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Island Guardian


Luck and Other Wintery Thoughts


A friend asks me, “How are you?” I say, “I am well thank you,” She says, “Of course you are.” “Your life is perfect.” “Perfect boyfriend, perfect house, get to ride your horse anytime you want, painting is your job.” “Of course you are great.” “You are lucky.”

As I go through my day I ponder my views on luck.

Winter is coming, here on San Juan Island. It is 7 in the morning and dark outside. The wind is howling and rain is pelting against the east facing windows. This is soothing to me. I can relax and give myself permission to sit down in the middle of the day and finish knitting that sweater. The garden is resting, it is too wet to ride and the studio is cold. I make soup and stew, cookies and zucchini bread. Finally, there is a need for a fire in the woodstove to keep the house warm. I have missed the fire in the center of this home.

I am a fan of weather. I hike the trails around Jackals lagoon and mount Finlayson almost every day. I notice the subtle differences. I love the days with the most intense winter weather. The ones where the trees are swaying so hard they look like dancers. Scary, exhilarating and dizzying to stand under. The roar of the wind makes me feel small. The farther I walk into the deep woods the more peaceful and protected I feel. It is usually just Griffin, my wolfhound, and me who venture out on such days. I like the solitude. It is cathartic; just my dog, the woods and me.

I have been noticing how some of the foliage on the great cedars turn ochre during the heat of summer. These fronds fly off in the wind and mingle with alizarin, raw sienna and burgundy leaves from big leaf maple, willow and alder. It looks like it is snowing colored glitter. The glitter falls and lays thick on the path below. When it rains, winding rivers are formed flowing down the hills, scraping away the layers of color to the black earth below. These black earth rivers are contrasted by yellow, umber, alizarin and gold.

After a big rain, droplets of water spill from wet foliage, as the sun streams in through the cathedral of monster cedars. Mist is rising in a thin veil as if illuminating an alternate world. I encounter a dad with his little girl in the woods today. She says, “there are lots of fairies in these woods.” I answer, “yes, there sure are.”

Is it luck, or did I dream it up?

My schoolteachers told my parents that I would have done a lot better in school if I would stop daydreaming. Ha! Yes, I did spend most of my time imagining. I dreamed about the woods and the lake. I imagined myself galloping through the woods on a beautiful horse. I dreamed of gardens and deer and foxes, rabbits, dogs and cats. I fantasized about the house where I would live, surrounded by beautiful pastures and trees and animals. I conceived drawings and conjured paintings of my invented personal paradise. I shaped my future out of sand. I dreamed up this life that I am living.

A few years ago I was not happy. I lived in a desert and I wanted to come home. I felt stuck ankle deep in muck that was holding me in place. I had forgotten to imagine. I had forgotten to believe that when there is a will, there is a way. I started to dream again. My musing brought me home.

I am dining on homemade brothy, root vegetable soup, rich with tomato, cumin and a hint of coriander. Sharing a bottle of 2005 Syrah with a beautiful man who smells of pine pitch and chain saw. My kind of man. Is it luck or did I dream this up?

No. Not luck. I believe in dreaming. I believe in appreciating the small things, and I believe there are fairies that live in the woods.


(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 www.teresasmith.com )




Summer Going By


The first hint of summer going by is waking up shrouded in fog. I am in a cloud. It will burn off because weather channel says sun for as long as can be predicted. This first misty morning brings the melancholy resolve of fall coming.

I had better plant the last crop of kale, lettuce and Swiss chard. Those tomatoes need to start turning red. I will google, “why are my tomatoes still green?” Squash, beans and cucumbers are coming on strong and that Hubbard is massive.

Dewdrops collecting on spider webs glisten in the morning light, like shimmering diamonds. A string of precious gems sparkling across a tree limb, across the snowberries, wild roses and tall grass. I had no idea there were so many spiders living among us.

The grass on the knoll is no longer green because it has not rained since June. That is the thing about our climate here on San Juan. Moist wet rain drizzle for months then dry dry arid warm for months. Change is good. The grass is not green but it is the beautiful color of caramel with a little cream added in. Dotted in, are happy yellow dandelion like flowers of the cat’s ear plant.

