Tag Archives: San Juan Island

Seven Days in Toronto

View from Mt DallasMt. Dallas, San Juan Island, photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Sometimes you have to get away, and there it is. Waiting as always with open arms: O Canada!

We went to Toronto to attend the Rotary International Convention (6/21-27), as well as the Rotary Peacebuilding Summit that preceded it. First Nation blessings were bestowed on Rotarians from around the world as we gathered on ancestral land. Red Sky performances filled the stage with feathers and color, hoop dancing and drumming.

Toronto, we were told, translates to “where the trees are standing in water.”

Full disclosure: I went as an outsider. I am not a Rotary member, but I am married to one. When growing up, my father was also a Rotarian. He didn’t get up early and slip out to breakfast meetings, nor did he come home late at night after dinner meetings. Rotary met for lunch in the city in which he worked, and the meetings were folded into his day each week. We were not a part of that world.

Times have changed.

If I were to sum up the subject matter of both the summit and convention, I’d say it was an emphasis on educating and empowering women in the world, the global immigrant and refugee crisis, and an overarching concern for the environment. All this on the plate of the organization that has nearly rid the world of the poliovirus—only 11 cases remaining–a mission that practically consumed Rotary in my father’s day.

Regarding the environment, you might say Rotary is returning to its roots in that Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary, was a naturalist. Traveling extensively with Rotary International, by the end of his life Harris could say he had planted trees “… on all continents of the earth and on islands of the seas.” Indeed Harris thought the planting of trees the finest symbol for the idea of Rotary.

Last year Rotary International President Ian Risley proposed that every Rotary Club in the world plant one tree for each member. That’s 1.2 million trees. Living lungs in the face of deforestation and development.

Islands have the greatest stake in sustainability; as islanders we understand this. On San Juan Island, fifty-four more trees will stand for fifty-four Rotarians. A living legacy as well as a commitment to the future. Here too, Rotary can make a difference.

We all can, by planting a tree. I’m going to make mine a Madrone tree.

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Letters from Yellowstone, Blog Posts from the Salish Sea

photo by Paul Mayer

 

By KIMBERLY MAYER

It was as simple as this: I set down the novel I was reading, Letters from Yellowstone, for a walk in the woods. And there I came upon Calypso Bulbosa, one of the wildflowers that Alex, the main character, had discovered.

“It was rapture. Pure rapture,” Alex cried.

And naturally, upon the mossy bank in the old growth forest in which I live on San Juan Island, where I too spotted the diminutive orchid, I shared her unbridled joy.

And then I did a terrible thing. I bent over, and with two fingers pulled it out of the ground. A genus of orchid found in undisturbed sheltered, northern and montane conifer forests across Canada from Alaska to Newfoundland, as well as northeastern and western U.S., the petite and delicate Calyso Bulbosa, sometimes known as “calypso orchid” or “fairyslipper,” makes but a brief appearance each spring.

I must have been thinking of Alex who meticulously noted, sketched, and collected Rocky Mountain plantlife for field study from camps high in the backcountry. I may even have been thinking I was Alex.

In Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith, a writer of the New West, the year is 1898 and the setting, Yellowstone, the Nation’s Park. Alex is a naturalist on a Smithsonian-endorsed expedition with fellow botanists and entomologists, finding “…more wildlife than I know what to do with.”

“I am in the Nation’s Park, and oh what a wondrous place it is!” wrote Alex. “It is as though I have traveled back in time, to the very edge of the universe where the earth, still in its primordial stage, sputters and bubbles and spews out the very origins of life.”

Yet already, in 1898, the newly created Nation’s Park was up against developers and railroad barons petitioning for right of way through the park. It was the naturalists who fought to save it.

There are people who like their places wild—and we can count ourselves among them. Just as Yellowstone National Park comprises an impressive 3,468 square miles of canyons, mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes, the archipelago of the San Juan Islands comprises over 400 islands at high tide, only 128 of which are named.

Defined by mountains to the east, and sea to the west, and between the U.S. mainland and Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada, we might as well have been declared a National Park. In any case, as stewards of the environment we are intent on keeping it that way.

