AWAY with words
Bold. Grand. Wild. Wide open. A world away. Spacious. High. Remote. Quiet. Free. Powerful. Distant views. Room to wander. Big. Big sky, big waters, big beach, big bluffs.
These words come to mind when walking between West Beach and Hastie Lake county park trailheads.
We walked there this past Sunday, on a clearing, warm-ish, sunny afternoon when parks like Deception Pass, Fort Casey, and Ebey’s Bluff are teaming with crowds. We saw a total of eight people walking the length of this beach, other than an additional handful at or near the trailheads.
Whidbey certainly has wonderful places to hike, places that get into guidebooks and travel magazines, and air time on ‘places to visit’ TV shows. You won’t find that here. No, all you will find is two and a half miles of uninterrupted beach, walled away from our everyday world by majestic bluffs two hundred feet high and two miles long. It’s just you and the Strait of Juan de Fuca feeding the Pacific Ocean directly to your feet.
It took me about fifteen minutes after we started walking south from the West Beach parking area before I felt my busy swirling mind fade out and I began to hear the gentle swishing of the waves singing a peaceful song, a background rhythm to a new harmony within me.
My words will be few. This hike is not one to be described but experienced. And not experienced as a hike, a trail to conquer, getting from one place to another, but as a place to be savored, a world separate from daily life, where wild and free are living beings to meet and get to know.
G o, experience the wild heart of life, explore the tidepools if you can, watch for eagles feeding, otters playing, dunlins banking, the sun and clouds dancing, waters sparkling, or whatever the daylight or shadows bring you when you are there. The tides are in our veins, and we still mirror the stars. Go.
Directions: From Highway 20, 4.4 miles south of Oak Harbor or 6.4 miles north of Coupeville, turn onto Hastie Lake Road and drive to Hastie Lake Beach Park. Or, like we did, park at West Beach County Park a mile south of Joseph Whidbey State Park on West Beach Road, accessible via Fort Nugent Road near the south end of Oak Harbor.
By Bus: Take Route 6 between Coupeville and Oak Harbor. It follows West Beach Road.
By bike: See the driving directions above. The roads are mostly narrow, rolling, and relatively little traffic. Please wear bright clothes when riding on these roads.
Mobility: the beach is sandy, gravelly, and rocky. Views are great from the parking area at either end of the beach.
Tides: Make sure you don't go when the tide is high or rising to be high soon.
Winter is draping his coat on the back of a chair and rolling up his sleeves. It’s getting a bit too warm for him. Pausing by the punch bowl, he scans the dance hall. His eyes lock on the door. Spring has just swept in with her light flowered dress flowing in a soft breeze. Winter watches her glide tentatively into the room. He’s been dancing all night with vigor unmatched. Now he grows weary. But perhaps, one more.
The music starts. He takes her hand. Shyly, she follows him, and the dance begins. They are stepping forward, turning back, swinging this way, swaying that. His arm finds her waist. She turns her head. They skip and sway in a circle, then in a line. They come together, then apart. She is smiling, spinning, dazzling. She moves with grace and strength. Surprised at her spirit, he feels his energy leave him. She twirls with delight. He collapses into a chair.
After a chilly night, morning dawned on the equinox pink and perfect. It was a fine spring day, warm enough to find folks going barefoot on the sand and testing the waters.
As I entered the park the sign overhead read, “Double Bluff Beach Park,” and in one corner in smaller letters it said, “FETCH!”. What an interesting word, I thought, with so many definitions. I pondered it as I walked.
verb: 1. To go for and then bring back (someone or something).
2. To achieve (a particular price) when sold.
Noun: 1. The distance traveled by wind or waves across open water.
I’d learned that from sailors. From Double Bluff across Puget Sound is a long expanse of water with plenty of room for winds to stir up waves and wreak havoc for boats and sailors.
Then I thought of the term, fetching, as in attractive or appealing. This weather was appealing to me, and this beautiful beach was certainly attractive. I walked on and enjoyed hours of watching dogs, birds and people. All of us basking in this spring day at the beach.
When I got home and googled it, I found out why the word, FETCH appeared on the park sign. This particular FETCH stands for Free Exercise Time for Canines and their Humans. (I wonder how long it took to come up with that acronym.)
FETCH is a non-profit group with hundreds of two legged members and roughly twice as many four legged friends. The group formed when someone who had let their dog run off-leash at Double Bluff had a run-in with the law.
There are responsible dog owners who pick-up after their pets and try to keep their dogs from bothering other people. And then there are irresponsible dog owners who give all the others a bad name.
