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Waldron Island

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With approximately one hundred year-round residents, Waldron Island is the most remote of the inhabited San Juan Islands. Few people make it to Waldron. Set apart from the rest of the San Juan Islands by the swift currents of President’s Channel, Waldron is to the rest of the islands what the islands in general are to the mainland. With no electrical service, no running water, and no paved roads, Waldron is very self-sufficient. Indeed, this little island on the fringe of the archipelago is practically a respite from civilization itself.

Culture on Waldron revolves around the post office, a one-room schoolhouse, and a county dock; the island attracts people for whom this is enough. Public access is extremely limited, which in itself, preserves Waldron’s unique character. Those who stay long enough to call it home must know how to make things work, or be capable of doing without. Indeed, characterized by an independent pioneer spirit that brought their parents and grandparents to the island to homestead, folks on Waldron may be the quintessential islanders.

Waldron is what all the islands used to be – remote, magical, and rural. The island economy, although influenced by fishing and logging, was traditionally agricultural. The difference between Waldron and the other islands is that Waldron is still basically a farming island.

Less affected not only by civilization but also by many of the natural pests that challenge gardeners on Lopez, San Juan, and Orcas, farmers on Waldron harvest organically grown flowers, fruits, and vegetables of exceptional quality. With superior cultivation practices, Waldron farmers share ideas and collectively practice powerful sustainable gardening to ensure healthy plants. With a consistent presence at the local Farmer’s Market, produce and flowers from Waldron are both highly anticipated and coveted.

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The Trumpeter Swan

Trumper Swans in a wetland, San Juan Island, WA

Signaling a change of season, the first of the Trumpeter Swans typically arrive on San Juan Island toward the end of Summer. Flying in from the Straits in V-formation on a clear and crisp Indian Summer early evening, it can be quite a sight. Their loud, musical, low pitched, bugle-like cry of excitement to have finally arrived at their destination as well as the rasping, rushing sound of their wings in flight is nothing short of remarkable. Simply breathtaking.

They sweep across the upper air in exalted and unswerving flight, their forms glistening like silver in the sunset glow until, at last, they find their haven in the valley to circle with hoarse trumpetings in wide spirals from that giddy height reconnoitering as they swing lower and lower until, their apprehensions at rest, they sail slowly down to drink, bathe, feed, and rest on quiet peaceful waters.

Every year these exquisite creatures make the 2000 mile migration from northern Alaska arriving on island to Winter in the islands. All white with graceful, long necks and black bills, the Trumpeter Swan is, based on weight and length, the largest North American bird as well as the largest living waterfowl species globally. Males average 64” and females 59” with an approximate wingspan of 6+’. These birds feed almost entirely on aquatic plants, grasses, and grains. Their stately presence is most often seen on fresh-water lakes, ponds, and rivers.

Once a vanishing breed, being the largest and most conspicuous of water fowl, the Trumpeter Swan was hunted as game and a source of feathers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, many survived in areas of Canada and Alaska with those populations since recovering. As is the case with many bird species, the Trumpeter Swan mates for life.

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Roche Harbor Salmon Classic

rhderbyLocated at the north end of San Juan Island, the historic community of Roche Harbor consists of a picturesque resort, significant marina, airstrip, shops, and sculpture park. The resort will be celebrating its 13th Annual Roche Harbor Salmon Classic the fourth week of January. With cash prizes, three nights of hosted dinners, and on site accommodations, this derby has come a long way!

 

In 2004, a sales rep casually suggested to the Roche Harbor Company Store manager that they might consider a fishing derby. Patterned after the Rosario Derby from the 60’s and 70’s, though strictly word of mouth that first year, the derby sold out. It appeared as though this derby had its own heartbeat.

 

Summer salmon fishing spoils us. We enjoy shirtsleeve weather, calm inland waters, roiling Coho in kelp, deep Chinook in the troughs, and in odd years, enough pink salmon to exhaust us. Winter salmon fishing is another story altogether. The biting wind, forbidding temperatures, rough water, and running tides require a fair amount of dedication, stamina, perseverance, and determination.

