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Island Guardian

Winter Yoga

The days get really short as Christmas approaches in the Pacific Northwest. We get into some weather that many islanders grumble about. I tell people; the short days and rainy weather are what keeps out the riffraff.

I have to admit, I like the short days, and I like the rain, and I like overcast. People look at me strange when I say so.

I was in Colorado for a week in December. Although I love the people there, all that sunshine makes me miserable. Shining in my eyes all the time. It is an assault. Harsh dry crisp days are not my thing. Too much. I am so happy to be home to my comfy drizzle.

I will tell you something that is true for me, and if you look carefully, you will see it too. When the days are damp, the outdoor colors are deeper. I can see with my eyes wide open. I don’t need to squint against the brightness. Have you ever noticed how a stone under water is so beautiful and colorful? Then, when you pick up the treasure and take it home, delighted to show everyone your find, it has dried to a mousy grey? Just ordinary and far from the magical stone you gathered into your pocket earlier that day. Same goes for leaves, rocks, moss and trees. A madrone tree for example. Look at the bark on a drizzly day. Intense red, orange, cobalt blue and the darkest of chocolate brown. Same tree on the sunny day. Not so much.

As for the short days. Winter is a time for hibernation. Making fires, cooking, planning for the year ahead and snuggling with the cat. There are legitimate excuses for not working too hard. The weather is bad, the studio is cold, and it is dark. I might just stay home and read a book, do some yoga and go to bed early.

Introspection is a thing in the winter. I sit on a cushion in the living room. Do a short meditation then some yoga. The tabby cat, Alistar, is somewhere in the house curled cozy on a sheepskin or maybe outside scouting the grounds for invading strays or rodents. When I sit on my cushion it is a cue for her to come and join me. If she is outside, she meows at the door, pounding at it with her little paws until I let her in. Then she nonchalantly meanders over to me on my cushion, stands on my lap flicking her tail under my chin then flops down purring loudly. This is her time. Her meditation and her yoga. Cats have no problem at all living in the moment.

A few stretches and Alistar shows me how yoga should be done. Lie down on my side and pull myself into a backwards arch with my finger nail hooked into the rugs for leverage. This would be a perfect spine stretch if I could do it. We do some cat-cows and Griffin, the 150 pound Irish wolfhound needs to join in the fun. His huge lumbering body comes over sniffs my face then he plunks himself down in the middle of everything. After this point I need to strategically contort my poses to fit between the dog and the cat. All is well.

I am happy it is winter. The calm before the storm. The moments of pause. Before I know it, the island will burst into spring. With the new growth, and the force of nature comes the rush. And with it, an eagerness to forge ahead and get things done. There is a passion when putting ideas into action and an exhilaration when plans unfold into fruition. But for now, winter soothes with calm, peaceful sleep.

Eccentric Hotel And A Trip To America

I took a trip to Seattle in August. Us islanders call it a trip to America. A delightful couple who bought a painting from me, were gracious enough to give me a VIP pass to the Seattle Art Fair. I have always wanted to go, and here is my chance.

My partner, Kim, helped me find a place to stay. All the Seattle hotels in August are either booked or over $300 a night. Except for one. The Panama Hotel.

We get on the red-eye Friday morning. First stop is always Penguin Coffee for a gluten free, two sausage patties, no egg no cheese breakfast sandwich. Kim gets double gluten with egg and cheese. And two coffees of course. Then, next stop Costco for gas. An islander knows always to go to America with an empty tank. If its really empty the reservation at the casino is second best.

After fueling up and slowly making our way through traffic, we get to The Panama Hotel at about noon. It is a 4-story brick heritage building from the early 1900’s. Pretty from the outside. The nice thing is the location. Near the train station, light rail and on the edge of China town and Japan town.

I didn’t count the 50 or more stairs up to the office, and I’m not exactly sure if that is the correct number. The lady behind us has a van full of people. They look like a tour group of some sort. Very interesting look on the leader’s face when she sees the stairs and realizes ‘The Panama Hotel’ has no elevator. If you decide to stay here, travel light, would be my suggestion. We get to the top of the stairs to a shut office window. A peek inside reveals piles upon piles of paperwork, books, binders, boxes, bags and other stuff stacked all the way to the ceiling. The accumulated clutter runs along each wall and atop all flat surfaces. There is a small path leading through the conglomeration to a door at the far end. I think this may have been an office at one time. Now it is more like a closet. We are taking this in when a phone begins to ring in a phone booth half way down the dimly lit hall. There is no other sign of life. Creepy. A tall woman with long black hair, wearing black jeans, black shirt, tall black boots greets us. “Come and sit down,” she offers, delighted to see us. She asks us where we are from. When we tell her, we are from Friday Harbor, she says, “oh if you are from San Juan island you must know Tom.” “Yes, I do,” I answer. She says, I will show you Tom’s room.” We all shuffle down the long narrow hall to Tom’s room. After we see it, she takes us down a longer hall to a corner room where we can keep and eye on our car. We choose the corner room.

