LOCAL WALKS: Whidbey Island Wandering

It was a day of serendipity. I had an appointment on Whidbey Island, our neighbor to the south, and decided to wend my way further south instead of heading right back home. The small, historic town of Coupeville beckoned. I’m sorry I don’t have photos of Coupeville’s charming Victorian architecture or its old wharf and quiet waterfront, but I was beelining to Little Red Hen for espresso and treats. Their too-small-for-COVID-times indoor seating space is closed so people lounged around outside as they waited for their orders, trying to maintain distance on the narrow sidewalk. I ordered an egg sandwich with goat cheese and crunchy fried kale served on their own English muffin. But wait, there’s more! I didn’t pass up the crisp, warm double-filled dark chocolate croissants, nor did I forget to buy a ginger-molasses cookie. You have to stock up when you’re in the presence of a baker who knows what they’re doing.

I found a spot with a nice view and wolfed down the sandwich, sipping a rich, intense macchiato between bites. Yummy. Then, on the way out of town I noticed a place called Ciao Food and Wine. I’d passed it before but never checked it out. It was time to investigate. Inside, a chef was frying garlic in olive oil only steps away from shiny displays of high-end Italian deli treats, the like of which I hadn’t seen in several years. I spent my formative years in New York, where Italian food reigns, and foods like like ricotta salata and sfogliatelle are comfort food to me. I miss that now and realize that I took good Italian food for granted, so I couldn’t stop smiling as I chatted with the salesperson, chose a wedge of cheese and a pretty pastry, and tucked a menu in the bag, in hopes of tempting a certain someone into coming back with me for lunch.

Treats in hand, I thought I was heading home but serendipity intervened again. The sky darkened with dramatic clouds to the west so I swerved off the highway in that direction to find a better view. The road led to Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, a generous parcel of land along Whidbey’s Island’s western shore that features gorgeous views with a side of local history. Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey was an early settler on the island – or should I say, an early white settler. He brought his family over from Missouri and began making a life amidst conflict and hardship. Before he turned 40, Ebey was killed by members of a northern tribe (most likely Tlingit) in retribution for the death of one of their chiefs during a battle between a large tribal party that came down from their territory to effect a slave raid. Traditionally, a number of northern tribes took slaves from other tribes to establish wealth and rank but now, with whites in the picture, the scenario didn’t go as planned. Many people, including a chief, were killed by U.S. Navy sailors in what is known to whites as the 1856 Battle of Port Gamble. A small number of Tlingit men who were captured were eventually returned to their homeland, and again following tradition, they planned the revenge raid that ended in Ebey’s death. (He was actually not the target but ended up being a convenient mark for the tribe, as he was home that day and the doctor they planned to kill was not).

A few years later Ebey’s brother and cousin constructed a public house so his two sons would have a means of support. The handsome structure still stands, overlooking the broad fields that swoop down to a shoreline that once bustled with ferry traffic. The absorbing history of the Ebey family includes stories about Colonel Ebey’s role in the Oregon Territorial government, the death of his first wife from tuberculosis, and rumors about Ebey’s scalp, which was held by the tribe for a time, then sold to a fur trader and returned to the Ebey family. After that, the exact location of that sad remnant of a tragedy is murky; the trail runs cold in California.

Engrossing history aside, that day I was just looking for fresh air and stirring views.

In fact, the air was so fresh it was bracing. I found a trail passing the austere, slate gray house and tracing the edge of still-tended fields out to a bluff overlooking Admiralty Inlet, where the Olympic Mountains pile on top of one other across the cold, choppy water. I quickly regretted not putting my hoodie on – the chilly wind whipped my hair in my face and bit at my ears. Invigorated, I paused on the bluff with my back to the gale and watched clouds ride the wind and switch places across a vast, shifting, gray-blue panorama. The beach below was strewn with driftwood logs and an occasional walker could be seen braving the wind. A few wildflowers waved their heads frantically and ravens tore across the sky, slicing it every which way. Then a family approached, triggering my retreat.

