On the day before Thanksgiving I went out for a walk. I’ve been doing a lot of walking this week in some of my favorite places. It restoreth my soul. I took the week off for a much needed break. I’m not traveling to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I’m not even going to feast with friends. I’m just walking. I watch birds and wildlife. I sit and stare across the blue expanse and the misty mountains on the far horizon. When it rains I carry my umbrella. It took 3 days to break the routine, to leave my cares behind, to find peace. Something shifted. My heart opened. Walking is good therapy in troubled times.
Today I went to meet Jack for a walk. He lives in Anacortes. I live in Freeland so we met in the middle at Joseph Whidbey State Park. It was a good thing we decided to meet there for a beach walk. The tide was high, but there were still plenty of places to walk. Woodland trails and a trail just off the shore are mostly accessible for those in wheeled scooters or trail savvy wheelchairs.
For the more agile, a beach walk offered a chance to pull off ones shoes and feel the sand between ones toes, if one had a mind to do such a thing in late November. We walked north with the sun on our backs passing industrious youth building castles and digging moats. We walked until we came upon a sign marking the edge of the Navy property. Then, turning inland toward a cattail marsh, we watched a Northern Harrier glide a few feet off the ground, hunting. It wheeled showing its white rump and tipped and whirled and spun around to circle back. Then another raptor sped by at head height and caught our attention. Was that a Merlin? Neither of us had brought binoculars. What were we thinking?
It was a good day to catch up with a friend and walk a few miles. We climbed the bluff and took the trails through the woods. Blue sky shone through bare branches full of busy little Chickadees, Kinglets and Pine Siskins. Sparrows sang sweetly from blackberry boughs. A woman collected downed branches for holiday swags. A mother walked with her young daughter. A couple walked with their dog. We all need to get outside on lovely days in the winter to get our vitamin D, fresh air, exercise, to stay healthy and sane. Jack and I had both been under stress these last few months. It's been a really tough year for many. But on our walk, we didn’t dwell on that. This was a day to shed the strain, stretch our legs and our lungs and enjoy good company. As the sun sank below the clouds and the golden glow lit up the landscape, we both pulled out our cameras and tried to capture the moment.
“What are you thankful for?” I asked. Our answers were the same. This beautiful place we call home, the ability to walk, and talk, and enjoy it, the cozy homes we have waiting for us as darkness falls and temperatures drop, the good food we’d enjoy this Thanksgiving, and the friends and family (human and animal) that enrich our lives even if we can’t all be together. Thanksgiving will be different this year which provides an opportunity to be creative, try something new. But one thing remains the same. It’s still a time when we stop to appreciate what’s around us and give thanks.
Directions: From the stoplight at Highway 20 and Swantown Road on the south side of Oak Harbor, take Swantown Road 3 miles to the main park entrance. Restrooms and picnic tables are at this entrance. You will need a Discover Pass to park here. Or turn west and park at the beach on West Beach Road where no parking pass is required. Or turn right and park around the corner on Crosby Road for quick access to upland trails.
Those with mobility devices can choose between the beach level and the upland trails. Depending on how cars are parked, there may be problems reaching the beach trail. But the main entrance offers access to the upland trails with views of the water and access to picnic tables and restrooms. These are not ADA trails but fairly smooth, wide and mostly flat.
November 17 is our official national “Take a Hike!” Day.
You missed it, you say? Then let’s call it the Take a Hike Week, or Month, and get out there when the rain gives a break. Or go hiking in the rain, when the trails have fewer visitors and a more intimate perspective. In this season of renewed Covid concerns, as we stay safe and stay home, remember to also stay sane by getting out, hiking close to home whenever and wherever you can.
Exploring a trail expands our awareness and oneness with the life of our planet. And it strengthens our social connections, whether we hike alone or in the company of others. “A good friend listens to your adventures. A best friend makes them with you.”
Hiking can inspire us, cleanse our minds, encourage our spirits, and strengthen our hearts, literally and figuratively. The physical benefits are many: lower blood pressure, increased bone density, stronger core, better balance, toned muscles, and improved cardiovascular energy. Did you know being outdoors increases your vitamin D, which combats seasonal affective disorder and depression? People who spend time in nature are less anxious. Researchers describe time outdoors as “restorative experiences,” such as coming into a situation with feelings of heightened stress and fear and leaving with fewer of those feelings.
It also increases creativity and helps settle our souls. “If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to you when you go for a walk.” – Raymond Inmon
On Monday the weather was wet but my need to get outside was apparent. Rain drizzled steadily as I stopped at A Avenue in Anacortes in the late afternoon, heading toward Little Cranberry. I donned my raincoat, rain pants, boots, and for a new experience, I opened an umbrella! Yes I did. My camera and I stayed dry, mostly. As I walked, songs with the word ‘rain’ in the title kept coming, starting with the obvious as I danced with my umbrella to Singing in the Rain, then John Denver’s I’ll Walk in the Rain by your Side, then Laughter in the Rain, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head, and since it was a Monday, Rainy Days and Mondays. I could only remember the chorus to Here Comes that Rainy Day Feelin’ Again. November Rain completed and depleted my memory banks, but the title seemed appropriate. My voice was a little scratchy by the time I returned to the parking lot, but my head and heart were lighter and happier after the walk, in spite of, or maybe because of, the rain.