The proprietor helps the maid make our bed and points out all the things that make this room special. The art that matches the pillow that matches the carpet that matches the blanket. Points out how old the furniture is and that she has owned this place for 30 years.

She shows me the bathroom. “Is there only one, I ask?” “Oh no, she says, there is one on every floor.” I wish I brought my robe. The proprietor tells us she cleans the bathroom herself and that she lives across the hall in one of the rooms. I get the feeling she doesn’t ever leave the hotel.

We get settled in, then walk to the Century Link Field to the Seattle Art Show. It is fabulous walking into a huge room full of art, artists, collectors and galleries. Kim says, “you can spend more time here tomorrow when your friend comes right? There is a booth that he appreciates. It is art from dead artists like Claud Monet and Childe Hassam. Kim says, “I don’t know why there isn’t more real art like this stuff.” We breeze through and see all the art. I will be back tomorrow.

It is amazing how a person can wander the neighborhoods, the markets and eateries in China town and lose all sense of time. A really fun day. We have a wonderful curry for supper and head to the hotel. A tall man with no shirt approaches us and says he sure is hungry and needs a meal. We just happen to have lots of leftovers from the restaurant. Kim graciously offers him our food. He’s says, “I don’t do leftovers.” “I want a full meal.” We get a good chuckle over this and wonder how he plans on getting into a restaurant with no shirt. He has other plans.

Next day Kim is heading home and my friend Winnie is joining me for day 2 of the adventure of China town, Seattle, the art show and the “Panama Hotel.” I ask the proprietor if she can change the sheets because I will be sleeping with someone else tonight.

Breakfast is included. It is excellent coffee, but I pass on the Danish. Winnie gets there soon, and she remarks the hotel is so bad its good.

Day two of the Seattle Art Fair is wonderful. I really take my time and drink in the inspiration. I love to see what other artists are doing and witnessing it in person is so much more impressive than pictures on the internet. After a few hours at the show we meander through ‘Pioneer Square’ and on to downtown. A nice lunch and big city clothes shopping is great fun. Even just trying on clothes until I am sick to death of trying on cloths is cathartic. It is something I don’t get to do on the island. A chocolate at the chocolate store is in order for a shot of much needed energy then a long walk back to China town.

I have a shower in the morning. Luke warm water and no soap. OK basic. The soap dish fell off the wall and the sink in our room leaked all over my bag. We pulled down the blind and it popped off its brackets with great enthusiasm and flew out the window and down two stories to the ground below. Starting the day with historical laughter is always a good thing. The people in the next room gave us an odd look when we met them in the hallway later. Probably wondering what we found so funny.

We leave for home early morning to beat the traffic. Stop at the flea market in Marysville where Winnie is on a mission for creepy stuff. Then on to Anacortes for the Art Festival. Breeze through there and head for the ferry hoping to get on the 2 o’clock back to Friday Harbor.

It is always good to be back. I am always grateful for the comfort and safety of my island home. Inspired by the art show and ready to try out a couple of new things in the studio.

I Am Famous On An Island

Shortly after I moved from San Juan Island to Colorado in 2003, I had a booth at an art show, and I overheard my oldest daughter telling a potential customer that her mother, me, was famous on an island. I think any artist living on this island gets some exposure of their work. People talk, and pretty soon lots of folks know who we are. It is the coolest thing ever.

I moved back to the island 3 years ago and I am never leaving. This is my home and my tribe. I had a booth at the Pelindaba Lavender Festival recently, and the truth hit home. So many people stop by to say hello. “I have one of your paintings from years ago.” “Didn’t you used to do watercolors?” “I was your daughters school teacher and have a few of your paintings.” “My favorite painting is one of yours, and it is hanging in my - kitchen - dining room - living room.” “I had breakfast in town and your paintings are hanging in the restaurant bathroom.” It all warms my heart.

I wonder what comes first, the artist or the island? There are a lot of creative people here on San Juan. My question is this. Do artists move here because they find it so inspiring? Or is it so inspiring here, that they become artists, once they have lived here awhile. Either way, here we are.

