We had planned to be at La Push for the weekend, along with nearly all my kids and their families. It’s a family tradition to gather there and connect with each other as we wade in the waves, eat, sit by the fire and listen to the rain and surf at night.
Instead, I went to the ER, and then by ambulance to Kirkland for the weekend. Cardiac concerns. They get your attention. A heartbeat happens every second. Unless it doesn’t.
Where should we hike, Kath asked, late Sunday afternoon. North Beach, I replied. It’s as close to being at La Push as I can get for now.
We stepped onto the beach on this last sunny day, the last for a while anyway. Clouds were building, but patiently waiting to deliver their promised rain and the return of winter.
The rocks of the North Beach headlands look like they are wrapped in elephant skin. They have lived here for millions of years, channeling the tides, and slowly, so slowly, becoming sand. More sand from the Cascades floats down the Skagit and out to this beach, where it now sifts between my toes.
Behind me, massive firs and cedars, primeval and holy, stand on the shoulders of older, fallen brethren, waiting for their time to join them, breathing richly while they can. Trails wander beneath, first trodden by the first peoples here, whose campfires and ceremonies return here in the spirit world after dark, their stories still alive, whispered by the ancestors when a breeze stirs, an eagle flies, or a salmon swims by, if we listen carefully.
Kath and I pause under a shelter built by the men of the CCC, the shelter nearly a hundred years old now, a part of the scenery, becoming a part of the forest in time. The view the men had of the Pass as they swung a hammer on the roof still remains, their memory written in the wood.
Offshore, a loon lingers, that ancient-looking bird, looking for a meal. The loon is quiet for now as it hunts; it’s haunting call will wait for the dusk.
Decaying pieces of driftwood, reposed in their final resting place on the beach, host salal and huckleberry, flowers and grasses, new life in old bones.
We hike west to West Point and look back, the beach quiet but sprinkled with visitors strolling and beachcombing as we did, singles, couples, families, finding meaning in the book of time written in the beach and forest and waters. A young couple sit at the point watching the tide turn, lost in thought and meditation. Kath and I explore tidepools, reflecting on what we see in the pool of life before us, a reflection of the life hidden beneath the waters below.
We skirt the always-busy parking lot at West Beach and return on the forest trail above the beach. Big maple leaves fall around us, going out in a blaze of glory, a gentle golden rain soft as the fall of moccasins. The trail wanders and rises and falls and rises again, passing spruce, cedar, hemlock, firs and alders, their roots like steps for our feet. We are back in the shadowed temple of trees, our elders. We pass beneath to pay our respect and learn of their ancient wisdom.
And I asked them, as in a dream, I knelt down and asked them to make room for me someday. But not soon.
Too soon the trail returns to our car. More visitors arrive to take our place. Soon the rains will finally come, and we will cozy up to a fire and dream of summer’s return.
Directions: From Highway 20 one mile south of the Deception Pass Bridge, turn west at Cornet Bay Road to enter the park. Follow the signs to North Beach to start at the east end of the beach.
By bus: Island Transit stops a couple hundred feet north of the park entrance if northbound, and just south of the entrance if southbound. North Beach is about a mile from the park entrance.
By bike: Highway 20 is narrow and fairly high speed through much of this area, with the bridge having no shoulder at all, other than the narrow sidewalk.
Mobility: The trail to the beach at the east end is steep and difficult, though short. There is easy access to North Beach at the west end, near the amphitheater, with a level paved and then grassy trail about a hundred feet long.
From the water it looks like an ordinary beach with an ordinary bluff rising up behind it. There are ordinary gulls flying about and ordinary trees in the distance. There’s a lighthouse shimmering white by the edge of the bluff. But this is no ordinary place.
This is Fort Casey, a coast artillery fort, hidden from the water, with huge guns that fire 600 pound ammo, tucked secretly behind a wall. It took dozens of men to ready a gun, raise it up, take aim and fire! The thrust would rock the gun back down completely out of sight. Windows rattled in downtown Coupeville on practice days. But though they were ready, the guns never fired on an enemy.
Fort Casey, Fort Worden and Fort Flagler stood guard over the entrance to Puget Sound at the turn of the 20th Century forming a triangle of defense at Admiralty Inlet. When air power exposed the forts from the sky and more modern technology made them obsolete, all three forts became State Parks.
If you’re into military history, this is a great place to explore. It can take an hour to walk from one end of the fort to the other studying the displays, investigating the underground rooms, trying out the speaking tubes, or climbing into the observation towers and plotting rooms.
Or you can visit the lighthouse, built in 1903, with its own fascinating history. Climb the spiral stairs into the tower, see the displays and read about the lighthouse keepers of old.
If you’re interested in natural history, you can walk along the bluff with its population of rare golden paintbrush that blooms in the spring, or stroll the beach for miles. Bring your binoculars to spot shore birds, waterfowl, raptors or marine mammals. Walk through the woods and discover the glacial erratic in the picnic area where you can see Crocket Lake and Mount Baker in the distance. You could even set up your campsite and watch the ferry come and go just beyond the glow of your campfire.