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Flip Flops in January: Three Girls and a Truck at Village Nurseries, San Diego

photo credit: Jackie Mayer Blum

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

We are wintering in San Diego, living on a mattress with a small bistro table, a couple folding chairs, and two bright Hawaiian printed Tommy Bahama beach chairs in an otherwise empty house. The house is a job site. Our daughter and her husband purchased a new home in North Park, San Diego. A remodel, and we are here to help.

While the men are at home swinging hammers, we are on a landscape mission. My daughter is commandeering a pickup truck, bouncing over dirt roads and splashing through puddles at Village Nurseries Wholesale Plant and Tree Grower. Thirteen acres of planted bliss, a Disneyland to me. No lines, no crowds (to-the-trade only), and free of all the commercialization.

The bed of our truck is brimming with potted plants: 5 tall Barbara Karst bougainvillea, Mister Lincoln white rose shrubs, “bartenders choice” Mexican Lime Tree, a 15 gallon Strelitzia retinae Bird of Paradise shrub, and enormous agave plants anchoring them all. Clean and new at the U Haul lot, the truck will be returning with all the mud and markings of having taken the Indiana Jones ride at Adventureland.

You had to know my mother would be on board; she must have slipped onto the bench seat. It wasn’t until we turned into the nursery that we realized she was with us. https://alittleelbowroom.com/2017/12/05/my-imaginary-mother-in-winter/ Her breath, like ours, was taken away with the vastness and the serenity of the place.

Rounding Succulents and Drought Tolerant plants, I am back in the gray/greens with Mediterranean plants. Heaven for me once, for at one time I lived in Southern California. Today I recognize some full well, yet can’t recall their names. Other names I know, but can’t picture. My daughter is reintroducing me to some old friends.

Discombobulated I fumble forward. A Master Gardener from Climate Zone 4 (San Juan Island, WA) in Zone 24 (San Diego, CA), I try to be helpful. “Seasonal amnesia,” is there such a thing? All I know is that in a rush I just mailed a Valentine’s Day card–one month early. I recall that when living here: waking and having to orient myself with the season, with the month, before stepping out of bed.

Left to our own devises mom and I might have gone crazy, but my daughter was specific. A wall of her courtyard would be draped in bougainvillea. She knew the color. A lime tree would round out their citrus collection. And white roses and giant Blue Glow agave look exquisite together. Who knew?

And who knew about my daughter’s newfound passion for plants, and in the same place where I first got the bug? Her grandmother may have been the only one to have seen that coming.

 

 

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The Things that Disappear

Taylor Shellfish Farms, Bow WA

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

“The Running of the Brides” was a one-day sale of wedding gowns at Filene’s Basement, a tradition at the downtown flagship Boston store from 1947 until the store finally closed in 2007. Gowns that retailed for thousands of dollars were on sale in the hundreds. Brides-to-be stormed the store with posses of fast running, bartering and trading friends, sisters, and mothers. As at Chicago’s commodities market, bells were rung and whistles blown to locate each other on the floor. Stepping into and hoisting out of gowns in the aisles, brides-to-be emptied the racks.

Another annual event this time of year is the Oyster Seed Sale at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Bow, Washington. In order to be in line at dawn with other oyster farmers, many from our own bay on San Juan Island, we had to ferry over the day before and spend the night. There we always purchase several bags of Pacific Triploids, Pacific Diploids, Kumamoto, and Olympia Oysters seeds. Gone like the bridal gowns, with everyone hurrying home to get their seeds back in the water at low tide.

After months of preparation, this year’s Master Gardener Plant Sale on San Juan Island was nearly over in thirty-five minutes. As the line had grown outside Mullis Senior Center before the doors opened, it’s almost safe to say one had to be in that line too for a bountiful selection of vegetable and herb seedlings.

There was just one catch: because of record cold temps, customers were advised not to plant their purchases outdoors. Not before a gradual “hardening off” to get acclimated to the outdoors. Always a good idea with vegetables grown from seedlings under cover, a one-to-two week process exposing them to a few hours of sun per day in a location sheltered from strong sun, winds, hard rain, and cold temps. Bringing them in at night, of course.