I am a full-time contemporary oil painter. I paint the island in an abstract yet representational kind of way. I paint the trees, the bushes, the grasses and the rocks. I paint the distant mountains and islands, forests and sky. I paint the Salish Sea. And to that list, I have added lavender.

Artists have an intimate relationship with the world. Once a person has painted a tree, that same person will see all trees in a new light. “Look at all those colors that I never saw before”, I hear a student say after his or her first lesson. So, is it that I love the trees so much that I MUST paint them, or do I paint them because I love them so much? Good question.

Artists see things, or should I say notice, examine, ponder. Looking at a gorgeous cumulus cloud has me stopping in my tracks, looking at the colors subtly imbedded, and then thinking, “is that magenta mixed with a little cerulean?” “Yes, and the smallest smidge of cadmium orange.” “Look how dark that sky is next to the whitest part of the cloud.” Next thought is “I am going to paint that.”

Trees are my absolute number one favorite subject of all. Whether abstracted, realistic or halfway between. I have an intense love for trees. I honor them. I see all the colors of greens and golds, umbers and reds. I see magnificent interlocking woven shapes. The warp and the weft of the branches and masses of deep dark woods against backdrop of bright white sky. I see patterns in the bark and shapes formed by shadow and sunlight. Besides the shapes and the colors, the trees sway, dance and shiver. The wind whispers, and sometimes roars through the branches. There is always a riot of life, movement and electric charge. The stoic strength of the great trees and their ability to hold on in a nor’easter inspires me. At the same time the delicacy of each tiny lacy frond glistens in the sunlight, like the finest of lace. I am in awe.

I walk in the woods. I paint. I love this island. I love the people who live here. And besides that, I am “famous” on an island.

(On horseback, on foot and with wolfhounds, inspiration and motivation come from being present. The forest with its ambience and aesthetics provide seed for my paintings and stories. I paint what I sense. I write about my experiences, feelings and perceptions of life on our unique island. Teresa Smith B.A. Visual Arts Naropa University )

Beer And A Bleeding Heart

Here we go again. The emergence of gardening season and the compulsion to grow my own luscious, vibrant, beautiful, organic food.

I plant seeds in my garden and planter boxes. Everything is going smoothly. I have beets, arugula and peas, fava beans and rutabaga’s growing nicely. The sun is shining and the soil is sweet. Coast is clear. I plant carrots and lettuce. I wait and wait for the seedlings to show themselves. I see the little sprouts. Yay! Then, they are gone. Vanished. I do not despair because this year, I have back up. My friend Dale, has a greenhouse, and I have filled it with seedlings. They are lush and beautiful.

With hopeful enthusiasm I bring the brassicas out of the greenhouse and put them in the garden. They are the mustard family of plants like broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Two days later all are eaten but for a few. Who is the rascal that is eating my lovely, lush little plants? I dose everything with diatomaceous earth, that stuff that is made of lots of sharp little sea creatures that dissuade predators. Next day I find a stealthy slow but sure, culprit. Covered in diatomaceous earth and munching away happily on my plant. A slug. As I see the pillage from the night before, I know for sure there are lots and lots of slugs.

How hard can it be to control this problem? I just need to convince the little creatures that there are better eats elsewhere. I google it. Slugs don’t like copper, google says. So, I go to my friend, Dale and ask him if he has some copper. Sure enough he says, “how much do you need?” So, I take home my strands of copper and commence to making rings that I can put around the plants. Then the slugs will get a little buzz when they slither over the copper. In the morning I notice my plants are still dwindling leaf by leaf. I get an idea to put bark mulch around them. It helps for a day or two. Back to google. Sand is the way to go. Slugs hate sand. I go back to Dale’s to ask him if he has sand. Sure, enough Dale has a sand pile and he says to help myself. I cart home very heavy buckets of sand and put that around my little plants. That works pretty well for a few days but every time I water, little by little, the sand dissolves into the mulch. Same goes for wood ashes. So, this morning, I go out to find a slug draped across the copper wire dipped in sand and wood ash and happily eating my kale.

Little by little I have been bringing plants out of the greenhouse. They are getting big and ready to plant. Lettuce and spinach …. All of which are devoured the first night. I even cut the bottom of a pot off and put that over the lettuce and the slugs climb up the side and eat every scrap of lettuce.