Camp Casey, next door, was the residential part of Fort Casey, but when the Fort was sold to the State Parks in the 1950’s, the residential area was sold to Seattle Pacific University. Together they have preserved this historic site. Camp Casey is used for youth camps and conferences. It’s not open to the public without calling ahead for permission (360-678-5050). But Fort Casey, from the lighthouse to the ferry landing, is a State Park full of attractions, especially this time of year.
Looking for mystery and spooks? How about underground passageways that echo with eerie sounds and heavy doors that squeeek when they open and clang when they shut. Or a century old lighthouse on a windblown bluff. Haunted Fort Casey will invite families to enjoy Halloween on the last two weekends of October from noon to 4pm for $5.
The Lighthouse is open on weekends in October and on Thanksgiving weekend in November. It will be decorated and open on weekends in December (except Dec. 24-25) and on the last week of the year with displays and a unique shopping experience in the gift shop. Sales support the programs at the park and keep the lighthouse open to the public.
While exploring the park you’ll be getting your exercise, walking miles, climbing up and down steps, like at the gym only a lot more interesting. This park of 999 acres entertains the mind while you engage the body. If the kids don’t like hiking, “boring”, bring them here. If you need to walk the dog but get tired of the same neighborhood loop, bring them here. If you have out of town guests, bring them here. If you know someone with mobility challenges, you can easily access the fort and its fascinating history. And you can get here by bus! Because this is no ordinary place. This is Fort Casey!
For details about the Park and upcoming events click here.
Fort Casey is accessible by the Route 6 bus on weekdays and the Route 1 bus on Saturdays. For a schedule click here or call 360-678-7771.
Directions: From the stoplight in Coupeville turn south on Main Street and continue as becomes Engle Road. In 3.5 miles when the speed limit slows to 20mph, look for the park entrance on the right.
By Bus and Bike: Take fare free Island Transit Route 6 on weekdays or Route 1 on Saturdays. There is a bus shelter at the park entrance. Put a bike on the bus bike rack or ride from Coupeville south on Main Street which becomes Engle Road. There is a wide shoulder and mostly level ride. Please wear bright clothes and use lights on your bike for visibility.
Mobility: All Island Transit buses can carry 1-2 wheelchairs and stop at the park entrance. There is a steep hill on a paved road to enter the park. Access to the fort is by the sidewalk on the north end of the parking area. There is no wheelchair access to the inside of the lighthouse.
Trees are made of light and time.
We parked at Pass Lake and headed toward the Big Cedar, with plans to visit the Ginnett Overlook as a side-trip bonus. For me, the most pleasant way to make this hike is to follow the Pass Lake Loop trail clockwise, climbing the old logging road (which every year is more like a trail now) up to the Big Cedar Trail, dropping down on the Big Cedar and then a side trip to the Ginnett Overlook before looping back through Naked Man Valley where grows this majestic maple, then back to Pass Lake.
We had just made the turn at the first junction, going left toward Rosario, when we came upon two BIG firs on the ground, their roots intertwined in a massive wall rising twenty feet above where the trail used to be. I climbed onto their now-horizontal bodies, not as a victorious ascent but as a connection with them in their new home, their new role in the circle of life.
Their story got me thinking. Here we were, hiking the Pass Lake Loop trail through the woods. It’s not a trail through, though, it’s a trail in the woods, to the woods, among individual trees, an ecosystem of trees and plants and fungi and wildlife and water and wind. It’s a story of life and death and new life that continues. And it’s a story of us, as we dwell there on that trail for only a short time, and breathe the oxygen, and reconnect with our roots and our planet, seeing more clearly our role, our lives, as partners in the dance of life that connects us all.
Imagine how our world will change when we begin valuing go-givers as much as we value go-getters.
The trees are givers, not out of obligation but because that is what they are born and raised to do, to take in sunlight, water and carbon dioxide, and as a natural result they give, giving us life-sustaining oxygen, and if we need more, they give wood and fiber and shelter and clothing and transportation and tools and tables and bowls and beauty.
We came to the sunny logged-over corner of the 83-acre parcel recently acquired by the Skagit Land Trust. Their purchase will protect these forested lands to regenerate themselves to become go-givers again.
The trail re-enters the older woods at the park boundary. We dropped down the Big Cedar trail directly to the Big Cedar. Kath spread her arms as wide as she could and hugged it, appreciating its history and majesty. We hung around for some time, listening to no sounds at all save our own breathing, the whisper of a few leaves falling, and the swaying of fern fronds in this deep ravine. The tree stood above it all. This was a time of communion.
I could go on about climbing up to the overlook and looking out over this quiet corner of wilderness, and our hike back in the shadows of the valley and back to Pass Lake, but I won’t.
My wish is that you could stand beneath this
stately tree-being, stand there quietly,
breathe along with bark, leaves,
Bend your head way back and gaze far
up into the branches until your eyes tire. Peer closely
at the russet-colored bark and discover life
hidden in the darkest fissures. Trace the wide arc
of a single branch as it dips down, then
climbs back up towards the light.
follow the sensuous twists and curves of roots until
they disappear into the thick, spongy duff.
