs, Indigenous art, a number of women’s faces in clay by islander Maria Michaelson, and the bow and arrows our cousin carved out of Pacific Yew, a wood prided by Native Americans for its strength. 

Toss in a big old leather sofa, rugs, rustic finishes, cedar stump tables, Pendleton throws, and it all works. Like a lodge house in the Pacific Northwest, a place where so many cultures converge in a harmony all their own. 

That’s what I have come home to. I had forgotten this whole other half of myself, of our lives. 


Filed under collecting

What’s Pretty to Me Now



I must be living in man’s country. Just this week we met two more intelligent, good men who share my husband’s love of woodworking. Paul Bunyans of the Pacific Northwest, all of them. One by one, every house is giving up the garage or building a shed for a workshop. My Paul Bunyan’s intention is to sculpt with logs, but I’m putting in an order for a long organically-shaped “live” table as well.

Going rural changes things.

I have gone from browsing Nordstrom’s flagship store in downtown Seattle to leafing through Orvis catalogs in the mail. From loving linens to admiring homespun weaves. From manicured box hedges to an old growth forest. From a Pennsylvania bluestone patio to gravel rock. From candle light to bonfires. From dining out every week to eating in.

What is aesthetically pleasing to me now has changed. I can find beauty in firewood neatly stacked. In driftwood washed up on the shore at random. And hay, when it’s rolled in the fields later in the summer. I nearly go ecstatic; it’s like living in a French Impressionist landscape.

People with so much love in their hearts they plant daffodil bulbs in the wilderness, and make signs for art’s sake.

Euphorbia on a white fence, and English daisy in the grass. Mossy paths to anywhere. And anytime I come upon a cairn, it is magical to me.

At home: a deck that’s swept, a floor that’s swept. And the way cedar needles blend into the colors of my foyer rug so I may go awhile without vacuuming.

Rock and wood in the house. An antler wreath. Antique paddles made by my father-in-law as a young man. The ceramic Raku Fish by Tomfoolery Artworks on the wall swimming toward the sea. Our view from every room, every day.

It’s the things that were here, and are here, that we had nothing to do with. Our part, it seems to me, is to stand back and be in awe of it all.


Filed under aesthetics, going rural, moving to the country, woodworking

Finding Bigfoot



I don’t know that I’ve ever stayed in one of the WPA era National Park Service Rustic Lodges, but I’ve been there in my dreams. Where guests rock in rocking chairs with wool throws over their laps and steaming mugs in hand before a great stone fireplace, knowing they are safe from bears.

The look and feel of a lodge is what I long for in winter, and I continually ask how can I bring a little of that to my home on the water in an old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest?

Nature provides all the drama here. Wind storms come off the sea in winter and everything keels over but the house and the strongest trees. A forest so dense, it regularly thins itself out. After each storm, the ground is carpeted with cedar needles, softening and quieting the outdoor world.

Our dog’s bed lies at the foot of the fireplace, where she always faces the fire. “It brings out the wolf in her,” we note. In the  summer, we move to sitting around a bonfire in the evenings. We may not have wolves but on full moon nights fox congregate on the beach to yip at the moon.

Back in the house in winter, candles stand in lanterns posed for a power outage that rarely comes–it’s almost disappointing. Soup’s in the slow cooker, one recipe after the other. We all agree the second day is tastier than the first. This far north a mud room is called “the Alaska room,” where a third of the contents are rain gear, boots and waders.

We walk everywhere. Over to the marina to check on things daily. There’s the mail to pick up, and a little market that never disappoints me, no matter what I need. Everything conspires against taking the car, and not to ferry off island–for as long as possible.

Nature is a gentle giant here. Short of a tree falling on one’s head, I can’t think of any real danger. Besides the people who are few and friendly, the island is populated with deer, little foxes, raccoon, rabbits, comfortable cows, horses, goats, sheep, alpaca, and a camel. Plenty of birds overhead, though the eagles think they own the airspace.

You can see where I’m going, there is nothing to fear here. And creating a lodge is not all about weathered or salvaged wood, rock, leather, burlap, Native American blankets, wrought iron, rusted iron, sliding barn doors and antler chandeliers. There ought to be an element of adventure, if not danger, to it.

