There has been an unbroken string of days with sunshine and no rain for more than two weeks here on the Rock, and if forecasters are to be trusted it may extend through the Fourth of July. For our multitude of visitors this time of year, this has provoked passionate island living envy coupled with long ferry lines, no place to park and a hunt for public bathrooms.
But for we fortunate Rock dwellers, unbroken days of sunshine and no rain mean just one thing: Outdoors! We don’t spend much time oohing and aahing over the tall trees, the natural prairies, snow-capped Mount Baker and the Olympics, historic buildings and salt water beaches all around us. We are blessed to see them all the time in their unchanging glory – at least on clear days, which usually happen about 25 percent of the time.
During sunshine, we are outdoors – walking our trails, wandering our barnacled and deserted beaches, and tending our gardens. And as to that last point — when you move to Whidbey, you must have a garden. If you don’t, you might be voted off the island.
Of course, we are smart enough to do this walking, wandering and gardening in the morning or late afternoon, so the unbroken sunshine won’t make us sweaty and uncomfortable. I have never understood the depravity of some of our visitors who take a five-mile hike at three in the afternoon. Next time, ask a local.
What follows is how our walk-wander-garden outdoors sunny Rock lifestyle has played out for me in the past couple of weeks.
On a recent weekday morning, I arose early, pulled open the shades and saw the remnant of a glorious sunrise. I caffeinated myself, pulled on a t-shirt and some shorts that exposed my old-white-guy legs, and headed out by 8:30 a.m. to take perhaps the most famous walk on Whidbey Island. I speak, of course, of the trail across Ebey’s Prairie to the bluff with a sweeping view of Admiralty Inlet, Port Townsend, the Olympics and the known world.
At that hour, I had the trail to myself. Parking at the trailhead was actually available. I could take my time, not rushed by others walking behind or in front of me. The silence was amazing, broken occasionally by the sound of hawks, eagles and all kinds of birds.
Immediately, I noticed how compacted the trail soil had become from thousands upon thousands of visitor feet. The Ridge and Bluff Trails are now considered among the 10 most hiked in Washington. They are showing their wear-and-tear. But, on this early morning with no feet other than mine trampling along, it didn’t matter. It was spectacular, just like it was a century or more ago.
A few days later, on a weekday afternoon about 6 p.m., I wandered along a deserted beach near my home. Not another soul was anywhere near me; no visitors fumbling in an attempt to dig clams or screaming as their urban bodies encountered just how cold our salt water really is. I kicked over a rock and watched a dozen tiny crabs scramble toward the water’s edge. I examined mussels attached to barnacled rocks everywhere – the natural kind, not those grown on a commercial platform.
The sounds on a deserted beach are intricate, delicate and fascinating. You can actually hear the water lapping and hitting the shore, even when there is little wind. Seagulls and eagles looking for dinner make a distinctive sound when they have spotted some prey.
As the sun sets, the water shimmers, and it’s different every time. It is almost like watching an artist change their mind about how they want the painting to look. I stood there in that quiet moment and just gazed at it.
My garden adventures happen every day this time of year, but the time of day is all-important. That means before noon or after 5 p.m. Kneeling to pull weeds out of the Rock’s clay-prone soil takes strength and dexterity; only a fool or a newcomer would do it in the heat of the afternoon. I have developed my own methods to extract tenacious weeds without pulling a muscle. It still amazes me how deep the roots of our weeds grow on Whidbey, especially as I watch some of the stuff I plant simply give up and die.
Having an abundant garden is a bragging right for those of us who live here. Sharing flowers and veggies with our neighbors is a way of saying, “Look what I did!” It is also a means of demonstrating that many if not most of us don’t commute to a job and sit indoors at a desk all day. Island life gives us the ability to have a garden, and it’s worth the effort.
That’s how my version of walk-wander-garden in the sunny outdoors plays out these days. When I compare notes with my neighbors, they are strikingly similar. So, to all those visitors oohing and ahhing and feeling passionate island living envy in our sunshine, please keep in mind what you’ll be doing if you move here.