(originally published September 24, 2016 on Quora)
Last night, not enthralled with the movie my husband had chosen to watch, I logged into my smartphone to check my email and scroll through Facebook.
The large picture window in the living room window of our Mount Vernon house faces north. We can see the lights of Burlington, WA, which is a few miles away across the Skagit River. The river, which meanders west before a hairpin turn to the south, divides the communities of Burlington and Mount Vernon. Our house is a short walk from the Skagit, and no more than three miles, as a crow flies, from the Burlington commercial area.
When I turned on my phone, I was greeted with a news alert. There had been a shooting at Burlington Cascade Mall. The pieces quick fell into place. The helicopters I could see from our window, circling over Burlington, were no doubt part of the effort to find the shooter.
It had been less than two hours since the shooting so there was little information, except the location – the cosmetic counter at Macy’s – the injury and death toll, and a blurry picture of the shooter, a young, possibly Hispanic man, carrying a rifle in dark shorts, dark shirt, and presumably sneakers.
My husband and I, each equipped with a smart phone, scanned the news sources and social media, looking for another tidbit as to what happened. Presidential candidate Donald Trump had already arrived at the conclusion the shooter wasn’t Hispanic, but Muslim. Some of the Twitter-sphere had also arrived at the same decision, espousing their hatred of Muslims and 2nd Amendment Right to carry their arsenal of guns.
Their projections and xenophobia was infuriating.
Mount Vernon and Burlington, located in the Skagit Valley, are primarily farming communities, blessed with good weather and extremely fertile soil, which turns tubers and seeds into fields of tulips, daffodils, irises, peas, potatoes, corn, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and 70 or so other crops. The region is responsible for growing 50% of the world’s beet and spinach seeds. And 95% of the red potatoes grown in the Washington State come from the Skagit Valley.
Every fall, tens of thousands of snow geese and trumpeter swans descend on the area, waddling through the muddy fields in search of seeds, bugs, and other goodies, left from the harvest season. As the sunsets, they fly to protected wetlands and small bodies of water for a cleansing swim. They stay in the area through February, and can be seen in the fields, including along the main corridor, I-5.
As with many farming communities, there’s a large Hispanic population. Although, I suspect most aren’t migrant, having living in the area for decades, starting families, opening businesses, and becoming highly respected, and valued workers.
Mount Vernon and Burlington are like a mullet haircut. Both branch off from the main thoroughfare, Riverside Drive. Mount Vernon has a charming, historical downtown with a river walk to the west, and a gentle mountain to the east, lined with picturesque turn-of-the-century homes. In the past few years, several microbrews, restaurants, a chocolate shop, and several boutiques and antique shops have opened in downtown. At one end of the town is the historical, refurbished Lincoln Theater. Guest musicians play the theater’s original pipe organ before art films and events.
On weekends, the farmer’s market, along the waterfront, is packed with buyers, and local merchants and farmers selling produce, flowers, honey, breads, cheeses, meats, and handicrafts. On summer night, the downtown is full of people, eating at restaurants, listening to live performances or enjoying the ambiance.
The overarching issue is dealing with the large influx of visitors during the month-long Tulip Festival. On clear days, traffic is backup on I-5 with people trying to get off, and weave through the miles of country roads to get a glimpse of fields of red, yellow, purple, and other vivid colors.
Burlington, on the other hand, is a hub of box and grocery stores, fast food restaurants, a small outlet mall, and several miles of small, local proprietors, selling everything from appliances and flooring to quinceanera gowns.
One of the busiest places is a large produce store towards the end of the town with crates and displays of gorgeous local produce, including a large wooden crate of pickles with stacks of garlic and stalks of dill in a bucket of water, neatly stacked cardboard boxes of large scarlet-red tomatoes, waiting to be canned, piles of orange pumpkins, squash of every size, and bumpy and striped gourds, melons from eastern Washington, and plums, apples, nectarines, peaches, and apricots from local farms. Most notably, cabbages, the size of human heads, yearning to be turned into sauerkraut.
