Blogs and News about Orcas Island of the San Juan Islands, Washington State.

Last updated on Fri, 10 Jan 2014

Republicans on climate panel want more time
Bellingham Herald
"We bit off so much," said Ericksen, who heads the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. He said legislators need more solid data before they can move forward. But Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said the panel has enough ...

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Orcas man is contesting development violations
Islands' Sounder
An Orcas Island man is contesting two criminal convictions for violating local development rules for his use of a building constructed on his property without permits and without a county-approved sewage disposal system. In late November, Friday Harbor ...

New superintendent search
Islands' Sounder
The members of the Orcas Island School District Board are beginning their search for a new superintendent and want your input on Thursday, Jan. 9 at 5:30 p.m. in the school library. Superintendent Search Consultant, Rich Parker, will be present to ...

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Orcas Island struck by chickenpox outbreak
Journal of the San Juan Islands
Orcas Island struck by chickenpox outbreak. Tweet. Dec 31, 2013 at 4:47PM. Kaleidoscope Preschool and Childcare Center in Eastsound has had seven cases of possible chickenpox since the first outbreak on Dec. 28. One teacher is also infected.

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Chicken pox outbreak on Orcas Island
Six children and one adult have contracted chicken pox on Orcas Island, according to Dr. Frank James, San Juan County Health Officer. The adult and children are involved with a preschool on Orcas Island. Chickenpox can be a mild disease but ...

San Juans report: Paul Allen's island sold to space entrepreneur
The Seattle Times (blog)
Accessible only by private plane, boat or float plane, the island has a “log-style home for caretakers quarters” and is made up of 44 tax lots, according to a listing by Windermere Real Estate Orcas Island. Comments | More in Business/Technology ...

Prep boys basketball: Tulalip Heritage 72, Orcas Island 41
DARRINGTON -- Keanu Hamilton scored a team-high 14 points and Shawn Sanchey added 12 as Tulalip Heritage defeated Orcas Island in a Darrington Holiday Tournament game. Next up for the Hawks is tournament host Darrington on Saturday at 7:30 ...

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Rifle-wielding Orcas Island man faces felonies for alleged, failed home invasion
Journal of the San Juan Islands
A 25-year-old Orcas Island man remains in custody following an alleged home invasion in which he reportedly broke into a home in the Rosario area late Sunday night, demanding money and threatening the people living there with an assault rifle. Although ...

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Orcas Island astronaut talks about historic Christmas broadcast from space
A man who now lives on Orcas Island was once part of a giant Christmas moment in U.S. history. Bill Anders was part of the Apollo 8 crew of astronauts who offered a Christmas greeting to earth while orbiting the moon. The astronauts chose to read from ...

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Orcas Island from a medical student's perspective
Islands' Sounder
Friends and strangers have told me about Orcas Island for quite some time. People were drawn to Orcas for some reason unknown to me and would always return mesmerized by their experience. They would talk at length of the physical beauty of the island.


But this one is parked on Orcas Island.



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A few years back I took my teenage daughter on a tour of the San Juan Islandsin northwest Washington. We took camping equipment for an extended weekend and brought our bikes with us. When we headed up there, we had no idea how helpful those cheap Wal-Mart bikes would be.

Although there are 172 islands in the San Juan’s, the main ferry system (owned by Washington State Ferries) only services four of the larger islands: Lopez Island, Orcas Island, Shaw Island and San Juan Island. One set of larger boats connect with the mainland at Anacortes, Washington, and in Sydney in British Columbia. Other smaller boats ran between the four islands; we called those the Island Hoppers. We found as soon as we landed on Lopez Island, the first stop after Anacortes, that we could simply bike on to any island hopper we wanted, without having to pay. Driving the car on would coast over $20 each time.

So we biked around the islands, riding through grand forests of Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock, skirting broad fields and meadows, eating wild strawberries and blackberries, and seeing the odd raccoon standing by the road as if to greet us in passing. Being forced by circumstance to leave the car behind, our observations of island beauty were far greater than they would have been had we been speeding through those same roads at the 45 mph speed limit.

