Out like a lamb
If you live around here, you remember Sunday’s dramatic storm. I think we saw just about every kind of possible weather event that day, from overcast skies to driving rain to sunshine, from spring-like warmth to freezing cold. And wind. Oh, did it blow! The southeasterly became a driving westerly, coming against a strong ebb tide coming out of Deception Pass.
I wandered West Beach during the storm, energized by the power and beauty of the wind and the waves, and eventually driven off the beach as the sun fell behind massive storm clouds which soon unleashed snow, hail, and even colder temperatures. I turned up the heat in my truck as I drove home in the brooding darkness, watching Mt. Erie get coated in white.
The next day, all was peaceful. Waves lapped on the shore. Clearing skies suggested warmer weather ahead. Seagulls and songbirds graced the air with their flights of music.
I met up with a hiking group called Fidalgo Hikers, a four-year-old collection of local hikers who like to get out every week and explore nearby trails. They had chosen to walk the Dunes Trail at West Beach in Deception Pass on this day. Sometimes they wandered off the paved walkways onto lesser-known paths of the dunes. We took a detour to visit the Wetlands Overlook, revealing Cranberry Lake overflowing its banks from all the rainfall the past few months, flooding the marshes and wetlands nearby. Red flowering currant colored the sides of the trails. We marveled at a ground juniper bush, the only one of its kind known to be in the area.
At the south end of the park we left the back dunes to cross over the primary dune down to West Beach. Eagles claimed personal territory in aerial displays above us. The Olympics claimed prominence on the horizon to the southwest; Lopez Island rose sharply on the skyline to the west. The cold air teased moisture out of our noses and we pulled our hats on a little tighter. A couple more people joined our group as we hiked north on the beach, with Deception Island and Sares Head rising beyond.
Having a group to share a hike gave opportunities to chat and get to know each other better. And we were still free to wander off and find flotsam and jetsam as the tide receded, to take pictures, or just enjoy the beauty of this wilderness beach on a quiet morning. In my mind I pictured the crowds of cars and campers that would be here in a couple months. Today all was calm, quiet, and composed. Even the jets were grounded for now.
More hikers joined us as we walked to West Point and turned east to also hike North Beach, intending to walk to the base of the bridge and then back. I had an appointment to keep, however, so I left the group and walked back to the parking lot at West Beach, glad for the companionship while I could, and happy to have been encouraged to get up early on this Monday morning and go exploring around these sand dunes, wetlands and beaches so close to home.
If you are interested in venturing out with a small group like this in the Fidalgo area, email Terry or Lois Slotemaker at email@example.com They call themselves the Fidalgo Hikers (formerly Saturday Hikers) and welcome all who are at least two weeks past their second Covid vaccination shot. They hike on Mondays, and other days too sometimes. Phase Three hiking guidelines say to wear masks and distance six feet when meeting hikers not in the group. You will be asked to sign a liability release agreeing to comply. It’s an informal group that ranges in number from two people up to twenty sometimes. There were ten of us today.
For a story about the ground juniper written by park staff, visit https://deceptionpassfoundation.org/news/bog-juniper/
Directions: From Highway 20 at the bridge, drive south one mile and enter Deception Pass State Park. Follow the signs to West Beach. High water covers some of the parking lot right now. The Dunes Trail is to the south, about a half mile in length.
Accessibility: the Dunes Trail is paved, though there are some rough areas where roots have disturbed the pavement. The beach has limited access as storms rearrange the shoreline logs. But the view from the parking lot is amazing.
Transit access: Island Transit has a northbound stop near the gas station on Highway 20 near Cornet Bay Road, and a southbound stop just south of Cornet Bay Road. It is a mile long hike to the beach from there.
Note: A valid pass is required to park in a State Park. However, this Saturday is a free day, as is Earth Day later this month.
Cloudy with a chance of whales
The forecast was bleak. The weekend looked gloomy. But I set out to make the most of it. On my agenda was a climb, a view, and if I was really lucky, a whale. I’d been hearing about sightings in Possession Sound and Saratoga Passage. After dropping off some books at the Moonraker bookstore in Langley, I went down to Seawall Park with my binoculars. I scanned left. I scanned right, but all I saw was a seal, a few goldeneyes and some tourists.
I drove to the southern tip of Whidbey Island to Possession Point State Park. New signs were posted since my last visit making the trailhead easy to spot. This trail climbs out of the parking lot and curls around a steep, wet hillside full of ferns and trees. Whenever I hike here I feel like I’m a bug climbing out of a salad bowl. Fortunately, I remembered my walking stick. Hearing voices below I noticed a group taking the other trail down to the beach.
I climbed up and around and over and circled back and climbed some more shedding my jacket and unzipping my vest. Lush green ferns covered every inch of hillside and many trees, sword fern on the ground, licorice fern above, and the fresh green growth of mosses lined the bank. Here the trees and stumps have eyes and mouths and look as if I’d just interrupted their conversation as I passed by.