There is also Cascade Mall, a bit dejected with vacant stores and few visitors. Earlier this year, Sears, an anchor store left, leaving Macy’s and Penny’s as the only large department stores. At one end of the mall, the Children’s Museum of Skagit County has taken over several stores. In the middle is a chapel for worship and wedding, along with a recently opened T.J. Maxx. At the other end is a cinema, which is usually very busy. Extending past the mall, is Target, Red Robin, Popeye’s Chicken, Sleep Country, and other national brands.
Several months ago, my husband and I visited the mall on a Friday night. We scarcely saw more than a dozen people. A small train, which children could ride, wove through the empty mall, the teenage conductor, tooting the train’s horn in hope of a child, breaking free of its parent’s grip and becoming a passenger.
It’s incomprehensible a shooting occurred at Cascade Mall. As with many cities, located along a main highway, and less than an hour from larger cities like Everett, Seattle, and Bellingham, Mount Vernon and Burlington aren’t immune to crime. There are the occasional shootings, a product of bravado, booze, and anger. There are assaults, theft, drunk driving, and other malicious acts.
But a person, carrying a rifle, walking into a lightly trafficked mall, and shooting is incomprehensible. It makes no sense. It’s an act of violence, perhaps of unrequited love. Terrorism seems too big of a word, too out-of-place for Burlington. Too far-fetched for the cosmetic counter of Macy’s with only a handful of people anywhere within fire shot of the perpetrator.
My hope is they catch the shooter in the coming days.
In the meanwhile, I’m not going to bolt my doors, rush to buy a gun, or start pointing fingers at groups of people.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
I’m on a flight to Tampa, FL to attend AAMI (Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation), the biggest trade show for Fluke Biomedical. Fortuitously, I got a window seat, after swapping places with my associate, who preferred my aisle seat, further back in the plane.
I love being by the window.
Waiting to take-off, my mind wanders back to the scene in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the ape throws a bone into the air and it transitions to a spinning space station. I see the bone morphing into an airplane. How did man go from living in caves, and foraging for food to building magnificent machines that can hold hundreds of passengers, communicate with people on the ground, generate electricity to power the lights and mechanics, and use fuel that’s been pumped from the ground, refined, and then judiciously feed into engines to propel it across a continent (or oceans) within hours?
This trip also marks the end of a chapter in my life. When I return, Rich and I will rent a U-Haul truck, and move the rest of our furniture and belongings from our Kirkland to our Mount Vernon house. We’ll return for a day to clean, and finish up last minute projects, and then the house will be listed. With a shortage of houses in Seattle and the surrounding area, we expect to receive multiple offers, and sign sales papers within a week.
This is what we wanted. This is what we’ve been planning for years, but it comes with mixed feelings, and tears.
In 2007, when we were looking for a house near Microsoft, so I’d have a short commute, there were few on the market, and most were selling for considering more than our budget allowed. We visited 5 or 6 houses, and Rich settled on our Kirkland house after a few hours of looking. I was deeply disappointed, having previously lived in a spacious, recently refurbished house in Round Rock, Texas on 1.7 acres with hardwood and tiles floors throughout, large kitchen, two covered porches, covered second-floor balcony (all with ceiling fans), and many amenities, including a hot tub, creek along the back of the property, electric gates, garden shed, and magnificent dogwood, magnolia, crepe myrtle, and oak trees.
Nevertheless, Rich promised to make many improvements to the Kirkland house. The evening the house closed, and we were handed the keys, we started ripping out the carpet, and strategizing on our initial projects.
Two years after moving, the top floor had lovely bamboo floors, we’d removed the popcorn ceiling, painted every wall off-white, replaced the dingy wooden doors and baseboards with white six-panel doors and white baseboards, replaced most of the dated light fixtures with modern ones, replaced the windows, and added elegant white molding and windows sills.
A few years later, Rich cut a large hole in the kitchen ceiling, adding to large skylights, which allowed light to pour into the kitchen and stream into the living room, and dining room. He also added a kitchen island with butcher block on top, and ample storage below. Additional storage was added with new shelving in several closets. Last year, we added granite counters and stainless steel appliances.
Rich’s next project was to remodel the two upstairs bathrooms, adding tile floors, maple cabinets, chic lighting, new toilets, sinks, and faucets. The master bath took several months because he removed a wall, and made the shower considerably larger with tile from ceiling to floor, and a snazzy glass shower door.
