“Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten.” -- Natasha Bedingfield
Today is the threshold of a new year. We bring with us all the baggage we have at the end of 2020, of course, but today's a new start, an open door, an empty page waiting to be written. Hopeful thoughts about the future filled my mind and my dreams as I headed outside to go hiking.
This day began in the mid-thirties, cold, cloudy, and gray -- in other words, a normal late-December day in the Pacific Northwest. Leaves have all fallen and settled for a winter's rest. Still, the woods were alive with wrens, siskins, song sparrows, robins and a solitary raven serenading the closing of the year and the eventual coming of spring.
I parked my bike at the ballpark at Volunteer Park, not a soul in sight other than one woman out with her elderly dog Chaco, strolling the paved trails around the playground and ballfields.
I stepped off the pavement onto the wide graveled path heading into the woods and wetlands of the park. The trail meanders throughout a forested area, free of puddles throughout its length now, even in the depth of our rainy season. But you know me – I found a side trail less traveled, leading toward a small pond with buffleheads and mallards feeding quietly. I sauntered along, finding hidden delights in the heart of the wetlands, while socially distancing from the birds. Eventually this adventurous route joined back up with the main trail.
Then I saw another side pathway diverging to the left, but I could see that it was partially underwater in places. The main trail here used to always be muddy too, but ditch work along the shoulder has dried it out and moved the water back into the wetlands. Thank you park workers.
Soon it climbs into a maple and sword fern forest, now airy and open with bare branches above letting in the weak winter light. At the southeast corner of the park I turned around and followed the half-mile trail back to the paved walkways. Throughout my leisurely rambling I passed no one. Yes, it’s winter. But it’s also mid-day in the heart of Anacortes. Where is everyone?
I walked the paved trails around the ballfields and heard the distinctive sound of bat striking ball. I found a man throwing fastballs at a young adult in the batter’s box, and the batter crushing the pitches into the outfield, and one over the fence, 330 feet away. The pitcher, who might have been his dad, looked pleased. I clapped.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.”
— J. P. Morgan
New Years is a time when many resolve to make some changes in their lives. Some promise to change their diet, or exercise more, or learn a new skill or make something happen in their life that is worthwhile.
We stand on the threshold of newness, of choices to make that can move us forward, to create within us and around us the life we want to see.
If walking more is one of your resolutions, here is an easy way to make that happen: find a place close to home, and walk there often, in winter’s cold, in summer’s heat, and everything in-between. Dress for the weather, get your feet outside, and you will find that almost every day is a good day on a trail. Or start exploring all the trails in Hiking Close to Home, checking off those you have visited, discovering new places to explore, and re-visiting familiar favorites.
Maribeth and I are grateful to our readers for coming along with us as we have shared our experiences on the trails this past year. Let’s fill 2021 with new hiking memories to treasure.
This hike is in the new 2021 Edition of Hiking Close to Home, available under the Books tab of this website or at local bookstores. Happy New Year!
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering 'it will be happier'...”
--Alfred Lord Tennyson
Directions: Highway 20 enters Anacortes as Commercial Avenue. Take 12th Street west from Commercial Avenue in Anacortes. Turn left at G Avenue and go two blocks to the parking areas at the playfields. The paved path goes around these fields; the forest trail starts at the southwest corner near the large open grassy field, south of the playground.
Transit Access: Island Transit's Route 411W can take you from Oak Harbor to the March's Point Park and Ride. Skagit Transit can take you from there, on the 410 bus, to the bus stop by the little store at H Avenue and 12th Street, two blocks north of Volunteer Park. Island Transit is fare free. Skagit Transit will cost a couple of dollars. Please bring small bills and quarters.
Accessibility: The paved path is accessible for nearly everyone, with gentle slopes and curb openings. The gravel trail is mostly accessible being well-compacted and firm, with some elevation gain at the southeast corner.
Wind so strong it turned umbrellas inside out. Rain in torrents flooding the roads. Even snow! Ho! Ho! Ho! And then, on the shortest day of the year, ahhhhhh, blessed sunshine with a crystal clear blue sky. The best gift of this holiday season.
In this dark, damp corner of the year when cars gets moldy and shoe seals leak, a day like today doesn’t come along often enough. So when it did, I was filled with gratitude and joy and struck out excitedly to one of my favorite trails.
People often ask, “What’s your favorite trail?” I smile. It depends. It’s like asking, “What’s your favorite restaurant?” It might be an old favorite or a new upstart. You like the food or the ambience. Maybe they have music or a view. Or perhaps it’s a dive restaurant with marginal food but you have fond memories of when you were there with friends that made you laugh so hard your beverage came out your nose. Good reasons for outdoor dining.
One of my favorite trails is the Pratt Loop for several reasons. It has wide open fields frequented by raptors bordered by hedges full of sparrows, blackbirds, juncos and chickadees. Part of it weaves through the woods where I see ravens, warblers and nuthatches. There are historic barns and fields still in use by local farmers. You can peer through the hedge and see barns, tractors and cows! And they’re peering back at you. This is part of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, but it’s never crowded.
