We’ve hiked Kelly’s Point a handful of times, usually with Murphy in tow. Actually, he’s rarely in tow along the beach. He’s usually footloose pawloose and free, free to wander the wrack line and find half of a smelly old crab claw, or a half-decayed seagull, or a fish left over from the ice ages. By leftover I mean that’s how long it’s been dead. He rolls in it back and forth because that’s what dogs do, to add some sex appeal to their presence – like the smelly perfume I remember my third-grade teacher wearing, almost like tear gas. Fortunately, I’m not stuck in a classroom with Murphy. Although we must all get back in our car in Anacortes. Uh-oh. This could be bad.
But I digress. I should be talking about art.
Kelly’s Point has art. It’s filled with art.
Approaching Kelly’s Point on the beach we stopped to admire the gate of a nearby neighbor, who had an octopus for a gate, eight arms flowing formidably to say ‘keep out’, yet with an artistic touch.
At Kelly’s Point, four kids were blowing soap bubbles and nibbling on snacks. No parents in sight. But then this is Guemes, so no one is concerned, least of all the kids, free to play as they wish on the beach.
Also, this being Guemes, check out the bench at the Kelly’s Point parking area. It is such an exquisite piece of workmanship, inviting a sit to enjoy the view even if you don’t need to rest awhile.
Sometimes the art is created by people, putting jingle shells (the flat bottom ones with holes in them) in the branches of fallen trees, or putting pretty rocks in a line on logs, or adding eyes and a mouth to a piece of driftwood to make it look like a whale, or an eagle, or, if I squint, quite a bit like my third-grade teacher.
Sometimes nature is the artist, using winds and waves, falling rains, falling rocks, falling trees, any tool at its disposal.
Kath can look at the cliffs and see stories in sandstone, sparkling colored canvases carved into patterns, or castles, or abstract sculpture. She sees faces in the sweep of the driftwood, beauty in fallen branches or the textures of cobblestones. She takes photos of what she sees, finding inspiration for new weavings or drawings, or just as a reminder of the ever-changing artistry here.
Me not so much. I just see ripple lines in the sandy cliffs, stripes in the rocks, and trees ready to topple from the top of the bluff a hundred feet above me, much like the trees down on the beach that just fell a year ago, or last month, or maybe yesterday? Some are still up there, hanging on by one last overstretched root, the other roots dangling in air like a half dozen swords of Damocles.
But in this wild feeder bluff and its beach below, I see earth stories from time immemorial when the land was tropical, and from when it lay a mile under glacial ice. I enjoy expansive views to Cypress, and sailboats and workboats cruising down the island passages looking like illustrations out of Life magazine. Sometimes sunlit whitecaps roll down the waterway. On this day the waves were just wavelets, nowhere to go and in no hurry to get there. Sunshine had followed us here, but rising storm clouds began to mute the light, the islands, the point, and the art. The waters turned steely gray, waterfowl riding the rising waves then diving beneath.
And I see this gift of Guemenites (Guemeneers? Guemesites? Guemenies?) who donated generously to preserve this special corner of the island, the best art of all.
“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart." –Kahlil Gibran
Then I remember we still have to get back in the car with Murphy.
Thoughts to ponder:
1. What things may keep us from seeing the beauty that's always around us?
2. What's the value of beauty in your life?
3. How can we share beauty with others, thus enriching their lives?
Directions: Take your bike on he Skagit 410 bus or drive to the Guemes Ferry Terminal at 6th Street and I Avenue in Anacortes. Take the ferry to Guemes Island. Walk the beach westward to Kelly's Point, or follow South Shore Drive west to the parking lot where South Shore Drive becomes West Shore Drive. Respect private property, of course.
Mobility: the ferry approach ramps are sloped. The roadways are paved and mostly flat or gently sloped, with minimal traffic. The beach is sandy and gravelly and not passable at the highest of tides.
In the wake of the once tall cedar groves
we find their stumps,
hollowed relics to explore,
wonder and engage.
For a moment we are suspended
in this perpetual dance between
growth, decay, and forest again
The trailhead was recently expanded to include additional parking (nearly full on this cold January Saturday) and a sharp-looking bulletin board. And a new stretch of trail has been added. Called Frog Forest, it completes a loop for more than two miles of blissful forest sauntering.
Hikers and dogs were milling at the trailhead when we arrived; we chatted as Murphy sniffed with his counterparts.
Kath and I took the newly-completed Frog Forest Trail to check it out. Scattered small ponds grace the sides of the trail for nearly a half mile. The trail tread is still rough and fresh, but alongside there is abundant wetland habitat for sedges, willows, birds, and of course the namesake amphibians. I can’t wait to hear the cacophony of song on a spring evening.
This route soon joins up with more established trails, winding through more established forests. The wind sang deep songs in the firs and bare alders. Our pace became deliberate as we listened to the heartbeat of the land, to the stories of each of the trees as we walked among them, their lives and deaths and new births speaking to us in their ancient language.
Some are telling stories as seedlings or sprouts, finding a place of their own. Some are gangly teenagers, and some are middle-aged trees, well established, with scars to prove it. Some are senior citizens, having lived here for centuries, watching the hours and days go by, and creatures like us who come and go like the passing breeze.
All these trees stand as brothers, or as lovers, or as mothers and children, as old and as young, all mingling roots and lives together, a shared community. Some are dead though they still stand, giving homes and food to birds, insects, fungi, and much more. Some have now fallen, becoming soil, hosting abundant new life in their death.