There was a break in remodeling while we cared for my mother, and adjusted to reduced income after Rich was laid-off from IBM, and I struggled to find steady work after leaving Microsoft. However, after purchasing a house in Coupeville on Whidbey Island, and selling our lot in Anacortes the vision for our future was solidified. Instead of building a three-story house on the lot, with its shrinking view of March Point due to fast-growing fir trees, we’d be spending the rest of our “mobile” years in a one-story house with an unobstructed view of the Puget Sound!
The Final Push
While Rich was hoping to start on the final remodeling of our Kirkland house in January 2016, he had to wait until the start of March, after working an additional two months for Microsoft as a contract test engineer. A few weeks into February, he was side-tracked when his step-father Ted passed away, leaving a large estate to deal with, including a house that was “under water” and three mobile homes, each with numerous problems.
In between dealing with lawyers, tenants in the mobile homes, insurance and utility companies, and other issues surrounding his step-father’s estate, he demolished the downstairs of our Kirkland house. The entire time we lived in the house, we scarcely gone downstairs, except to do laundry, and tend to our cat’s needs. The laundry room had a large, grungy sauna, where we’d placed the cats’ food and water, and blankets for sleeping. The laundry room also featured dingy cupboards, and a windows that was partially blocked by our washer and dryer, which were stacked on top of each other to make room for a large litter box.
The rest of the downstairs was a hallway with dark brown panel on one wall, leading into a large family room, also partially paneled with two high windows. In one corner was a 70’s bar with dark brown cupboards, large mirror against the back wall, and glass shelves.
Rich’s first task was to remove everything from the laundry room. The space once occupied by the sauna was cut half, with the back half forming a closet, accessible from the family room. Rich built a wall to form the back of the closet. On the other side of the wall, where the laundry room is located, he added a cluster of cabinets with a counter for sorting clothes. The washer and dryer were then placed against the back wall with a cabinet in-between, opening up the window.
To further bring light into the laundry room, he added white molding around the windows, and a large window sill.
At the front of the laundry room, opposite the new cabinets, he did extensive plumbing and electrical work to create a small vanity with a small-profile toilet, mod lighting, and a dainty mirror.
He also installed a pocket door into the laundry room so there’s no door opening into the laundry, taking up valuable space.
At the end of the hallway, he installed a door, turning the family room into a “suite” complete with a fireplace, and mini kitchen. The former bar has new maple cabinets and small sink with room for a small refrigerator, small microwave or hotplate. Using several types and sizes of tile, he created an attractive backsplash in the mini kitchen.
The flooring in the laundry room, and mini kitchen is an oak-like laminate. The family room, and hallway is now beige carpeting (fast, and somewhat cheap).
Finally, he installed new light fixtures, including bucket lights over the kitchen so there’s plenty of light for cooking.
The resulting house is fantastic! I thoroughly enjoyed the bright kitchen, new counters and appliances, and garden windows, which looks out onto the deck, and backyard, shaded by a large oak and three majestic cedar trees. I relished the wildlife that visits from perky stellar blue jays and bossy crows to humorous squirrels and inquisitive raccoons. We’ve delighted in seeing several litters of raccoon grow from awkward, playful bundles of fur to mature adults who respectfully knock on our French doors, requesting a handful of dog kibble.
Our master bedroom has been restful with a pretty ceiling, tiffany lamps, and shabby chic bedspread and pillows.
Another bedroom was for guests, its walls covered with needlepoint my mother did. A second bedroom, we turned into an office with Rich and I having matching desk. On his side of the office were several computers, along with maritime paintings and instruments on the wall. My side had painting and needlepoint pictures of cats, and trinkets that made me happy like miniature red VW bugs, a Mary Engelbriet daily calendar, small wooden mannequin from my cousin, and inspirational books.
The door of the fourth bedroom was removed, and we turned it into a mini den with futon, TV, and small desk and cabinet for my sewing and art projects. Most of our evenings were spent in this den or our office. It was a cozy gathering spots for humans and felines alike.