So I invent something while walking in the woods. I invent Sasquatch, or Big Foot, for myself. Though no one sees her, I am certain she’s here. Big and hairy, perhaps 10ft tall, yet gentle and shy. Maybe.

Assuming they are nocturnal, I look for her sleeping by day. I look between the trunks of giant cedars for an outstretched arm or leg, a 24” foot protruding out. I look over moss covered rocks for her enormous head at rest. I figure she’s gone brown and green with the forest over the years. Lichen probably grows on her. She is hard to spot.

It makes for a more welcoming homecoming. Knowing she’s out there and shutting the door behind me, helps this house become a lodge.


Filed under fear

Oh, Canada!

Grand Waltz at Homfray Lodge


As I write, we have gone to sea. All our cares stay on land when we go. It works every time. The sea is its own reality. This summer has been characterized by inordinate heat, drought, and wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Living on a boat surrounded by water has a calming effect.

We are retracing much of last year’s voyage to Desolation Sound with my sister and brother-in- law.

At 6am sharp, we shoved off from Roche Harbor, Washington. Cleared customs on South Pender Island, never knowing what fruit they are going to confiscate, this time it was eggs. Twenty eggs. We could stay and hard boil them and take them with us, but we wanted to make it in time for passing through Dodd Narrows during slack tide. No time to boil eggs.

In Nanaimo the first night, a busted water hose was discovered and repaired. But when we reached Lund, the last stop before Desolation Sound, something really went wrong. This has happened before on other extended boating trips, so we knew what it was: a migraine. I had O.D.’ed on light in BC Canada yet again.

It was a day I have nearly lost recollection of, but lying in the darkened bunk I had nothing but empathy for my father who at 92 has undergone more medical procedures than humanly possible. I felt inside his body. And the hauntingly beautiful sound of the bagpiper who plays an ode to every sunset at Lund, bringing the sun down with her pipes. That mournful sound became a part of me. But when I heard my brother-in-law’s voice on deck, outside my bunk–clearly it was another South African– “You’ve come,” I cried. “You found us!”

In my delirium I lost a whole day. And wound up that night in the ER for dehydration. Luckily we were near Powell River where there is a hospital, before we had slipped into Desolation Sound where there would be none.

That night, a young physician and nurse were on duty. Both were refugees from the exorbitant cost of living in Vancouver and had come to Powell River to live. Arriving just two months ago, the nurse has already purchased a home she adores, just steps from the beach, “a house for $250,000 that would have cost 4 million in Vancouever.” The physician, a waterfront lot upon which he will build. She’s got her kayak coming and is looking to add a small sailboat to her fleet, “just to explore around.” The physician loves to fish. They will do fine.

With each sweet drip of saline solution in my arm, I was coming alive and began recommending books to the nurse. Books with a sense of place to her new homeland: A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki and The Curve of Time, by Muriel Wylie Blanchet. She wrote them both down and promised to read them. And I promised to wear darker sunglasses. Stay under the Tilley’s hat my sister gave me, and not substitute it for a straw hat no matter how warm. Stay beneath the bimini on the boat, and drink water water water from dawn to dusk.

Map of Desolation

Now onward and upward to Desolation Sound

Canadians know this well, we move through people’s lives and can act pleasant and say thanks where thanks is due. It was the physician, the nurse and taxi cab driver that night for me. But when we can recommend books that we think will mean as much to them, we have really given them something. Reading by the fire in the darkness of her house in the woods at night, she will look up and thank me. I just know it. Readers are a tribe; we recognize each other.

The physician? Naw, he’s a fisherman


Filed under Uncategorized

Pleasure Grounds



In my last post it was one step forward, two steps back with the deer ones eating nearly all my plantings, and in the process of watering those plants, thistle grew. An insidious, obnoxious weed.

Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back.

And every now and then, a leap. My theory is that if we weren’t plugging away step by step, we would never reach the ledge where we can jump like that. Leaps are what we live for, after all.

