Eat dessert First, and Last
If I were to compare our trails to food, there’s no doubt, Meerkerk Gardens would be the dessert tray. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you'll salivate at the diversity of color, texture, size and structure. The smooth gravel paths that swirl between blooming flowers and shrubs were expertly planned to tempt visitors with a banquet of delicious colors and scents. From spring to fall the garden dresses up for company with all the charm of a Southern Belle offering a dish of peaches and cream. I once worked at a fancy restaurant. (No, I was most definitely not the cook.) I saw what the chefs dished up and they were not only edible, and tasty, but also, works of art. One dessert was a vertical tower of ice cream with a thin, triangular wafer leaning against it. (The chef brought his own PVC pipe to shape his creation.) Then he’d artfully drizzle raspberry syrup over the plate.
The gardeners at Meerkerk are the master chefs of the plant world. They have not only the know-how and expertise as gardeners, they’re also artists. The five dollar entrance fee is well worth the experience of visiting this magical kingdom. I strolled between banks of enormous rhododendrons flaunting spheres of pink and purple puff balls. The delicate azaleas in their pastel attire were more like an apricot streusel or raspberry tart. Dainty bluebells and forget-me-nots were sprinkles on top. I came around a bend to find a conference of close cropped green shrubs leaning toward one another like the judges at a tasting competition. All around them were cheery flowers smiling brightly like the assorted flavors at a gelato bar. In springtime it's almost too brilliant to bear.
As I moved back through the garden I was put at ease by a carpet of lush, green Lily of the Valley under tall evergreen trees. I found a bench under the largest tree on site, a Giant Sequoia that stood strong and silent in the chorus of color. When I continued, I felt as if I were leaving the tantalizing dessert counter and transitioning into the meat and potatoes of the place. Even here, there were appetizing garnishes, a bird bath in a secret garden, and a gnome swinging from a limb. There’s a nursery where one can shop for delectable delights next to a green lawn with a gazebo and a view of Baby Island.
Three ponds separate the manicured garden from the natural forest to the west. Glassy, dark water reflects the tall trees around it broken only by a pair of mallards gliding by. A foot bridge led to a trail that climbed through the woods where I met Debbie and her beautiful dog, Bella, who live nearby. Debbie told me about the trails ahead, a mile loop if you take the right turn, she said. But when she tried to draw a map on the ground, Bella confiscated her stick.
It wasn’t hard to find my way. Small directional signs were posted at turns. This forest is more like my regular fare of tall evergreen trees, old stumps and ferns. The mile walk went swiftly with short stops to savor the beefy snag that was charred a bit on the side and a log bridge over a salad of fresh skunk cabbage and ferns. I was soon returning to the entrance feeling satiated but wondering if I had room for just one more sliver of pie.
Meerkerk Gardens are open 9:00-4:00 Daily. Admission is $5 per person; children under 16 are free.
Come on a weekday morning to avoid crowding but bring a mask just to be safe.
You can get there on the Route 1 bus. Just ask the driver to stop at Resort Road, and then walk a 1/2 mile following the signs.
Resort Road is less than 2 miles south of the Greenbank Store or just under 6 miles north from WiFire in Freeland. Look for the signs on the highway and again at the turn onto Meerkerk Lane.
earth day after 50 years
So there I was, 15 years old on April 22, 1970. My dad had always driven me the two miles to Ballard High School because he drove right past it on his way to work at the UW. Today I told him I would walk. He asked why, and I said because it was Earth Day, a day to stand up for the earth. He said that walking to school for one day wouldn’t make a difference.
"It’ll make a difference to me," I said.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, this week’s hike of the week is dedicated to encouraging all of us to make a difference, if only for one day. Contribute to changing our society’s auto-centric focus to one that considers walking, hiking, biking, kayaking and skipping to be more earth friendly than burning fossil fuels.
Fifty years ago, there was no Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Water Act, or Clean Air Act. Rivers caught on fire from industrial wastes. The air in LA was heavy with particulates. Acid rain threatened east coast states. The ozone layer was dying. Today, our air is far cleaner, our waters much healthier, ozone is replenishing, and we don't hear as much about acid rain.
On the other hand, today our CO2 levels have risen from the low 300s to the low 400s, unprecedented since long before the dinosaurs. Glaciers and ice caps are melting at horrendous rates, whole species are dying out by the tens of thousands, seas are rising, temperatures rising, and resources are stretched to the breaking point.
How can we make a difference today?
Consider a walk instead of a car trip. Pick up litter as you walk. Donate to one of our local land trusts or environmental organizations. Help an organization that you love to survive in these difficult times. Help improve some corner of your neighborhood. Remove some invasives, plant a garden, clean a beach, paint out graffiti. Take an online class to learn something new about our earth, gain a new skill to care for it.
Share your story about what you did on April 22, 1970. Share a pic if you have one! And share your story about what you did in April of 2020. Share a photo, and we’ll post that too if you wish.Send us an email or reply to this blog or write us a letter or postcard or say hi if we pass somewhere on a trail or city sidewalk.