Just goes to show: sometimes circumstance takes away something you’ve grown to depend on, only to open the way to something far more blessed.



(guest photo)




Today we leave my beloved Portland (again) to head up to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle. Until next time Portland, stay awesome!


Tuesday July 9th.  Yesterday we spent a fair bit of time driving and not much time hiking since we needed to relax a bit.  After breakfast and packing up we drove up to check out the other lakes and then to do a short waterfall hike before leaving Orcas Island.  Giraffe loves looking at the signs and saying the names of the letters.





We took the noonish ferry home (it was late from AM fog) and then drove fairly quickly back down to Vancouver with minimal stops and no vomit hahaha.  It was good to be home and the kids were excited to see their toys!

July 8th.  We woke up and had our breakfast and then drove up to Mt. Constitution.  It was amazing at the top!

Afterwards we drove around and went to the store and explored the island.  After making sandwiches we decided to let the kids play in the bay since the tide was out.  They LOVED it!  We turned over rocks to see the tiny crabs scatter about, then put their homes back.


On our way back to the campsite we stopped by Mountain Lake for them to swim and play in the water and hit that awesome playground again.


We ate dinner and then drove back to the top of Mt. Constitution for sunset.

Giraffe had an utter meltdown at the top because I wouldn’t let her climb on the rock wall at the lookout point.  I ended up taking her kicking and screaming back to the lot where she wiggled free and ran into the lot, luckily there weren’t any moving cars.  Then she gave me this look and plucked a leaf off of an unknown bush and put it in her mouth.  This is NOT in the parenting books!  I was so frustrated and I just had to hold her while she kicked and screamed until my hubby came down from taking pictures.  Then she threw another fit getting into her carseat.  My epiphany: NO MORE SUGAR and little or NO JUICE.  When she comes down from those highs her behavior is so challenging!

July 7th.  We left our beloved cabin in the morning and headed over to Anacortes to catch a 12:30pm ferry to Orcas Island for camping on Moran State Park.  The kids, and myself, had soooo much fun on the hour long ride.




Once we arrived we drove around to check things out.  We got to our campsite and I was surprised to see the topography.  Our road was like a horseshoe going up into the side of mountain and we were on the downside.  We had very steep vegetation and trees going UP from our site behind us, a drop off of about 6 feet going DOWN into the next campsite beside our car AND the road went straight DOWN onto the main road.  Hazards for toddlers that don’t know the difference.  It was stressful to say the least to be there much but we made the best of it and were ready to snag a toddler at a moments notice and we also chose not to spend lots of time there.

We headed off the playground that was beside Mountain Lake.  The kids’ eyes bulged and they were excited!!!   These two little Latina girls that were maybe about 3-4 years old took my little Monkey under their wing and followed him around, caring for him and playing with him; they were not interested in Giraffe…a baby was more interesting to them.  It was adorable!  They were still young so I did watch closely and speak Spanish to them to give some friendly reminders about not throwing bark on his head etc..hahaha.

We came back and they explored the campsite some more! The mosquitoes were out so we crawled into the tent at 7:30 and were asleep by 8:45pm the light!  It was so much warmer to camp here compared to Yosemite!






Kind of like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV


Camping. It happened nearly a month ago but I’ve decided that blog time is sort of like novel time. It doesn’t have to be close to reality, right? Because seriously, you don’t care when exactly it was, and it really was rather funny. If I’d thought to film it and put it on YouTube, I’m sure I’d be an internet sensation by now.

Donn’s parents are in their mid-70s now, and definitely have health issues. G, Donn’s dad, has survived several forms of cancer. (If there was ever an advertisement for eating a lot of processed food, he’s it. Hostess cupcakes don’t last forever for nothing, you know) His mum, K, has had a shoulder replacement and foot surgery, she has arthritis, and a couple of years ago was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Nonetheless, camping was really important to them. They’ve always gone camping, they reasoned, and they are still alive so therefore they could still go camping.