We see onions and brassica, the hardiest, going out first. Followed by celery, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, and endive in the vegetable march. Basil, tomatoes, and peppers, most tender of all, with eggplants, melons, and cucumbers preferring nighttime temperatures in the 60’s.

We’re still a ways from that this spring. In the daily procession at our home, toting vegetable plants between kitchen and deck, back and forth in what Gabe Rivera calls “a yearning to graduate to the great outdoors,” we are building horticultural armored plating in the seedlings. It’s all good. Any lingering overcast is also less stressful for plants.

These are among the things that disappear this time of year: wedding gowns, oyster seeds, and vegetable & herb starts. Just the beginning of things, really.

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The Ocean is Rising and So Are We

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I don’t need to tell you how many people turned out in pouring rain for The March for Science, April 22nd in Washington DC. And for The Climate March one week later, with over 200,000 participants, along with tens of thousands in 370 sister marches throughout the country.

Marches are happening with increasing frequency everywhere. It’s getting so you can’t sit them out.

We were in DC for The March for Science, and home on San Juan Island for The Climate March. From one Washington to another.

Azalea blossoms were out in full force in DC, as cherry blossoms lingered. In the islands, Orca whales are in migration, following the salmon who are returning to the rivers where they were born. And hummingbirds returning from their vast migration to our feeders.

Nature needs to know we are with her, that we have her back.

On Saturday April 29th we gathered at noon in the upper parking lot of the courthouse in Friday Harbor. Liquid sunshine then too. Bearing hand-painted signs, wearing handmade costumes, pushing babies in strollers, and toting dogs on leash. One person wore a teepee construction around him. Essentially it was a microcosm of all we had seen, and all the camaraderie we had experienced in DC the week before. One country, coast to coast. Or so it seems.

If there is one good thing to come out of oppressive regimes, it is this: The Resistance.

Who are they, in fact, who do sit this out?

In the run up to the election, I had wanted to write an open letter to my Republican relatives, as well as a few friends I’ve probably lost by now. But I must have mulled over it too much, for I never did. Now of course I wish I had. I would like to hear from you.

Tell me, what did you not see coming with Trump? What were you thinking?

 

 

 

 

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What Makes Us Human, What Makes Us Good

moon-over-forest

Photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I am walking in the woods alongside the sea pondering these questions: what makes us human, and what makes us good? And the answer, it seems to me, is the extent to which we are connected to, and value, wildlife.

Consider the whales in the sea and the trees in the forest. Consider the elephants if you please.

Strong mother-child bonds characterize the Orcas whale as well as the elephant. Offspring often stay with their mothers for life. And upon death, Orcas keep vigil, actively mourning the passing of one of their own.

“They’re not killer whales, they’re lovers,” writes reporter Hayley Day in “Wired for Orcas Love,” published online, The Journal of the San Juan Islands, 2/14/17.

Ken Balcomb, Founder of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, suggests, “They may be a superior species actually. They’ve certainly been around longer than us. They may think ‘those monkeys’ on the beach have almost whale-like intelligence.”

Or not.

Turning now to the trees, I am realizing from the beautiful little book I am reading, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, that the forest is another remarkable social network. Trees too are social beings, and a solitary planted tree would be hard-pressed to enjoy the benefits of those in the forest. Growing near each other, like families, trees support each other, share nutrients, and care for their sick and elderly. They communicate through both roots and leaves, warn each other of dangers—such as insect infestations, and accommodate for one another’s growth rather than crowd each other out. Together in a forest, trees create a hospitable climate that one tree alone would be incapable of achieving.

My woods here is full of deer, but continents away from the Puget Sound elephants tell a remarkably similar story to the trees and the whales. Elephants also form close family bonds particularly between mother and offspring, and live in a complex, matriarchal, social structure. Elephants greet one another, work in teams, and exhibit emotions such as crying at birth and death. They grieve, bury their dead, and frequently return to revisit the body. Elephants care for each other’s orphaned offspring, sharing food when it is scarce. Capable of enormous empathy, elephants do not do well in isolation.

Whales, trees, or elephants, there is resistance in numbers. We must remember this.