Going back was shorter, as it always is, so instead of scurrying to the car I stopped to peer into the gloom of Ferry House. I couldn’t see much inside – the light was against it – but what I saw in the windows made up for the murky interior. The dramatic, cloud-darkened sky swirled around in the glass. A window on the far side of the house appeared like a beacon and my own reflection, broken up by repeating rectangles, disappeared into an abyss of light.























Water’s Edge: Whidbey Island

In my drafts folder there is an unfinished post with photographs taken in 2014, on Whidbey Island, Washington. I first visited Whidbey Island in October, 2011, on a fateful vacation that led to my relocating from New York City to the Pacific northwest. After moving to a suburb of Seattle in 2012, I began driving up to Whidbey and the surrounding area whenever I could, ultimately moving to neighboring Fidalgo island.

Now, on the heels of another trip to Whidbey last week, I’m going to move those photos out of the draft folder and into the light of day. I’ll include a few recent images, too.

That September day almost four years ago, a spectacular fog bank had settled in at my chosen destination, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The park, which preserves natural and historical points of interest, is named after an early settler, Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey, who claimed land here in the mid-nineteenth century and became the first white full-time resident. Of course, well before his arrival local tribes lived here; one of the tribes (the Swinomish) that inhabited the island is now based on a reservation a few minutes from my home on Fidalgo Island.

Almost exactly 161 years ago, Colonel Ebey was killed by people from the north (it is still disputed which tribe was responsible) whose leader, along with other tribe members, had been slayed by the US military. In an 1851 letter to his brother, Ebey had written that this beautiful place seemed,

“….almost a paradise of nature. Good land for cultivation is abundant on this island. I have taken a claim on it and am now living on the same in order to avail myself of the provisions of the Donation Law. If Rebecca, the children, and you all were here, I think I could live and die here content.”










The five photos above were taken on that foggy September day at Perego’s lagoon, a shallow body of water just above the high tide mark on the shore at Ebey’s Landing. In the top photo we’re looking south, with the beach on the right and the lagoon on the left. The windy beach, littered with giant driftwood logs, abuts the Salish Sea; the ocean is about a hundred miles to the west. This lagoon dries out in summer and the edges crack into plates of hard mud. Driftwood is everywhere, as are waving grasses, wildflowers, lichens and the wild edible called pickleweed, or sea beans (Salicornia pacifica), seen at the left edge of the photo below.









The two photos above of driftwood shelters were taken recently at Double Bluff State Park, about 23 miles south of Ebey’s Landing, on the same side of the island.  It was a rare (for summer) overcast day when we walked the beach at Double Bluff, making the trek easier for someone like me, who’s not a fan of full-on sun. After an hour or so a narrow crack appeared in the clouds far to the south, over Seattle. The changing light cast a soft glow on the sheet draped over one driftwood shelter. It seemed the epitome of casual elegance, and in my mind, it wouldn’t have been out of place in an architectural magazine.






Cloudy skies didn’t deter this cozy trio perched high on a huge glacial erratic. The boulder has likely been here for 13,000 years, since the last ice sheet retreated and left it behind, like an afterthought. In the photo above that, driftwood lies in a shallow depression on the beach. The driftwood’s swirling form, the dark shadows of fir trees, the pearly reflection of an overcast sky, and ghostly pieces of submerged wood all came together in a brooding composition that I photographed as I left the beach – sometimes, parting shots are good.

Below, A gull glides through thick fog at Ebey’s Landing.  Watching fog banks coalesce and dissolve is a good way to feel the wisdom in the saying, “The only thing that is constant is change.” (Heraclitus).  Sure enough, the fog cleared, revealing the simple form of a softly rounded bluff as it met the razor-straight horizon.







Note: Some of these photos appeared in an earlier post here.