I’m not talking trailer camping. I’m talking tents, sleeping on the ground, cooking over a fire. We tried to talk them out of it, all of us (Donn, me, Donn’s sisters and bro-in-law), to no avail. They remembered with fondness the time, 19 years ago, when we all camped on Orcas Island, which is in the San Juans, 5 hours drive plus an hour’s ferry ride from Portland. And so they decided–we would recreate it! We would once again camp as an extended family on Orcas Island, to celebrate Elliot’s graduation and family togetherness.

My father-in-law tends to worry a bit. (My sister-in-law is choking at my restraint) One ferry left Anacordes at 2:30 and the next didn’t leave till 6:30. We needed to catch the earlier one. Could we leave the house by 8 and be in line in plenty of time? This is the man who, a few years ago,  made us leave the house 4 hours earlier than I would have thought necessary in order to get us to the airport a mere 5 hours before our plane took off.

Amazingly, the 5 of us were all ready to leave the house by 7:45, but G was the hold up. He’d lost his wallet. We searched and searched, and finally left by 8:20 or so. Ample time. We sped up I-5, making good time until we hit the traffic caused by the bridge collapse. We stopped at a Subway in Anacordes to get our sandwiches to go. We were in line at the ferry by 1:15, and missed the ferry by 2 cars.

It was a lovely day. We were traveling in 3 cars (11 of us) and all of us were parked near each other. We ate our lunches, shared snacks, wandered by the Sound, until we finally boarded the 6:30 ferry. We saw porpoises frolicking in the waves. (Well they prob thought they were swimming, but it looked like frolicking to me) It was freezing outside. We landed, found our campsites, had to change them because of  a hill situation (difficult for K), set up and took down a tent and set it up again in the dusk, ate hot dogs at midnight, and generally managed to endear ourselves to our new camping neighbours in lots of ways.

G and K had a new tent that was remarkably easy to set up, a fact which G mentioned several (many) (myriad) times. We set it up rather closer to ours than we’d all planned, because of the terrain. Donn’s 2 sisters and their families went in the neighbouring campsite. We crawled in our sleeping bags and settled down to listen to G and K discuss everything under the sun.

G & K are, in many ways, awesome in-laws. They have great senses of humour. They’re well-read and well-traveled. Best of all, they like me. They support me, too. When we were first married, if we ever had a disagreement, they’d take my side. Of course my own mother took my side too, so poor Donn was rather abandoned, but he’s survived. However the thing is, they are deaf, and like most deaf people, they can be clearly heard when they think they are being subtle. I have listened to them talk about me for years, and I have never heard anything negative. They really like me, and they think I’m a really good parent. I can also attest that they like to chat for hours after they go to bed. They discuss lots of things; always our parenting and children, but other topics vary. On that first night of camping, they discussed what K would wear to bed. (She can’t lift her shoulder very high at all and I couldn’t imagine her managing to get into a nightie in a tent) They discussed some intimate things I wish I hadn’t heard. They discussed our parenting. I kept quiet through it all, figuring it was necessary. Then G began to discuss how easy the tent was to set up. It was 2 a.m. at this point. “G,” I said politely in a normal voice, “please go to sleep.”

There was silence…blissful silence. I went to sleep. (I was still taking muscle relaxants for my back, and sleeping great!)

The next day, K had a terrible time getting out of the tent until Elliot went and basically lifted her to her feet. We drove places on the island and couldn’t really hike anywhere farther than a short walk. We didn’t let her do any of the cooking or cleaning because she really couldn’t. But overall, I have to say, they did remarkably well, much better than I’d expected.

I explained to them, “You know we can hear everything you say.” G looked embarrassed. “Really?” he said. “Really,” I said. “I just wanted you to know.”

The next night we listened to them discuss what K would wear to bed and our parenting. Then G said, “Elizabeth says they can hear everything we say.” “We can,” said Donn.

Silence again. Blissful silence.

The next night, Elliot heard a discussion that he wishes he hadn’t. It can never be unheard, you know. Poor child. On the other hand, to few of us is it given to know intimate things our grandparents talk about late at night. He doesn’t seem to want to go camping with them again though.

It was June in the Pacific NW. It didn’t rain, but it was cloudy and cool. We learned that people who live in the California desert think it’s cold at 70 degrees. K admired several of the houses and wondered aloud about living there,  but I told her that people who think it’s cold at 70 pretty much have to live in the desert. She laughed and agreed.