Back to google and now its beer. I need to drown the slugs in beer. I go back to Dale’s house and sure enough he gives me 3 bottles of beer. I take it home. This whole thing with beer is quite interesting. On Friday nights I like to go to the Oar House. Dale goes too. Anyway, I really like the place because it is very cozy and very local. Where the locals go. This is a brew pub. First off, I should tell you I really don’t like beer. I will try to like beer. The slugs like beer and a lot of my friends do too. Every time I go, I try different batches. One that I actually kind of like is called “Earl Grey.” I know why I like it. Because I am a tea drinker and I like Earl Grey tea. It tastes nothing like the tea but none the less, I like the name. I am now a beer drinker. At least until they run out of Earl Grey. There is also Raspberry Wheat and Cream Ale. Raspberry wheat. Doesn’t that sound divine? Nope. Doesn’t taste anything like raspberries and the cream ale, although it sounds yummy, is not the same as the stuff I put in my tea. Trust me.

Meanwhile, back at home the slugs are drinking beer and enjoying my organic produce with culinary appeal. And I think they enjoy their salads even more with a little drink on the side to wash it down. And not only that, while my back is turned, and I am all worried about the slugs and the beer, I notice my pole beans have been chiseled off at the ground. Not all of them. Only about half. Google says pill bugs won’t hurt your garden. Wrong. There are masses of them eating away right at soil level. I am back to the diatomaceous earth and now there are all these little white powder coated bugs wandering around aimlessly.

Every morning I am in the garden picking slugs off plants and examining the pole beans with reading glasses and I discover something. The plants are beginning to grow at a more rapid rate. With the weather warming and conducive to growing more quickly, I notice the plants are growing faster than the slugs can eat them. The key is for the plants to grow faster than the slugs can eat them in their entirety. I am onto something.

I just noticed a deer ate my sunflower. I am going to the nursery to buy a bleeding heart.

Home Is Where The Dogs Are

I moved to Friday Harbor, Washington, in the summer of 2015. Before that, I lived in Boulder, Colorado. I was leaving a 3200 square foot house that was full of furniture, and years worth of stuff. I had to deal with all the stuff, and figure out how to move 2 Irish wolfhounds, a golden chow mix named Teddy, who bit people, 2 cats, 1 kitten and a teenager.

The first thing to do is to get rid of things. Under advisement of well-wishers, I put ads on craigslist. I was told this is the best way to get rid of things. I got to work photographing everything from furniture, appliances, tires and old car seats. People start texting and calling right away. “Can you take pictures from several angles?” “What are the sizes again?” “More pictures please.” “Will you take less money for it?” “When can we come and see it?” After a week of this torture, and several ‘no shows,’ everything is on the front lawn with a free sign on it. Teenager and Teddy included.

In order to move, we need to rent out our house. A property manager is hired, and the work and stress is practically done. After the contract is signed, the property manager says the house is not up to her standards. “It needs new carpet and paint throughout,” she says. I say yes to paint, no to carpet. Several thousand dollars and we are ready to go. Not so fast. The new tenants are offended by the smell of dog. The property manager gets down on her hands and knees, buries her nose in the pile of the carpet and agrees. Not acceptable, and not up to her standards. Carpets need to be replaced. I fork out a few more thousand, begging the universe for the peace and contentment that a good property manager can bring.

The house is empty. The yard is cleared of free stuff and a couple of boys are hired to load the U-Haul. We slept on an air mattress and were ready to go early the next day. Teddy, the wolfhounds, 2 cats, the kitten and teenager pile in the van with me. Former husband number two is reluctantly driving the U-Haul against his better judgment. I gave him the choice of vehicles, but he agreed the U-Haul was safer than the van full of creatures.

We are packed without room for even another tiny thing. The dogs are in the back. Alistair the kitten is yowling her head off with black cat Stella in the over sized dog kennel in the back seat. Kiwi, the longhaired, easygoing orange cat, is wandering around the van checking out the new arrangement. About 10 miles into our trip, Emma says, “I can’t see Teddy.” We stop to secure bags and boxes with bungee cords so that every time I step on the brakes, everything doesn’t topple over on top of Teddy. He now has PTSD and fears around being buried alive. Bungee cords are secured and we are good to go.

Cats stop yowling about an hour into Wyoming. We are now appreciating a mountain pass on a beautiful summer day. We stop for gas in Laramie. Sleepy cowboy town specializing in run down gas stations and liquor stores. The thing I notice about southern Wyoming is that people don’t dress up their homes or stores. There are no flowers or lawns or gardens that I can see. When they get a new trailer, they don’t get rid of the old one. The trailers just keep piling up. Same with trucks, car parts, tractors and tractor parts and parts of things I have no idea from where they came. It’s just a different way of doing things I guess.

