Tag Archives: the San Juan Islands

The Outdoor Rooms in Our Lives

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Some of us consider our outdoor space essential to our survival, but really we’re just fortunate. If windowsills were all I had I’d be growing something on that, and that would be my story. But as it is, I am dealing with a deck, an upper deck. And a deck, I dare say, is different than a patio in terms of what it wants.

The deck below knew just what to do. It’s appointed with half a dozen Adirondack chairs, cedar stump tables, lifejackets of every size hanging on a rack, and a bevy of water shoes, boots, and waders in a cubby. Considering where we are and what we’re about, it’s perfect.

The top deck, my concern here, steps off our open space living/dining/kitchen, and is currently furnished with all the traditional black wrought iron furniture that moved in with us from other homes. And they just don’t work in this cedar shake house in-the-woods-by-the-sea.

I purchased many of these pieces by visiting consignment stores along The Main Line outside Philadelphia in the two years we lived there. We were living in an old stone farmhouse at the time, and for the Pennsylvania Bluestone patio I picked up assorted wrought iron pieces, mismatched sets, in various colors. Sanded them all and gave them a coat of flat black Rustoleum. It worked. The furniture looked like it been with the house for all time. We felt remarkably settled on that patio in Bryn Mawr, in the evenings mainly as the summers were so warm. Canapies and cocktails, the sound of cicadas, and fireflies dancing across the lawn until it was time for bed.

Then we moved west and I didn’t know what else to do but load all my patio furniture into the moving van. It took awhile but finally, six years later, the traditional wrought iron looked well appointed again on the patio of a small English Tudor on Queen Anne hill in Seattle. Every square inch in a walled city garden is precious. The cushions were upholstered in a black & white awning stripe, and a dining table, chairs, and a candelabra, all in black, were added to the collection. Our outdoor room was a green oasis where climbing hydrangea scaled the walls under a pair of magnolia trees, all very reminiscent of New Orleans, Paris, or Nob Hill in Boston.

From there we moved out to The San Juan Islands and all the wrought iron pieces came with me again, and they shouldn’t have. If furniture could talk they would have told me this.

Now here we are, on an island where the trees meet the sea eleven nautical miles off the state of Washington mainland, and north of Victoria, B.C. Both rustic and remote, we couldn’t fantasize New Orleans, Nob Hill, Paris, or even Queen Anne, if we wanted to. The uptown girl furniture was made for patios, and patios, by nature, are turned inward. A patio is social. Upon the decks, we are always turned out. We listen to birdsong and our gaze is far. Like the running boards of the deck our line of sight extends to the sea, the stretch of beach, the coastal shrubs, the stance of heron, the flight of the osprey, and the rising moon. This land, this sea, this sky, becomes us.

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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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