There’s a buzz around the new Walking Ebey Trail that connects Rhododendron County Park and Admiralty Inlet Preserve. The trail zig-zags between farms and fields, following hedgerows and fence lines, ducking in and out of woods and willow thickets for 3.5 miles across Ebey’s Prairie. This is phase one of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust’s plan to connect trails and parks throughout Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The sign at the trailhead says it’s like a “European Walking Experience” but I’ve had similar experiences in the British Isles and in Asia. I would guess walking is pretty common in most places… except in America. Don’t get me started.
My niece was visiting. She picked me up after work and we parked at Rhododendron Park. Then we walked the bike path 1.7 miles to Main Street in Coupeville to catch the Route 6 bus to Admiralty Inlet Preserve. I told the driver to let us off at the bright blue house. We crossed Engle Road to the newly expanded parking area and started Walking Ebey.
I was aware that at the fall equinox, our opportunities for a walk after work would quickly diminish, but the day was warm and sunny. I’d studied the map provided online but due to some technical glitch, it seemed unreadable. Still I’d been assured by Taylor at the Land Trust office that the trail was well marked.
We started at the kiosk and followed the trail through a knot of trees that soon opened up to a mowed path by a field. We followed a fence line by bird boxes and brambles, passed a couple of nice houses admiring their backyard gardens, turning at the corners of each field for wide open views first one way and then another. The Olympics shored up the west side. Mount Baker peered over the trees. A few people passed us coming from the opposite direction as we walked. Cows and horses grazed nearby. We ducked through a tunnel of trees between fields passing through a Fat Man’s Squeeze. (I love that term!) Chickadees called from the shrubbery. Sparrows flitted through fences. A hawk circled above. We talked easily as the trail became a farm road wide enough to walk side by side.
A truck sped by reminding us to be careful crossing Fort Casey Road, but there was no other traffic and this was the only road crossing. Stopping to pick blackberries I looked around and thought of the hundreds of times I’d driven these roads but had never seen these houses or barns from the back before. It’s like walking through town through the alleys. You see everyone’s backyard chicken coop, garden or clothesline. It’s a more intimate way to walk the neighborhood.
As the sun slanted westward the colors of the distant water and mountains deepened. We spied apples ripening a few yards away. Red rosehips and white snowberries shone in the setting sun. Entering Rhododendron County Park we followed the Grandpa's Legacy Trail. I thought of a friend who had walked there with me and his grandson months ago. He lives on the prairie and recently gave me some corn.
By the time we got back to the truck it was dinner time. Darkness fell as we ate at a restaurant nearby. My niece caught the ferry with a jug of fresh pressed cider, rhubarb and zucchini bread to take home.
A few days later I had the chance to go Walking Ebey again, this time at sunrise. I started with a loop at Admiralty Inlet Preserve before crossing the road. Walking alone at first light, I noticed more birds, woodpeckers, wrens, warblers, sparrows, chickadees, bushtits, quail, hawks and raven. I saw two tiny green frogs on a bird box, and glimpsed a coyote making a quiet exit from a farm. The morning warmed into another beautiful day as I went Walking Ebey.
Please respect private property, keep dogs on a leash and leave livestock alone. There’s a good map of this trail on the kiosk across from Admiralty Inlet Preserve, and the trail is well marked.
There is another section of trail that links this one to the Prairie Wayside Overlook on Engle Road. You can add miles by hiking the trails at the parks at either end. Or shorten your walk by catching the Route 6 bus on Fort Casey Road.
Directions: From Highway 20 in Coupeville, turn south on Main Street (which turns into Engle Road) and drive 2.5 miles. Park at the gravel lot across from the Admiralty Inlet Preserve. Or take Highway 20 south of Coupeville 1.8 miles to Park Road. Park at Rhododendron County Park and take the Grandpa’s Legacy Trail. Or take Highway 20 south 3.5 miles and turn right on Patmore Road to access Rhododendron County Park on the south side. The Walking Ebey Trail starts at the southwest corner of the park on the Grandpa’s Legacy Trail.
