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.
Touchstone: (noun) a fundamental or quintessential part or feature.
We all have them: moments, places, and actions in our lives that become the essence of who we are and the directions we take. They may be events that happen to us, choices we make, or the heritage we are raised in that indelibly stamps us and sets the course of our lives; or that creates a turning point, a new awareness, a new venture, a new us.
Think about yours for a few minutes.
And I invite you to read on about some of mine, and for others, residing along one of my favorite trails close to home.
The afternoon had sunshine breaking through the clouds after a dreary wet morning. Kath and I parked at the southern parking lot of Bowman Bay to hike out to Rosario. It’s a meaningful place and week for us. To begin with, this is where we first met, this very same hike.
The parking lot sits on land that used to be an alder wetland, the backshore to the beaches of Bowman Bay, once home to a diversity of wildlife. During the Forties the Department of Fisheries filled it in to raise salmon and other marine fishes -- an ironic twist, right? Do the wildlife remember their ancestral home?
We walked north past the CCC museum, shelter, and campground. In the Thirties the CCC harvested local trees and gathered rocks to build the shelter, ranger house, and parking areas. Their intent was to build facilities that complemented the landscape, that blended in naturally. They succeeded with quintessential features of the park.
I glanced over at the campground. One of my life touchstones sits there. It’s the campsite where my family tented when I was three, where I looked at fish tanks during the day, listened to stories around a campfire in the evening, and slept to the lullaby of lapping waves at night -- fundamentals indelibly stamped upon me.
Kath and I hiked up the steep hill toward Rosario. People streamed by. One group of women stopped Kath and said, “We need you”! They were on a scavenger hunt, and needed a stranger, a blue coat, and a dog. Kath provided all three!
Sunlight glistened on the water and a blue kayak; madrone trees glowed as hikers passed by; oyster catchers chattered as they landed on a tiny rock island below us. On that first hike together, we had heard oyster catchers here; I had asked Kath then if she knew what they were just from the sound. She did!
Today we hiked on, finding a middle-aged couple sitting on the bench not far from Rosario. A family had donated the bench years ago. Their daughter had loved this place; she died from cancer at the age of 18. Their gift became one of their touchstones.
We dropped down to the promontory jutting out into Bowman Bay just east of Rosario. It was here that I proposed to Kath a year ago this week. She said yes! -- after some deliberation on her part, and for me a few missed heartbeats!
This point will always be one of our touchstones, of course.
Coming in to Rosario, gaggles of people wandered everywhere on this holiday weekend.
This was once home for local tribes. Home -- the beaches and marine waters at their doorstep, the uplands with cedar shelters and homefires burning, where families gathered, children played, and where their ancestors still reside. It still is their home, with KoKwalAlWoot a reminder to us all as she stands firmly planted in the earth, sharing her story to any who will listen.
After a potty break, it was time to head back, having unwrapped some of the stories we carry, and celebrating others we find along the trail, where countless touchstones reside on sacred ground.
Directions: From Highway 20 just north of the Deception Pass bridge, turn onto Rosario Road and take an immediate left onto Bowman Bay Road. Park in either of the parking lots available and follow the trail north (to the right).
By bus: There is no nearby bus service to this area.
By bike: Rosario Road is narrow and hilly, but with far less traffic than Highway 20.
Mobility: The trail is graveled, flat and wide at Bowman Bay, but becomes steep and rough as it heads to Rosario.
Lost in the Whistle Wood
It was a grey day. A wet road led to the trailhead. I parked between cedars and fir, the only car in sight. The woods greeted me like an old friend. We embraced. When was the last time I’d visited Whistle Lake? Last summer? Yes, swimming with a friend by a rocky outcrop on the west side. And the time before that it was covered in snow!
Many trails I seek in their best season, with wildflowers, or golden leaves. But the Anacortes Community Forest Lands are wonder filled year-round, each season offering its special gifts. All the lakes, wetlands, forest, and hills are linked together by miles of trail options and days, weeks, months of happy exploration. I came to walk to the lake, as I had many times before. After that I had no agenda.
The old forest road to the lake is wide with a gentle grade, an easy walk. It’s framed by huge cedars at the start then by a rock face on one side and a tree lined shore on the other. I reminisced as I walked, remembering when I’d lived nearby and walked my dog here. How I’d seen people of every age in summer swimsuits, toting an air mattress or rubber raft up this trail. In winter cross country ski tracks traced the route through the snow. On this January day, the lake was calm. I heard voices along the west side, so I turned east.
All the trails are marked and numbered, so if I’d brought a map, I’d be able to track my route with some accuracy. If I’d brought a map. But I’d walked these trails so many times, I felt confident without one. The trail followed the lakeshore around the east side until it reached a rocky shore. I took a seat, had a snack and a sip from my thermos. A row of cormorants were evenly spaced on a log suspended over the water, looking like clothes pins on a line. I gazed across the lake to the curving summit of Mount Erie rising in the distance. The south end of the lake has a rock face where teenagers jump in, screaming, but not today. Madronas leaned out over the rocks, stretching skyward at the water’s edge. One old tree that had shed its papery, red bark, revealed a puckered-up surface below. A long hollow gouge left only the outer shell still thriving.