Evening comes and we are getting tired. It is time to stop for the night. We are in Rawlins. The hotels are full because there is a Rodeo in town. Of course there is a rodeo in town. We are in Wyoming. “There is one room left in town,” the lady says in the motel along Main Street, but it is a smoking room.” No problem with pets though.” No deposit necessary. All rooms are dog and smoking rooms. Nice. Teenager is not convinced this is a good idea. “Give us a minute,” I tell the woman behind the desk. We go back to the car and discuss our options. The next town is Wamsutter. 60 miles away. There is a one star motel in Wamsutter, the Wamsutter Motel. “Lets look at some reviews,” I suggest. “Don’t stay at this motel” the first review says. “Worst place I have ever stayed,” second review says. “I should have slept in my car”, says the third review. After we recover from our hysterical bout to laughing, we decide on the smoking room. We were all exhausted by this time and the animals need to get out of the car.

The room is actually a non smoking room, after all. I know this, because the ashtrays are turned upside down and there is a circle with a line though it, showing they are not to be used for smoking. Clear as day.

Next, we go out to eat in a not so classy restaurant. The table is definitely crooked. I mean the side attached to the wall is at least 3 inches higher than the other side. We are careful our water glasses don’t slide off. The waitress asks us if we want dessert first. What I really want is a glass of wine. Waitress says, “on the rocks or straight up?” I think beer and whiskey might be the way to go in Rawlins, Wyoming. If I watch the cowboys, that is what they are drinking.

Day two of the road trip from Boulder to Friday Harbor we drive through Utah and Oregon. Over 100 degrees in the shade and the pet areas at the rest stops are never in the shade. Misery. Just plain misery.

There is this thing about traveling with dogs, especially big dogs. When we stop for the night at a motel, it is not a given that we will be welcomed. Like the motel we tried in Oregon. We saw the owner outside with a half dozen Pomeranians. They look exactly like miniature Teddy’s. Surely she won’t be prejudiced. We pull up with 3 huge dogs hanging out the windows of the van. Well, guess what. “No big dogs,” she says. Is that even ethical?

From then on I realize I need new tactics. So, here is my strategy. I walk into the hotel lobby making sure to park well out of sight of staff. I find it is best to straight out say; “do you have a pet room available?” This distracts them, and has them feverishly looking for a pet room, and the proper paperwork instead of asking me the size of the dog. And God forbid they ask how many dogs. Not to mention cats. They almost always assure me, there is one pet room still available. I boldly ask for a room near a side door, and on the ground floor. The front desk person usually says there is a fee of $20 or so for the pet, and hands me a contract to sign. If you want to know the honest truth, I kind of glaze over the fine print because I don’t want to know how many rules I may be breaking. No dog over 50 pounds. Only one pet. I have 3 dogs, 420 pounds total. Six pets total. Size should not matter. That is prejudice, and my animals are very well behaved.

One time I was at the front desk of a motel filling out my deceptive paperwork. Meanwhile, in the van, Emma pushes a button that she thinks turns on the light over the mirror, but what it actually does is opens the door where the dogs are. So picture this. I am in the lobby signing a contract that says I have one pet. Out of the corner of my eye I see a commotion outside. Teddy, Griffin and Fenny, are running past the front sliding glass doors. Emma is running behind them hollering for them to come back. Then there they go back again in the other direction. I am going to have a heart attack.

Deception done. Blood pressure returned to normal. We are in. We peek into the back door and make sure the hallway is empty. Clear. We hustle in the first batch of dogs. Shove them into the room. Go back for the big dog carrier full of cats. Hustle that in before anyone sees us. Then we bring in the rest of the stuff including dog food and water bowls, dog and cat food, litter box and litter, suitcases, snacks, bottle of wine, IV equipment for the dehydrated cat, and Kiwi who needs to be carried in separately because he is not in a kennel. Our motel room seems pretty small by now. Two of the cats are horrified with this new arrangement, and go straight under the bed with only their tails sticking out. Kiwi sprawls out on the bed and takes a nap. The dogs need to go for a walk ASAP. But, we need to take them out one at a time because I told the guy at the front desk that I only have one dog.