The roadsides are a mass of periwinkle blue from chickory, and tall taupe colored grass, and an alizarin " burnt orange colored sedge. Creamy white Queen Anne’s lace provide backdrop for this seductive color combination.

My first stargazer lily opened today. The sweet scents of the lilies, jasmine and Halls honeysuckle lure me to the comfy chair in my garden. The smells remind me of my girls as toddlers in a tiny kid pool, mid-late summer on Primrose Lane.

The county fair is right around the corner and marks a definite transition into late summer. First nip in the air and the coming of fall.

Winding down. Relaxing. Summer guests have been and gone. Harvest is plentiful. Sharing its abundance with friends. False bay at low tide. Hikes up mount Finlayson and long bike rides in the early morning. Gratitude and appreciation of the beauty of this place. Never ending change and moving forward into the next season.




75 Degrees And No Relief In Sight


I like to tease my sisters who live in Ontario and Alberta, and friends in Colorado. They tell me it is unbearably hot this summer. “It is hot here too, I say, 75 degrees, with no relief in sight.”

We get the boat in the water early morning when Griffin Bay is calm and looks like glass. Come back in with a quota of 5 crab. There is a family of children and grandma fishing for minnows off the dock. Giggles, flipflops and memories of a cottage in Quebec long ago, and a minnow net that my father made for me.

Summer on San Juan Island is about morning rides on my horse, when the dew is still on the grass from early fog that settles into the valley overnight. There is complete utter silence this time of day. A doe lifts her head to look at me as her dappled fawn hops over close to mama. I see a fox up ahead on the trail. Back at the barn, one fat barn swallow won’t leave the nest. Parents keep bringing food and more food. I am pretty sure he is too fat to fly.

Low tide in the summer is my favorite. I take off my shoes and walk way out at False Bay. Warm salt water on my feet. Dogs love to lope along and splash through the tepid pools. Clouds of birds shifting with the tides. Sea gulls and sand pipers run in and run out with the waves. I am mesmerized as I watch. Tide pools full of tiny crab, limpets, sea anemone and chiton. Especially low tide close to full moon and summer solstice reveal sun stars and purple stars, and once in a great lucky while an octopus.

The tractor showed up today and is cutting the hay. The smell is intoxicating. Reminds me of my first pony, Penny, and the smell of fresh hay that my dad and I stacked next to her stall. With the grass cut, the dogs and I can walk to the pond again. It has been 4 feet tall and quite a trek to get down the hill. The farmer will be turning the cut hay into huge round bails. Such a majestic sight out the front window. I am always sad when they come and take the bales away in the fall.

I go into town midday for the first time in awhile. Things are quite different here in summer. I have to walk 2 blocks to get to the gym. What an inconvenience. I never turn left on Spring Street any time of the year, but this is beyond turning left. It is grid lock. The ferry is unloading and someone is waiting for a parking space, holding up traffic all the way to the boat. Are you kidding me?

Night time and night life is quite different summer vs. winter. I go out with my girlfriend on Friday night. It is an adventure. So many people having a blast in a new port. Interesting stories to tell when I get home. Not many familiar faces. I think I prefer winter, where the place may seem bereft of life, but it is more about connecting with friends than a rowdy party.

This time of the year in the San Juan’s is pure magic. There is a sparkle that I don’t see anywhere else. A sparkle in the landscape and a sparkle in the people. Summer days are long long long. The garden is abundant, people are happy, birds are singing and it is 75 degrees.

I moved to this island in 1989. Although I have come and gone for a time over those years, I am still in awe of its beauty and its magical presence. Each time of year has its own special personality, but summer is the island at its very best. Spring is really my favorite, though. Fall is quite spectacular, actually. And winter is the pure healing joy of peace and quiet.




Sixty Dollar Salad


I have romantic thoughts about growing my food. Fresh organic food. Fresh picked and becoming salad. Packet of seeds 2 dollars and 99 cents.

I make raised beds. I buy untreated fir 4X6’s and treat them with some kind of all natural organic wood preservative. It takes a few days. I hire a handy guy who can assemble the wood into raised beds. I purchase several hundred dollars worth of organic soil and fill them. Now I am ready to plant.