I turned away from the water, the usual route I used to take with my dog, on to trail 29, which is more narrow with some twists and turns, ups and downs. I could have turned left on the first trail, or the next, but wanted to lengthen my walk so I kept going, a little beyond where I’d been before. I have a good sense of direction, a natural compass, but on a grey day, with no visual clues like mountain peaks or town spires, I wasn’t sure. This trail wasn’t familiar. Still, I kept walking. Whenever I thought the trail should wiggle to the left, it would inevitably wiggle to the right.
I came to an overlook and spied the Sharpes Corner round-about, Skagit Valley, and the North Cascades. I hoped this trail wasn’t leading me down to Highway 20. Eventually, the wiggles started turning toward the west. Even with the ups and downs, switchbacks and rock faces, I felt I was finally moving in the right direction. Near the end of my hike, I met two women and asked how far I was from the main trail. They insisted on guiding me until I could see it and knew I was just a short stroll from the parking area.
I had to laugh. I love getting lost. It makes me more aware of my surroundings, working my mind as much as my muscles. It was a longer walk than expected, but a better one. Aren’t we fortunate to have so many trails that we can get lost now and then? I rewarded myself with tea and cookies at the corner store.
You may want to bring a map.
Directions: From the round-about on Commercial Avenue in Anacortes, go south to the top of the hill. Turn left at the T onto Fidalgo Ave. and left again on Hillcrest. Turn right on Whistle Lake Road and follow the signs. The road will turn left and then right onto a dirt road before it ends at the parking area. Please don't leave valuables in the car.
By Bus and Bike: The nearest bus stop is on R Avenue and 33rd, 3 miles away. For a cyclist the hill from Commercial Ave. to Fidalgo Ave. could be daunting. There are no bike lanes, but the speeds are low. The road narrows as you approach the lake.
Mobility: The main trail to the lake is wide and smooth with a gentle uphill grade. Other trails around Whistle Lake vary widely from rough and narrow to smooth with room for two people to walk side by side.
Cranberries are one of only three fruits native to North America, growing wild on long-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes.
The first peoples took advantage of the cranberry’s many beneficial attributes. By mixing mashed cranberries with deer meat, they preserved a food called pemmican. And the rich red juice of the cranberry was used as a natural dye for rugs, blankets and clothing.
The Samish call this interesting berry:
German and Dutch settlers to America started calling it the "crane berry” because of the flower’s resemblance to the head and bill of a crane. That was the name that stuck in English.
With the holidays – and cranberries – on our minds, we headed to the Georgia Avenue access to Little Cranberry Lake.
Once upon a time, this lake’s bogs and bays supported wild cranberries, so pioneers named the lake “Cranberry”. Over on Whidbey, another lake also grew cranberries on its shores, and was given the same name. To keep them distinct, our Fidalgo lake became “Little Cranberry”.
But the growing town of Anacortes needed a water supply, so Little Cranberry was dammed at its northern end over a hundred years ago, raising the lake level and drowning the cranberry plants.
On this day, our local weather had turned cold. My thermometer read 21 degrees at high noon. Snow had fallen the night before, giving us a dusting of maybe half an inch. We had a short window of weather to go hiking, with heavy snow predicted to begin mid-afternoon.
Little Cranberry lay frozen under a white blanket, with holes of steel-gray blue where the wind stirred up wavelets. We walked along the east shoreline, kinglets tinkling like golden bells above us. Roots and rocks were slick, but the trail was safely walkable.
A solitary eagle flew over the lake. Cedar, salal and madrone leaves were draped with snow, leaving the ground beneath clear for robins and wrens to root around.
The edges of the lake here were mostly free of ice, except where branches bobbed in the water, creating clinging ice ornaments.
At the shallow, protected south end of the lake, a sheet of ice connected the many logs and grass clumps. The trail that followed the south shore is now closed for lakeshore protection. We detoured along the Big Beaver Pond trail, saying hello to half a dozen fellow hikers embracing the bracing temperatures, and enjoying the chance to be out.
Back at the lake on trail 101, we hugged the western shoreline as the clouds deepened and darkened. The woods became still, and silent. The edge of the storm was here.
The lightly falling flakes felt like fairy dust dancing among us. We joined the dance, across the rocks and through the woods, admiring the quiet solitude of the forests, the transformed frozen lake, and the peace that comes from being absorbed in the natural world around us.
During the evening and all through the night, Fidalgo Island was blanketed with nearly a foot of snow. We watched from our cozy couch, sipping cups of creamy hot cocoa. The heavens snowed; Christmas lights glowed. And cranberries were ready for dessert.
Happy holidays to you all, and to all a joyous winter solstice as the sun begins its journey back.
For fun, you may enjoy watching some of these old-time Ocean Spray cranberry juice commercials:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yxtVugOHCI tire swing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYLXYIKX2yc no added sugar
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Z8booCtoSA fruit stand
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjMR0Uwlr1c lap top
Directions: From Anacortes, we took Oakes Avenue to Georgia Avenue, then up the steep road to the north end of the lake. Or take D Avenue up the hill, through the roundabout, to A Avenue and almost to 41st to the kiosk and trailhead there. There are several other options; consult a local map.
By Bus: take Skagit 410 west from Anacortes heading to the State Ferry. Stop near Georgia Avenue for a half-mile walk up the hill.
By bike: I don't recommend a bike in snowy weather like this, but at other times, follow the directions as shown. The roads are somewhat busy and very hilly, and mostly narrow.
Mobility: the trails around the lake are mostly narrow, rough, and filled with rocks and roots. However, the trail from the north parking lot across the dam to the wooden overlook is mostly three feet wide and relatively smooth gravel.