Growing, decaying, the forest continues... (below)
The southern trail enters a sacred cedar grove. Our pace slows, our conversation ceases. We just listen instead, hearing whispers of holiness. One cedar fell decades ago, but still lives, its branches on one side now a row of full-grown trees too. Rare paper birch trees wave their branches in song as sap once again begins to swell their buds. A rocky pool of water below reflects their canopies.
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the red cedars,
equally the birch, the firs and hemlock,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
We emerge back at the trailhead, finishing the circle of pathways. As we reflect on our time in the Dog Woods, we envision family and dear friends, loved ones with newborns, young adults, or aging seniors, all of us in our perpetual dance within the circle of life.
Guemes Island is part of the ancestral homelands of the Coast Salish peoples and the Samish Indian Nation, who lived throughout the San Juan Islands from time immemorial. The Samish name for the island translates to “Lots of Dogs” Island, where the Samish raised the Salish Woolly Dog, whose long white hair was sheared and spun for weaving.
Dog Woods is intended to remind us of this Samish history, and the dogs and people who have wandered the beaches, meadows, and forests of the island.
Directions: Take the Guemes Ferry from 6th and I in Anacortes to the island. If on foot, we enjoy walking the beach from there passed Peach's Preserve to Kelly’s Point and taking the stairs there to West Shore Road. Go north about a quarter mile to the trailhead.
By Bus: Route 410 of Skagit Transit goes to the Guemes Ferry in Anacortes.
By Bike: From downtown Anacortes take 6th Avenue westward to the ferry. Sixth Avenue is basically flat with little traffic. After landing on Guemes, bike on South Shore Road from the ferry about a mile west to West Shore Road and then north to Dog Woods.
Mobility: The trails are mostly narrow and uneven. A dirt roadway bisecting the forest is wider, but with ruts and uneven terrain of varying firmness.
catching fall in the northwest
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.
Earth, sky, and sea
Sometimes our hikes aim for a destination. Sometimes we look forward to the conversation with others as we journey along a trail. And sometimes we see that the journey itself is the destination, whether shared or just experienced alone.
On a very warm, very breezy Labor Day I rode my bike to the Guemes Ferry dock, crossed on the ferry, then biked a mile west to the trailhead of Kelly’s Point. The new gravel parking lot holds a handful of cars. I locked my bike in the bike rack and became a hiker. A short trail heads to the beach, with a beautiful curving bench giving a view out over the west end of the Guemes Channel; a short stairway drops down to the beach itself.
Turn right here to follow the beach and bluff line northward for a half mile. The first half of the beach is quite rocky, especially below the high tide line. The second half stays cobbly at the lower end but the constant erosion off the bluffs fills in the upper beach with abundant sand.
Kelly’s Point is best hiked at a low to mid tide. At high tide, the water is up against the base of this 100-foot high, ever-changing erosional bluff and an alder forest doing its best to hang on. The bluff starts out low at first, then gets higher as you head north, then eventually starts to lower again as you approach the private property at the north end of the Skagit Land Trust property. The Trust land is sandwiched between private property at both ends of the property.
Being vertical sand faces, the bluffs allow unfortunate graffiti to be carved into them at the beginning, but beyond that I found almost nothing – except for two words: “I LOVE.... The object of this love and devotion has been erased by erosion some time ago. Hopefully the love has not also been erased, but erosion of all kinds happens in life too. I said a short prayer for “I” and his or her love. Then I considered that maybe there was nothing missing at all; maybe it was just a two-word sentence, which changed the scope of these sentiments and made me hope that we all share these two words as our daily prayer.
I walked north on the beach, reveling in the comfortable warmth of the day even with a 20-knot wind coming down the passage between Guemes and Cypress Islands. This was an unusual day in the northwest, without question, as a tank top and shorts were all I needed even as the powerful breeze filled the channel with whitecaps and kept most of the seagulls sitting this one out.
Halfway up the beach one alder covers the upper beach with its many branches, and then a series of trees block most of the beach with the remaining bones of their trunks and branches. They slid down the bluff not many years ago; they remain as natural habitat and a reminder to us all that this beach is in constant motion, the bluff constantly shedding material to feed the beaches up north.
When I reached the private property at the north end, I enjoyed a small snack and then headed back down. Alone in my thoughts, I valued this sunny stretch of beach to enjoy the views, the reveries, and the renewed focus it gave me.
Even though it was a sunny Labor Day, I didn’t meet anyone at all on the beach until I got back to the trailhead, where I saw two women beginning their walk north. New discoveries were just beginning for their journey together.
I rode back past towards the Ferry, passing Peach Preserve as I rode, which made me think of food, which led me to the Guemes Island Country Store where I enjoyed some chocolate Coconut Bliss ice cream before heading home!
Directions: From Anacortes, take 6th Avenue west from Commercial Avenue to I Avenue, and board the Guemes Island ferry. After arriving on Guemes Island, go west on South Shore Drive about a mile to where it turns north as West Shore Drive. The parking area and trailhead are at this corner.
Recent history: In 2017 the Skagit Land Trust began seeking money to buy Kelly’s Point and Yellow Bluff. Within a year, they were able to purchase the property thanks to donations from area families, businesses and organizations, and a Fish and Wildlife grant.