I plant the seeds. Lettuce, spinach, kale, swiss chard. 30 days to harvest it says on the packet. This seems to me, that may be an optimistic assumption. If everything goes right and a garden has 4 feet of organic material, a perfect amount of water, sun and ideal conditions, maybe. On the other hand, if the temperature is not quite right, not enough water, too much water. Too cloudy, too sunny. Late frost, cold nights or hot days. The moon not in the correct quarter. The stars not aligned. You know the ones. Then the seeds don’t sprout and the salad is not ready in 30 days.

I keep buying more seeds and filling in where seeds have not made it. If, after 30 days, I still have seeds sprouting and becoming plants and the cats haven’t dug them up and the deer have not discovered them and the rabbits are staying away. If the house sitter hasn’t forgotten to water when I went away for the weekend and the bug that eats the tops of the peas and beans has missed a few and I remember to harvest the plants before they bolt, I consider the garden a huge success.

I am working on the second year. I added 6 inches of manure in the fall. I amended and mulched. I prune and preen and talk to my beloved plants. By May my kale is 6 inches high, lettuce the same. I have some lovely little radishes. I am gloating with pride, and then I go to the farmers market. There, I see kale the size of small trees, lettuce so beautiful it looks like the kind they photograph for the cover of a gardening book. Tomato plants 4 feet tall. How is this possible?

I ask advice to find out why my plants aren’t growing as fast as the plant lady’s at the market. Opinions come freely. “You probably aren’t watering enough.” “You are probably watering too much.” “Did you wait until the moon was in the first quarter to plant?” “Oh no!” “Did you mulch?” “Slugs.” “Probably slugs.” “Must be voles.” “Happens to me every year.” “Deer, that’s the problem.” “Birds.” “You should never have a bird feeder, or the birds will eat your seeds.”

I have two main obstacles so far this year. Cats and pill bugs. I have three beautiful cats that are now looking for good homes. Cats dig up my seeds right away or they wait until the little plants are barely up. I read that coffee grounds work to keep cats away. Cats don’t like coffee grounds apparently. So I give up tea and start drinking coffee. It takes a lot of coffee. Wood ashes work if there are enough of them but the seeds don’t seem too happy. I begin to pile sharp objects onto my garden. Pieces of wood, wire mesh, rocks, branches, metal grid. Now my garden looks like the Mexican border wall. Dismantle that. I am confident that by now the cats will have found new places to go and will leave my garden alone. No. Not so. I get a huge pile of sand and make them sand boxes. No. I make them a dirt box. Nope. Next is motion sensor sprinkler system. If that doesn’t work, electric fence with barbed wire around premises.

Something is eating the seedlings as they emerge. I have been replanting thinking that they are not germinating. Then with closer examination I notice stems sticking out of the soil. Only stems. Pill bugs only eat decaying matter I am told. Wrong. Pill bugs swarm attack and devour my new little beans as they peek above the soil line. First I try Diatomaceous Earth. This is made of Crustacean fossils and is not at all toxic. It is composed of tiny sharp shards that either dry out the bugs or debilitate them. But I have to re apply every time I water which is twice a day. 30 dollars worth of the stuff in 30 days. And if I forget or don’t get the timing right the little creature’s swarm, attack and devour the fresh new leaves. I can trap them with beer is another suggestion. Collect little cans; make holes in the soil around the plants. One can per square foot and fill with beer. Not exactly attractive and I don’t even like beer. Next, I make little walls around the seeds using toilette paper tubes or plastic bottles. When the plants emerge the bugs can’t get to them. Little walls to keep out the bug terrorists and another hypothetical solution that doesn’t work. I buy more seeds and I buy small plants already started. I also start my own seedlings. I will succeed.

I persevere. I plant the seeds, reseed after the cat digs up the first lot, reseed after I accidentally apply too much wood ash. Reseed after the pill bugs eat the seedlings. I am addicted. The first thing I want to do each morning is to check on the garden. Water and nurture. Watch things come alive.

What is it that compels me to grow year after year? What is it that gives me a rush when I see that first seed catalogue come in the mail each winter? The pure unadulterated pleasure of appreciating and sharing my first tender greens mixed with herbs in the spring. The taste and the exhilaration. Delicious yes, and that first salad is worth about 60 bucks. Money well spent.