We are pretty tired and hungry after all this. We go out to eat and on the way back walk past our room. We know for sure it is our room, because there are 3 cats lined up on the windowsill clearly blowing our, only-one-pet, cover. Bless their little hearts. If that wasn’t enough, Emma says she needs more conditioner and says she will call the front desk. Like room service. “Emma, we can’t have the staff coming here.” “What about the 3 dogs and 3 cats?” You go to the front desk and get it. She comes back without the conditioner and says they will be delivering it to us. Where’s that bottle of wine?

I wake up, early the next morning looking forward to an early start. “Wake up Emma,” I say enthusiastically. I take the dogs out for a short walk. “Time to wake up Emma.” I feed the cats and start packing up. Empty the cat litter, pack up the various pet things and put cloths in my suitcase. “Alright Emma, I mean it, you have to get up.” I make bad coffee and add powdered fake cream. “Emma, if you don’t get up right now I am leaving you in eastern Oregon.” I shower and dress. Pull the blankets off Emma. I go and get three plates of ‘continental breakfast’. This is included with the price of the room. I heap plates with a big pile of micro waved eggs, several soggy pale sausages, toast with peanut butter and coffee with real cream. Bring it all back to the room in 3 trips. The dogs get the continental breakfast and Emma and I drink the coffee.

We are on the road at 9am and racing for the ferry.
By late afternoon we are in the ferry line.
I am almost home and I am never leaving.

(On horseback, on foot and with wolfhounds, inspiration and motivation come from being present. The forest with its ambience and aesthetics provide seed for my paintings and stories. I paint what I sense. I write about my experiences, feelings and perceptions of life on our unique island. Teresa Smith B.A. Visual Arts Naropa University )

Home Again

I got home from Santa Cruz and went straight to work. I am a landlady with lots to do. Shifting of tenants, updating kitchens, painting walls and general hard work. At the same time, much sorting in house and studio alike.

There is something about spring that gets me energized. Growth, energy and birth. The daffodils are blooming and the magical part of this time of year is that almost nothing has gone by. All the lavish flowers and abundance of food from the garden are ahead of me.

I started beans, lettuce and squash in my friend, Dale’s, greenhouse. It is right there next to my studio. There is something wholesome about ducking into a greenhouse on a blustery day. The smell of compost and soil, moist from the morning watering, is nourishing all around. I watch with my nose inches from the little pots, ever hopeful they will germinate soon. I planted peas, spinach, lettuce and kale in my raised beds and the beds I made last fall out of cardboard, straw and manure.

It is funny how the people are, here on the island. I get back after being gone for 3 months and some of my friends are so happy to see me. “Lets get together right away”, they say. Others see me and say, “Have you been gone?” Three months goes by fast here on the island, I guess. I went to the gym 2 weeks after I got back, and was scolded for not getting in there sooner. I was sighted at the grocery store the week prior. My workout buddies missed me I think. I missed them too.

The island smells good and there are no traffic lights. I don’t have to plan around rush hour to go to Market Place, and I can turn left without getting in an accident.

I painted 17 new small paintings while I was in California. The California plein air painting style inspired me. I tied it in with the work of Emily Carr from Victoria, BC and the Canadian Group of Seven who painted in Ontario, not far from where I grew up in Quebec. It took me back to my Canadian roots.

I hung some of the new little paintings in Demeter’s restaurant. It is a really different look. I’m not sure how I feel about the change. Let me know what you think.

It is good to be back on this little island. I miss this place when I am gone. I miss the moist air and the sound of the spring birds and the frog’s tremendous chorus in the evenings. I miss the color of the clouds and the rain on the windows. I am glad to be back to Taco Tuesday, my gym buddies, my friends and horses at plum pond, the Oar House brew pub where the locals go, the world’s best garage sales and the study of trees. I am happy.

(On horseback, on foot and with wolfhounds, inspiration and motivation come from being present. The forest with its ambience and aesthetics provide seed for my paintings and stories. I paint what I sense. I write about my experiences, feelings and perceptions of life on our unique island. Teresa Smith B.A. Visual Arts Naropa University )

California Sunshine & More About Dogs

It is quite common for San Juan islanders to consider a trip south for part of the winter. The island is far enough north, for the days to get very short. When the sun does make an appearance, it is crouched low in the sky. The days are often dim and drizzly, and so … for the second year in a row, I succumb to the urge, and head south.

I pack up the car and leave the island two days after Christmas. Griffin, the Irish wolfhound, is nervously following me back and forth to the car with each load, worried that I may leave him behind. I stuff the last of the Christmas wrap into the recycle bin, put Griffin’s bed in the back of the RAV4 and we leave for Santa Cruz.