Donn said he will never forget this trip, as those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. He told his father this, and he laughed heartily. Like I said, awesome in many ways. G and K have great senses of humour, along with a tendency to repeat themselves. Several times.

I also learned they think I’m a great parent and hostess.

Elliot had to work, so he and I and Ilsa came back a day before everyone else. We cleaned the house and did massive amounts of laundry and happily took showers. Donn and his parents arrived back a day later. (The sisters went on home on their own) I made strawberry shortcake with fresh berries and parented beautifully and won more accolades.

We have a house guest, another teenage boy, staying for a couple of weeks, and the other night, Ilsa had a friend over and they were just across the hall in her room. I needed to tell Donn something and I’m pretty sure there’s no way any of them could have heard me even if I’d been talking loudly, but I thought, as I whispered something into his ear, that talking quietly just might be a good habit to get into.

As a former Girl Scout I’m feeling some internal conflict between that voice that keeps reminding me to “Be Prepared” and my current efforts to simplify my life.

GF and I are vacationing on Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands off of Washington State. We can see Canada across the water.  We are having a wonderful time in this beautiful place and learning a lot about HOW to vacation. The first new rule is, ”If you want a quiet, relaxing time, don’t bring the old neurotic dog on a car trip”.

I brought along a half-finished knit blouse for the 1000 mile drive from the Bay Area to Orcas.  On the way up we took a few detours off of Interstate 5 and the scenery was so entrancing that I really didn’t have time to knit.  Starting with the ferry ride from WA to Whidbey Island and then the longer ride from Anacortes to Orcas Island, knitting fit my mood.  Slow down from the urban scene, slow down from driving 70 mph and just knit.  Erin Endicott’s beautiful quote “One stitch at a time, hour after hour…. this is where the healing lies,” kept coming back to me.  Slow down, take another stitch and enjoy that my hands can make clothes for my body, adornments for my house, gifts for my family and friends. Simplify and be healed.
Immediately upon arriving in the San Juans I was struck by “Packer’s Regret”.  (Yes I made up the syndrome.)  I packed simply but WHY hadn’t I brought a peg loom?  The irregular shapes of islands and clouds breaking up the blues of the water and  the sky; the scenery just called out to become a little tapestry.  Yes, I either would have had to bring bags of different color yarns or else I would have had to know in advance that I needed browns and blues and grays and whites, but that didn’t diminish my packer’s regret.  Failing as a Girl Scout, I wasn’t prepared.  I didn’t bring what I wanted to have fun on this vacation. So I knit and took pictures of the islands and tried to feel like I would do the tapestry when I got home, but life didn’t feel simple because I packed minimally and then wasn’t prepared to do what I craved.
View from Orcas Island

View from Orcas Island

Today we took a drive along the west end of Orcas and stopped at Warm Valley Orchard which we had seen earlier as we were driving in from the ferry.  Owner Maria Nutt was not there, but her charming daughter showed us the studio filled with roving, handspun yarn from local and purchased fiber, and beautiful handwoven textiles.  Daughter Mara has been spinning since age 6 and was casually spinning a fine merino yarn while we visited.  She explained that their Romney Cross have such long locks that they have to cut the locks in half before sending them to the mill for processing.  They are now starting to raise Corriedale which have a shorter staple length (and seem softer to my touch).   I bought one bag of each type of roving to experiment.  Packer’s Regret hit again.  As we packed I had looked at a beautiful little handcrafted drop spindle and thought about bringing it, but it was sitting at home and here I was stuck on a island with all this fiber and no way to play with it.  What’s a Girl Scout to do?
A few
nights ago perusing a stack of weaving magazines from the ’80s, I saw a photo of a Peruvian elderly man spinning on a stick.  No wheel, no whorl, no drop spindle, just a stick.
Walking out of the cabin I found a broken piece of wood.  It looks like it might have once been trim.  I drafted out a bit of the Romney fiber and tied it onto the end of the stick.  The roving drafted beautifully.  There were the rare nebs and VM, but that doesn’t matter much when you are moving slowly.  I drafted a few inches at a time and then experimented with twisting the roving in my left hand versus turning the stick in my right hand to instill the twist.  Every 2 inch segment needed to be wound onto the stick and then I drafted another couple inches.  It was slow, but very satisfying.  I was making yarn.