Only four weeks into the Trump Administration and the future for wildlife—wild animals, fauna, flora, mammals, fish and birds–looks bleak. And with it, would go our humanity.

Climate change is locked in denial by the very man chosen now to lead The Environmental Protection Agency. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt fired off multiple lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of oil, gas, and coal industries. Long an adversary against regulation to control pollution, can’t you hear them all laughing in the fossil-fuel board rooms now?

What did the American people expect? A developer looks at a forest and sees a golf course, hotels, casinos. He sees trees for cutting down. To him, an ocean is for skimming his yacht across. His sons trophy hunt in Africa, like Colonialists out of the 19th century.

And we, the monkeys on the beach, are rendered less healthy, less humane, and less human for this.

 

 

 

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What an Old Growth Forest Knows

old-growth-cliff-2

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

A few years back when we were living in the city, I came down to the kitchen one morning, turned on KUOW, Seattle’s public radio, ground my beans and made coffee. These gestures always seemed to happen simultaneously. The program on air was in the middle of an interview with a writer who was on book tour, and I thought, I know that voice.

And I did. The crisp Australian cadence of her voice. Years ago we were neighbors north of San Diego. I’ll call her Harriet. I didn’t know her well—both of our families had a fair amount of land with avocado groves to manage, young children to raise, and were pretty busy–but on the few occasions that we did get together, her voice enchanted me. And here it was now, playing away in my kitchen.

That night I attended Harriet’s reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest. And afterward, over lattes, caught up with the new life of my old neighbor. Both families had relocated. Her’s to Houston, while we obviously wound up in The Pacific Northwest.

Walking each other to the parking lot, I thought the evening had gone pleasantly enough until she gestured with a dismissive sweep of her arm at the dark green woods surrounding us.

“I don’t know how you can live here.,” she said. “If you’ve seen one pine tree, you’ve seen them all.”

And on that note, Harriet hopped in her vehicle and was gone.

I was stunned. My first thought was that they are not all pines, not by a long shot. It’s so much more complex than that. Richly complex.

The Old Growth Forests of The Pacific Northwest are essentially conifer forests, dominated by Douglas firs and Western hemlocks. Stretching from SE Alaska and SW British Columbia, through Western Washington and Western Oregon to the border of Northern California, and from the Pacific Ocean eastward to the crest of The Cascade Range. Sometimes referred to as Primary Forests, Virgin Forests, Primeval Forests, and my favorite, Ancient Woodlands (in Britain), an Old Growth Forest is defined by Wikipedia as a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance, and thereby exhibits unique ecological features.

Walk through it with me, if you would, for we later left the city and moved north—onto San Juan Island. Into the wilderness, so to speak. We live in an Old Growth Forest at the foot of the sea, where Western red cedar thrives. Growing year round in our mild winters, these trees reach heights of 200 ft, and may be two or three centuries old. This is the tree with which I am most familiar now.

Mother Cedar. Distinguished by it’s fluted base and graceful, feathery branches. It’s fragrant, sweet smelling needles softly carpeting the forest floor and tracking into our home daily. The exterior of our home is shingled in cedar shakes, making it appear at one with the woods. A half dozen cedar Adirondack chairs sit upon a cedar deck, and another half dozen in a circle around an outdoor fire pit. We are all about cedar here. We probably smell like cedar.

An Old Growth Forest is comprised of large trees, standing dead trees (snags), and fallen trees. Water-repellent and rot-resistant, red cedar can last for hundreds of years on the forest floor. As such, logs and snags may foster more life after their death than they had before. Covered now with mushrooms and mosses, and nursing huckleberries, ferns, and salal. Over time, it may provide a substrate for seedling shrubs and trees.

Time is long here. While some trees reach upwards of 1,000 years of age, others are on their way back to decay. There is a mix of tree ages and of regeneration. An Old Growth Forest is a continuum.

An Old Growth Forest has remarkable resilience—to natural events. Recovering quickly from fires, windstorms, and disease, but not from human events such as clear-cut logging. At a time when the U.S. has lost 96% of its Old Growth Forests, what this Old Growth Forest Knows is immense.

That air you breathe, Houston. We put it there.

old-growth-cliff-2

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