Happy trails! Hiking is not only good for the earth, it’s good for the health of our bodies, the creative energies of our minds, and our spiritual well being too. Solvitur ambulando, the saying goes: literally, it is solved in the walking.
History of Earth Day:
Senator Gaylord Nelson, a junior senator from Wisconsin, witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Senator Nelson wanted to infuse the energy of student anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution. He recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the campus teach-ins and they choose April 22, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams.
Recognizing its potential to inspire all Americans, Hayes promoted events across the land and the effort soon broadened to include a wide range of organizations, faith groups, and others. They changed the name to Earth Day, which immediately sparked national media attention, and caught on across the country. Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans — at the time, 10% of the total population of the United States — to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of a growing legacy of serious human health impacts.
By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Two years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act. A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have protected millions of men, women and children from disease and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction.
The following thoughts are courtesy of our local RE Sources’ group from an online lesson about Earth Day:
We live on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Coast Salish People. They are the original stewards of this land and have been living here since time immemorial, taking great care of the land, the waters, and beings in this place we all now call home. Their cultures are deeply intertwined with the earth and suffer greater losses due to the degradation of the environment.
Let’s remember the importance of our collective power to TAKE ACTION.
Walk, bike, skateboard, rollerblade, moondance, kayak, swim or run.
Participate in a march (but not right now!)
Support our local farmworkers
Grow a garden
Think before you buy
Be mindful of water use
Shop locally to support our community
Compost food scraps or feed them to goats, pigs, or chickens
Save leftover food
Reduce the amount of single-use plastics we use
Pick up litter around your neighborhood
Be good to bees and butterflies
Help educate others about the environmental concerns you are most passionate about.
And here are some photos to spark more imagination about what others are doing this month:
Check out the Zoom presentation on April 28 at 7 pm, with Maribeth Crandell and Jack Hartt sharing about Hiking VERY Close to Home: hiking in the days of Covid-19. Presented in cooperation with Transition Fidalgo & Friends. Details at https://www.transitionfidalgo.org
Go Slow, Get Low, Go with the Flow
I went for a walk in the late afternoon at the most charming little wetland on South Whidbey. It’s great to have acres and acres to explore and miles and miles to hike. But this little treasure, nestled near the end of the Maxwelton Valley, is just six acres. You could walk the loop in five minutes. but if you did, you’d be missing out. My advice? Explore like a child. Go slow, get low and go with the flow.
The Outdoor Classroom is usually hopping with school kids this time of year. But due to Covid-19 and restrictions on gatherings, kids won’t be exploring this place with their classes. But perhaps a parent, or grandparent, could bring a few kids at a time.
This pandemic has upended our lives, but as my neighbor said when he stopped his lawn mower at the edge of my yard, it’s kind of a good thing for some of us. It has forced us to slow down, take stock, be grateful. He hoped the slower pace would last..
When I stopped by the Outdoor Classroom, I thought about the teaching activities I led when I worked here years ago. The effort began with two teachers who started raising salmon at school. Students monitored the aquarium daily. When the salmon eggs hatched and grew to be fry, they were big enough to release into the wild. The headwaters of Maxwelton Creek start near their school, so the students went through the watershed asking land owners if they could release their baby salmon in the creek on their property. Who could say no? Then this wetland went up for sale. The teachers formed a non-profit. The community donated money to buy it. Local service clubs built the classroom with mostly donated materials. Contributors got a colorful ceramic fish mounted on the wall. Once the classroom and trails were constructed the non-profit gave it to the school district and formed a partnership. That was thirty years ago and it’s still going strong. The Whidbey Watershed Stewards run the educational programs here with help from trained volunteer educators. Students learn about birds, native plants, water quality and salmon.
While I walked the loop and noticed the details around me, I began to make up a scavenger hunt. Could you find flowers that are yellow, pink and white? How about 3 different types of trees? Could you find a bird’s nest, a feather, or an animal track? Find a plant that you can eat, or an animal that's eating a plant?
There are lots of places to stop, sit and let it sink in, but my favorite spot is on the deck overlooking the creek with the sweet sound of moving water. I remember having kids sit and make a sound map. Just close your eyes and listen. Count as many sounds as you can. Point to the sound as you hear each one. A bird’s song in that direction. The creek chattering to my right. A woodpecker on my left. And a bee buzzing right there!
Approaching my car the trail was bordered by wild Lily of the Valley. They disappear completely in winter and then miraculously, erupt in a lush carpet of glossy, green leaves in spring! After that, I couldn’t get back in my car. I had to go around again! And I experienced so much more, as I went slow, got low, and learned to go with the flow.
From Clinton drive 4 miles north on Highway 525 to Maxwelton Road. Turn south on Maxwelton Road. drive 4 miles and look for the Outdoor Classroom sign just before the Little Brown Church. From Langley this is a 6 mile, gentle, downhill bike ride with a wide shoulder. A great lunch stop for a bike outing. Be sure to wear a helmet and something bright if riding a bike along the road.