Romney Cross from Warm Valley Orchard, spun with a stick

Romney Cross from Warm Valley Orchard, spun with a stick

Maybe “Be Prepared” doesn’t mean bring every little last thing I might want with me.  Maybe it means be prepared to find joy and satisfaction with what I have; a simpler life.

We managed to do a few other things besides climbing Mount Constitution twice … but not really all that much.

We stayed all four days of our San Juan Islands trip on Orcas, thanks to a Groupon deal for the lodging.  That proved a little much, especially in still-rainy April. Much better would have been to spend some of those nights on at least one of the other San Juan islands, for variety’s sake. Gorgeous as the Orcas roads are, there aren’t that many of them, and we ended up retracing our routes much of the time (and not just up and down that mountain).

We practically had the island to ourselves at that time of year — great because it was so peaceful; not so great because maybe it was a little too peaceful over four days.

Now that we’ve seen more of Bainbridge and Whidbey, with Vashon looking good on the radar, we’d perhaps opt for any of those over Orcas.  Easier to get to, more diversity both on and off the bike, and you still get a ferry ride.  Of course, we still have to hit the other San Juans …

And the scene is entirely different in the warmer months. Whale watching, kayaking and whatever else normal people do would be fun. Next time!

So, we’d made it up Mount Constitution (and more significantly given the weather, made it back down again).  But while climbing perhaps should be a noble end unto itself, we did still wish to savor the view from the top.

So we did it all again.

This time around the skies threatened as we headed out, and got downright ominous by the time we reached Moran State Park. Would the drizzle once again turn to snow? Descending a second time in nasty weather was not appealing.  But neither was missing a chance at the view. So we took our chances and pedaled onward.

Great decision!

After some maddening indecision, the weather gods opted to come over to our side (maybe they just wanted to give us some moody photo opps first). By the time we made our way back to the top, the skies were clear and the view spectacular.  And we could claim credit for that climb not once, but twice.

Here’s our route.

In mid-April we headed for a four-day trip to Orcas Island, part of the renowned San Juan Islands.  Highlight: the climb up Mount Constitution. Lowlight: the descent down Mount Constitution.

While Timothy prospers at both climbing and descending, Paula had never before uttered the words “going up was a lot easier than going down.” Especially when we’re talking about 2,600 feet of vertical gain over 4.5 miles.

But here’s where heading up a Washington State mountain in mid-April proved perhaps not the best idea: The chilly rain that we encountered on the way to the mountain turned to snow and freezing temps at the summit. And after we spent arguably more time than was wise taking pictures at the top — the structure erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 is a cool castle-fortress — our fingers could not feel the brake levers on the way back down again.  Paula was quite certain she would die of frostbite, or at least lose a finger or two, as she quaked and quivered and shook and shivered while inching down what should have been a glorious descent.

Timothy, being the seasoned cold-mountain veteran that he is, found it simply a little annoying.

But we survived. And a few miles down the road, we took shelter in the welcome warmth of the Moran State Park offices — where the very kind staff took pity on us and served us hugely appreciated hot chocolate.

Nostalgic. Sometimes, we long for the past: for moments we want to remember or recapture. The good tWe exercised our independence with an escape to the Pacific northwest last week for some long overdu

2013 Eastsound Mayor header

Political analysts offer insight.

globujigsawSlowly but surely, coastline by coastline, island by island, sea by sea, the Atlas project continues to grow. Much too intermittently for my liking, as I’m too active these days to stare at the shapes in maps for longer than a few seconds, but it’s good to rediscover that childhood pleasure now and again. You could call it ‘pareidolic poetry’ if you like, but I’d like to think there’s more to this project than a ludic exercise in Rorschach symbolism: self-expression is not completely absent, and allegory – whether historical, political, environmental or a web of all three – is, I hope, never too obvious and never too obscured, except where necessary. I have long poems on the shapes of the Mediterranean, Africa, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and Turkey that need revisiting; I sometimes catch sight of so many forms that the poems describing them become too complicated, perhaps even a little forced. Simplification – the contraction after the expansion – is turning out to be the greatest challenge. I enjoy the writing – finding the right sequence of words and images, the right rhythms, the right sounds – just as much as I enjoy the research, even if reading up on the demography, history and current affairs of each land or sea can at times be overwhelming, even for the tiniest of islands or geographical features.