The living and dining rooms, of our Kirkland house were off the kitchen with a large picture window in the front, and French doors at the back. To let more light into the house, we replaced the ghastly amber windows over the top and along one side of the front door with clear glass windows with adjustable blinds. The dated front door was replaced with one having a mosaic of different types of glass, some of which created rainbow patterns on the walls when the sunlight shined through the front door.
Nine years after purchasing – and remodeling – our Kirkland house, it became a wonderful, restful oasis.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) are days in the house are down to a few hours. When I return from my Tampa trips, I’ll spend one more short night, before all of the furniture is moved, and what’s left is cleaning.
Sweet in that it will be sold for a substantial amount, and the proceeds used to pay down the mortgage of our Coupeville house to $50,000 or less. Rich relishes the idea of having a very low mortgage on a house we intend to live in for the rest of our lives. And sweet in that Rich is looking forward to ending the push to remodel the house, and list (and sell it) while the market is strong.
Rich is also looking forward to not cleaning off the roof every few weeks because of the never-ending shower of debris from the cedar and maple trees.
Bitter in that it’s been a pleasant house. While not my dream house, it’s been comfortable, convenient, and somewhat free of issues. We’ve enjoyed watching kids sled down the hill in front of the house when it snowed. The yard has been easy to maintain with plenty of flowering bushes and bulbs, including narcissus, daffodils, irises, peonies, hydrangea, and rhododendrons. And Rich has taken pride in the groomed lawns in the front and back.
Our furniture has nicely fit in the house, and our walls hosted our large collection of paintings, needlepoints, and pictures.
I’m not elated about moving to our Mount Vernon house with its 70’s shag rugs and worn-out linoleum floors, old counters and cupboards, and smaller rooms. While most of our furniture and belongings have already been put in storage, we have a cluster of antiques squished in the living rooms, and we’ll need to use every closet to accommodate our clothes. There’s a box of toiletries in the bathtub of one bathroom, many of our canned goods, spices, and other packaged foods are on a shelving unit in the laundry room, and the entire downstairs is housing my collectables, painting, and other framed artwork in boxes… along with furniture, and stuff we never brought to Kirkland!
All-in-all, however, we’re going to have a great summer in Mount Vernon. There will be no need to drive between Kirkland and Mount Vernon or work on pressing home-improvement projects. We fully intend to spend our weekends hiking, biking, kayaking, sightseeing, and simply relaxing.
I’ll continue to work at Fluke Biomedical, until I find a job closer to Whidbey Island (Oak Harbor) or a role that can be done remotely. Rich will spend his days fixing our motor home (the section over the cab got dry rot), painting the trim on the Mount Vernon house (most of the house was painted last summer), repairing the deck, and light refresh projects to get the house ready to rent in 2017.
Our Coupeville house is leased through September; although the tenants could leave earlier. Once they’re gone, we’ll launch back into remodel mode… replacing the carpeting, updating the kitchen… turning the dated bar into display cabinets… and much, much more!
With a bit of luck, we’ll be moving into our “forever” house by October. We’re looking forward to matching rocking chairs, dentures in glasses of Polident, and lamenting where we left our glasses and canes, as we gracefully age-in-place.
Thursday, June 9, 2016
I’m sitting at my PC, having moved to Mount Vernon a few days ago. Rich is staying in Kirkland another few days to finish up a last minute projects. He’s left with a bed, box on a stool with a clock and small lamp, a handful of clothes, desk with his PC and a few other electronics, paper plates and plastic cups, cleaning supplies, and tools in the garage.
The day we rented a Budget Truck, Tuesday, the thermometer climbed to the high 80’s. Fortunately, we didn’t have a lot to move, having packed and placed most of our belongings into storage or the bottom story of our Mount Vernon house. Even so, we need to unpack our clothes, the kitchenware I couldn’t live without (i.e. Cuisinart food processor, Kitchenaid mixer, ceramic casseroles, etc.), office equipment, and much more. Our Mount Vernon house is crammed with furniture, boxes, food from my sizable Kirkland pantry, and of course, closets of clothes.