FETCH are the good guys. They petitioned the county to let them have a certain part of Double Bluff for off-leash dog play. They struck a deal. The county said they’d try it for a year if FETCH assumed responsibility for providing pet waste bags and monitoring behavior. That was in 1999. And it still works. FETCH partners with Island County Parks to maintain the off-leash dog park.
When you go to Double Bluff, you’ll find pet waste bags and trash cans, a dog water fountain and a rinsing station, a fenced in picnic area with no dogs allowed, vault toilets for people, and miles of beautiful beach, bluff and bay to explore with your best buddy.
Dogs must be kept on a leash for the first 500 feet of the park before letting them loose. The border is marked by a bedraggled wind sock. If you let your dog off-leash any sooner, you may be fined $500. For details about FETCH, whether verb, noun, adjective or acronym, google it!
Learn more about FETCH! here.
Directions: From Freeland, take Highway 525 south about a mile to Double Bluff Road. Turn right (south) and follow it about 2 miles to the end. If the parking lot is full, park along the shoulder outside the park and watch for traffic.
By Bike and Bus: Island Transit Route 1 fare free bus will stop where Double Bluff Road meets Highway 525. Double Bluff Road has a very gentle grade down to the beach with a good shoulder for bikes. Two bikes fit on a bus bike rack. Please wear something bright when walking or biking along the road.
Mobility: There are picnic tables and benches overlooking the beach at the park entrance. To get to the water, one must get over a logstacle course of driftwood. The beach is sandy for miles with logs to sit on along the way.
We’ve hiked Kelly’s Point a handful of times, usually with Murphy in tow. Actually, he’s rarely in tow along the beach. He’s usually footloose pawloose and free, free to wander the wrack line and find half of a smelly old crab claw, or a half-decayed seagull, or a fish left over from the ice ages. By leftover I mean that’s how long it’s been dead. He rolls in it back and forth because that’s what dogs do, to add some sex appeal to their presence – like the smelly perfume I remember my third-grade teacher wearing, almost like tear gas. Fortunately, I’m not stuck in a classroom with Murphy. Although we must all get back in our car in Anacortes. Uh-oh. This could be bad.
But I digress. I should be talking about art.
Kelly’s Point has art. It’s filled with art.
Approaching Kelly’s Point on the beach we stopped to admire the gate of a nearby neighbor, who had an octopus for a gate, eight arms flowing formidably to say ‘keep out’, yet with an artistic touch.
At Kelly’s Point, four kids were blowing soap bubbles and nibbling on snacks. No parents in sight. But then this is Guemes, so no one is concerned, least of all the kids, free to play as they wish on the beach.
Also, this being Guemes, check out the bench at the Kelly’s Point parking area. It is such an exquisite piece of workmanship, inviting a sit to enjoy the view even if you don’t need to rest awhile.
Sometimes the art is created by people, putting jingle shells (the flat bottom ones with holes in them) in the branches of fallen trees, or putting pretty rocks in a line on logs, or adding eyes and a mouth to a piece of driftwood to make it look like a whale, or an eagle, or, if I squint, quite a bit like my third-grade teacher.
Sometimes nature is the artist, using winds and waves, falling rains, falling rocks, falling trees, any tool at its disposal.
Kath can look at the cliffs and see stories in sandstone, sparkling colored canvases carved into patterns, or castles, or abstract sculpture. She sees faces in the sweep of the driftwood, beauty in fallen branches or the textures of cobblestones. She takes photos of what she sees, finding inspiration for new weavings or drawings, or just as a reminder of the ever-changing artistry here.
Me not so much. I just see ripple lines in the sandy cliffs, stripes in the rocks, and trees ready to topple from the top of the bluff a hundred feet above me, much like the trees down on the beach that just fell a year ago, or last month, or maybe yesterday? Some are still up there, hanging on by one last overstretched root, the other roots dangling in air like a half dozen swords of Damocles.
But in this wild feeder bluff and its beach below, I see earth stories from time immemorial when the land was tropical, and from when it lay a mile under glacial ice. I enjoy expansive views to Cypress, and sailboats and workboats cruising down the island passages looking like illustrations out of Life magazine. Sometimes sunlit whitecaps roll down the waterway. On this day the waves were just wavelets, nowhere to go and in no hurry to get there. Sunshine had followed us here, but rising storm clouds began to mute the light, the islands, the point, and the art. The waters turned steely gray, waterfowl riding the rising waves then diving beneath.
And I see this gift of Guemenites (Guemeneers? Guemesites? Guemenies?) who donated generously to preserve this special corner of the island, the best art of all.