SerjTankianOrcaYesterday, a lazy Sunday after the success of our Manifestival in solidarity with the people imprisoned in the migrant detention centre, Paula and I finally got round to buying the tickets to Italy to watch Serj Tenkian perform the Elect the Dead and Orca symphonies with the Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana in October. Paula remains a big fan of System Of A Down, and we were both swept away by the power of the Elect the Dead performance in Auckland when I gave her the dvd last Christmas (grazzi tas-suġġeriment, Clifton!), so we’re positively excited to hear it live in a few months’ time. I’m particularly looking forward to hearing the song Borders Are, for obvious reasons, and Empty Walls, but also to listen to Orca, which sounds great on Soundcloud, yet cries out to be experienced live, in the flesh, and off-screen.

thelma-wilson-stranded-orcaPaula and I often watch animal documentaries in the weekends, so we ended up looking for one on orcas – also known as killer whales, though in reality they’re giant dolphins, and are harmless to humans unless in captivity. We found a heart-wrenching BBC documentary on a resident orca population in New Zealand, seriously endangered due to the chemical compounds that pollute the water, foremost among them PCBs that were used as coolant fluids and transformer oils until they were banned in the late 70s. (Not incidentally, 99% of the PCBs used by US industry were manufactured by Mons**** – not only are those bastards colonising agricultural land with their Franken-seeds, they’ve also seriously polluted the oceans.) The orcas, top of the ocean food chain, lap up the most toxic chemicals and store them in their liver and their blubber, and it has been scientifically proven that the extremely high levels of PCBs, PBDEs and DDT (an insecticide entering the sea via agricultural runoff) the orcas have been consuming over the years badly affect their reproduction system. The problem is by no means exclusive to New Zealand; the worst case known is that of the ‘southern resident‘ population of orcas inhabiting the waters of British Columbia and Washington state, in the Northern Pacific, with only 86 individuals left as of 2006. They’re now monitored so closely, that each one has been given a letter, a number, and a name; each individual can be identified by the particular shape of its dorsal fin. Many of them are available for “virtual adoption”, via, to help finance the conservation program.

13-map-orcas-islandYesterday’s readings and searches took me, quite accidentally, to a place called Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands, off the north-western corner of Washington state. I’m just as interested in toponomy as I am in topography, so the name intrigued me immensely: it’s actually pronounced like Orcus, the Roman god of the underworld, not like the plural orcas; it’s not named after the animal, but is short for Horcasitas, the name of a Mexican viceroy who sent an expedition there in 1791; more importantly, the island is not shaped like an orca – except very slightly, by the tail and the arched back, and perhaps the pectoral fins -, but it does take on some very interesting shapes from all four cardinal directions. It is certain, however, that the “southern resident” orca population visit the island often. I decided to write about the island anyway, as an allegory of the orca’s predicament. My Sunday evening was not so lazy after all.

I’d like to say that I write the Atlas poems in Maltese, but it wouldn’t be completely true. There’s plenty of encyclopaedic knowledge out there in Maltese (friends of mine are doing a lot of voluntary work on the Maltese Wikipedija), though the subjects are generally limited to Maltese reality, and barely stretch beyond Europe and the Mediterranean. As most of my reading and research is inevitably done in English (though sometimes also in French and Spanish), a lot of the words that form the key vocabulary of the poems are in English too. Images tend to come to me in Maltese, so essentially, I end up constantly translating between the two whilst writing; it takes me longer, but that translation as part of the writing process improves both versions, to such an extent that both can be considered as equal originals. There are also small divergences between them, to escape lexical ambiguities or unwanted references, or simply for felicity of sound, or to avoid cacophony (to give just one example, the word ragħwa in the last line means foam, but I preferred surf in the English to avoid the clumsy rhyme of “gramophone drowning in the foam“, even if the graphic reference to the image of the blubber oozing toward the shore may have been partly lost).

