A play on words:
I find pleasure at a nature preserve.
Thankful the land was preserved,
I return repeatedly,
my pleasure thus preserved.
Treading lightly, respectfully,
I help preserve the preserve
for the pleasure of all beings
who live and visit here.
Certain places become touchstones: we discover an appealing place, explore it, find pleasure there, and return many times. The site gains prominence in our personal lexicon of landscapes. A placid lake surrounded by a conifer forest became such a place for me shortly after I moved to Fidalgo Island. I hadn’t known that decades ago, a group of far-sighted people protected about 2800 acres (1132 ha) of forest land in the center of the island, preserving the area for passive recreation. Once I learned about the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, I began exploring them. Soon I found a touchstone at a place called Little Cranberry Lake. The forest around the lake abuts residential streets packed with one-family homes but it still feels blissfully serene, thanks to thousands of trees that march across the hilly terrain, right up to the edge of the lake.
Just what is the pleasure that I find at the preserve?
It’s the surprise of a water snake swimming in gently swaying S curves, the drama of dozens of blackened trees recovering from a fire, and the white hush of an unexpected snow shower in March.
It’s the slow motion of wavy reflections in calm water and the delight of orchids pushing through soft layers of moss and lichens.
It’s the solid feeling of my own two legs striding down a forest trail or jumping from rock to rock.
It’s the muffled buzz of a Chestnut-backed chickadee and the knowledge that I’m free to go where I choose, at my own pace in this sheltered, serene place.
For a few years, I was in the habit of going to Little Cranberry Lake in the afternoon for a walk along the lake and up into the hills. I had a favorite circuit: cross the tip of the lake, follow a trail around a finger of downed, half-submerged trees, and fork left to climb a hill studded with massive rocks. At a small opening near the top of the hill, I would pause to admire a few old Madrone trees and photograph wildflowers set against pale, gray-green pillows of reindeer lichen. Then I would head back down and return to my starting point by tracing a rock-strewn trail along the lake’s edge. I would gaze at dozens of tall, dead tree trunks dotting the shallow lake and wonder what plants grow on the boggy island in the middle of the lake. Stepping from rock to rock, studying reflections of tree branches, and looking for wildlife, I often entered a blissful, meditative state. On summer days I wouldn’t get back to the parking lot until close to dusk. Sometimes I varied the route and explored the other side of the lake. Always, the preserve offered pleasure and peace.
Then I began seeing broken glass in the parking lot. People were taking advantage of the isolated location and breaking into locked cars to steal anything they thought they could sell. With regret, I stopped using the north lot and switched my Little Cranberry Lake walks to the forested wetlands and beaver ponds south of the lake. Access to that section is from a parking lot on a busy road, where break-ins are less likely. It’s been interesting to explore a different part of the preserve but I’ve missed my lakeside walk. Until a few days ago I thought I would have to walk an extra mile each way to get to the trails I used to enjoy. But I found out there are places on residential streets where you can park safely and enter the woods near the lake. I tried it last week. It was good to walk in those woods again, and good to know I can revisit the lake easily. There are many other trails in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands to explore, and another 2000 acres (809 ha) of state, county, and city parkland on the island so there’s no reason to complain! But I grew very fond of Little Cranberry Lake over the course of those first years living here. You can see why in these photographs, all made during the time when late winter transitions to early spring, from 2019 to 2023.
7. Lake reflections and intentional camera movement; reflections of cedar boughs, and reflected sedges.
On this Spring Equinox day of new beginnings, it might make sense to formulate an intention to support the preservation of nature in any small way we can. I’ve been reading an excellent book called “On Time and Water” by Icelandic writer Andri Snær Magnason. He asserts that although earth’s problems have reached a scale we find extremely difficult to comprehend, “…it’s possible to nudge the world. That the world is not just an out-of-control and meaningless flood, always in flux; it can be influenced, can be steered in the right direction. Our purpose is to be useful, to make a difference, to increase knowledge, to point the world in the right direction if it’s off course.”
16. Plentiful moss (left), evergreen plants like Sword fern and Dwarf Oregon grape (middle), and some aquatic plants (right) add green to the landscape all year long.