In forty minutes I’d reached the top of the bluff. The view opens to a broad expanse of water. The feeble mid-day sun tried to make an impression. I stopped to catch my breath and listen. A train whistled on the far shore. A squirrel scolded. Crows, robins, wrens sang out from the forest. The clang of a buoy rang out over the water. Two herons squawked flying in formation far below. Tugs, ferries and a regatta of sailboats cluttered Puget Sound to the south. A flicker called. A raven answered. Then I heard it. Unmistakable! Directly below me at the base of the bluff, the explosive exhalation of a grey whale!
I leaned out over the wild roses and Oregon grape, watched and waited. Then, it came again, the whoosh of air spraying water three feet high. I saw the back roll lazily as it took in a breath and then glided under barely leaving a trace. With binoculars I could see it for a moment moving just below the surface. I watched and waited. I checked the time, positioned my camera and zoomed in. My perch, hundreds of feet up, felt distant, but the quiet water made it easy to follow by sight and by sound. It was turning around the point, slow and steady, every two minutes coming up for air. I held my breath, too, but a minute was all I could manage. I need another 65 million years or so to master the technique. I tracked it around the corner and lost sight. The gush of one last blow left me smiling. What a gift, on a dreary day, to encounter one of these seldom seen creatures from my island perch.
Coming down I passed the most magical trees, an old Pacific Yew with incredible braided wood and peeling red bark, a massive Douglas fir, and the moss covered maples, one with a big round burl. I sat for a while on the beach watching a loon, a pair of mergansers, a tug and barge, two ferries crossing, and a train on the far shore, grateful for the first day of spring and all its’ hope and promises.
The Langley Whale Center just reopened. Hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11:00-4:00 through March. For whale sightings and much better photos of whales visit: http://www.orcanetwork.org/Main/ or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LangleyWhaleCenter
Directions: From Highway 525 at Ken’s Korner shopping center near Clinton, take Cultus Bay Road south almost 5 miles. Cultus Bay Road will turn right, but keep going straight on Possession Road for another 1.5 miles and turn right on Franklin Road, a narrow dirt road with many private beach homes. The State Park sign is at the end. You’ll need a Discover Pass to park inside the gate.
If you miss Franklin Road the next road is to Possession Waterfront Beach Park which is another good place to look for whales, have a picnic on the beach or take a hike up the Dorothy Cleveland Trail, but there is no view from the top. This park is owned and maintained by the Port of South Whidbey.
The roads to the beach at either park can be done in a wheelchair. The trails going up through the woods are steep and challenging. There is no public transit access to these parks.
Here's the point
Yonder sky has wept tears of compassion on our fathers for centuries untold. There was a time when our people covered the whole land, as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor.
A late afternoon. I parked at the Coupeville wastewater treatment plant and walked east. Barnacles and mussel shells crunched underfoot. The beach is mostly cobble and stone, and became narrow and shrinking, the tide rising. I walked under a magical house and around the first point. Two juvenile eagles startled me as they lifted off above my head and flew to a different tree for peace. I walked past a few beach houses, then turned around because the tide was too high to continue. I know, ironic isn’t it, the guy who teaches about tides didn’t time it very well.
I drove to Long Point. Here the broad beach is mostly sand and shells. I walked west to get as close as I could to where I had hiked from Coupeville. Forested bluffs rise above; a few tree skeletons point their trunks into the water’s edge. A northwest wind pushed a steady music of waves onto the beach.
Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea.
The sun lowered further, dropping behind the hills. I turned back, walked around Long Point and eastward. A flock of gulls and oystercatchers rested on the tip of the point. Jets from the base flew hard and fast in the skies to the north. The foothills glistened in snow, their peaks shrouded in dense clouds. Clusters of housing developments covered the hillsides of Camano and the mainland.
Even the rocks that seem to lie dumb along the silent seashore thrill with memories of past events connected with the fate of my people.
On this leeward beach there were no waves, just a folding, a lapping. I put cockle shells into my pocket, and a large horse clam shell for a soap dish. Several houses line the beach here, but soon give way to a steep bluff. The tide was just starting to recede, but shoreline brush kept me from continuing. I could see the Private Beach sign ahead at Kineth Point, with no hikers allowed from there to Snatelum Point. I turned around.
As I hung around Long Point, I met a couple renting a beachside Air B&B. They had enjoyed the windstorm the day before, and now the peace and quiet of a calm winter evening. A nearby neighbor walked her dog, scaring the birds at the point. A group of thirty-somethings waved at me through the steam of their hot tub on the porch of another seaside house. An older couple walked a big dog and a little dog, the big dog as friendly with me as a cozy couch.
The wind slackened. The sun lowered, lowered, and dropped out of sight.
When I was a child, I often stood after nightfall at the shoreline of Seattle’s North Beach and listened to the cacophony of western grebes calling out in the dusk or the evening mist. Not tonight. They are now seldom heard in our waters.