By Bike or Bus: There's a wide shoulder and almost level bike ride from Coupeville south on Main Street (which becomes Engle Road) to the trailhead. Please wear bright clothes and use your bike lights. Or take the Rhododendron bike path from Coupeville east (next to Highway 20) to Rhododendron County Park. Bikes are not allowed on the trail itself. There are bike racks with room for 2 bikes on Island Transit buses. On weekdays the fare free Route 6 bus follows Engle Road south on the way to the Coupeville ferry and takes Fort Casey Road north on the way back to Coupeville. The weekday Route 1 bus takes Highway 20 passing Rhododendron County Park with bus stops at nearby Jacobs Road for the southbound bus and Quail Trail Road for the northbound. Please be very careful crossing the highway. On Saturdays the Route 1 bus goes by the Coupeville ferry using Fort Casey Road both north and southbound but does not go by Rhododendron County Park. See schedule at www.islandtransit.org or call 360-678-7771.
Mobility: This is a mostly level trail that varies from narrow with rocks and roots, to wide farm roads.
When I am among the trees,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
“You too have come into the world to do this,
to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine."
-- Mary Oliver
The past couple weeks have been a whirlwind of planning and preparing, arranging and scheduling, hosting and serving, and finishing details with family and friends and flowers and food and feasts and fun and frivolity and finally the whirlwind of marriage. We were drained. What better time than this to head to the woods and just be quiet, humbled and recharged.
Poets talk about being alone in the woods; ascetics escape to mountain peaks; religions talk of the wilderness experience. This Monday we went to Heart Lake on Fidalgo, looking for peace and quiet, simplicity and silence.
Summer loses its vigor this time of year; it is tired, it is dry, it too is drained. We thought we could hike lonely trails, listen to gentle breezes, the distant melodies of chickadees perhaps, ripples on the water, the sound of leaves turning, and the softness of autumn tiptoeing in through the backwoods.
It started out well, the sun a spotty presence amid billowy clouds, wavelets tickling the lily pads along the shoreline. Salal berries hung wrinkled, quite overripe; a few leaves fluttered down to the trail. My heart grew restful in the peace of the place. The woods were doing their precious refreshing.
Then a distant navy jet engine came to life, drowning out all other noises, even the pleasant thoughts in my head. It grew and shouted and roared and screamed and bellowed for an eternity, or at least a minute or two.
We walked around the lakeshore into the spacious maple and alder forest, which is when a nearby gravel pit started loading dump trucks with rocks, banging and clanging around. When all was quiet again, a motorcycle raced by on Heart Lake Road, crescendo-ing, then fading slowly, eventually, into the distance.
It was somewhere along here that I had to laugh, that the everyday noises of our society, serving us with safe skies, building materials and transportation needs, come with us even into the otherwise quiet woods of our protected lands.
And as I laughed, the noises receded, a crossbill sang in distant old-growth, a frog hiccuped in the marsh not far away, and the mystery of the silence of the place filled our hearts. We whispered if we talked at all as we entered the forest cathedral at the south end.
The noises outside gave way to the noises inside my head. The worries, the plans, the dreams, the everyday needs … I listened to them briefly, realized they were not necessary right now, and let them flow on. Meanwhile, we sat on moss-covered logs and saw the passage of hundreds of years in the trunk of a tree.
There were still occasional outside noises. We heard them, accepted them, and they faded away. We saw a wood duck watching over its mate swimming in the marsh area. A leaf fell from a maple as summer welcomes the fall. Dragonflies hovered over the lily pads; a raven called out, its voice echoing in the now-silent spaces.
With acceptance of our place, we transcend with unshakeable strength and peace.
A heart-shaped rock in the trail caught my eye as we walked back. I offered a thank you for the reminder to let my heart – even amid clanging noises – always be at peace, like Heart Lake.
Directions: From H Avenue in Anacortes, take the Heart Lake Road south to the parking area at Heart Lake. From Whidbey Island, follow Highway 20 north from the Deception Pass Bridge, drive about four miles and turn left on Campbell Lake Road. Turn right on Heart Lake Road.
