Local Attractions

The small city of Anacortes spans the north end of Fidalgo Island, extends a thin arm to the east, grabs a wide peninsula to the west, and funnels south into the green heart of the island. East of the city proper, two oil refineries scatter storage tanks and pipe stacks over a thumb of land called March Point. Anacortes’ city limits include residential areas, thickly forested parks, a small airport and the busy San Juan Island ferry terminal.

On a map the city seems to be reaching out and gobbling up the island, but the “Old Town” of Anacortes huddles close to the waterfront on the north tip of the island. With deep water access to the Salish Sea, Anacortes is a watery gateway to the Pacific. In a time of relentless real estate pressure from Seattle’s explosive growth, it heartens me to see the laid back, unpretentious city is hanging on – perhaps by a fishing-line-thin thread –  to its working waterfront roots. Pleasure and leisure are the raison d’etre for most boats you see around the island, but businesses serving working boats persist.

This sliver of working waterfront draws me into town, camera in hand. Here is a group of buildings and ships that caught my eye in Anacortes.

 

1. The Shell Oil and Andeavor refineries are major tax payers and employers for the county, but compared to other refineries in the U.S., this complex is small potatoes. Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas, and asphalt are manufactured here on March Point. This view from Anacortes looks across Fidalgo Bay, where eelgrass beds and tidal marsh provide habitat for fish, shellfish, invertebrates, and birds.

 

2. Following the road around March Point reveals ships and birds plying the waters, with a backdrop of snow-covered Mount Baker in the distance. Behind you, the refinery business never stops, but neither does the wildlife.  A Great Blue heron rookery, situated less than a mile southeast of the refineries, was found to contain 757 nests at last month’s count, by the Skagit Land Trust, which protects and monitors the nesting site.  Small herds of cattle graze among the refinery tanks, and eagles roam the sky. Industry and nature appear to coexist without incident, but realistically, I know there are dangers – obvious ones like an accident in 2010 that killed five workers, and insidious risks, like the slight decline in eelgrass reported last year.

 

3. A small fishing boat, probably out for Dungeness crab, returns to Anacortes under heavy skies on a Friday afternoon in November. Marine industries – seafood preparation, boat repair, cargo handling, marinas, etc. – employ about 15% of island residents.  I enjoy seeing boat traffic involved in work but when summer comes, it’s a different story, as the town fills up with recreational boaters from all over the world.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I hope the balance doesn’t ever shift entirely away from marine businesses.

 

4. I found this Dungeness crab washed up on a sliver of rocky shoreline in town. Most likely it was caught, and then thrown away, because it’s under the size limit of 6.25 inches. Females, softshell and undersized crabs must be released if caught, but they may not all survive. The daily recreational limit here is just 5 males; the tightly regulated season runs from October 6th through the last day of December. Commercial, licensed crab fishers have a 30 pot limit in the area near Fidalgo Island. The entire Puget Sound commercial Dungeness crab fishery is expected to land 2,874,707 pounds of crab this year.

 

5. The “Oregon” fishing vessel is tied up at Trident Seafoods. Across the channel is Guemes Island; the rolling hills of the San Juan Islands rise in the distance. Seattle-based Trident Seafoods is the biggest seafood company in the U.S. They process fish on board and onshore, with over 40 vessels and 17 plants. At their Anacortes plant, built in 1989, fish like pollock and salmon, caught in Alaskan waters, are frozen and made into ready-to-cook portions for food service use.

 

6. A Trident Seafoods’ catcher/processor, the 312-foot-long Island Enterprise, is undergoing work at Dakota Creek Industries, a ship building and repair business based in Anacortes. Billowing tarps worthy of Christo prompted me to pull over for a closer look.

 

7. Another look at the Island Enterprise under wraps at sunset. Dakota Creek, family-owned and run for over 40 years, builds and repairs everything from fire boats to ferries to research vessels, and of course, fishing vessels.

 

8. One more shot of the Island Enterprise at the dock, taken just after 4pm on a chilly November afternoon.

 

9. Just a few blocks from the working waterfront is Pelican Bay Books, a new and used bookstore with an understated and functional exterior, and a beckoning interior. Their espresso is very good and you can cozy up near a fireplace on a worn leather sofa with a book, the NY Times, or the local paper, if that’s your preference. Maybe someone will play a little subdued jazz on the piano. Maybe you’ll buy a book, or maybe you’ll just enjoy the ambiance.