Also, it’s flat and easy for most of us. It's wide enough to walk side by side with a friend. And it connects to other trails so you can make a loop or a figure eight, if time allows.
Today I decided to turn left and go by the Ebey’s cabin because the big, blue, mountains beyond were calling with fresh snow like sugar frosting on top. I appreciate the well preserved historic structures and the interpretive signs that tell us about parts of our past. Walking by the cabin and blockhouse, I stayed to the right of the fence line and followed the Pratt Loop. Then I saw a man walking with a dog. So I turned toward the bluff in order to say hello and pet the dog that came over and leaned against me like an old friend.
Approaching the sheepherder’s barn just under the bluff I thought Joseph and Mary would have found this stable very accommodating. It even has an old cistern in the back. From there I walked out to the bluff, because, well, who could resist looking out over the blue expanse of water on such a bright sky day. Waves brushed the beach below. A hiker climbed the trail above. Mount Rainier stood silhouetted in the distance.
I turned and headed back on the Ridge Trail. Part way along, at a break in the fence, I turned left and returned to the Pratt Loop following it alongside the field covered with small green sprouts. Hesitantly, I left the sunshine and entered the woods. Birds sang gaily from every shrub enjoying the sun after a week of wind and rain. A Kinglet swooped in for a quick hello. I saw the cabin across the field. The trail popped out into the sun. A south facing bench beckoned, but I kept walking into another well-kept barn complex with a map mounted on the wall. This is where the Pratt Loop and Kettles Spur trails intersect. Taking a right, I finished the loop between the hedge and the field and made my way back to the parking lot. Peering over the hedge I could see a blockhouse in the Sunnyside Cemetery. A white picket fence surrounds the graves of the Ebey family who were among the first white settlers on Whidbey Island.
So today, this was my favorite trail. Tomorrow? Who knows?
Have a Happy Healthy Holiday!
Directions: The trailhead is 1 and ½ miles from the intersection of Main Street and Highway 20 in Coupeville. Restrooms and a kiosk with maps and information are available at the trailhead. The Pratt Loop may be doable with a trail savvy motorized wheelchair.
By Car-From the intersection, drive north on the highway for ¾ of a mile and turn left on Sherman Road, then veer right onto Cemetery Road and follow it to the very end. Please drive slowly when the road narrows to one lane.
By Bike-Take the Kettles or Rhododendron bike path alongside Highway 20 north of Sherman Road and look carefully for the signpost to the Kettles Spur Trail. Lock your bike to the rack by the kiosk. The Kettles Spur trail is about a ¼ mile long and meets the Pratt Loop at the barn where a map is mounted.
By Bus – Take the fare free Route 1 Northbound bus from Coupeville, or Southbound from Oak Harbor, Monday-Saturdays, and ask the driver to let you off at Sherman Road. On the northbound bus you'll need to carefully cross the highway and then turn right on the bike path (away from Coupeville). Walk a short distance and turn left onto the Kettle Spur trail. Walk a ¼ mile to the Pratt Loop Trail where there’s a map mounted on the barn.
“A winter’s day, in a deep and dark December.” Paul Simon, I am a Rock
The day dawned with darkness, a heavy fog over the landscape. This whole year, too, has been a foggy darkness as we faced a virus, biases within us of systemic racism, a world on fire and filled with smoke, leadership focused on self rather than the whole, and health and economic challenges for millions, all of which will be remembered even as we strive to put this all behind us and forget.
We stayed separate to stay alive, masking up to be with others but avoiding being close. And we discovered that close to home are trails and beaches that offer us respite and refreshment from the staleness of indoor life, and a chance to safely interact with those close to us and keep the spark of hope alive.
“Slow down, you move too fast…” Paul Simon, Feelin’ Groovy
I walked onto Similk Beach as the cold morning fog began to fade. I intended to hike quickly down to the south end and move on with my day. The tide was rising, but much of the beach was still exposed.
As I strode along the strand, seagulls and crows called out incessantly, clamoring for my attention. A heron stood in the shallows, further arresting my thoughts, slowing my pace as I watched its graceful patience. The sun played peek-a-boo with the fog above Kiket, and I came to a full stop to watch it all play out.
Seeing this living shoreline, hearing the cacophony of birds, smelling low tide, beneath the surreal dance of fog and sun, it hit me then, as I became a part of the scene, that the wonderment of this morning was far too engaging to hurry through it all. I relaxed, I watched, and I sought to linger here and learn instead.
“You’ve got to make the morning last…”
I found a heart cockle shell, my favorite clam for last name reasons, and a bent-nose clam, another favorite because of my nose, and mud clams, macomas, little necks, butter clams, and other shells, oh my. Lugworms filled the gravelly beach with scat volcanoes.
“Just kicking down the cobblestones…”
Several small but tall snails had attached themselves to a cobblestone conclave for a diverse neighborhood of life. I perused shoreline boulders to observe communities gripping their sides. I found barnacles, chitons, and limpets under a fucus forest. Mussels made massive condos, herded together for mutual strength. Sitka snails did social distancing like ants on a log. Oyster shells high on the beach indicated successful clusters living lower down.