Orcas Island is half the size of Malta, yet its Atlas poem is roughly the same length as Four Rocks / Erba’ Blatiet. Should I worry about proportion according to surface area? Should the poetic Atlas be to scale? I don’t see why it should, but this is a question I won’t be able to avoid for much longer. In any case, there is much more to be said about the shape of Malta. Speaking of whales (well, of dolphins mistaken for whales), the main island is not only shaped like a fish stuck in its own net, but also like a whale, as the one Jonah stayed inside for three days and three nights, until he plucked up the courage to be what he was destined to become… More about Malta’s ‘Jonah complex’ another day. Here’s the Orcas Island poem, in English first, with the Maltese below.

Orcas Island, from the south

Orcas Island, from the south – saddlebags, a peruke?

Orcas Island, from the west

Orcas Island, from the west – a tulip, a gramophone?

Orcas Island, from the north

Orcas Island, from the north – a clam?

Orcas Island, from the east

Orcas Island, from the east – a long-faced Indian chief?

Orcas Island

Opening clam, wilting tulip,
saddlebags heavy with rocks,
peruke left behind by a viceroy, torn
by the Pacific winds,
rugged Chowitsuit, long-faced
chief of the Lummi tribe,
compelled to sign a resettlement
treaty at Point Elliott
with a horse foot down his throat.

Orcas Island, not pronounced,
not named, not shaped
for the dark dolphin —
unless stranded on the sand,
dessicating, split into two
by a blunt harpoon,
her blubber spluttering out
slowly toward the shore.

Grandmother orca, old as a turtle
and just as perfectly arched,
her flukes gnawed at by the deer
at Massacre Bay,
her dorsal fin reduced to a thorn,
her pectoral fins too dead
to reach for the rockfish
at Obstruction Island,
her blubber soaked in
transformer oil, flame
retardant, insecticide,
the alphabet soup of the ocean,
swallowed one toxic Chinook
salmon at a time
by the apex predator,
until the ruler of the undersea
sought the refuge of the beach
to rest her flaming liver
and rot in peace.

Racing up Eastsound,
the last pod of orcas
arrives in parade
to pay their respects to the matriarch,
transmitting sonar messages
mute and agape
as the gramophone drowning in the surf.


Orcas Island

Arzella tinfetaħ, tulipan jidbiel,
boroż tas-sarġ imtaqqla bil-ġebel,
parrokka li viċirè nesa
warajh, titqaċċat fl-irjieħ tal-Paċifiku,
Chowitsuit rozz, rajjes
wiċċu twil tat-tribù tal-Lummi,
imġiegħel jiffirma trattat
ta’ turufnament f’Point Elliott
b’sieq ta’ żiemel nieżla sa ġriżmejh.

Orcas Island, mhux imlissna,
mhux imsemmija, mhux iffurmata
għad-denfil skur —
sakemm mhux mitluq
fuq ir-ramel, jitqadded,
maqsum fi tnejn b’ħarpun spuntat,
xaħmu jiskula ‘l barra
farka farka lejn ix-xatt.

Nanna orka, xiħa daqs fekruna
u mqawsa bħalha,
denbha mgerrem miċ-ċriev
f’Massacre Bay,
il-ġewnaħ ta’ daharha mċekken f’xewka,
il-ġwienaħ ta’ sidirha mejtin wisq
biex jilħqu l-ispnotta
f’Obstruction Island,
xaħamha mxappap
biż-żejt tat-transformer, bir-ritardant
tal-fjammi, bl-insettiċida,
is-soppa tal-alfabet tal-oċean,
miblugħa salamuna Chinook
tossika wara l-oħra
mill-predatriċi prim,
sakemm il-ħakkiema tad-dinja-baħar
fittxet l-ilqugħ tar-ramla
biex isserraħ fwiedha jivvampja
u titmermer fis-sliem.