I had been blogging on remodeling for a year before I realized I hadn’t included any “before” and “after” photos, which must be the bread and butter of remodeling blogs. So here it goes:

Back yarrd before

our scrappy lot when we moved in

Stumps and picnic table with view

the Pacific Northwest pleasure grounds it is now.

This is where we weeded, framed the areas, and put down a weed barrier underlayment. Where we carried gravel in 5 gallon buckets, one in each hand for balance, from the driveway where the truck had dumped the load, down a long flight of stairs to empty on the underlayment. Three days of doing this, four yards of gravel. My husband’s FitBit read 12 miles each day. We have a friend on island who sent her gravel downhill by constructing a chute out of tarp. In our case it was a staircase, and so we had to carry.

This is where we dine on an oversized Western red cedar table made by our friend Bill Maas at Egglake Sawmill & Shake. Where we will sit around bonfires at night whenever the drought ends, and otherwise just sit around. Where we wrap ourselves in Pendleton wool throws at night and place our beer or wine or Moscow mule glasses on cedar stump tables beside each chair.

The cedar stumps too came from Egglake Sawmill & Shake, rough with bark. First the edges were routed to create a smooth bevel at the rim and base, then the bark was peeled, and the stumps were sanded–first with a belt-sander, then fine sanding. Finally, multiple coats of a clear polyurethane coating, and when dry, they were good to go.

Stumps on deck

There were eight stumps in total. Four around the fire, three on a deck between Adirondack chairs there too, and one was so grand in size and particularly good looking, I placed it in the living room. My thinking now is that every French bergère chair should have a rustic cedar stump beside it.

Stump in living room

So what if it slants a little?

Outside again, this is where we have every intention to play bocce ball—once we get the right material in the court and compact it with a lawn roller and do everything right. For a premium surface—where the balls roll fast, track straight, and absorb bounce–building a bocce ball court is much like constructing, and maintaining, a Japanese Zen garden. In the end it is covered with crushed oyster shells and dusted with “oyster flour” made from pulverized oyster shells, for proper texture and drainage.*

Who knew?

What a difference a year makes. In Seattle it was all about fine dining, theatre, and literary readings. In the islands, crab boils upon picnic tables, gravel, and oyster flour.

*Note: Ours will be less than perfect. Paul calls it a drunken bocce ball court because it is not completely level.



Filed under pleasure grounds

Gardening Around Deer

 Deer eating


Summer came and our attention moved from inside to out. That, and when a house is on the water, everything gets turned around and the waterside becomes the front. So we are focused on the water now and we’re off in kayaks and guests of ours are coming by in boat. We are digging for clams, growing oysters in the water, and all our salad greens in planters on a sunny deck.

Let’s just say that summertime in the Pacific Northwest is so nice, everyone would live here if it were like this year round. So we’re glad it isn’t.

Similarly I am grateful for all that the deer don’t eat. It seems to me in gardening, with all the choices available, we need some restrictions. We need to plant native, preferably, drought-tolerant, and living on island, deer-resistant. Our smart nursery at Browne’s on San Juan Island has a few long tables that fulfill these requirements. Put in the right plants, and no need to see deer as menace.

While palates can differ among deer, I think it is safe to say they dislike strong-tasting plants such as herbs. Likewise they will leave euphorbia and poppies alone (milk sap), they avoid foxglove and daffodil (poisonous), lupine, Jerusalem Sage, Meadow Rue, Bigroot Geranium, lamb’s ear, salvia, foxglove, Shasta daisy and Iris. (Cosmos were on this list in my first draft, but they were chomped in the night so now they’re not).

Who can’t paint a picture with all that?

I’m planting Shasta daisy along the 134’ fence that lines the edge of the property from the steep grade bank to the beach. Our bonfire pit encircled with Adirondack chairs is before this fence, soon to be joined with the picnic table Bill Maas is constructing for us at Egg Lake Sawmill & Shake. Plus a Bocce Ball court we’re going to build on soil because our daughter gave us a handsome set for Christmas. The Shasta daisy lined fence will be background for all this activity, attracting butterfly by day and illuminating the night. And the deer have given us this.

