Thursday, May 04, 2006

Shh...Don't Tell Anyone: I'm on an Island

If you follow both this blog and The Cork and Demon wineblog, you're probably assuming I'm somewhere in Oregon still, photographing starfish and winemakers. I actually slipped off last week to Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juans, between the coasts of Victoria, BC and Washington state. It's an hour's ferry ride from Anacortes. I've been posting the wine stories at my leisure, fitting them in between hiking, beachcombing and stuffing my face with some of the best food I've had on this trip. My friend Luke, who I've known since we were eighth-grade troublemakers in Catholic school, is the innkeeper here at the Inn at Ship Bay, which is so very cool that it warrants its very own post which will come up soon.

The first full day I was here I spent the morning exploring the odd and amusing landscape revealed by the extreme low tide in Ship Bay. The first several yards of beach is covered with the ubiquitous barnacle encrusted rocks, creating an unsettling crunch underfoot. Being the softie I am, I'm all worried about what--or whom-- I'm crushing as I walk. But the petrified barnacles and abandoned clamshells are so much sea-junk at this point; the real activity is going on ahead of me in a wide band of green seaweed.

I didn't notice it until my leg got a suprise squirt of salt water. I sat down on a big rock in the middle of the mucky sand and watched as scores of little jets erupted everywhere, sending water in arches as high as several feet in the air. These are horse clams, or geoducks maybe, turns out; expressing their displeasure with the proximity of nosy seagulls.

For a local, the beach and its inhabitants might have already blended into the mundane, but not for me. I'm feeling like a wee tot on her first visit to the ocean, and I stop to inspect anything that moves, has color, or glints in the sunlight. There are dead crabs to turn over, more giddily fascinating purple starfish, and great big oyster shells laying open like expensive glass ashtrays, all usually hidden under the tide.

As I'm inspecting the underside of an ancient piece of metal, a man and his son greet me. He tells me they're searching for 'Captain Vancouver's Cannon', an artifact alleged to be visible at very low tide. He describes it to me before continuing his search, and I tell him I'll keep an eye peeled.

Luke wants to make sure I get Moran State Park under my belt a couple of days later, so we leash the collie and head off to a trail that will take us up Mount Constitution for one of the most fantabulous 360 views in the Northwest.

Redwoods are beautiful, and I've hiked through a lot of them on this trip, but there's something about the Washington pines that I love even better. The color palate of this forest is cooler, and I dig the soft, bright green fuzz of skinny saplings. It seems quieter, more remote. Luke tells me there are very few beasties that live in this area; no predators or badgers or snakes, but a few deer and scads of tiny birds. But even these are elusive, and the thickest part of the forest is uncannily still.

At the summit there's a stone tower, built as part of the New Deal/WPA as an observation deck. Closed for intense remodeling recently, it was open for us. I did my usual lazy thing where I skip the obligatory informational displays about Mr Moran and his legacy and blah blah blah and ran right up to the top. You can see all the islands, the shorelines, the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. On a more clear day, you can see Vancouver and Seattle.


The shore is irresistible. I went again and found new creatures washed up into the sand: moon jellyfish. Hundreds of them. Hard to spot at first, they look like discs of ice. Later, on my way back from the oyster farm down the beach, I found live purple sand dollars and spotted a juvenile bald eagle perched on a rock. I could stay out there for hours.

And...what's this? I stumbled over an ancient rusted tube about three feet long, covered in the barnacles of the ages. Nearby was a piece that looked like the end of a small cannon. Was it the famed Captain Vancouver's Cannon? Maybe. Or an old pipe, whatever. In the absence of proof, I get to decide.

More to come about this place. It's really amazing.


Blogger Frank said...

I love eating gooey ducks. My mother loves to make it with rice, tastes great! Though I do think you have to get used to the texture.

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11:16 AM  

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