Inhale the sharp, fresh fragrance and listen to the
soft shushing of swaying branches.
Commune. Lose yourself
in the presence of this graceful tree,
forget the news,
shake off your worries.
- Lynn Wohlers, Fidalgo Island
By the way, that odor you smell near Pass Lake IS Pass Lake. Like an overripe pit toilet, the senescent toxic algae fills the lake and the odors fill the air hundreds of meters beyond.
Directions: Just north of the Deception Pass Bridge, turn west on Rosario Road, then immediately turn right into the Pass Lake parking area. Appropriate parking pass required.
By bus or bike: there is no direct transit service to Pass Lake. Highway 20 is a narrow, hilly, and very busy highway. Rosario Road is also narrow and hilly, but with less traffic.
Mobility: the trail is very hilly, rocky, root-strewn, and challenging in places.
It’s autumn, my favorite season. I’m pressing apple cider, harvesting pumpkins, and looking for fall colors in the trees. This time of year, I seek out trails crowned with golden maples and love to kick the leaves at my feet. But this week, after noticing the sign on the road, I decided to see the fall fashions at Meerkerk Gardens.
After a long summer drought and recent smoke and ash from wildfires, admittedly, the garden wasn’t looking it’s best. I’d normally go in the spring when all the flowers are bursting forth. I’d never visited in the fall and was curious to see how the garden dressed for the season.
The bus let me off at the highway and I walked the quiet road a half mile to the entrance. A cheery bouquet of golden asters greeted me. The iconic stone gatehouse was shaded by port-colored leaves. The contrast from spring to fall was most noticeable along the walkways, where there are so many rhodies and flowers blooming in spring. It made me pay closer attention. Instead of being bombarded with color and fragrance, the garden was more subtle, whispering “come look over here, and over here.” I found several species of flowers donning shades of pink and purple. There was lavender, heather, short succulents and tall foxglove. Native plants are familiar, but most of these were foreign to me and all the more alluring. My camera found them fascinating, as did the pollinators. Bees bustled from blossom to blossom collecting and sharing their essential gifts.
I turned west toward the ponds, crossed between them, and climbed up into the woods. These trails are natural with tall cedars and firs, old growth snags and stumps. They’re more narrow and form a mile long loop. Ravens and wrens, chickadees and kinglets sang out from the shrubs along they way. With still some time before my bus, I returned to the gardens.
Wandering to the far side, my path led me through a canopy of green with varying textures as spikey as a Monkey Puzzle tree and as soft as a Sequoia. Even the evergreens showed their autumn colors as every odd cedar branch turns a golden hue and rhodies dropped yellow leaves upon the grass. I turned onto a narrow trail with a birdhouse and bird bath occupied by a stone still songbird and emerged by a picnic table under a mighty fir. Stopping to eat my lunch I spied the gazebo and surrounding lawn which has hosted many musical events and weddings.
For their October Fest on Oct. 8, the Shifty Sailors will occupy the gazebo with their new accordion player, Lori Hansen. A food truck will grill bratwursts and BBQ or bring your own picnic. You can even take a bit of the garden home by buying rhodies for just $2 each to support the garden upkeep.
I gazed over the lawn through the gazebo toward the water imagining the festivities, but on this day, it was quiet. The distant shores floated on a sapphire sea. Walking up the lane I followed a couple on their way out. He had the dog on a leash and she carried a potted rhody. We strolled beneath a canopy of plum red trees and golden maples launching tiny helicopters.
As I walked toward the highway to catch my bus, I thought about the many volunteers that tend these gardens, and how many people enjoy them each season. I used to bring my good friend Wilma here on Mother’s Day. As she grew older we took advantage of the many benches placed in sun and shade. In her final years we used a wheelchair on these trails. Wilma was my garden mentor and this was a special place for us. I will think of her here, no matter what the season.
The gardens are open daily 9am-4pm. There's a $5 entrance fee. On Oct. 8th the entrance fee will include the October Fest entertainment from 11am-3pm. There is no entry fee to walk the nature trails on the west side of the gardens.
Get details here.
Directions: From Highway 525 about 2 miles south of the Greenbank Store, turn east onto Resort Road. Continue for a quarter of mile and turn north onto Meerkerk Lane for another quarter of a mile.
By Bike and Bus: Fare-free Island Transit Route 1 bus will come within a half mile of the entrance. If going north ask the driver to let you off at Resort Road. If going south, ask to be let off at the Hillside Church on Plantation Place and walk back about 100 yards to Resort Road. Each bus can carry 2 bikes. Resort Road is very quiet for cyclists or pedestrians but please wear bright clothes for visibility. There is no bus service on Sundays.
Mobility: The wide gravel paths through the gardens are accessible for wheelchairs. There are many benches along the way. The nature trails on the west side of the park are narrow but almost level.
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