The sun is brighter in Santa Cruz. The days are warmer, and a little bit longer. While here, I reside in a most beautiful little house on Twin Lakes lagoon. I look out the windows to a California plein air impressionist painting. Only it is real. Reflections on the lagoon are ever changing. The color of the water ranges from blue, reflected from the sky, and white fluffy clouds, to dark rich greens and browns. The eucalyptus trees cast their shadows in painterly watery reflections, dotted with milky white patterns from pampas grass. White egrets, serene and beautiful, perch on a branch protruding from the water. They share this roost with cormorants, sea gulls and on some days, a huge heron. The lagoon is rimmed with enormous eucalyptus trees that tower above our house. A short walk, and the lagoon meets the salt water of Monterey Bay.

When I am on the Island, I always know the temperature and the basic weather conditions. I wake up to a cold house; means its cold out and I need to make a fire. Up north, there are windows all around and show me if clouds brew. I can watch them, to see which way the wind is blowing; things like that. If the cat doesn’t want to go out, that means inclement weather and most likely rain and wind gusts. I step outside to get an armful of wood for the stove, and then I really know the weather. That is the north house.

Here in the city of Santa Cruz, and in the south house, there are fewer windows, shelter from the wind and no long-range view; it is hit or miss weather wise. The lagoon gives me clues. Today the lagoon is brown and dark green. It looks stirred up and angry. The surface is dappled and pock marked with heavy rain and the sky is streaked. Wooden perch abandoned. Birds must find more shelter in the surf. I will need a raincoat.

It does rain some, but most of the days are bright and feel quite summery. Last weekend was 75 degrees and sunny. The beach was packed with parents with toddlers, young folks playing volleyball, dog walkers and others, just strolling along, taking in the beauty. Roller waves were coming in and crashing on the sandy picturesque beach. Waves are expected to reach 25 to 30 feet in the next few days. Be careful they don’t pluck a person off the rocks. The sound is meditative. It has to be healthy to get a dose of this every day. I think I will live forever. I sent a picture of the sunset to my friends on the island and the reply was, “what is that bright thing in the sky?” Kind of a contract with San Juan winter I think.

Rain or shine, we walk the dogs twice a day. Oswald, Ozzie for short, is a grumpy little Carron Terrier. Griffin is an Irish wolfhound. Tall enough to clean off the kitchen counter with all 4 feet on the floor. During the visit so far, he has absconded a block of cheese, a baguette and a hamburger. Griffin had a run in with a skunk a few days ago. Now we call him stinky. When we go for walks, we keep the dogs on a leash because Ozzie picks fights with all the big dogs he meets. Most hated are pit bulls, German Sheppard’s and especially, the Springer spaniel from up the street. Ozzie is fearless. He jumps up and down snarling and barking and lunging at the big dogs while Griffin plods along oblivious. If Ozzie were to start a fight though, Griffin would have to finish it.

He and Ozzie have an interesting relationship. When we leave the house and leave the two dogs inside the gate, they howl like the pack they think they are. When we return, Griffin and Ozzie get so excited that Griffin jumps and bounds and runs in circles, Ozzie then chases Griffin, going for his neck, barking snarling and growling for all he is worth. Griffin tolerates this behavior for the most part, but now and then grabs Ozzie in his huge jaws and pins him to the ground. So far so good, he lets him go and continues to run circles with Ozzie chasing behind and lunging for him.

I am learning about flea market culture here in Santa Cruz. It seems like the surfer dudes of yesterday, now sell and buy at the flea market. Gary is always there. Long hair, nice friendly guy. He smells of weed and wants to move to Chili. His wife’s name is Janet and she is also friendly and talkative. They are both very talkative. Kind of hard to get a word in edgewise when you are around the two of them. I am beginning to recognize a good deal and I have learned the best transactions can be had, when a storm blows in and it begins to pour. I am not as good at bartering as my companion, though. He knows how to haggle. He says, “Offer the guy ten bucks and duck.” It feels like I am becoming a regular. I recognize the same vendors each week, like the woman we call the white lady, because she sells white linen shirts. I am apparently paying way too much money for them. Maria the plant lady sells plants of all sizes for cheap, but one can still strike a bargain for volume. Then there is Don the food man, stooped over, unloading his truck of goods. Well, maybe not all good goods. Check those dates. Look for mold. Most popular words uttered by the food vendors at the flea market, “That doesn’t go bad.”

