arbutus menziesii and the san juan sea dragon

Sometime last week relatively early in the evening on the beach in front of our rented cabin, the boys were playing with tens of millions of tiny crabs biding their time until the tide brought everything back in and their mother (the boys’, not the crabs’) was absorbed in a novel and perhaps I might’ve been doing something along similar lines except I made the mistake of starting Kathleen Norris’ Dakota: A Spiritual Geography just before we headed north for the week and being on the Great Plains in the San Juan Islands proved too discordant so I gave up for the time being and in the evenings my focus had been given primarily to study of maps and books pertaining to the San Juans and there was definitely some brushing up seeming as how this was our first visit to Orcas in nearly seven years after the flourish a decade ago when it seemed we constantly were heading up for things like weddings and romantic getaways but finally we were scarred by a four hour ferry wait on a summer Sunday afternoon after one of the ferries broke down and I resolved to avoid the island for any reason for quite some time, romance or otherwise, because waiting for a boat that long is like reading a sentence like this one. It takes the air out of you.

So it was that I wandered off, promising to return before sunset: And found myself mutley putt-putting south on pretty Crow Valley Road, admiring impossibly-tidy fence rows along the way, until I arrived in West Sound where I left the dented-up family station wagon in front of the village hall that faces the marina and harbor, and went for a long walk along Deer Harbor Road, which hugs saltwater. For a spell I marveled at the old house on the harbor across from the marina that looks like something out of central casting for Bar Harbor. The tide was still out a little and the barnacle-encrusted pier pilings under the house made me wonder what it would be like to fall asleep to the sound of water plinking and splashing in my crawlspace.

Madrones have been my favorite tree since the day I arrived in the Pacific Northwest and they’re practically like dandelions on Orcas Island. Last night at the dinner table the boys and I had far too much fun practicing Arbutus menziesii over and over: Ar-bew-tus men-zee-zee-eye. Oliver Fern got the prize for still remembering a day later, haha! They’ve both already inherited my habit (or tic) of stopping to touch, feel, rub and caress the smoothness of the green, red and tawny bark (we like the shedded, papery rolls, too). And the lilacs: I grew up admiring a copse of lilacs on the hillside by the abandoned, haunted house my mom grew up in. The little stand added a touch of class to the grassy pit of rusting farm junk and tin cans where the driveway used to be. So many lilac bouquets springtime-after-springtime over the years, sheesh! The result being perhaps why I issued myself license to so effortlessly, heartlessly whack the little thickets on either side of our house in Seattle decades later. They were lovely but excessively droopy after a couple years of bad pruning on someone’s part and don’t get me started about the pesky runners everywhere but finally those hobbity tunnels just lost their charm after the flowers turned to orange crepe and it was mainly shade for yellow-jackets during August heatwaves.

Note: This essay originally started out with an additional image featuring a madrone and lilacs overlooking the harbor by West Sound but I grew to dislike the ho-humness of the scene so I removed it. Sorry for this dopey Editor Guy explanation in italics. But just so you know, I’ve retained the paragraph below since the deleted image in question is what stimulated my thoughts regarding lilacs, in the first place. About the little image with the madrone and lilacs: I’ve resolved to experiment far more than I have, with backlighting. I’ve always admired it in others’ work. Is it possible my adverseness stems from a general dislike of flares or other weird artifacts? An ill-begotten, digital-era preoccupation acquired over time as a result of shooting for the highlights at all costs at the expense of artistic creativity? I dunno: But if it tells you anything, this scene began as the centerpiece of my writing tonight but the more I looked at it, the less convinced I became it was worth sharing. In case you’re wondering, there’s a group of people out on that dock that just got done with their sailing class. They were milling about, waiting for a motor boat to taxi them to a dock on the other side of this small harbor.

At any rate, it was occasionally quite cool and a bit rainy on rainshadowy Orcas so that our spell of record warm weather last week has had me feeling like we came back in a time machine. A few nights ago I awkwardly tucked the boys’ bikes in the back of the car and we crossed the Ship Canal Bridge north to Green Lake, where some of the most enjoyable people-watching in the city is to be had. We always start out where Kenwood Place North meets East Green Lake Way, the flatness of the park right in that area feels perfect for the beginning because it leaves all the fun places for go-around. Oliver Fern is getting speedy on his training wheel bike and I had to jog part of the time, with my right hand stuck fast into my blue jeans pocket and arm tucked woodenly against my body to avoid aggravating the torn rotator cuff I’m nursing until surgery next winter to clean up other messy bone and tendon things. Consequently, we weren’t speedy enough for big brother and he lapped us several times around the lake’s 2.8 mile path.

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