After the first few days of fall being amazingly sunny and warm, it has now turned chilly and autumnal. I realize that on this blog I am almost always talking about the change of the seasons, but c'mon, I practically live outside (luxury camping!) so it is a major part of my life. I can tell the outside temperature and if it's clear or cloudy practically before I even open my eyes in the morning. Sleeping in a yurt makes me very close to the air, and harder to get out of bed now that the nights are colder. Having an outdoor kitchen and living room means we have to bundle up in the evenings, prompting us to wear ridiculous outfits we would never otherwise don, such as ponchos, fleece pants, uggs, and wool hats.
Cooking dinner by candlelight and headlamp takes a certain resolution unto itself. Though we are barely out of summer, the cold is already making my roommates and I change our diet, suddenly craving warmer, richer, high-caloric foods. Gone are the light meals of veggies, salads, and berries. A recent house dinner for example: As an appetizer we made cheese and garlic-stuffed fried squash blossoms, and we almost never fry things. While we were on a role, some one suggested fried avocado. Sure, why not?! We were all already feeling fatter by the time dinner was ready, and I had made an oyster mushroom-shallot cream sauce for the orzo and veggies. I usually don't even like cream sauces! While I was chuckling at this sudden change, I came across a related passage in Under the Tuscan Sun, which I am reading for the first time. I'm really enjoying it, and wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they could get to Italy in the next year, because it will make you want to go.
"The rich smells drifting from our kitchen are different in winter. The light summer fragrances of basil, lemon balm, and tomatoes are replaced by aromas of succulent pork roast glazed with honey, guinea hens roasting under a layer of pancetta, and ribollita, that heartiest of soups. Subtle and earthy, the fine shavings of Umbrian truffle over a bowl of pasta prick the senses. At breakfast, the perfumed melons of summer are forgotten and we use leftover bread for slabs of French toast spread with jam plum I made last summer from the delicate coscia de monaca, nun's thigh, variety that grows along the back of the house..."
In an effort to take full advantage of living in the San Juans, I've explored a few smaller neighboring islands recently. Here is a recap of my summer island-hoping.
JONES: Jones is a small island near Deer Harbor, just off the southwest side of Orcas. It makes for a great afternoon sail, quick overnight getaway, or stop-over en route to other islands. There are two harbors on the north and south sides, so you can pick the more protected anchorage depending on the direction the wind is blowing from. The whole island is a state park, and trails ring around and across the island. Kevin and I have sailed over there several times together. Most recently we went on Labor Day weekend to spend the night and get an earlier start sailing to islands north of Orcas. Here's a view from the southside. PATOS: From Jones we woke up horrifically early to catch the current up President's Channel and make it to Patos, the most northern island, so small and outlying that it's not even on the map above. It's north of Waldron, west of Sucia. By the time we were drinking coffee, it was a beautiful calm sunny morning. I saw more porpoises than I have ever seen in the San Juans, or anywhere for that matter, their curved black backs sliding out of the water all around us continually, probably about about 30 of them. As we approached Patos, the historic lighthouse loomed over the water. Right across from Patos in Canada is Saturna, and an almost identical lighthouse sits on a point there too, making the islands look like reflections of each other. Spots like that that have such similar geography and architecture remind me just how arbitrary the national boundaries can be. I peeked in the lighthouse window and saw, among other things, a line-up of rubber duckies in all sorts of village-people work attire- fireman, nurse, police officer, etc. Random, I thought. Then I realized that although the island is pronounced PAY-tos, it comes from the Spanish PAH-tos, meaning duck. Apparently there is a duck-theme going on. Anyway, Patos is fairly small, but a beautiful trail around the outside hugs the shore next to a wide expanse of rocks and tide pools.
SUCIA: I've always wanted to go to Sucia because of the name meaning "dirty" in Spanish and that intrigue me. It's pronounced SOO-sha locally, but in espanol would be SOO-see-ah. And it just looks cool on the map, all long and sinewy with arms and harbors. Like Jones and Patos, it is entirely state park with many trails and bays. It is really close to Orcas, and all summer I just wanted to kayak from the north side of Orcas, but for various reasons with various friends it never worked out. So instead it was a sail from Patos, probably more fun anyway.