 

10. Another late afternoon view of the bookstore’s side door.

 

11. The older section of Anacortes has loads of charming, slightly funky small homes, like this one on a side street.

 

12. Back near the waterfront, between Trident Seafoods and the Puget Sound Rope Corporation, there are three tall tanks, a parking lot and a handful of buildings. What’s going on there, I don’t know. There’s no sign (other than the Keep Out signs) and nothing helpful came up online.

 

13. Three tanks and a telephone pole.  OK, and a fence and a sidewalk. A bit of barbed wire, too.

 

14. This decrepit building has become a favorite subject of mine. It was built in a diamond shape, with the wide angle to the right in this view. I read online that the lot and building sold for $500,000 in 2008, so I assume there were plans to tear the building down and build anew, for light manufacturing. Those plans must have fallen through, and the old warehouse, built in 1900, is still standing.

 

15. The acute angled side of the building.

 

16. One end of the building is almost in the Guemes Channel. It was probably a fish processing plant. It would have been a smelly, miserable job a hundred years ago.

 

17. Working the scene with different lenses. This was taken this summer, when the blackberries threatened to crawl into the building. I used a vintage Takumar 28mm, f3.5 lens.

 

18. This view was taken with a different vintage Takumar lens, a 50mm f2.8.

 

19. How much longer will the old building stand?

 

Fresh Looks

What do these images have in common? They were all made in the last month or two, in the same part of the world, and there are obvious connections between some of them, but you might say it’s a motley crew overall. Some are in color, some are monochrome, some were taken with a phone, some with a camera. What I hope they do have in common is a sense of seeing the world with fresh curiosity and genuine appreciation.

 

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The Photos:

  1. This is Boot (BOOTIE! to me), an American pit bull terrier, a breed that strikes so much fear into the hearts of some people that it has been banned in entire cities. Boot is a sweetie, believe me. Here, I caught his rear end with my phone camera, as he relaxed on the grass at an Ultimate Frisbee Tournament where his master was playing. Boot has his own Instagram page if you want to see his front end.
  2. A rock formation at Larrabee State Park which is on the Salish Sea about 15 miles south of the US – Canada border. The softly eroded, curvy rock is sandstone that was deposited here around 50 million years ago. This type of weathering is called honeycomb weathering, and the round perforations often seen in honeycombed rocks are sometimes called tafoni. The original photo was in sharper focus. I chose to slightly blur it to bring out the graceful, curving form. More photos of Larrabee’s intricate geology are shown in previous posts here and here.
  3. Branches trailing in the water or hanging just above it draw complex, meandering reflections at Whistle Lake, on Fidalgo Island. By the time I took this photograph it was after 5pm and rather dark at the lake’s edge, so I boosted the brightness in Lightroom several different ways: by increasing the whites (basic panel), applying a slight “S” tone curve, and increasing the luminance of individual colors. Small increases in contrast, clarity, saturation and vibrancy also helped brighten and define the image.
  4. A piece of detritus on a pier in Anacortes. The photo was taken with my phone on the evening of an art opening at the historic Port of Anacortes transit shed, a huge 85-year-old wooden building once used to store goods in transit into and out of the region. It was possible on this evening to walk through a big show of quality painting, photography and sculpture, and then wander outside directly onto a pier, where we had an interesting conversation with the first mate of a tugboat tied up at port while waiting for orders. For solid working culture and the arts to share space like that – well, to me, it was heaven.
  5. More detritus, this time on a beach at Bowman Bay on Fidalgo Island. The shell may be a Bent-nosed clam, a small, edible clam. The seaweed is probably Eelgrass (Zostera marina), an important plant that provides nourishment and habitat for waterfowl, crabs, shrimp, fish, shellfish and probably more creatures I’m not aware of. Eelgrass is declining in some places in Puget Sound; the causes are complex.
  6. A friendly reminder seen on an old warehouse in Anacortes. The photo was processed in Color Efex pro and Lightroom.
  7. This appears to be an unfinished roof. It’s attached to a small building at the site of a weekly Farmer’s Market in Edison, Washington (population 133 in 2010). As I pulled over to photograph the dramatic sky through the beams, two black cats scurried down a dirt road, probably in pursuit of sparrows, and somewhere overhead, an eagle cried that distinctive, high-pitched whinny.
  8. I saw a sign advertising an art show one summer afternoon while driving through the Skagit Valley countryside. I drove over to the Samish Island Arts Festival to investigate. The art was almost all crafts – jewelry, hand knit clothes, etc. –  and it didn’t appeal to me. But there was an interesting group of ramshackle wooden buildings there, across from a small oyster business. There was no fence, not even a “Keep Out” sign, so I spent some time photographing abandoned odds and ends. It was clearly a place where work went on, but it was hard to tell what exactly happened there. Rope, wood, rust and tarps were plentiful. I told myself I’d come back to “work the scene” again.
  9. Barbed wire fence keeps the rabble away from three unmarked silos in Anacortes. The town has enough intriguing industrial sites to keep me busy for a while. This photo was taken with my phone.
  10. This photo was taken on a bluff overlooking the Salish Sea during a prolonged dry spell. We hadn’t had any rain for many weeks; the grass was bone dry. I used a vintage Super Takumar 50mm lens and made a few adjustments in Lightroom.
  11. My teapot is getting old and if you ask me, it’s more and more likeable. We found it years ago at a Catholic church bazaar on Staten Island, NYC, and paid 50 cents, if I remember correctly. I make strong Irish tea in it each morning. Over time, cracks in the pot have grown and darkened, and eventually it will leak, and we won’t be able to use it. For now though, it’s a perfect example of wabi-sabi, that wonderful Japanese aesthetic that encapsulates acceptance of imperfection as well as the impermanence of all things. The photo was taken with another vintage Super Takumar lens – a 28mm f3.5.
  12. Do you see that this is a corn stalk? It’s growing at the WSU Discovery Garden, a demonstration garden put together by the Washington State University Master Gardeners, who are trained volunteers. Lucky for me, the garden is just 15 minutes away, so if I ever tire of wild flora (unlikely!) I can go have my fill of cultivated plants. The original photo is in color and it was converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro and finished in Lightroom.
  13. Why are these buildings just inches apart? I suppose it has to do with the lot sizes or building codes. Ever since I first visited Edison back in 2012, I’ve been intrigued by this little slice of strangeness a few doors down from my favorite bakery. There are always ferns growing in that dark little space! The photo was taken with my phone and processed in Lightroom.
  14. This photo was taken the same day as #3, at Whistle Lake, part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. A rocky, rooty trail along the lake swings down level with the water in places, allowing you close views of sinuous tree reflections in the placid waters. Photographing reflections in water always depends on a variety of conditions, and sometimes they come together perfectly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOAKED & HAPPY

In last week’s post I wrote about the old ship La Merced, now used as an unconventional  breakwater for a shipyard on Fidalgo Island. We went to Fidalgo that day because I read about a fine park with expansive water views and easy trails. It sounded perfect for a day trip. We’d been to Fidalgo and Anacortes before but we hadn’t seen the northwest corner of the island.

To thoroughly explore Puget Sound’s islands you should travel by water, but a lot can be seen by bridge and ferry, too.  The region’s complex geography is a stew of wavy-edged shorelines, steep hills, hundreds of islands, deep basins, mountain watersheds and rich estuaries.  That means there are endless nooks and crannies to explore.  I’ve learned that whether I’m on Whidbey, Vashon, Bainbridge, Camano, Samish, or Fidalgo, each island has a unique atmosphere, and in spite of dozens of trips to different islands in the Sound, I’m barely familiar with them. Every time I browse a book, pour over a map or search online, I find more places to explore.

 

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Washington Park sits on a modest-sized peninsula with tranquil views of the sound and surrounding islands.  A one-way road traces the park’s edge; along the road are pull-outs for picnicking and walking along rocky beaches or through the woods.

The day we went to Fidalgo Island, a misty, intermittent rain kept the views from being picture postcard perfect, but the mist was welcome after two months of dry, sere days. I was in a relaxed, open mood as I traipsed around a rocky beach. Smooth, colorful stones clattered underfoot like weighty marbles. Seaweed, shells and driftwood invited scrutiny.  The last little Gumplant flower glowed yellow among withered brown stems. Song sparrows flitted in and out of the underbrush, gulls cried and cormorants plied the water for fish. Roots and rose hips dangled over the cliffs, weaving delicate patterns on the glacial till. A ferry dissolved into the horizonless gray mist, bound for the San Juan Islands.