The harbor is another interesting spot. We walk by it every day - so much activity. Seals sunning on docks, otter rolled over on his back with cute little feet in the air. Fishermen selling crab, bike riders, dog walkers, tourists, and homies. One day getting drenched in the pouring rain, we stop by the boat ramp to witness a crew pulling a car out of the water. OK so how drunk do you have to be? “Take a right here honey, park over there by that boat.” Oh Boy! Another day, as we were walking to the lighthouse we saw a sailboat keeled way over on its side. The harbor had filled in with sand, as a result of the high wave action and the boat had hit the sand bar, keeled over and lost a passenger. Then, it hit the rocks and was eventually rescued. That must have been embarrassing. Another day, we see smoke and fire crews; a boat blew up and burned itself and another 3 boats. Two of which sank. Adventure in the harbor.

Space is a commodity here in our little south house. I miss my studio on the island, but have made do, by draping the antique furniture with plastic, the hardwood floors and antique rugs with cardboard, and turned the living room into a studio of sorts. I am working on smaller works inspired by the California plein air painters, as I look out at the gorgeous, ever changing lagoon.

This is a good place to spend a few months in the winter; a little warmer, a little brighter, longer days, and with many charms of its own. Griffin and I will be back on the island soon enough. Just in time to see the first of the daffodil blooms. See you then.

Old Dogs and Winter

The animals I live with are getting on in age, but then again, I guess I am too. Griffin is ten, and that is three years past expected for an Irish wolfhound. Kiwi, the marmalade cat is 15 and my horse is going on twenty-five.

It is winter on San Juan Island. There is a fire burning in the woodstove day and night, winds and rain are relentless. It is technically still morning AND it will be dark in four hours.

I was walking with Griffin in the woods today. Glistening green. Can I paint glistening green? It was the highest tide I have ever seen by the lagoon. It started to rain, and with the wind, we got soaked to the skin. Ducked into the wood and followed a deer trail that wove in through the moss covered limbs next to the rain-dappled lagoon. Griffin led the way through a four-foot high trail. After struggling over tree trunks and under branches, we eventually found ourselves back on the main trail. We were the only human and dog in the park today.

I often think of Fenny, my girl wolfhound who passed away last year. She and Griffin were never more than a few feet from each other until the day she died. I wonder if he senses her presence, like I do, when we pass through her favorite haunts.

We don’t walk as fast as we used to. No longer three miles of rugged terrain in less than an hour. Griffin is slowing down and there is a time and place for every action. The slowing down gives me time to pause and consider. I notice colors and shapes, smells and sounds. The moldery scent of leaves gone by reminds me of an eight year old walking home from school in a small town in Quebec. The brilliant fall leaves fallen after a storm. Finches are chirping and hustling in the undergrowth and eagles chortling in the distance. The colors are intense this time of year. Damp brings out the richest and lushest of color. Cedar tree appears green but when I look closely I see alizarin, gold and blue. There are thousands of shades of green. Where sun strikes foliage the light glistens white. The deepest shadows are as dark as raven. I ponder, daydream and make up stories. I meander and walk for the sake of walking, drinking in the grace and abundance of the woods. Just me and Griffin and all the creatures of the forest.

It is winter on San Juan Island. The people are friendly and I can turn left on Spring Street. The bounty of Christmas lights warms my heart. Christmas Eve, Kings closed its doors early; everyone hugged each other and went home to their families. This is the essence of the island in winter.

Back home, the sun is low in the sky and warming a spot in the clean straw. Kiwi and his old bones is curled up there, eyes closed and drunk in the warmth. The garden has been put to sleep and new beds are fermenting and fecund, preparing for spring planting.

It will be dark soon, so I bring in some firewood from the wood pile under the trees. Cut a few years ago and well seasoned. I am protective of the kindling and only use a tiny bit to start the fire. I am not so good with an axe so I cherish what I have. Dog bowls are filled with water and Kiwi, Griffin and I are ready to retreat to the warmth of the little wood house on the hill. Smoke is billowing from the chimney. It is inviting. Griffin takes to his four foot by five foot memory foam, Kiwi curls up by the fire and I begin chopping vegetables for dinner.

The animals are getting older and I take more moments to be in their presence. I sit in the chair by the fire, hold Kiwi in my arms and we look into each other’s eyes. Winter is about slowing down, going inside and reflecting. The colors are richer. Maybe it is because I slow down enough to notice.

John Evans
Greg Hertel
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Teresa Smith
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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