Today, I returned to work, thinking I’d be taking a bus to work, necessitating I leave at 5:20 every morning, spend 25 minutes driving to a park-n-ride, and 45 minutes traveling to Boeing, then walking a quarter mile to work. However, I bumped into a friend who hooked me up with a vanpool, which will be significantly more pleasant to take, and drives directly to work, starting at 6:55 in the morning.
Moving to the country, and this fall to Whidbey Island, closes a chapter of Rich’s and my life. Suburban living with the traffic, crowds, and constant stress has come to an end. We have sunsets, migrating trumpeter swans, miles of farmland, access to just-picked produce, and weekends of hiking, biking, kayaking, and sightseeing ahead of us.
It’s a great start to the next chapter.
Yesterday, we had a full day planned from riding around the tulip fields in Mount Vernon to gardening. The weather, however, had other plans.
With optimism, comfy clothes (no skintight bike shorts and matching shirts for us since we need to keep up our bumpkin image), and our bikes secured to the bike rack on Rich’s truck, we set out for a community park near the Skagit Airport. The weather was iffy with dark skies and an occasional raindrop. Nevertheless, we headed east on a country road.
It was a pleasant 15 minutes of pedaling, looking at tractors and farm hands busy in the fields; tidy houses with mowed lawns, flower beds, and vegetables gardens waiting to be planting; and a few horses, cows, and sheep.
Noticing a white llama, Rich shouted at me to stop. I rode over to a fenced field and watched the llama gallop to the fence, followed by two large, un-sheared sheep. Llamas are herd animals and no doubt, the sheep were part of his flock.
This was an extraordinary llama. Not only was he very curious, but frisky – running up to us, snorting, then bounding away only to sprint back to us a moment later. Sporadically, one of the sheep would get into the action, running after the llama.
The llama was particularly intrigued by my white helmet and couldn’t resist eating grass from Rich’s hand.
After getting our fill of the llama, we jumped back on our bikes, just in time for the rain to start. We pedaled madly back to the truck then waited, hoping the storm would pass. After the drops slowed, we decided to bike the opposite direction. After a few minutes, it became clear, however, that a few raindrops become many when you’re biking. In addition, wet clothes aren’t comfortable.
Once we got back to Mount Vernon, we changed our clothes and launched into the project-of-the-day, planting the High Country Xeric Aroma Garden in our front side yard. I’ve spent the 4-5 weeks clearing two layers of impermeable black plastic landscape fabric, ivy, junipers, weeds, and rocks from this area. Underneath the plastic was mazes of tunnels, dug by moles. While the plastic kept the moles dry and insulated, it prevented anything from putting out deep roots. The few plants that were growing had long roots that stretched across horizontally outward from the plant instead of straight down.
You can see the garden to the right, moments after we put in the last of the plants. The one remaining plant, the large azalea with the red flowers, should start to do better (i.e. it’s leaves will be more green then greenish yellow) now that it’s roots can grow down instead of across the plastic. In the foreground is one of our fabulous, 30-year old rhododendrons.
We also planted the pea pods and peas we’ve been growing from seed in our new raised beds. This week, we’ll be getting vegetable starts from a local community college, which has a horticulture program.
And we’re pleased to see that our potatoes are sprouting in our potato bin. It’s so easy and fulfilling to plant potatoes. You simply buy the potato starts from a local feed/country store. A day or two before you plan on planting, you cut the potatoes into large chunks, leaving an eye or two in each chunk. You then create layers of soil, mulch (can even be shredded newspaper) and the potatoes chunks. I have 7-8 layers of potatoes in my bin.
You then keep the bin moist. The potatoes will put out green shoots that pop out of the holes in the bin and from the top. After several months, you can start to harvest the potatoes (new potatoes) or wait until last summer (August/September) when you open the bin (it’s held together with bolts and wingnuts) and harvest a bounty of larger potatoes.
I planted six varieties of potatoes… and no, you’re not supposed to cram so many potatoes into one bin, but I got carried away!
After a week of rain and cold, Saturday erupted in color with my tulips, jonquils, and daffodils bursting open; rhododendrons starting to bloom (salmon flowers below); green azaleas turning into bursts of bright red and pink; sprays of fragrant lilacs opening (right), and fragile pale pink blossoms covering the branches of our two apple trees (below).