Trees overhanging the intertidal zone create a healthy environment for forage fish to lay eggs, and baby salmon to feast on detritus from the trees. Tree limbs filled the mudflats here down to the rising tide line. Broken eelgrass strands hung in the lower limbs where high tide had deposited them. This was an active slide zone; it appeared that these trees had toppled in recent storms. Still living trees leaned out almost horizontally over the shoreline, clinging tenaciously with their roots.
“Looking for fun, and feelin’ groovy!”
Then the sun broke through with full power and joy. I rejoiced to be alive this day, and danced beneath the sky, with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, but that’s a different songwriter.
As I headed back, a dog and his man were walking along the beach, a walk to stretch legs and not necessarily linger with intertidal life, or watch someone dancing at the shoreline.
When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. Seeds grow in the darkness, then blossom in the future light. Solstice is here! And a new year is on the horizon.
Life, I love you, all is groovy!
This hike is in the new 2021 Edition of Hiking Close to Home, available under the Books tab of this website. Happy Holidays!
Directions: A half-mile east of Sharpe's Corner Roundabout on Highway 20, take Christianson Road south about one mile to where it meets Satterlee Road. The Similk Beach parking area and trailhead is about 100 yards to your right on Satterlee Road.
Accessibility is moderate to the top of the berm at the beach; the beach itself is mud and cobblestone, with uneven and slippery rocks and logs throughout.
Pay close attention to the instructions on the sign at the trailhead. The beach is owned by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and access to the lower tide zone of the beach is prohibited, as it is a commercial shellfish bed. Stay as close as you can to the driftwood at the top of the beach.
The beach stretches only a hundred yards east of the entrance rules sign. You can walk this way near the driftwood and return on a grassy lawn trail. At the west end of the uplands, a modern midden of oyster shells grows from recent tribal harvests, ready to be returned to the beach with new spats of baby oysters. The accessible tribal property extends about a half-mile to the west and south at the base of the bluff.
Take your time here. Absorb all you can.
After pruning my fruit trees all afternoon, I was tired, but putting my tools away and raking up the cut branches, I thought I might go in search of a sunset. I knew just the place, Hammons Preserve. As I drove the length of Cultus Bay Road the radio announcer said that sunset would be at 4:17. A short trail for a short day, I thought. In December, we sometimes have dark days or wet days, which make short days even shorter. In mid-winter I crave the light and get outside to put my face in it whenever I can. I’d enjoyed working in my yard. Watching a sunset over the water would be like putting a cherry on top of a good day.
I used to live on this corner where Cultus Bay Road makes a right turn and Possession Point Road goes straight. I rented a little cabin here and tried to get home every night in time for sunset. My landlord, artist Ed Nordin, painted sunsets over and over, capturing the dimpled water reflecting the light in every shade of the rainbow.
I parked in the grassy lot and stepped out. All was quiet. Walking past the split rail fence and up the hill under a huge maple, I could hear its bare bones shivering in the breeze. When I reached the bench in the top corner I turned and sat down, happy to rest after hours of pruning. I rolled my shoulders and rocked my head to get the kinks out. Ahhh, time to relax.
The day had been sunny but wet weather was coming. A cloudbank on the horizon had claimed the sun in this last hour of the day. There would be no spectacular sunset, but at the edge was a silver lining, the hint of a smile as the sun said goodnight. The view was fine. The marshy end of the bay is great habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. Ducks flew overhead in a line. When the Hammon Family donated their farmstead to the land trust, Al Hammon's wish was to offer the place for folks to come and “rest their souls awhile.” At the end of this long year of struggle, many of us need such a place.
After a while I rose from the bench and continued down the hill passing through the naked orchard in the soft light. Entering the forest in the back corner of the property, I found a couple of fir cones tucked into the nook of a tree. How sweet.
Following the path and returning toward the field, I came upon a footbridge with poop on it. Yuck. My first thought was, "Someone is walking their dog here and not picking up after it, even though there was a pet waste bag dispenser at the start of the trail." But as I neared the poop, I leaned in. This wasn’t dog poop. Some of it looked like a twisted rope, coyote scat. And some looked like it might be otter. The two old sheds nearby would make a perfect home for an otter family. I picked up a stick and poked at the reddish brown poop. It fell apart easily to reveal different undigested morsels of cone, seeds and fruit pits. I often stop to examine wild animal scat. It reveals the diet of our fellow creatures. They’re good role models for us to eat local, organic and what’s in season.
I passed by the old sheds and stood where the farmhouse used to be. There’s no trace of it now, but there was a photograph on the kiosk at the trailhead. I remember visiting Al Hammon when I lived nearby, and bringing him a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. He lived alone and it seemed like a good idea. He was genuinely appreciative and very much surprised. I could feel his gentle spirit still in this place.
This trail is in the new 2021 Edition of Hiking Close to Home, available under the Books tab of this website. Happy Holidays!
Directions: From Highway 525 at Ken's Korner (2.7 miles from the Clinton Ferry Terminal) turn south on Cultus Bay Road. Drive 5 miles and Hammons Preserve will be on your left.
This trail is short, grassy, on a gentle slope but not suitable for most mobility devices.
Archives by date