“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart." –Kahlil Gibran
Then I remember we still have to get back in the car with Murphy.
Thoughts to ponder:
1. What things may keep us from seeing the beauty that's always around us?
2. What's the value of beauty in your life?
3. How can we share beauty with others, thus enriching their lives?
Directions: Take your bike on he Skagit 410 bus or drive to the Guemes Ferry Terminal at 6th Street and I Avenue in Anacortes. Take the ferry to Guemes Island. Walk the beach westward to Kelly's Point, or follow South Shore Drive west to the parking lot where South Shore Drive becomes West Shore Drive. Respect private property, of course.
Mobility: the ferry approach ramps are sloped. The roadways are paved and mostly flat or gently sloped, with minimal traffic. The beach is sandy and gravelly and not passable at the highest of tides.
Winter becoming spring
35 degrees. Rain threatened. Winds gusted. Cold nipped our noses as we arrived at the ballfields at Volunteer Park.
High school teams of men and women practiced baseball, lacrosse, soccer, and band music. Sirens wailed along nearby city streets. We walked behind the fields and fences into the woods and wilds. The urban sights and sounds became muted memories.
No songbirds sang of spring today. Strong breezes whipped the tops of birches and alders, whispering secrets to the cedars and firs. I took shortcuts and longcuts among the ponds and backwaters. Crunching through frosted grass, we found a pond half frozen with the thinnest film of ice. What do you do when you stand next to lake ice? You step on it! I tapped the surface with my toe and it shattered into a liquid mirror.
At the top of an alder, catkins fluttered on branches like dancers looking for partners. Three people passed us as we stood. Two were joggers, whose eyes stared straight ahead, passing without a smile or word. Then a woman strolled along. She stopped to ask what we were looking at. The tops of the alders, we said, and she said she didn’t know the trees here, but she was glad that we were looking up as it reminded her to look up too. She continued on her way, still looking up at the dances high above us.
Leafless maples waltzed with clouds. The music of the wind sighed to us earth-dwellers down below. A drizzle began. We shivered a little, wrapped our coats tighter, and walked on.
Looking out over the many ballfields surrounding these woods, hundreds of people played, busy with sport and competition and teamwork. The forest stood apart, an island of wet and wild surrounded by playgrounds and pavement and the ever-present murmurs of the city in the distance. The marshes and woods danced, mostly alone. Winter’s grip held tight.
A week later...
…today is just that kind of day
a day so etched in sunlight
that you take a hammer to the snowglobe
releasing the inhabitants
so they can walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white
- Billy Collins
It's 55 degrees. It’s high noon, the sun high and bright and joyous. The warmth made us feel high too, squinting into this sky-globe of blue and white, not really needing a coat as we walked along, giddy with the miracle of spring’s hope.
Where ponds last week sported skins of ice, today their liquid surface reflected bold rays of sunlight, framed by grasses springing from the earth. Male mallards and goldeneyes paddled and maneuvered to be close to the females, exploding into flight at times. Chickadees, robins, sparrows, thrushes and finches sang to loved ones nearby, their songs filling the air with sweetness. Indian plum dangled white flowers as their leaves burst forth, a brilliant splash of bright-green beauty.
We wandered among the ponds and woods, aimless and spirited, like pixies dusted with the magic of life, returning from the darkness of the past few months, nay, even from last week. We danced carefully along side trails thick with mud, soft and squishy underfoot. The main trail is firm and dry, leading us through the forest of birches and alders. Rivulets sparkled as they flowed alongside the trail.
As we entered the hall of maples, moss clung to their trunks, glistening and gleaming golden green. Sap rises through the trunks, unseen except for the swelling of buds at the tips of the branches. Bird songs continue, here a nuthatch, there a towhee, and somewhere a hairy drilling for food.
The playfields are empty, students inside their classrooms, probably looking out the windows, thoughts miles from their studies, seeing the hope of spring spreading throughout the campus, throughout this park, throughout the town, throughout all of our hearts and dreams.
Spring is coming!
Directions: From 12th and Commercial in Anacortes, go west on 12th Street to G Avenue. Turn left and go two blocks to the parking area. The trails start to the south, behind the fences of the ball fields.
By Bus: Take Skagit Route 410 from March's Point or downtown Anacortes west to 12th Street and G Avenue.
By Bike: the roadways in the downtown Anacortes area are mostly gently sloped. Traffic on 12th can be heavy at times; parallel roads are a good alternative.
Mobility: the trails in the park are paved near the ballfields, and graveled in the woods, with some elevation gain and side slope toward the south end of the park.