Telgħin sparati tul Eastsound,
l-aħħar merħla orki
tasal f’parata
biex jagħtu ġieħ lill-matrijarka,
jittrażmettu messaġġi sonar
muti u mbikkma
daqs il-grammofonu jegħreq fir-ragħwa.

The farm-to-table menu at Red Rabbit Farms

The farm-to-table menu at Red Rabbit Farms

A few weeks ago, Jason and I spent a weekend on Orcas Island in Washington state.  The island is dotted with farms and restaurants but still wild enough that we felt we had truly gotten away from city life.  I was inspired by the integrity that comes from business leaders in this remote space.  We stayed at the Kangaroo House in Eastsound (yes, there really was a kangaroo that once lived there) and became fast friends with its owners, Jill and Charles.  We felt even more at home when they invited us to join in a farm-to-table dinner at Red Rabbit Farm.  Owned by Christina and Bruce Orchid, whose former restaurant, Christina’s, attracted far-flung foodie visitors, the couple serves meals on the open air in their gorgeous partially covered dining hall, overlooking lush fields.  We arrived hungry and failed to pace ourselves for the ten or so fresh-cooked courses that followed.  It’s a wonder that anyone got out of there alive.

A highlight of our trip was visiting Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead, where the residents allowed us to wander around and observe their mature and complex ecosystem, the result of 30 years of permaculture stewardship.  Bullock’s is profiled in the book Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, of which I bought a copy at Darvill’s Bookstore in in the Orcas Island town of Eastsound, a bookstore that is now probably one of my favourites in the world.  Everything there is laid out so tantalizingly that I had to hold myself back from walking out with thirty books.

A central principle of Permaculture design is creating “guilds” of plants that support each other — for instance, growing chives, fennel and artichokes under apple trees to provide various pest control and soil-building functions, all while growing food.  We saw this effect in abundance at Bullock’s with its diverse range of ecological niches, rare plant nurseries, orchards and wetlands, where plants grew together in functional and experimental combinations.

Permaculture Guilds at Bullock's

Permaculture Guild at Bullock’s

The idea of creating guilds is based on how things work in nature.  In the wild, plants grow together and form functional communities.  The real highlight of Orcas Island for me was our leisurely drive/hike up Mt. Constitution, where we stopped mid-way at a viewpoint where you could see an expanse of blue-green islands for miles.  It was a breathtaking sight.  But while Jason and the other tourists looked at the big picture, I decided to focus my camera on the smallest things it could capture — the tiny flowers growing on the alpine bluffs we stood on. Each was about the size of my thumbnail, and too small to notice from standing height, but be crouching down and observing, I discovered dozens of species working together.  I wasn’t able to identify many of them, but it was clear that they had self-assembled into wild guilds, with miniature legumes adding nitrogen to the extremely thin, rocky soil, and fragrant flowers attracting certain pollinating insects and repelling pests.

View from Mt. Constitution.

View from Mt. Constitution.



As we descended into the forests lower on the mountain, I realized that there was one thing missing from my experience.  It was May, time for rare wild orchids to bloom on the west coast, and I wanted to find one.

Orchids grow on decayed bark left behind by dead trees on the forest floor, and they appear singularly and unexpectedly.  You can’t go out looking for them, you just have to notice them.


Wild orchid.

I has almost given up when we took a quick turnoff at Cold Springs, and there, right near the path, I caught something bright pink out of the corner of my eye.  I got down on the ground and realized that it was a gorgeous, tiny orchid.  By looking up close, I discovered that it had stripes AND spots and was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

Seeing that orchid, and being able to get some clear photos of it, filled my heart with absolute joy.  It was a prize, and incredible discovery that few people get to experience.

There was more in store for us.  Near some waterfalls, we discovered another, completely different orchid species with multiple blooms.  It had a red stem with purple spots and a tiny flourish of yellow.

Wild orchid.

Wild orchid.

Back at Darvill’s I looked at a field guide and identified the two species — fairy slipper and coral root.  Between our discoveries and the incredible dinner from the coincidentally named Orchids that night, I felt fully satiated.