If I Were A Cedar Tree


If I were a cedar tree I would sway in the wind, bend but not break. I would be aware of the moment and nothing more.

If I were a cedar tree I would watch the world change. More generations than I can count.

If I were a cedar tree I would never be alone. I would be mother and life force. From bald eagle to tiny microorganisms that live under bark. Lichen and moss, mama fox and kits live in hole under root, woodpeckers gorging on supper, junco’s and wood hatches flitting to safety. I would give shelter and safety, sustenance and perch.

Wise woman would cherish my wisdom and see the spirit within me. I would have seen settlers come and cut down brothers and sisters. Yet, I would not wake in the night and worry. Things would be simple.

If I were a cedar tree I would welcome back the salmon that spawn then became fry then swam out to sea. I would watch as the sea gulls, eagles and bear come and feed after the next generation has been laid.

If I were a cedar tree I would hear the whispers in the dark of night. No one would know I was there.

If I were a cedar tree I would stand proud for artists with their easels and paint. I would display my beautiful sweeping branches, massive trunk and flecks of red and gold and rust within the thousands of shades of green in my boughs.

I would stand tall and calm as children climb on me and parents teach.

If I were a cedar tree I would be whole, neither happy nor sad, but at peace with my life as it is. I would live among my brothers and sisters many hundreds of years we would be. I would be strong and steadfast as those around me.

If I were a cedar tree I would be whole. I would not be bothered by the judgment of others. I would stand in peace. I would not judge.

If I were a cedar tree I would not plan for my future nor fret over my past. I would notice the caw of the crow and the nip in the air.

If I were a cedar tree I would stand tall in grace.



(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 www.teresasmith.com )




Eat Around the Worm


I offer Emma, my teenage daughter, a juicy delicious apple off the ancient leaning apple tree. “What are those spots?” She asks. “Worm holes,” I tell her. “Worm holes!” She shrieks. “Eat around them.” I tell her.

It got me thinking. Life is like that. I am not able to prevent bad things from happening and worries do creep up. The question is, how I deal with them. Do I ignore the issue? Run away from it? Or do I skirt it, look at it with curiously and make the most of it? I eat around the worm because I cherish the juicy bits. The pleasure AND the tension. There is always a bit of risk. Just take a bite.

Sometimes life goes along swimmingly. Everything I touch seems to work. Selling paintings, making friends, money coming in. My future looks bright. Then a worm in the apple shows up. It wakes me up in the night. I ignore it. I am losing money. A house sits empty. It is not renting. I pay the mortgage every month but savings are depleting. Not worried yet, then I am. What to do? From there I feel a piece of lead in my stomach. A nagging feeling that won’t go away.

My future does not feel bright. Fears creep in from years past maybe from ancestors past. The colors aren’t quite as bright. There is a momentum. The momentum is down. It stays that way for a while. Could be minutes, hours, days. My choice.

It is just this little worm that I need to eat around. I remember that I am selling my paintings, that I live in a beautiful house, that I am fortunate to have a rental to worry about, that nobody died. I live in the most beautiful place and I remember I have the best job in the world. I am an artist.

Keep my hopes up, look on the bright side, hope for the best, be a dreamer, a positive thinker and eat around the worm.




Hounds, Horses & Me


The Irish Wolfhounds and I pile into the pick-up truck. Dogs in back, me in front and we head for Plum Pond. The dogs ride in the back because they are the tallest dog there is. They can grab a roast off the kitchen counter without taking their feet off the floor. Wolfhounds are kind dogs and beautiful too. They don’t start fights but they do finish them.

There is a winding dirt road that leads to Plum Pond, heavily wooded and jungle like with tall ferns, alder and fir. At the end of the lane with its abundant potholes is a meadow and a picturesque pond, fruit trees and beautiful pastures. On the way down the hill I pick some fruit from the old apple trees to give to the horses later, and one for each dog. Then I pick blackberries for me. They are sweet and fragrant even at the end of summer.

The dogs and I arrive at the little weather-worn barn. It’s somewhat sagging and missing a few boards but still standing solid. As I prepare saddle and brushes I notice newly hatched swallows in a nest above the barn door. The mama and papa swallows dive-bomb us as we come and go. The babies chirp relentlessly.

