Taking a detour away from the backyard, our intrepid adventurers embarked from Anacortes to Orcas for another seascape exploration in the northwestern islands here in Washington State. The PNW has mountains to sound beauty and outdoor panorama like no other, and in early April, it’s still snowing in the peaks- even Mt. Constitution (2,399′) on Orcas Island had snow pack. At sea level, the temperature remained moderate enough to pitch a tent, with well staked fly, and enjoy ocean front views for a few days. Rocks, gentle swell of sheltered cove, crying geese and seagulls, and the whisper of breezes through pin; it’s just a few hours from home, and part of why Washington is so magical a place to live and thrive.
We packed up the truck and headed an hour and a half to the northwest corner of Washington to enjoy a little island time. From our front door about an hour in any direction will get us something completely unique and enjoyable. Anacortes is the last stop on the mainland leg of our journey to hop a ferry. Below you can see the blue line on the left map stretching from Anacortes into The San Juan Islands, and across to Sidney, BC in Canada. For this adventure, we hop off the ferry on Orcas and arrive in the heart of this beautiful archipelago. Early Spring is a great time to get out to our islands here in Washington State. It’s warm enough to camp, yet misses the peak crowds who will soon descend as the warmer months arrive. During the peak tourist season, you’ll need a ferry reservation to take a vehicle on the boat. We avoid all this hassle and stress by using the edges, and the open camp sites and trail head parking lots made exploring the island easy. Town is walkable- and town is Eastsound, which has an airport for the rich and famous, and FedEx.
Archipelagos offer so much varied terrain to traverse and explore. Land and water, endless shoreline fills the senses with texture, movement, sound, and sight. Water laps at volcanic outcroppings uplifted in the turbulent tectonic tension. The San Juans are at the tail end of a long chain of coastal ranges arching up through British Colombia into Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This corner of the ring of fire sits in a quiet tapestry of inlets and coves in protected seas. The rocky beaches rise into fir forests and craggy moss covered balds where deep lacerations in granite stone show the power of glacial grind in more recent geological time. For a deep dive into this history, our own National Park Service has a wonderful website here.
Sometimes I’d forget we were on the ocean’s front stoop. Overlooks like the one below at Turtleback Mountain on Ship’s Peak feel a lot like New England finger lakes or somewhere in Michigan, but we’re looking across to Canada here on The West Coast. It’s still got a lot of familiar friends, from Bald Eagles to Oaks, but Douglas Firs and the squabbling call of a Stellar’s jay grounds us in Pacific North West habitat. Damp mossy evergreen forest clutch on north facing gullies, but oak savanna also stands tall in restoration landscapes, often tended by The San Juan Preservation Trust. Organizations like this offer resources and guidance in building back ecological soundness for our habitat. Without sound nature infrastructure, resources like fresh water and healthy soil will be lost to erosion from the dramatic weather of a marine coastal environment. These islands are ground zero for climate change evolution, and I’m taking a page from these restoration habitats for EEC Forest Stewardship.
It was wonderful to see explanations of active thinning for fire control and forest health. Though the work still to be done in these fast growing environments seems endless. Opening up stands to accommodate diverse stages of tree growth is crucial to long term health and resilience in a forest. Having an active forest plan to thin and replant, as you work to return land to temperate rainforest or oak savanna, ensures timely action and seasonal rest and recovery periods for the land. At EEC, we fence off areas to keep domestic stock out, or fence individual plantings for further protection. On Orcas Island, deer routinely over graze young growth, leaving many regeneration species unable to mature. Often, baby trees will look like bonsai shrubs and the ground covers remain spars, replaced by moss carpet and sword ferns. There are no predators on Orcas, so deer come in waves of boom and bust cycles, which cause similar crashes in the ecology, preventing recovery. Imagine what the constant human presence does in time?
Islands are great places to visit, but living on them would come at great cost to the environment and you as a person. Importing most of what you need is expensive. If there’s an emergency, you’re far from stable care. If amenities fail, you become very isolated, and are so anyway for being on an island. We loved getting a few days of island time, but coming back to the mainland was a relief. I always have at least one thought of how vulnerable these islands are to tectonic events. There are several strata volcanoes nearby, and the earthquake risk, followed by tsunamis, is a real threat. We camped right on a southern point, facing The Strait of Juan de Fuca. This would be a very bad spot in the event of a tsunami, but we took a risk with much lower chances than a car accident, so we slept soundly. Weather at this time of year is hit or miss, but we lucked out with enough sun to keep us in good spirits and dry cloths. There was a ceremonial wading and dunking in cold ocean waters with wet suits on. It was not Hawaii, so we got out quick. A hot tub soak revived us, and the dawn and dusk light on the waters remained breathtaking.
Our goal in venturing to Orcas was to scout future camping options, enjoy the local flora and fauna in hikes and beach lounging, and to take a brake from farming for a few days. Washington is the destination, and it never disappoints. We’ll have a lifetime to explore every cove and point, field and rocky crag, trail and forest, yet we’ll never see it all. So much love and appreciation for this place, the land, ocean, sky, and every living thing so deeply woven into this complex matrix of Pacific Northwest living.