I once had a picture of a woman holding a baby in her arms as she looked from a bedroom window out over a farm field bathed in moonlight. It was entitled Amor a todas horas (love at all hours).
It reminded me of countless early mornings holding my daughter Lindsay to comfort her in my arms, standing in her bedroom looking out over farm fields at the Wenatchee Range soft in the moonlight beyond.
The past two nights have blessed us with clear skies and a super moon to fill them, bathing us all night with its silver light of romance and magic. Moonlight is made for making memories, holding babes in arms, walking with partners, and finding adventures outdoors in the muted brilliance of sunlight reflected off our nearest neighbor.
The social distancing mandate challenges us to stay home and stay safe to save lives. At the same time, our governor asked us to continue to stay healthy by getting outside and walking around our neighborhoods and on local trails.
This has led to some confusion about how to do both. I read a recent online blog where someone asked where they could hand-launch a kayak to get outdoors. Some people offered good suggestions. Some took the question as an opening to question the mandate to keep our physical distancing. Others lambasted her for wanting to be outside at all, that a good citizen would stay inside the four walls of the house with no venturing beyond the property line.
Our individual and community-wide safety and health are essential. But our individual and collective sanity and mental health are also essential.
My goal for this week’s hike of the week became a game to find not only where but when I could go hiking to see if safety could be found even on a popular busy trail. I chose the Tommy Thompson Trail in the heart of Anacortes. Could it be done safely? And could I still find inspiration and nature?
Maribeth and I went out first on Monday afternoon, during the heart of a warm evening commute. We started at the north end and walked where the trail follows the Cap Sante Marina and then ventures along the busy Q Avenue. There were joggers and hikers and shoppers and workers and dog walkers and moms with little kids. Nearly everyone was keeping a reasonable physical distance, some wearing masks as they walked, and nearly everyone wearing a smile. We stopped to watch a great blue heron do its zen movements along the shoreline, looking for lunch. Collared doves lingered in a tidepool.
I went out again the next day on my bike during the late evening, just before sunset, to find a different feel to the trail. I found fewer people; whole stretches of the trail were empty. I passed a handful of couples walking along, some hand in hand, some six feet apart, some engaged in conversation, some with their phones, and some running or biking together. A loon dove for dinner just offshore from me. An eagle couple flew from treetop to treetop, exercising maybe, or just out for fun, or just out to get to know each other better. A river otter made a wide wake as it headed to a remote shoreline.
As the sun settled down for the night, several photographers came out to capture the rising of the super moon. I joined them.
Then for one more experience, I again walked out onto the trail, this time at 3:30 am. Oh dark early. I thought the trail would be quieter. NO! It was alive with song and voice and life. Robins were already telling the world that the sun was coming soon. Seagulls offshore must have found a herring ball or maybe some juicy garbage because their raucous catcalls echoed off the hills and buildings. A great blue stood again at the shore’s edge, this time framed by the moon reflecting off the water as a single ball, with not a breath of wind or water movement to disturb the perfect halo of silver. A port worker was busy cleaning one of the handy restrooms. A delivery truck waited at the dock to transfer product to or from a soon-to-arrive boat.
But there were no trail users. Go figure. No one to see the moon falling lower over the hills behind Anacortes, or the dark become a faint dawn, the deer finding flowers to nibble among nearby residences, the earth going around one more day, and all of us who are alive with another chance to enjoy this most precious gift of life and light that is all around us every day, at every hour, right at our doorstep whenever we open the door.
Kids Hike Too
With kidlets of all ages staying at home, we all have a responsibility to help them continue to grow in the outdoors with safe and healthy experiences. The Tommy Thompson Trail, although linear and urban in places, still offers adventures for those with shorter legs and attention spans.
Just walking the docks at the marina gets imaginations supercharged. I still remember my dad taking me to a local marina and letting me wander the docks with him to see the boats, hear the clanging of lines on masts, and dream of heading out to sea someday. Be sure your kids wear lifejackets if they are twelve or under.
Let them play at the small pocket beaches just off 34th street or near the Fidalgo Resort. Or wander off the trail at Seafarer’s Park to play near the woman with the lantern and on the protected beach and short walkway there. My grandkids enjoy that park. Let them see the water under their feet along the half mile of trestle. And teach them to ride a bike or just stretch their legs for as long as they comfortably can, and a little bit longer maybe.
You can pick up the trail at so many places in Anacortes and on the edge of town! Go to Cap Sante Marina near the iconic Cap Sante head that overlooks Anacortes, and follow the water’s edge – you’re on the trail. Go to Q Avenue near the Market – you’re on it there also! Follow it south from there as it cuts through the marine-oriented businesses to join the water again at about 34th Street. Or go to the parking area at Fidalgo Bay Resort and go either east or north. Or park at the March’s Point Park and Ride near Highway 20 and hike three quarters of a mile northerly to the eastern terminus of the trestle. Go. At any time.