Monday, September 1, 2014

Late Summer on Lopez Island

Flowers at Horse Drawn Farm
I have been up on Lopez Island in the San Juans for much of the past month.  The island rhythm is seductive…slow mornings lingering over island roasted coffee with delicious breakfast pastries and fresh berries; bicycle rides over familiar roads lined with red rosehips and white snowberries; wandering the island to procure amazing late summer food and flowers; going to the bakery to buy one more loaf of fresh French bread; sitting in the garden reading in the golden afternoon light; taking friends out in our boat and setting the crab traps; late afternoon bike rides; and perhaps best of all, pulling the traps up and harvesting the big male Dungeness crabs.  My husband’s college roommate and his wife, Jim and Sue, visited us this past week.  They live just outside Chicago and had never been to the San Juans.  We picked them up at the morning ferry and went first to the oyster farm to buy a fresh Sockeye salmon and then to Horse Drawn Farm – a 24-hour self service farm stand in the middle of the island.  Our friends couldn’t believe the flower gardens or the quality of produce set out in the open air timber structure – green and yellow zucchini; shiny eggplant; red, yellow, purple and green peppers; basil; large lumpy heritage tomatoes; shallots; sweet onions; farm made sausages; the list goes on.

We returned home laden with goodies, enjoyed a quick picnic lunch and went down to our boat for a fishing expedition.  The sky was clear blue and the sun shone on the water, sending ripples of sparkling light across the bay.  We decided to start our afternoon with a brief tour around the nearby islands before we settled down to salmon fishing.  Despite the late August date, the returning salmon are barely running.  It has been an unusually dry and warm summer.  The annual fish runs are reported to be staying north in the cooler waters off the British Columbia coast. 

Crab Trap!
Of course fishing isn’t just about catching the big one; it’s equally about being out on the water and enjoying the whole experience.  While I trolled slowly around our favorite fishing spot, Jeff and Jim set up the downriggers.  Sue sat in the cockpit with me and we watched our GPS sounder carefully, tracking depth and the location of baitfish.  Running at about 120 feet, we could see dense clouds of baitfish swimming at 60 to 80 feet.  Jeff and Jim set the downriggers at 75 feet and I drove in big slow circles across the waves.  While we chatted, we watched sea lions diving and a flock of gulls floating on the waves.  Suddenly the gulls rose from the water in a single cloud, responding simultaneously to an unknown signal.  Sue and I watched them circle in the sky overhead and then disappear around the edge of the nearby island only to reappear minutes later and land in a crowd on the water.  As luck would have it this wasn’t the day we would catch that big one.  We trolled through the slack tide thinking the fish would surely come.  We tried our favorite childhood fishing calls but to no avail.  The fish weren’t biting or perhaps aren’t in our part of Puget Sound yet.  We pulled the rods back into the boat and drove across the open water to check our crab traps.  Jim and Sue thrilled at the sight of Mount Baker hovering above the horizon.  They loved seeing the huge green and white ferries plowing across the water.   My job was to give the ferries the right of way as we skimmed across the waves!  I approached the first crab trap slowly and carefully, bringing the boat alongside while Jim hooked the trap smoothly as if he had been doing it all his life.  We measured and secured the legal males in a bucket of salt water and threw the undersize and female crabs back, repeating the whole process with the next trap.  The rest of their visit was delightful.  We shared old memories, told family stories and laughed together.  As we said goodbye the next day we promised to “do this more than once every forty years”.

Sunset over Fisherman Bay
It is always a surprise to me how summer accelerates in the last days of August.  Just a few days ago it was my early August birthday and now there is a tiny chill in the morning and Labor Day weekend is almost over.  I’ve heard the ferries sending their foghorn calls at 5 am and watched the mist drift across the straits as the air starts to cool in the evening.  Last night I rode my bicycle home from the other end of the island after we hauled our final delicious crab catch out of the cold water.  It was Sunday evening and no one was on the roads.  I pedaled along alone, skimming the familiar roads easily after a summer of biking.  Biking is a wonderful middle age sport – not stressful to your joints but still a very good work out.  My summer has been full of incredible rides both on Lopez and elsewhere – the Portugal bike trip in May; training rides throughout Puget Sound in June; the 2-day, 204-mile Seattle to Portland ride with my husband and eight others, family members and close friends, in July; and almost daily rides in and around Seattle and Lopez in August sometimes with my husband and daughter; sometimes with friends or alone.  This amount of biking has been wonderful both for my mind and for my body.  My legs are noticeably stronger – I can pedal up steep hills without thinking I will die or worse, get off my bike.  My mind is calmer and happier, filled with memories of wonderful vistas – Puget Sound from the edge of Magnolia; barrier islands lit by the setting sun across Davis and Fisherman Bay; tree filled valleys and fields full of Queen Anne’s lace and round haystacks.  I've had time to think through new stories to write in Brazil and share rides with my grown daughter who joined us for the month while she finished writing her dissertation.  It is a privilege to live in a beautiful place and to have the health and opportunity to enjoy it with family and friends.

Beach Rock Cairn
Early this morning we said goodbye to the last of our summertime visitors - close friends from Seattle.  Today we’ve been doing end of summertime chores.  It is almost time to put the boat up into storage and move the outdoor furniture inside for the winter.  I can hear my husband’s chainsaw cutting the overgrown junipers back before the autumn rains set in.  We’ll be returning to Brazil soon – saying goodbye to the Pacific Northwest for a few months and saying hello to our adopted home in the southern hemisphere.  It has been a summer full of memorable visits with friends and family; cooking and sharing wonderful meals; walks on the beach and in the lovely cedar woods; watching the sun set across the water, lighting everything in a molten glow.  I have many new rocks and shells to add to my collections.  We’ve used some of the lovely smooth beach rocks to build small cairns around our house – not because we need directions from the porch to the front door but because the small piles of stones mark a place we love.  I like the idea that the stones will be waiting to greet me.  I know I’ll be ready to greet them.


  1. This is a lovely post, Joanna. I particularly loved the final passage about your rock cairns. ;}

  2. Thanks Dana. It was wonderful to collect the rocks on our beach over the summer months. I hope you can see them in person before too much time passes.