The memory of Penn Cove orca whale roundups still haunts me.
These shores shall swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being.
A crescent moon hung above the dusky pink. The air was still, and cool. The lights of Oak Harbor began to twinkle. I sat down and absorbed the spirit of this beach, this place of sand and shell, water and bluff, forests and mountains, cities and wildland. I wasn’t alone.
At night, when the streets of your cities and villages shall be silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land.
We may be brothers, after all. We shall see.
-- Chief See-alh
Here is a 14 second movie of the waves at Long Point, looking toward Oak Harbor. Click here or on the link below:
From the stoplight at Highway 20 in Coupeville, drive 2.7 miles south and turn left onto Morris Road. Turn left again on Parker Road, drive 1.3 miles to Portal Place, drive a short distance to Marine Drive, and turn left and follow Marine Drive to the end. Or park at the Coupeville wastewater treatment plant and hike east a couple miles. The beach east of Long Point is open to the public as far as Kineth Point (0.9 miles), where it becomes private.
The beach has very limited accessibility the entire route, with soft sand, course rocks, logs, shells and other beach detritus making for uneven footing.
March, such a tease
Minute by minute the weather swings, from winter to spring, winter to spring. Rush of wind, splatter of rain, throw in some hail, thunder and lightning and you have March. Such a tease.
But wait! Here’s a full day of sunshine! I left in the morning with frost on the windshield. By mid-day I was peeling off my hat and coat. As I walked, I shed my wool sweater and rolled up my sleeves. When the sun makes an appearance in early spring, I go outside and stick my face in it!
It has been a long, dark, wet, windy, troublesome winter. What a blessing when morning comes with the promise of a full day of warmth and light. Monday, I treated myself to a walk on one of my favorite trails at Deception Pass State Park between Bowman Bay and Rosario Head. And what a day it was!
The park filled with elders out for a stroll, toddlers exploring the beach, picnickers choosing a table, hikers choosing a trail, and kayakers paddling off into the blue expanse, all taking advantage of this most glorious spring day. It brought to mind an e. e. Cummings poem.
I thank You God for most this amazing day
For the leaping greenly spirits of trees
And a blue true dream of sky
And for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes!
As I walked past the enormous downed trees in the picnic area I gave thanks for the trail maintainers that have gone before us. Every trail I’ve walked recently shows signs of winter storm damage that someone has cleaned up. Branches are piled high just off the trail and downed logs are fresh cut and moved to the side. Thank you for all who clear the way for the rest of us. Your work is greatly appreciated. I feel like I’ve been through some dark, stormy times, too. My doctor recommended exercise and spending time in nature. I couldn’t agree more.
I who have died am alive again today
And this is the sun's birthday
This is the birth day of life and of love and wings
And of the gay great happening illimitably earth!
The trails at Bowman Bay have always been good medicine for me. I especially like this stretch of rocky trail that climbs steadily up from the campground with views of the water through the fir and madrone trees. A couple of otters frolicked below as I climbed. The south facing rock face covered in stone crop and licorice fern soaked up the sun. I stopped to watch a boat circle round the bay with a host of gulls in its wake. People were out in numbers but everyone passed respectfully pulling on a mask as we greeted each other.
As I approached Rosario there was a bench in the sun. I paused to spy on a couple on the dock across the bay, and a fellow sitting alone on the far shore dwarfed by the dramatic landscape around them. I wandered across the lawn to the sturdy CCC shelter overlooking the water. A room with a view.
The tide pools at Rosario Bay are popular with school groups, but this year they’re explored by families one by one. I met a mother, grandmother and some curious kids pointing and poking. A flock of Harlequin ducks bobbed into view from behind a rock. Their colorful patterns make them my favorite. Then black oyster catchers with their bright orange beaks, peeped alarmingly as they flew away. For us weary of winter, a day like this comes not a moment too soon. Tuesday, March was back to teasing with sun, cold, wind, showers and sun again. But with one healthy day of sunshine this week, I may just make it to the next one, and then to the next.
Click here for a park map.
Directions: From Highway 20 just north of Deception Pass Bridge, turn west onto Rosario Road and take an immediate left toward Bowman Bay. From the parking lot the trail is to the northwest through the picnic area and along the shore next to the campground. You will need a Discovery Pass to park here.
If you don't have a Discovery Pass, you may want to drive to the next road to the west, Cougar Gap, and start your hike from Rosario Bay where you may park outside the gate. From there you could visit the tide pools, the Maiden of Deception Pass and Rosario Head as well as turning east to hike this trail to Bowman Bay.
Transit: There is no bus access to this side of the bridge, however, if you take the Island Transit 411W northbound from Oak Harbor, you may access the park at the store or the 411W southbound from March's Point stops at the park entrance at Cornet Bay Road. Both are on the south side of the bridge where it's easier to access Goose Rock and other trails.
Mobility: This trail is not a good choice for those with mobility challenges. It may prove a challenge for small children. Parts are steep and rocky, so watch your step.