By Bus: there is no bus service close to this area.
By Bike: follow the directions as above for vehicles. Highway 20 is busy with narrow shoulders.
Mobility: the trail is mostly narrow, and has many roots, rocks, and other uneven tread.
We had just come from Lee’s old orchard where apples were dripping off the trees into the overgrown grass. A nearby fig tree oozed with luscious fruit. We filled a bag and brought out our buckets to pick blackberries. On the way around the bushes, we found purple bird droppings and coyote scat. We all enjoy this seasonal feast!
While we were in the neighborhood, we went for a walk at the Possession Sound Preserve near Clinton. Passing the trailhead kiosk, we strolled down the gravel path with the rustic rail fence on one side. Fir, cedar and alder towered overhead. As the trail turned a corner and began to descend, we spied a tall, young man with a basket. He was busy filling it with blackberries from bushes nearby. He smiled as we passed as if hiding a guilty pleasure.
Blackberry bushes rose up on one side and then the other. The sweet smell of ripe berries was intoxicating. Have you noticed? This time of year, as you walk down the driveway, or on trails, or along roadsides, the sweet, syrupy scent? We pause, look around, find the source, and sample the fattest fruits, the ones at the very end of each branch. We savor the sweet juice and pulp on the tongue. Such a delight! A few today. Perhaps more tomorrow. Sometimes I go back with a plastic tub on a string hanging around my neck to collect more for the freezer. Bring a little summer home and tuck it away for later.
It’s the season of abundance. As seasons change, days grow cooler, nights longer. It is time to stock up for winter while we enjoy the ripe fruits of these last summer days. Continuing slowly around the bend, a father and son reached carefully between the long, protective vines, toward the berries clustered deep within. Purple lips and fingertips show the results of their labors.
At an opening between the trees, a bench faces the water for a sneak preview of what is to come. Volunteers work hard to fight back the blackberries and keep this old roadbed open. They’ve planted native vegetation in places. Himalayan Blackberries are non-native, but we like having such easy access to this tasty treat.
At the base of the hill, is a long, flat field of grass backed by tall poplars shimmering in a brisk breeze. Dark clouds remind us that it sometimes rains here, though it has been a long, summer drought. Possession Sound was choppy. Still, crabbers and fishermen were out on the water collecting their catch. More abundance! Lee’s dog ran straight for the water and swam in and around as if starved for the thrill.
Beach bums collected treasures from the sand, bright red crab shells and blue mussels. We walked south until the incoming tide began herding us toward the shore. We noticed the burrows of pigeon guillemots in the sandy bluff. Empty nesters. The chicks have grown and flown the coop. The dog smelled tracks where fresh water seeped from a nearly dry stream bed frequented by deer, raccoon and otter.
It was Labor Day weekend and after a summer exploring the islands, boats were returning to their harbors. A train stretched out along the far shore. The ferry left the Mukilteo dock and cruised toward Clinton with a backdrop of Everett at the foot of the North Cascades. We climbed over driftwood logs back to the field, turned and took a long, last look around at the water, the boats, the beach. Summer is coming to an end, leaving us with delectable parting gifts from the land and sea.
For more information visit the Whidbey Camano Land Trust site here.
Directions: From Highway 525 in Clinton, turn south on Humphrey Road (by Simmon's Garage) Drive 2 miles south and the parking lot will be on your left.
Bus and Bike: The closest bus stop is at the Clinton Park and Ride 2 miles away. You may put a bike on the bus bike rack and then ride to the trailhead on Humphrey Road. Wear bright clothes and activate lights for visibility.
Mobility: The upper trail is wide and well groomed, but the grade down to the beach gets steep. The field just above the beach driftwood is wide and level.
Can you picture Ship Harbor before people arrived, when the glacial ice had retreated to Canada? Picture sandy tree-lined beaches. Open skies above. Open waters leading to emerald islands beyond.