On Tuesday the 17th, the official Take a Hike day, I waited until the winds subsided and the sun broke through for a few minutes. I wandered the Lighthouse Point Trail south of Bowman Bay, finding the low pressure of the storm was allowing the high tide to be a king tide, inundating the normal boundaries of the shoreline and even some of the trail. The changed environment disrupted and reconfigured my knowledge of the trail as I scrambled through roses and salal. The actual trail was now a running river. A great blue heron focused on finding dinner in the unsettled waters of the bay. A couple of solo hikers passed by in the distance, and I saw them again later, sitting on the bluff in various places, watching the evening darkness settle over the Strait, thinking their own thoughts, getting their own benefits of being outside.
We are surrounded by such a treasure of local trails on our islands. No matter the weather, no matter your life situation, or especially because of your life situation, Take a Hike! Take a friend, take your time, take a camera, make it memorable, but make it happen regardless of the weather. It’s November. Take what you get and make the best of it.
Send us a picture we can share here, and your smile.
And be sure to give thanks.
Look at our book for directions to nearby trails for you. Then look at this list of some of the organizations who design, build, and maintain our local trails. Thanksgiving is next week. Consider the people of these organizations as you give thanks. Or join one of them if you can and give them a hand.
City of Anacortes
Town of Coupeville
City of Oak Harbor
Island County Backcountry Horsemen
Island County Parks
National Park Service
Pacific Rim Institute
Port of Coupeville
Port of South Whidbey
Rotary Club of Anacortes
San Juan Preservation Trust
Seattle Pacific University
Skagit County Parks
Skagit Land Trust
Skagit Whatcom Island Trail Maintaining Org
South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District
South Whidbey School District
Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington State Parks
Washington Trails Association
Whidbey Camano Land Trust
Whidbey Island Bicycle Club
Whidbey Watershed Stewards
Private landowners who allow passage on their lands:
- Deer Lagoon, Earth Sanctuary, Meerkerk Gardens
And individuals like you and me.
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
When the sun comes out in November you have to stop everything and dive into it! In the afternoon my house is in the shade so I called a friend to ask if she’d like to go for a hike. She said yes and wanted to bring her dog. There was a cold wind blowing from the north so we considered our options. Where is there a south facing beach with plenty of sun and a high bluff to block the wind from the north? Of course! Double Bluff!
We weren’t the only ones with this idea. There were cars parked along the roadside. People were coming and going. The place was bustling with activity. When we stepped down to the beach and began walking westward there were so many families and dogs and kids and so much sunshine and blue sky and dogs and calm water and red kayaks and plenty of beach and dogs and driftwood for building huts and dogs. Did I mention the dogs? Double Bluff has an off leash dog park at the start of the beach. We were thinking we’d walk beyond it, but we had so much fun watching the dogs and meeting them and their owners that we never made it past the dog park.
We met a young woman with a stick-crazy German Shepherd. A little girl jumped with excitement into the waves that washed ashore at her feet. A golden retriever and a yellow lab dove into the surf after a bright green ball, then came splashing out again, and again, and again. We met a couple of seniors who had just met each other walking their senior dogs. Then I met an old friend walking with 3 miniature Australian Shepherds, little balls of fluffy fur frolicking and tumbling and scrambling around. We say there’s a flock of geese, a herd of deer and a murder of crows. I thought this must be a pile of puppies. They were delightful, playing with each other, meeting other dogs, making friends with new people.
They say a pet can bring your blood pressure down and offer some emotional support in stressful times. These puppies were good medicine for me. The week after the most contentious Presidential election in modern history, with a global pandemic spiking again, and trying to figure out how to celebrate the holidays in a smaller, safer, smarter way left me a bit fried. A walk in the sun by the water, with a friend, surrounded by lively puppies and canine companions did me a lot of good.
After my walk I came home and Googled the health benefits of being a dog owner. Turns out there are many scientific studies that have been conducted world-wide that show far more benefits than I suspected. Being a pet owner reduces loneliness and depression. Having a dog is good for your heart, lowers your blood pressure and decreases stress. Dogs walk their owners on average 300 minutes a week. Dog owners are 4 times more likely to meet their physical activity guidelines. Those suffering from PTSD are better at coping if they have a canine companion. Dogs improve your social life, bringing people together. You appear more relaxed and happy in photographs with a pet. Puppies have facial features like infants that trigger our caregiver instincts. They’re natural mood boosters and entertain us. Pet therapy improves cognitive function in seniors in long term care. They significantly decrease agitated behavior in seniors with dementia. Pets open our hearts to human relationships.