I pulled my hood up and tucked my weather-resistant camera under my sweatshirt between shots, taking pictures quickly, then retreating under trees. I was getting wetter by the minute.

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A towering, long-dead Douglas fir perched at the edge of the eroding cliff and leaned precariously over the beach. Across the bay kids scampered on the rocks, oblivious to the rain. My feet were soaked through. It felt good.

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We continued along the road at the prescribed 10 mph speed limit, passing campers and people out for a walk. At the last pull-out, an ancient, twisted tree raised one steadfast, leafy branch above a grand view.  Across the pass, thickly forested Burrows Island rose darkly from the cold water.  A whale watching boat skidded back to port.  Did they see the resident pod of Orcas? Probably, but from my vantage point, only boats and gulls broke the water’s calm surface.  To my left, Whidbey Island lurked in the mist, and sixty miles south, Seattle sprawled a cacophony of metal and glass across another patch of land at the the water’s edge.

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I noticed a path leading down into a grove of Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii). The madrone is one of my new favorites since moving west, with its smooth, brilliantly colored, peeling bark and curvy limbs. At my feet, Reindeer moss (really a lichen, Cladina portentosa) formed puffy clouds of the softest pale green, pierced by sharp grasses. I picked my way carefully across the wet earth, drinking in the color.

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The rain was picking up so we drove into town to Pelican Bay Books to dry off and warm up with an espresso. The bookstore, with its first-rate selection of new and used books, wood-burning stove, worn leather sofas, custom wood shelving and carefully crafted espresso bar, deserves a post of its own. But take my word for it – if you’re anywhere near Anacortes it’s worth a trip.

Enamored by Washington Park’s beauty and the old ship in Anacortes, we decided to return as soon as we could. Three days later we were back on Fidalgo island exploring another beautiful park (and returning to the bookstore!). More about that in another post.

 

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A STRANGE SIGHT

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The weather finally broke the other day in Western Washington, bringing cool, overcast skies and a smattering of rain. With Harvey and Irma in the news it may be hard to grasp the fact that there’s a serious drought on the west coast. Even worse, the dry conditions (with human “help”) spawned a tough wildfire season, bringing destruction and death, and a haze of sickening smoke and ash. So a wet forecast is a sweet relief these days, and it didn’t deter us from heading north to Fidalgo Island on Saturday. Our plan was to explore a small peninsula that overlooks the San Juan Islands.

We’re less familiar with this part of the state and we are ever curious, so we kept sharp eyes out for anything unusual as we drove across the island. On the way to the park I glimpsed a vision that was beyond unusual. Only briefly visible from the road, the strange sight appeared, then quickly disappeared. I flashed on some elaborate Hollywood film set. Did I really see a huge, dark hulk of a wooden ship on the shore with a cargo that appeared to be a forest?

Yes, it was an old wooden ship topped with a forest, growing like big hair gone completely wild.

 

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We continued to the park and agreed to check out the strange apparition later – I was pretty sure it wasn’t going anywhere.  I was soaked through after wandering along the shore, but the rain felt good, like renewal after two months of dry heat.

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The sky was still spitting a thin drizzle when we traced our route back along the shoreline, past the ferries to Canada and the San Juan islands, searching for a way to get closer to the mysterious specter.

We found it – a narrow, gravel road leading down a hill to a shipyard. We knew we might be kicked out at any minute but we drove on anyway. With growing excitement, we parked next to a couple of junked trucks and jumped out. A narrow, overgrown isthmus led straight to the ship, which loomed silently overhead.

By that time we had figured out that this wasn’t a shipwreck, but it was an unorthodox breakwater for the shipyard and marina.

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La Merced looks old because it is – it was built one hundred years ago in California. A four-masted schooner with auxiliary power, it sailed up, down and across the Pacific, delivering case oil for Standard Oil and other companies. Just four years into service, the ship was rammed by another boat while at anchor near Alcatraz. It was repaired though, and sailed the Pacific for a few more years before it became a floating fish cannery, working the salmon catch in Alaska. (The link is to an old photo showing La Merced’s four masts behind some cannery buildings).