We go looking for the horses. Sometimes they are under the big cedars keeping out of the sun and flies, sometimes in the lower pasture where the witch grass grows taller than me. Today is a warm day, so I guess they will be under the trees. And there they are, standing close, tail to nose working cooperatively swishing the flies off each other. The air is thick with pitch and evergreen and horse. I make my way through the herd safeguarding Lanie’s apple. I give it to her and watch how she lustily devours it, juice dripping down her chin.

Lanie is the sister of a movie star. Her brother, Raswan, was the star in “The Black Stallion Returns”. Lanie is a black Arabian, and is a beauty.

Lanie follows me down to the barn; I brush her, enjoying the feeling of her silky coat and noticing her enjoyment. I love her horsy scent. Then I saddle her up and lead her to the nearest rock and climb on.

We begin our ride past the hedgerows of wild roses and blackberry bushes. The quail families scuttle along ahead, and then dodge in to the safety of the bushes. Sometimes we ride through the expansive fields. It is never a relaxing ride however, because the horses are on the alert for creatures lurking in the hedges. I keep my leg on, for I know in an instant a deer could jump out frightening us both and sending Lanie off at a gallop, hopefully with me still onboard. For this reason I prefer the trails. I whistle to the dogs we start along a wooded path. On this particular day we begin the ride by jumping over a ditch. We head up Jungle Trail at a gallop. Passing by ferns and huge old growth fir trees. I notice alizarin, golds, rust, emerald and forest greens. Colors are so




Its All In The Label


First I put on my lingerie from Nordstroms. Then I pull on my Witt and Wisdom designer jeans, 5 years old and three days past needing a launder. Nice quality shirt from a fancy shop on Pearl Street in Boulder; a little past its prime but still comfy and practical. Over the nice shirt, the lingerie and the designer jeans goes my Costco fleece, and then my favorite Filson. If a person lives in the Northwest they are going to know Filson. Last but not least I pull on a pair of Hunter boots. I am island styling.

I am at Market Place in Friday Harbor and notice Shabby Chic is the style. Nice fitting, well designed somewhat used, comfortable clothes. I look around and I see most of the ladies are dressed the same. I fit right in.

This got me thinking there is a distinct dress code and manner wherever I go. Eastern Washington is all about Camo. Montana and Wyoming high waisted Wranglers with big buckles and extra large pickup trucks. Boulder Colorado is label all the way. REI, North Face, Patagonia. Oh, did I mention yoga pants? Not only does a person need to wear yoga pants in Boulder, it is desirable to look good in yoga pants. The way people dress and the way we act is unique to each culture.

When I live in a place for any length of time I conform to the local dress code. Boulder is a tough one because the average body fat composition is about 20% and with the need for spandex I had to make adjustments. Yoga classes, workout trainer, spinning classes, cycling, cross country skiing and hiking. Vanity is arduous.

When I moved back to the island after being gone for 14 years I was wearing yoga pants, Free People shirt and an electric blue Patagonia jacket. It didn’t take me long to discover I felt out of place. I appeared to be a tourist, even. As time went on I unintentionally chose clothes that are more island. My lifestyle is different here. I get dirty because I do dirty things; garden, paint, ride horses for instance. My electric blue jacket hangs in a closet and only comes out when I go to Colorado.

There is another thing too. The way people socialize is different. In Boulder I needed to make plans to get together with friends weeks in advance and if I invite 10 people, 6 will show up. On the island if I invite 10 people, 18 will show up. And this can happen in less than an hour.

If invited to dinner in Boulder the host will ask, “Dietary restrictions?” Gluten free, dairy free, egg free and so on.” You get the picture. Here on the island I am asked, “red, white, tequila or rum?” Dietary restrictions all the same. There are other differences too. When I get to my little dinner party the conversation in Colorado will be about my meditation practice, art and yoga. Which lineage we are following, Vajrayana, Mahayana, or Hinayana? The point is; In Boulder you better know the differences between the Yanas and the Yamas. On the island conversations have a different twist and I have discovered in order to keep up I better know my Port from my Aft. Still learning.

Whether we are talking about mannerisms or dress codes, the uniqueness of a place is intriguing. One place is not right and one wrong, just different. I like being a bit of a Chameleon and now I need to put on my Tiva’s and go to the beach.




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