This house had been standing empty for a couple of years before we purchased it, thus the deer made the property part of their park. It is their land and I am not about to fence them out. Surrounded by forests and farmland, pastures, lagoons, quarries and marshes, miles of trails and a winding country road, all this natural beauty—the deer are a part of it.

Native to the San Juan Islands, the Columbia black-tail deer graze about, their big black eyes following us. Where we live never a shot is heard, so this trust has been built up for some time. I just walked into it. Yet I now consider myself a deer whisperer. Talking softly and moving slowly, I assure them they are safe and that I love them. Attentive ears, they listen to me. Then go back about their grazing, grooming the woods, and munching all the pesky dandelions.

Wild gardening.


Filed under gardening with deer

Drunk on Light

Tree Surgeon


My father had warned me it was coming.

The Arctic Outbreak reached our shores this week. Temperatures in this normally temperate region plunged to below freezing. Currents changed course in the Puget Sound. High crisp winds slammed down trees and power lines. Busy with projects in our remodel, we hadn’t even been aware of Super Typhoon Nuri, and suddenly remnants of it were upon us.

Whatever am I going to do one day without my Dad watching out for all of us?

The problem was, our projects were all too close-up and indoors. Hanging wood blinds, installing door knobs, painting trim and doors, finding storage solutions, and finishing two baths.

We are at the end of our budget. No, we are well over budget. The contractors have moved on, and the rest has been up to us lately. With one exception: the men in trees.

We called them in three weeks ago, men who hoist themselves up mile high trees to clear away hanging-down lifeless limbs (“widow makers,” my husband called them) and clip ever-climbing, ever-choking ivy. What was called “elevating” in the city, with a great deal of political uproar, is referred to as “wind clearing” out here.

And here is where people know better. In the tradition of Native Americans, we are relieving the trees of stress and burden. Our pruning stimulates new growth and vitality. Life-changing for both of us, trees and people.

The view is wider now, our light is brighter. What was once a frontal snapshot of the water became panoramic, wrapped with a point of land to both the left and the right. It strikes me for the first time, we live in a cove.

The old growth forest had worn shade like a cloak. She has shedded that now. The sun moves our way across the cove in winter, and her light pours onto the property, reflected onto the decks, and streaming through the windows.

Even in frigid temps, we are warmer than we ever remember being in all our years in the Pacific Northwest.

In the end these windstorms have driven me back out to clear branches and brush. All the joys I’ve ever known, in interior design and gardening, and clearing brush as steward of a piece of old growth forest on San Juan Island has become my prayer, my meditation.


Filed under light

Between Acts

Everest Range

So I was reading from Thomas Merton’s journals this week and came upon this: “It is really illogical that I should get temptations to run off to another monastery and to another Order of monks.” Oh my God, was he this way too? Restless and wondering whether life would be better in that monastery over there instead? I nearly fell out of my chair. For here I go again, looking to reinvent my life.

For years, change was almost scripted for us. Due to job transfers and job changes our family hopped around, West Coast, East Coast, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest. That which moved us also settled us in some pretty spectacular places. And I indulged in a nearly promiscuous love affair with houses and starting over.

Today we are more settled having been in this home, and in this city, longer than any other. But all our cards are in the air as my husband has left his position of fifteen years. And where did he go, the hardest working man I had ever known? He went trekking in the Himalayas….

Always believe it when you hear that climbing the Himalayas is life-changing.

Whatever Paul does next has to be entirely new and challenging. He needs mountains. So we’re giving our imaginations free reign and looking at everything, from other offers, to consulting, to living abroad—it’s now or never, he says—to living in a high-rise downtown, to moving to the San Juan Islands and living near the boat. In Panama this might be called “living off the grid.” I’m not suggesting anything like that, but definitely taking stress down a few notches. I hate to say it, but we could grow old there.

I am learning to shop in my own closet. Whatever path we chose, we have too much stuff. How simple it would have been for Thomas Merton!

I’m happy for Paul to have this time off, and treasure the time together. Long walks pondering what to do with the rest of our lives…. Don’t know what we’ll do, but change is in the wind. My folks are alive and well and would like us to come east. Our daughters live in San Francisco.

We are betwixt and between and maybe, just maybe, entirely free.


Filed under reinvent