With the colors of spring in full force, it’s hard not to rush to nearest garden store and buy every plants in sight. But, selling and not necessarily keeping plants alive is how nurseries make a profit. With super low temperatures last week, many of the flowering plants that are now for sale were in warm, protective greenhouses or barns just a weeks ago. They would have sustained frozen damage if they’d been placed in the ground!
Along with admiring the colors of our gardens in Mount Vernon and Kirkland, we got fill soil for the two raised beds were put in a couple of weeks ago. We’ll be planting a variety of vegetables along with herbs, lettuce, and spinach in pots on the deck of our Kirkland house. While most of our vegetable gardening (squash, broccoli, beefsteak tomatoes, beans, radishes, and Thai eggplants) will be done in Mount Vernon, Rich will be putting up a couple of terraces in Kirkland for "most-have" vegetables for daily salads. These include cherry and Italian tomatoes, pea pods and peppers.
Towards the back of our Mount Vernon house is a large fir tree. I happened to look up and see something extraordinary — tiny pink baby pinecones. They were the size of plump raisins and were on the tips of most of the branches on the 30-foot tree. I’m going to pay attention in the coming weeks as to how fast these pinecones start to open and turn brown.
This weekend, we also finished clearing a large area in Mount Vernon for planting a xeriscape garden. The plants in this area had always looked kinda’ sickly and the only thing that seemed to grow was thick, invasive ivy. Once, I started hacking at the ivy, I discovered the issue. Under six inches of bark chips and loose soil was thick plastic plastic AND under this layer of plastic was a few inches of soil with another layer of plastic! For three weekends, I’ve been removing the plastic, which was slowed by decades of ivy that had grown over the plastic, creating a jumble of roots and stems that needed to be meticulously cut apart, unwound and removed.
Under the last layer of plastic, was a maze of mole burrows. Rich now knows why it has been so difficult to remove the moles because they had insulated homes under the plastic!
Plus, there were two giant juniper bushes that needed to be cut into sections and removed. We ended up taking two trailer loads of junipers and ivy (roots, branches, leaves) to the recycling center.
Next weekend, I can begin planting my xeriscape plants, which arrived in late March from High Country Gardens in New Mexico.
We arrived at Mount Vernon last night to discover our mailbox had been vandalized and was laying on the ground. Rich immediately recalled reading about mailboxes being damaged in the area.
Evidentially kids play a game of baseball in which they drive through rural areas. A person in the passenger or back seat hangs out the window and whacks at mailboxes with a baseball bat as they drive by.
Fortunately, our mailbox had simply been whacked off from the post and only needed to be hammer back on with fresh nails.
Later that evening, I unrolled our copy of the local newspaper. Taking up most of the front cover was a story about over 100 mailboxes being damaged in the area! One man had recently installed a new mailbox with a solar light. They had been smashed beyond repair. Other people have repeated had to replace their mailbox.
Next weekend, Rich intends to bury in concrete a heavy metal post next to the mailbox. If vandals decide to drive by and smash our mailbox, they’re going to be in for a rude surprise when their bat hits the metal post!
Our 1.5 acre lot in Anacortes has an unusual number of Madrone trees on it. The developer who sold us the lot said that a forest fire decades ago created an ideal situation for nurturing Madrone, which evidently will regenerate faster after a fire than Douglas-firs.
While I appreciated the grace of the trees and attractive reddish-orange bark, I wasn’t amour with them until last summer when I saw what happens when the bark peels away to reveal the lime green trunk beneath.
The article on Wikipedia says that the "exposed wood sometimes feels cool to the touch." Their peeled trunks not only feel cool, but are amazingly smooth.
I took some pictures of one of the trees on our lots, which was starting to peel. I helped it along by peeling off a large section of the bark and exposing the Shrek wood beneath.
The picture at the top is of another tree at the base of an rock face we’ll one day turn into a waterfall.
Six years ago, Rich and I purchased an 1.5 acre wooded lot in Anacortes, Washington, which overlooks the Puget Sound and Mount Baker. It’s also located in a gated community — Fidalgo Bay Estates — which is maintained by the homeowners.