 

There are fewer things more deliciously rewarding to eat than fresh-caught fish of any kind, and fewer still can match the taste and texture of a bright-eyed, red-gilled, silver-scaled, clean-smelling salmon only an hour or two out of the water. The King salmon specifically referred to as Blackmouth do not migrate to sea, but rather stay in Puget Sound waters year-round to provide challenging Winter fishery for stalwart anglers willing to brave inclement weather.

 

First in quality and recognized by dark blue fading to silver, heavy spotting dorsally and on the tail with black gumlines, Blackmouth are actually immature Chinook typically weighing in at 6-10 pounds, however there have been reports of larger fish caught locally recently generally on the open-water banks. Blackmouth are rich, oily, and flavorful. Color varies from deep red to white.

 

Given the unpredictable weather conditions at this time of the year in the San Juan Islands, the good news is that these fish are really fairly predictable. Find the baitfish and stay close to the bottom!

Holiday Boat Parades!

port_of_fh_-_lighted_boat_parade_santa_700_x_330Christmas! Magical, whimsical, colorful Christmas! With all its shimmer, glitter, and glitz – yet, that ever present undercurrent of tradition. It is a love/hate thing with this holiday of all holidays, but most of us manage to get into the swing of things at some point.

 

For many in the San Juan Islands, it is the signs of the holidays at the marinas – a wreath will appear on a dock box, white twinkly lights run up a mast, and then, before you know it, the Holiday Boat Parades are upon us.

 

Parade viewing is a wonderfully merry way to celebrate the holidays. A train of boats smothered in lights, extravagantly decorated – some with animated Christmas scenes – and brilliant against the night sky gliding through the water with music bouncing off the shore. It really is the best and can truly bring out the child in most anyone.

 

There is a great story of how nearly 100 years ago an Italian gondolier began ferrying visitors to Newport Beach, California in a gondola decorated with Japanese lanterns. Soon the gondolier and other small boat operators expanded this into the first lighted boat parade.

 

Every year the Friday Harbor Sailing Club hosts the boat parade in Friday Harbor. Escorting the Santa Ship to the Port Marina, the parade runs between Jensen Bay and the Friday Harbor Labs. In addition to free moorage available to visitors opting to participate in the parade, the event features cider, cookies, and carolers in song – the epitome of warm community holiday cheer.

 

Orcas Island Yacht Club is known for its Lighted Yacht Rendezvous that runs from just southwest of the Orcas ferry terminal to circumnavigate West Sound counter-clockwise. Yacht club volunteers will open the West Sound Community Center for hot punch, hors d’oeuvre, caroling, and mistletoe.

 

Holiday boat parades, not exclusive to this coast, are the perfect time to entertain be it aboard or ashore. Not surprisingly, many water view homeowners often schedule their Christmas Open House parties to coincide with the boat parades and many boat owners plan gatherings either in their slips or venture out to follow the parade.

 

Slowly, surely the season’s magical spell takes hold!

 

Brown Island – History and Development

Brown Island History

Brown Island History

In the 1960’s, Brown Island was tastefully developed by 21 limited partners. These developers viewed the island as a place where families for generations to come would use it as a Summer getaway.

 

All in all, there were approximately 30 lots consisting of approximately one acre each with 100’ of waterfront priced at $5,000. Can you imagine?

 

Only two of the limited partners opted to purchase inventory at the onset of this development. The partners got a 25% discount if they bought at that time. One partner chose the point at the southeast end of the island where he built a Ralph Anderson designed home with a grass roof. The other selected a piece on a nice gravel beach facing Shaw Island.

 

The partner who purchased on the east side of Brown Island was the first to build. He built an A-frame which paralleled the construction of the caretaker’s house and the pool. For about two years, this family had the island all to themselves!

 

Brown Island has a wonderful marina, swimming pool, and full-time caretakers. With the exception of a fire truck and perhaps another truck, transportation is limited to golf carts. To this day, it is a magical place and, in keeping with the dream of the original developers. An ideal getaway on every level!

