Tag Archives: San Juan Island

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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Peace Where We Find It

apple picNorth Pole Columnar Apples. Photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Not since the 60’s has this country seen so many demonstrations. Now I am in my sixties and standing in a Demonstration Garden. What’s a Demonstration Garden, you ask? Well it’s the Master Gardeners’ way of inviting you into their space to see what grows well in a particular area and to share their gardening practices.

This place, I have decided, is my personal act of resistance. Against all the violence, hatred and bigotry in the world, this is my personal act of resistance because it is a working model. I am planting myself here as much as possible.

The first scent to hit me is fish fertilizer, and I rather like it. I’ve got dirt under my fingernails before I remember to wear my gloves, and I don’t mind that either.

Tomatoes are growing under plastic tarps for heat. In the temperate summers of the Pacific Northwest, tomatoes often need a little help. Patty pan squash, zucchini, peppers, and Bush beans aplenty. Little eggplants, dangling like amethyst earrings.

A new crop of chard is coming along, whereas my first crop is still in the process of coming up at home. Potatoes, garlic, kale. Herbs of all description. Tomatio, looking like pretty little Japanese lanterns. Grape vines gone berserk.

“And peas that are beginning to say goodnight,” as one Master Gardener put it.

Arugula that wintered-over, a skinnier leafed variety than what we are growing at home, with a more pungent peppery taste. Rhubarb, which could be grown outside the fence, as deer don’t care for it.

It’s all about food here—indeed the only blossoms are flowering food plants, artichokes, squash, and such. Despite the small plot, The Master Gardener Demonstration Garden on San Juan Island donates over 1,000 lbs. of produce annually to the Friday Harbor Food Bank, and no wonder. As we stood in the garden, Master Gardeners showed up to work carrying excess produce from their home gardens to contribute as well. Everything is organic, weighed and delivered to the Food Bank, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, just steps away.

I hopped over there to have a look and found a sweet little store, clean as can be, meticulously organized and stocked, where everything is free—all it asks of customers is island residency. Fresh produce, of course. Eggs, meat, milk, canned goods, pasta, dried beans, soups, frozen chickens, frozen sausage, and ice cream treats for kids while shopping. Some signs say take one item per shelf, or two items per shelf. Large families, of course, get extra.

Like so many things on island, the Friday Harbor Food Bank is run by volunteers. But then, this is an island where drivers in cars wave as they pass. Where there are more people walking or running or biking than driving. Where there are no traffic lights. Where the wildlife is harmless and the people are kind. Where the town of Friday Harbor looks like Main Street, Disneyland.

It isn’t fair, I get to live here.

The more I think about it, the island itself may be my personal act of resistance as well.

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Walking in the World

White Point sign

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

There are people in our lives who have an influence they’d never know. My parents instilled a love for Cape Cod that we find in many ways living here on San Juan Island in Washington. The friend in California who suggested a year or so ago that I rein in this blog to a remodeling theme: remodeling a house, remodeling a life—the same thing, in my book. Our daughter, now living in Argentina, who upon visiting before her departure grew my daily walk by a beautiful mile or two. And in sending me a video of the works of sculptor Anthony Howe on neighboring Orcas Island, my cousin in Atlanta reminding me to stay with art every day. And to try not to stray.

They are all part and parcel of who I am, why I’m here, and how I see it.

“Walking the loop” began as a tradition while living on upper Queen Anne in Seattle and continues out here today. That first loop took me around the perimeter of the hill, overlooking the Space Needle and downtown Seattle, Lake Union, and Puget Sound. Today’s loop takes me alongside Westcott Bay, and through the red, white and blue nostalgic quality of Roche Harbor Resort where everyone looks good in the light. Finally, the road meanders through an old growth forest of cedar, fir, and pine where everything grows dark and green, and back to my home on the bay.

Where the road dips down to the shoreline I experience what I call a Cape Cod moment, framed by flatlands, grasses, marshes, and horizon. In the course of this walk I may pass only one or two cars on the road, a few more in summer, on an island where every driver waves.

This is the walk my daughter grew, taking it out on a point to new terrain, the posh end of White Point Road. Here I pass tennis courts where nobody’s playing, a pond with a dock establishing someone’s swimming hole, and a private golf course back in there somewhere, for I’ve seen it from the water. Horse fencing and regally high pampas grasses standing like sentry guide the way. Crushed white shells underfoot line the one-lane road at sea level. It’s as private as private can be, except for me, out on this point.

Here I gape at houses, something that seems to be my lot in life: the desire to see myself in other spaces, other places. On walks I finish unfinished houses in my mind, or tear them down and start again. As anyone in the field knows, design is never done. When the bones are good, I may mentally repaint it, or envision it clad in cedar shingles, dark, red, natural or a weathered gray.

At home, the short video on the kinetic sculpture of Anthony Howe awaits me. It’s mesmerizing. How did my cousin know to send this now? I needed it. Isn’t art what ultimately pulls us through? All the arts, always. And art as balm, particularly in troubling times. Which is where we are today.

“After reading the newspaper on Sunday, I sit quietly and simply look at art books.” Michael Graves

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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.

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