Wanting to build goodwill so the residents will happily approve of our house plans when we start building, Rich joined the homeowners’ maintenance committee. Along with reviewing residents’ requests to cut down trees or alter their landscaping, Rich coordinates the community’s twice-yearly clean-up day.
Today was the spring clean-up. Along with pulling weeds, trimming bushes, mowing, and sweeping the community park, gazebo, and picnic area, two trailers-full of branches and blackberry bushes were cut along the road to make it easier to see oncoming traffic.
While doing cleanup in the park, I spotted one of the Pacific Northwest’s famous Arionidea or giant slug. They commonly inhabit moist, wooded areas and elicit a squeal when spotted by a child.
This fellow was around three inches long and one inch wide when squished up to protect himself. I initially photographed him after he stuck out his head and antennae.
I returned a few minutes later to see him fully stretched out and crawling at full speed towards a shady spot.
The Pacific Northwest is known for slimy creatures because many areas are like a rain forest.
Rich is reading over my shoulder and wondered if anyone put salt on it… groan.
After the clean-up, I took pictures of some of the wildflowers on an empty lot across from ours. This lot, unlike ours, gets lots of direct sunlight. The flowers were very plentiful, in particular daisies and foxglove.
The title above isn’t just a tongue-twister, but a summation of our very active Memorial Day weekend. Friday afternoon, we packed up the car, bid the cats and birds farewell then zipped to Mount Vernon. After buying food at the local Safeway, we watched the thought-provoking flick “Rendition” then toddled to bed.
The next morning, we blew up our inflatable canoe and drove to Big Lake, a 545-acre lake, just south of Mount Vernon. Below is a picture of Rich looking very nautical on Big Lake.
In the 1970’s there were only a few cabins and trailers around the lake. Many of these vacation get-aways have since been replaced with large houses that seem out-of-place with brick facades, turrets, three-stories, and lavish landscaping.
Even though the shore is crowded with homes, there were only a handful of drift (fishing) and small motor boats on the lake along with an occasional jet ski, kayak and canoe. We had a fabulous time, padding around the lake, looking at houses, talking, eating cheese and crackers, and sun-burning the tops of our legs!
After loading the canoe back into the truck, we headed to Whistle Lake on Fidalgo Island. From our lot, this lake is a few mile hike through the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. Faster access is on the other side of lake where a parking lot is located. Looking at the map, we thought it was a quick half-mile stroll; however, as our arms grew longer, straining to carry the canoe, we wondered about the wisdom of our decision. Once we got the canoe into the water, we quickly forgot our pains.
The lake is pristine with towering cliffs, lush vegetation, and lily pads with bright yellow flowers (left). We were the only boat on the lake; although, quite a few young, brave souls were swimming in the icy water. On the shores were hikers, sunbathers, and kids with little fishing poles. There was also a group of teenagers (below), jumping into the water from a 20-30 foot cliff. I don’t know where they found the courage!
As we paddled towards the opposite end of the lake, I saw a dark figure frolicking in the water. A large, dark brown bird then swooped overhead. I commented to Rich that it might be a bald eagle, although; it didn’t have a white head. As we neared the end of the lake, we saw a large bald eagle near the shore. Its outstretched wings must have been what I saw from a distance.
Aware of bald eagles in the area, we started to scan the trees. Sure enough, we spotted five bald eagles in a grouping of trees! The female eagles weigh 10-14 pounds and have a 6.5-7-foot wingspan. The male is smaller, weighing 8-10 pounds. Young eagles are dark brown with varying degrees of white mottling. They don’t get their white head and full adult plumage until they’re 4-6 years old. In addition, they can live up to 40 years!
We spent quite a bit of time observing the eagles then paddled back to the other side of the lake to start the 1.3 mile (according to the Web) trek back to the parking lot. When we got back to the truck, a group of teens who’d been following behind exclaimed, “Good job. We didn’t think you had it in you!”
Our arms sore and legs burnt, we drove to Mount Vernon for left-over Mexican food and a controversial movie, “Body of Lies.”