Thanksgiving Island-Style

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The holidays are fast approaching and you can feel it in the air in the San Juans Islands. There is such a distinct sense of community here at this time of year. The enchanting small town festivities reinforce this season of reunion, reflection, tradition, and celebration with friends and family coming off the ferry daily bearing their contribution to the Thanksgiving feast with plans to spend the long holiday weekend in paradise.

 

American families everywhere hold the national harvest celebration dear to their hearts. Perhaps not always eaten strictly by a tableful of kin these days, this holiday is certainly a time for family – real or adopted. It is a communal celebration – one of warmth, food, and companionship.

 

The Thanksgiving feast provides some of our most enduring holiday memories and features a roster of ingredients so ritualized that they have become almost sacred. A Thanksgiving dinner is seldom prepared by Mom alone anymore, but rather everyone pitches in to share the load – a pot luck, if you will. We have come to know this type of meal as one where everyone contributes something. Indeed, these pot luck feasts, and especially here in the islands, have become a tradition in their own right. Part of the fun is allowing several family traditions to be united in one gathering – giving, taking, blending.

 

The period between Thanksgiving and Twelfth Night is a special time of year, to be sure. Starting Thanksgiving weekend, all the islands have their own unique events. Orcas Island offers the Eastsound Art Walk, the Holiday Festival of Arts at the Orcas Senior Center and the Olga Symphony at the Orcas Center. Lopez Island has its annual Holiday Bazaar at the Lopez High School as well as the highly anticipated Lopez Union Cemetery Wreath Sale, and then the Lopez Holiday Village Gathering and Tree Lighting! On San Juan Island, the annual Island Artisans Holiday Market will be held at the Friday Harbor Elementary School, San Juan Vineyards will host a 2010-2013 vertical wine tasting, the San Juan Community Theater will present the Metropolitan Opera’s live high definition performance of Tannhauser, and there will be Big Band Swing at the Rumor Mill!

 

What a perfectly delightful way to spend this special holiday weekend!

 

Round the County

rtc airNovember silently sneaks up on us, catching our senses by surprise. Outside, silvery grey shafts reveal a familiar landscape stripped of pretense. Suddenly, as the English poet Thomas Hood sullenly observed three centuries ago, there is “no shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, no fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds”. Many optimistic Northwest natives, and especially those who have chosen to make their home in the San Juan Islands, may not agree.

 

Thanks to the “rain shadow” effect of the Olympic Mountains, the San Juan Islands experience approximately half the rainfall of south sound with an average of around 245 days with sunshine! The eagles have returned from their mainland riverside fishing frenzy, the Winter birds are here in all their glory, the sandpipers are back, and we have the privilege of sharing the next few months with the Trumpeter Swans!

 

All this is, of course, prologue. After all, it is November and November is, without a doubt, Thanksgiving. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves! November is also the popular Round the County sailboat race in the San Juan Islands…

 

Celebrating its 28th year, Round the County is a 75+/- mile two day destination overnight race around the perimeter of the San Juan archipelago. On Saturday morning, 7 November, the start is off Lydia Shoal in Rosario Strait – east of Obstruction Pass. The course is north, keeping Orcas to port, heading around Clark. Matia, Sucia, and Patos Islands, and continuing down Boundary Pass, past the Turn Point lighthouse, to finish for the day at Roche Harbor. On Sunday morning, the start is in Mosquito Bay, south of Henry Island. Boats venture out into the Straits to follow the shore of San Juan Island, then across Salmon Bank, around Lopez, Decatur, and Blakely Islands to finish where they started – at Lydia Shoal

 

There is a no host cocktail party with hors d’oeuvre in West Sound Friday night, a BYOB barbeque at Roche Harbor on Saturday night, and an awards dinner Sunday night at the Orcas Island Yacht Club. Sponsored by the Orcas Island Yacht Club and the Friday Harbor Sailing Club, given the extraordinary venue, this race has become one of the most popular in the Pacific Northwest.