Songbirds and others fly among the reeds, the cattails and willows, the roses and firs, content to find seeds and insects and other simple foods. A heron wades in the harbor, patient in finding foods beneath the shallow bay. Gulls mingle with crows to find detritus and other foods along the wrack line as the tide returns. Above them, an osprey searches for fish beneath the surface.
Picture the first peoples arriving here, discovering the waters rich with salmon and shellfish, the forests full of cedar, fields flowering with camas. They built homes along the beach, and plied the waters with dugout canoes, bringing in rich harvests of marine life and more. Children played along the shoreline as the communities grew. Eagles and ravens, otters and others shared the land and seashore.
Picture the first European explorers sailing into these waters in the 1790s, finding flourishing communities and abundant natural resources.
Picture a hundred years ago, when the shores of Ship Harbor were covered with canneries and docks, piers and pilings, machinery throbbing and humming throughout the day and night as fishing boats brought in salmon and other fish to be canned. Mess halls, bunk houses, carpenter shops and offices filled the backshore. Chinese and tribal workers cleaned and packed the salmon, handling thousands of tin cans made here daily. Railroad tracks circled behind it all, against the hillside. Refrigerators were still a novelty, requiring electricity, so tin cans served to preserve these precious foods.
Picture twenty years later, with power lines coming into communities. Most homes exchanged their iceboxes for electric refrigerators, so the demand for canned food began to decline. The canneries of Ship Harbor were dismantled, the pilings and piles of slag the only remaining evidence at the beach.
Picture the early 60s. Washington State Ferries built a ferry dock here to better serve the San Juan Islands. The westernmost point became a boat dock and car loading area. The sandy beach begins to return, with wetlands reclaiming lands once covered in canneries, shops, and houses.
Picture the late 90s as city parks, tribes, schools and others sought funding to open the harbor to the public. Private developers purchased and then donated the property; together they developed an interpretive trail along the edge of the wetlands, through the former shops and home sites, and along the storied beach of Ship Harbor.
Picture last weekend. Sandy tree-lined beaches. Open skies above. Open waters leading to views of emerald islands, enticing and inviting us to explore.
Roiling clouds of the morning gave way to blue skies and a warming sun. Hikers come and go along the beach, moms with kids, couples of all ages, families, lovers and the lonely strolling the boardwalk. We sat on the soft sand and let it waft through our fingers and toes. We strolled the length of the beach, turning inland at the westernmost boardwalk. The cattails were silent in the afternoon sun, the wildlife waiting for the cool of the evening. The forests too were silent.
I returned near sunset time. Again, it is quiet. There are hikers, some as couples, some alone, some waiting for a ferry, some just out for a walk, everyone enjoying the pleasant late-August warmth of this evening.
Purple martins fly about their houses built on the ancient pilings. A heron wades in the harbor. Gulls mingle with crows to find detritus and other foods along the wrack line as the tide returns. And above them, an osprey searches for fish beneath the surface.
The calm harbor waters lap at our feet. Ferries come and go, taking their riders to the emerald islands, while we walk, and watch, and remember, and dream.
To better see the word pictures I suggest above, watch this 2:40 minute video illustrating the centuries of stories at Ship Harbor.
Directions: From Anacortes take 12th Street west, which becomes Oakes Avenue. At the roundabout a half mile before the Washington State Ferries exit, turn right on Ship Harbor Boulevard, and then left at the "T" on Edwards Way. Follow it down to the water's edge.
By Bus: Take Skagit Transit 410 from Anacortes to the Washington State Ferry Terminal. Trails lead from the car-parking waiting area to the beach, which is the west end of Ship Harbor Trail.
By Bike: The 12th Avenue/Oakes Avenue route has a lot of 30-mph traffic, but a good bike lane from "D" Avenue west. The road is gently rolling except for the last steep drop to the beach on Edwards Way.
Mobility: The beach is very soft sand. The trail just above the beach is wide and finely graveled or a solid boardwalk, with one 100-foot slope at the very beginning to get down to the beach level. There is no ADA access from the ferry parking area.