Sunday morning, refreshed and energized by the clear weather, we drove back to Anacortes to catch a ferry to Guemes Island for the “pedal” portion of our weekend. The ferry carries just 22 cars and has a small passenger area. We stayed on the deck with our bikes where Rich struck up a conversation with a man who’s lived in the area for decades. I delighted in the scenery and people-watching. There were several passengers with carts and wheelbarrows of food and necessities that they’d purchased in Anacortes. Depending on your age and time of the year, it costs $1 to $4 for a roundtrip ticket as a passenger or with a bike. The cheapest fare for a car and the driver is $6 and up to $9 in the summer.
Because there’s only a small patch of commerce on Guemes, consisting of a general store/restaurant/gas station/bulletin board, almost everything that people need has to be purchased in Anacortes or the surrounding area. The rest of the island is private homes, a rustic resort, an art gallery, and a small stretch of public beach. Barely 600 people live on the island year-round; although, the population doubles during the summer months.
Because there are few people and even fewer cars on the island, Rich and I had a very pleasant and relaxing* peddle around the island. Don’t I look relaxed above?
Along the way, we chatted with various folks. We even stopped at the Guemes Island cemetery where I struck up a conversation with an elderly woman who grew up on the island. Her husband was placing flowers by the graves of four generations of his family.
Unlike the Texas cemeteries that I’ve visited, people on Guemes lived until old age. I saw only a few gravestones for infants, children and people younger than sixty! Hard work and healthy Pacific Northwest living can lead to a long life.
After leaving the cemetery, Rich noticed that the back tire of his bike was flat. He pumped it up, but it flattened within minutes. We progressed from the “peddle” to the “pump” portion of the weekend where every few minutes, Rich inflated the tire, rode like crazy then repeated the process. Miraculously, after pumping up the tire half a dozen times, the “goo” inside the tube must have sealed the hole and the tire stayed inflated.
One of the best "things" I saw on Guemes was the screaming red salt-box house above. The barn and chicken coop to the left of the house had extremely weathered wood with red trim. The mailbox and a lone Adirondack chair to the right of the house were also painted bright red.
After getting back to Anacortes, we zipped back to Mount Vernon to close up the house and head south to Kirkland. The cats were happy to have us home so they could go outside and torment bugs and patronize with raccoons.
Memorial Day marked another opportunity to “paddle.” We loaded the canoe (deflated) into our Honda FIT and headed to the University of Washington Arboretum. Developed with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds in the 1930’s the 230-acre features 20,000 trees, shrubs and vines, including 139 plants on the endangered species list.
This time of year, the rhododendron, azaleas, magnolias, and dogwoods were blooming. We snapped dozens of pictures of their splendor. Afterwards, we blew up the canoe and dropped it into the water. We paddled through a marshy area near the arboretum and observed many turtles, ducks, and Canadian geese enjoying the sun.
We then headed across Union Bay to University of Washington, through the Montlake Cut and into Portage Bay. We typically sail from Kirkland, west on Lake Washington towards Union Bay so it was a treat to see another part of the waterway.
Portage Bay is the home to several prominent yacht and sailing clubs, marinas and million-dollar houseboats. It was a hoot to paddle by large yachts and glide down the rows of houseboats. I felt like a snoop peeking at the houseboats, but their alleyways of water is no different from a land-based house on a street. The houses varied from modernistic multi-storied, aluminum-sided homes with chic furnishings to run-down shacks packed with years of detritus, rotting decks, and listing foundations.
After a few hours of site-seeing, we drifted down the bay while nibbling on crackers, cheese, carrots and cookies. With our energy restored, we flexed our muscles and paddled back through the Montlake Cut, which has very choppy water, caused by the wakes from the endless stream of boats, kayaks and canoes going to-and-from Lake Washington.
Back on shore, we deflated the canoe and zoomed back home where Rich immediately changed into work clothes and replaced the window in our laundry room (two more windows to go) while I tended to laundry, cooking, cleaning, and ironing.
By 7 p.m. we both “plopped” in front of the TV, tired from three days of paddling, peddling, and pumping.
Below are more pictures of azaleas and rhododendrons from the arboretum and our Mount Vernon house.
*Rich made me ride my bike up the hills even though I complained bitterly. I had the physical strength, I just didn’t like the physical PAIN!