Meanwhile, an enterprising man from Croatia named Anton Lovric was repairing boats in Anacortes, Washington, 1,572 nautical miles away. Tony Lovric had a colorful life. Born in 1924, he was captured by the Germans during WWII and spent 14 long months in hard labor at Dachau. After he was released, he studied naval architecture and worked in a Croatian shipyard. According to his obituary, he left for Italy in 1958, fearing punishment for his outspoken political views. From Italy he emigrated to the US, eventually arriving in Anacortes, a small northwest port town where he had friends. The place suited him. He married, had five children, and with much hard work and resourcefulness, turned a former seafood processing business into Lovric’s Sea-Craft, a ship repair yard and marina.

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Repurposing was second nature to Tony Lovric. In 1966 he bought the 232-foot ship La Merced, to use as a breakwater for his marina. Stripped of its masts, engines, bowsprit and other accouterments, the old ship was brought to Anacortes to begin another chapter in its long life. Set in place, filled with sand and surrounded with rocks, it remains there today. La Merced has now spent half its life out of the water. Not quite on land, but not floating either, she’s like a great beached whale, her skin rough with peeling paint instead of barnacles, her rusted hawse holes keeping watch over the shipyard.

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I doubt this old pulley was used for Lovric’s breakwater project, but who knows what it lifted into place over the years?  Lovric’s shipyard is still in the family. About ninety percent of their work is done on working boats, not pleasure craft. I like that. On that Saturday afternoon the bottom of a barge was being steam cleaned. Two rather handsome old wooden buildings are used for storage and machining. Boats of every size and shape are docked here, and at least one appears to be lived in.

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A tangle of rope, an old winch engine, trucks in various states of disrepair, wild blackberries running through it all…a ladder, a toilet bowl and a volleyball net propped against a metal wall with a dark opening into the overgrown hillside…there is “stuff” everywhere. It makes you drool, to think of all the things you could do with that stuff! Not to mention all the history that might be pried out of this site.

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We wondered about the lumber used to build La Merced. Maybe loggers felled those timbers back in the early 1900’s in the mountains just east of Fidalgo Island, mountains visible from the shipyard on a clear day. The logs could have been shipped to California and milled into the long boards needed for La Merced. The boards would have been nailed into place, caulked and pitched and painted, and finally, La Merced would float. She would sail the Pacific, awash in the waters of Australia, Hawaii, Alaska…and finally she would come to rest on Fidalgo Island, where her hull full of sand would support little plants grown from seeds blown in and dropped by birds…and slowly the little plants would become another forest, in an endless round of life.

This post isn’t about a classically scenic place like Mount Rainier, and the photos may leave something to be desired, given the rain that day.  But what a sight that massive, century-old ship is! Where once four tall masts held sails that caught distant ocean winds, trees sway in channel breezes. The wood used to build the ship may be slowly rotting, but it’s helping to keep a boat business afloat, it supports an ecosystem that adds to the local flora and fauna, and catches the eyes and imaginations of curious passers by, like me.

 

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Some of these photos are homages of sorts to blogging friends whose work I am always studying.  A few people who might be inspirations for these photos are: Al at burnt embers. He often works in film and inspires me to try film effects/colors, like those in the marina shot and the aqua-shuttered building photo. Also Linda at Romancing Reality, who takes masterful photos of dumpster surfaces – she surely inspired the rusty, scratched metal surface photo.  Louis, who is accomplished at graphic work and often shoots in maritime locations, inspired the rope photo.  Adrian nudges me to make an occasional darker, gutsier image (like the ladder) and experiment with film effects.  Otto, whose Instagrams also push me to experiment with effects, probably inspired the silhouetted, smudgy pulley photo. Many others I haven’t named this time (Lisa, “Chill” Adrian, Alan, Hedy, Denise, Ken, Jane, Gunta, Uli, Joshi, Pierre, 125tel, Patti, Dina, etc!) are pushing boundaries and perfecting their visions, inspiring me to do the same. And Linda at The Task at Hand, a far better storyteller than I am, inspires me to try weaving a written tale through my photographs, at least once in a while.