Months ago I saw a bumper sticker with a silhouette of a dog on it that said, “Who rescued who?”
Directions: Double Bluff County Park is 3 miles south of Freeland. Take Highway 525 about a half mile south of Freeland and turn south on Double Bluff Road. Drive to the end to find a small parking area. There are frequently cars parked along the roadside leading to the park. Lookout for car doors opening and pedestrians walking in this area. The off leash dog park is about a half mile long. Please put your dog on a leash if you wish to walk farther, and always pick up after your pet. Thank you.
When I was young, we had a large maple tree near my house. In the fall, the air would stir, and the leaves would take turns falling, sometimes quickly, sometimes dancing rhythmically in the only flight of their life down to their death. I would look like I was dancing as I twisted and turned and leaped to catch the gyrating leaves. Then I would gather them in a pile and jump into the musty earthy rich smelling fortress of fallen leaves.
Raising my own children, I made sure they had the same experience. We made a game of standing under maple trees in the fall as a light wind rustled the golden treasures loose, racing around wildly to catch the falling leaves, then raking them into a pile and jumping into the big soft pillow of leaves.
My son Ben trying to catch leaves in the fall of the year 2000.
It was a mid-fall day this week, the sun blazing in golden glory, the air warm for November. I peddled my way on Guemes Island along South Shore Road from the Guemes Ferry, riding the two mostly-level miles to the Guemes Mountain Trailhead. I passed scenic shorelines, fancy houses, working farms, red barns, fruit-laden orchards, and quiet woodlands. Guemes Mountain rises quickly on the east side of the island, its shoulders standing above the rest of the mostly flat rural land.
At the trailhead, maple leaves hung tenuously in trees all along the road and lower trail. As I admired them, a light zephyr caressed the trees, and a few leaves began to fall. Unable to stop myself, I raced toward them in their flight, trying to catch them in my hands before they hit the ground. It’s not easy! But after a few minutes I caught one, and soon another, and I felt my inner child smiling deeply and glowing warmly. Then I laid them to rest.
The Guemes Mountain trail starts out climbing through maples and firs, switchbacking several times to ascend the west slope of the mountain. About half-way up, there is a viewpoint out over the island that shows not only that you have indeed gained quite a bit of elevation; it also shows how the forest changes at this level too. The soil is shallower, rockier, and unable to hold as much water. Maples give way to alder and cherry. Firs look like slender versions of the heavyweights below.
The trail continues to climb, then makes one long final straight ascent to the top. Now the forest is almost diminutive, grasses and shrubs dominating with scattered trees as frames for photos. The final stretch is a stroll. There is a loop trail around the peak marked with low cedar railings through the meadows to protect these fragile habitats. You are rewarded with views of Samish Island, Mount Baker and the mainland to the east; Vendovi and Lummi Islands to the north; and Cypress and other San Juans to the west.
It’s late afternoon, so I linger to wait for the sunset, which comes early these days.
The wait is worth it. The fields, forests and farms of Guemes become shadowed suggestions of island life. The Olympics are silhouetted, the San Juans in misty relief. Baker glows pink. The day has been full; the evening memorable. I head back down the trail in the fading light, back into the deeper woods and then to the maple-shadowed dusky road to ride back to the ferry.
This has been a Northwest Sampler of a day: ferry rides, a bike ride along shorelines and local farms, a climb up a forested trail to a mountain peak, discovering views of the San Juans, Olympics, and a nearby volcano, watching a pumpkin-colored sunset and then smelling the fragrant island air as I returned home. It’s an experience worth sharing with friends and family members.
Oh, and yes, catching maple leaves. Time to teach my grandchildren this timeless joy as well.
Directions: Catch the Guemes Island Ferry in Anacortes at 6th Street and I Avenue. If you take your bike, you can ride north on the island up to Edens Road, a mile and a half from the ferry, then turn right and drop down the exhileratingly steep hill to the one lane gravel road at the bottom, then follow the road another half mile or so to the trailhead. Or turn right at the ferry landing and ride two miles along South Shore Road to get to the trailhead. Park your bike at the bike rack, and hike up the one mile trail to the top. On the return trip you can stop at the Guemes Island store near the ferry landing for some take-out treats. Being on the trail after sunset is not recommended.
The public trail on Guemes Mountain is owned by the Skagit Land Trust. They acquired the property in 2017 thanks to the very generous and sizeable donations of many. It is now a treasure that is open to all hikers to enjoy.
And don't forget to join Maribeth and me this Saturday, November 7 from 1 to 3 pm at Pacific Rim Institute east of Coupeville for our Book Release Party of the third edition of Hiking Close to Home! Enjoy sips of cider, get your new copy of the book signed, and enjoy a walk around the prairie grounds, all with safe Covid distancing parameters in place.
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