We anchored in Shallow Bay, which definitely lives up to its namesake. We were checking the tide chart to make sure that the low low tide wouldn't be, well, too low. Luckily at the lowest it would be a +2.1 foot tide, so we estimated that at the worst we'd be in 9 feet of water, and since the hull draws almost 6 feet, it gave us just over 3 feet to spare. I had a dream that I woke up to the boat sitting on the bottom, and I got out and walked to shore because it was so shallow. Fortunately when I woke up we were still floating.
Sucia is cool geologically because it is all sandstone, so there are sweet caves and cliffs and rock formations that you don't see in many of the other islands.
WALDRON: I've been fascinated with getting to Waldron ever since I heard that it was completely private and the only way to go was through an invite. I bided my time, plotted my strategy, and finally went in August as a chaperone for the FEAST (Farm Education and Sustainability for Teens) Program. My roomate is the coordinator for this awesome accredited high school summer program, and I have volunteered with them on local farms and events since last year. Most of the education is based on Orcas, but this was the students' opportunity to visit a neighboring island at the invitation of a Waldrom resident who is a renowned botanist, especially for wild edibles, and especially for seaweed. We spent two days going on plant walks, learning about marine and forest ecology, and eating wild food, discovering just how much is actually edible. I don't think I have ever put so many new foods in my mouth in one day. At night we all camped out at the public school.
Once the students left, we adults had some time to ourselves. It was the annual community caberet fundraiser that night, so we hitched a ride across the island to check it out. Waldron is probably the most culturally isolated island in the archipelago, to the point of having a reputation for hostility to outsiders. I'm glad I got to go on a weekend where there was a large event, and overall I found people extremely friendly. It was on an absolutely stunning piece of property, a working farm set atop a cliff overlooking President's channel. It's not too often in this area you see agricultural land with a waterfront view. The vegetables are sold at the San Juan farmer's market, and the flowers at the market here on Orcas. For a reasonable entry fee, they provided delicious food, mostly fresh from the farm, an assortment of homemade desserts, and beverages. There was a live auction, musical acts, skits, and in the end an impromptu dance party before heading home.
STUART: It's not really new to explore Stuart because I have been going there my whole life, but it is still a smaller island that I would like to write about. It is mostly private, but has a substantial state park on it that bring a lot of tourists to an otherwise remote island. There is no grid electricity, no paved roads, no stores, and mail is only delivered 3 times a week. There is a one-room K-8 school that is still in use and a historic lighthouse. It is the very most northwestern island before Canada, earning the nickname "the last outpost", and has a history of independent, wild folks living there, as seems to be the case for these islands in general.
I took this picture from the air, and you can really see the anchor-shape of the island. The Turn Point Lighthouse with Suicide Bluff in the background, one of my favorite places on the planet to watch the sunset.
I am officially unemployed and happily feeling like a total bum for the moment. I just took a solid week off from Orcas to visit peeps in Seattle and take a trip to Southern Oregon. Highlights: The drive to Seattle with Kate who is a walking encyclopedia of Middle East history (U.S.-Iran relations 1955-1995 was an 50 minute explanation); massive amounts of canning at my mom's house (BBQ sauce, chutneys, plum sauce, 3-pepper jelly); urban foraging in Columbia City and eating Ethiopian food with Elizabeth; catching up over margaritas with Lindsey; Capitol Hill with Will including fish tacos and a yummy Elysian winter beer aged in oak; seeing my niece who is the cutest baby ever; a night in an old Portland house where it was too hot to sleep but I didn't care because it felt like summer; and an epic roadtrip with Kimberlyn and Justin. They are a couple who are getting married next year, and I went to the Rogue River in Oregon with them to check out a lodge as a possible wedding location. It is an incredibly remote lodge as there is no road access and you either have to hike in along the river, raft in from near Grant's Pass, or take a jet boat hours up the river from the coast. Crazy! It was a beautiful spot and quite an adventure to get down there and back in a weekend.
I'm a writer and editor in Seattle. I started this blog in 2008 to chronicle my travels in Latin America, and continued writing through jaunts in Europe and Asia.
Now I'm back where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and can't stop hiking to fire lookouts in the Cascade Mountains. My guidebook, Hiking Washington's Fire Lookouts, will be published by Mountaineers Books in May 2018.