 

There are obviously no guarantees about weather that second weekend of November but, you can be assured of spectacular scenery, an interesting assortment of wind and water conditions, fun parties, and a great group of folks. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Brown Island – A Jewel of the San Juan Islands

Brown Island

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Brown Island is a magical private 70+/- acre island located just east of Friday Harbor. Sometimes it is nice to look back to the way things once were here in the San Juan Islands.

 

In the beginning, local Northwest Coastal Indians would paddle out from the mainland in their sleek dugout cedar canoes to Summer on Brown Island. The people of this region exploited the waters and their riches with such success that they had to give only a few months a year – from the middle of May until the middle of September – to the task of providing themselves with a year’s food supply as well as a considerable surplus for trading. In addition to an abundance of fish, shellfish, and seabird eggs, Brown Island provided hunting grounds, berries, wild celery, and roots to harvest for the Winter. Outstanding traders – with riches such as cedar bark, meat, shellfish, dried fish, fish oil, shells, and mammal fur – these people amassed prestige-conferring wealth. Because they had an abundance of necessities, seaboard trade centered on luxuries. In their relatively high living standards, the grandeur of their arts, the excellence of their technology, and the success of their trading methods, they were unrivaled by any people north of Mexico. They were also unrivaled in their concern for rank and wealth and in their profligate generosity.

A Place in the Islands

Westside Waterfront - Great Whale Watching - and Kite Flying

Westside Waterfront – Great Whale Watching – and Kite Flying

Sacred partnerships arrive in our lives in many forms; sometimes consisting of wood and stone, rather than flesh and bone. There is a deep peace and contentment to be found in the intimate connections with places as well as people.

Every relationship we have – with other people, with our work – reflects in some way our soul’s intimate union with ourselves. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the relationships we have with a home. We deserve to live in a home that welcomes, embraces, nurtures, delights, and inspires.

When we find ourselves there, we recognize it. It is a vision of something we have had in our mind and the discovery, quite often, has the characteristics of an epiphany. We have the feeling of coming home. It wraps itself around us.

The same is true of a getaway – a haven, a retreat, a refuge – a special place that offers a sense of sanctuary. Families, couples, and singles – regardless of gender – share an urge that borders on primal to have what can be called a getaway. Whenever we find this special place, we add a richness to our wondrous, but sometimes hectic, lives by following our vision to create a getaway of our very own.

To live on an island is to experience a life apart. The island home reflects the owner’s reason for escape. Island homeowners are individualistic, socially conscious, and creative with every home fulfilling its owner’s dream of privacy, harmony with the surroundings, and more importantly, providing a chance to take a closer look at the world

Living at the water’s edge is an almost universal desire. It is different – where two worlds meet; a little piece of infinity. Magic!

Summer in the San Juan Islands

Barnacle Point Lane, San Juan Island, Friday Harbor

Barnacle Point Lane, San Juan Island, Friday Harbor

The very feel of Summer in the Pacific Northwest seems to be more exaggerated – more vibrant, if you will.  This is especially true in the San Juan Islands.  The clear sunny days and brilliant blue skies linger on into evening and sunsets recall the bright colors of the day in one last memorable explosion of snapdragon pink, zinnia orange, and buttery corncob yellow.

There is a carefree atmosphere, a casual attitude, and almost a lazy pace.  The natives are warm and friendly, gracious, generous, and always amazingly hospitable.

There are those who find islands somehow irresistible.  The terminal cases set foot on one of the islands in this dreamy green archipelago and simply cannot leave.  Unable to stop themselves, they make homes, cementing lifelong, and in many cases, generations long, ties to the community.

For those who live in the islands year-round – the full-time caretakers of the land, custodians to the creatures, and guardians of the legacy – Summer is a constant reminder of the remarkable sense of community filled with the arts, music, family spirit, and a strong commitment to preserve our quality of life.  Surrounded by water, fostering a deep practical and spiritual relationship with one another, island residents are connected to ensure a healthy, vibrant future economy.

Time spent on an island is a journey to the center of a specific and small compass with the center of the compass representing exactly where you are and what you alone can comprehend, and often, it is a place we know to be far too extraordinary to describe.

Intrigue preserves our love affair with islands…