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Island Guardian

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.

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.

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.

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