Foggy Island Saturday

On a recent Saturday – a blue, high-ceiling day –

I rode the ferry to Whidbey Island, where

the main road traces a curvy spine –

climbing and dropping,

climbing and dropping.

With no views

of malls.

It’s a world apart.

On the island’s west shore, a narrow strip of land fronts Admiralty Bay

(a bay that connects Puget Sound and Seattle to the Salish Sea and the great Pacific Ocean beyond).

It drew me in for a look.

Where the rock-strewn beach hooks westward,

a ferry idled in the fog. Fishermen gazed into dark waters.

Behind the driftwood-littered shore,

a marshy lake: its wet, salty earth stained red with Glasswort (Salicornia).

Known as Pickleweed and Samphire, the odd little vegetable is harvested

and eaten

around the world.


Grasses criss-crossed in the field, like a finely etched engraver’s plate.



On the road to Ebey’s Landing, fog,

thick as cotton, smudged a hillock of Douglas fir

behind an old farmhouse.

Bicyclists stopped for pictures.

Round the curve, down the hill…

park the car, step onto the beach…


I walked alone up the beach.

I found another wetland there, shrouded

in fog rolling in

from the Salish sea,

softening the colors

so subtly.




On the beach side, driftwood giants

rose up –

sky, land, sea,

wood, grass, rock –

all one.

Water is the common denominator –

mighty bull whip kelp sloshed

back and forth,

back and forth,

slowly washing up onto land.

Fog silvered the water.


It all left me




My 2012 in Images

I’m ambivalent about reviewing a whole year. I can’t possibly pare it down to a few images.

But I’ll do my best with the latest Weekly Photo Challenge. You can see what others are doing here:


(I can’t help thinking about what’s left out: how would a summary of the year look just from the vantage point of sound, or touch, or taste or smell? What about a summary of my feelings? They are all entirely relevant).

This is the first picture I took in 2011. It’s simplicity belies my state of mind at the time – absolute anxiety, frantic activity. In a month we would move across the country to a place we had been to only once, where we had no friends and just a handful of acquaintances. We would have no jobs waiting for us, and no family within thousands of miles. So many unknowns! No matter the worries and preoccupations – these shadows and shapes drew me in.

A quick overnight to Philadelphia in early January allowed me to say goodbye to some wonderful friends who had maintained my sanity while my son was deployed in Afghanistan the previous year. Was this statue telling me something about my future?

It was tough to say goodbye to these good people.

Soon after getting back home, I was on a plane to Seattle to find a place to live.  A generous acquaintance offered to put me up – I had a week to figure out where to live, but I had done the research and had good leads.  I secured an apartment within days, so I began exploring the area before the flight back home. One evening there was a spectacular sunset – maybe it was a portent, because the next day Seattle was hit with a big snowstorm – and in this part of the world, which doesn’t see a whole lot of snow, that meant everything stopped.

It sure was gorgeous though…

But planes were grounded and I waited nervously as flights were cancelled, and cancelled again. Finally I was good to go so I navigated the icy roads to the airport, turned my car in, and learned that once again, my flight was cancelled. I secured what appeared to be the last hotel room within miles, and the next morning the de-icers were out in force.


I did manage to get home. There wasn’t much time left for goodbyes to favorite places – and people. A close friend from upstate came down and we had a great day hanging out in coffee shops and scouring a tag sale for finds (yes, a tag sale in Manhattan!) I walked the High Line in January cold and photographed my favorite Gehry building through a scrim of morning glory vines.


And I was glad for sunny days. Oh, that skyline from the ferry. I didn’t know how I would live without it.

Two days before our lease was up, we muddled through a long day of watching and negotiating as movers packed our belongings and hit us with huge extra charges. We slept one last night on a couch we left for the landlord, and then turned our keys in and painstakingly wound our way through city traffic and out to JFK with our sedated sixteen-year-old cat and all the luggage we could carry. We climbed on board the plane and before long we were crossing the Rockies!

After one night in a hotel we took possession of our new apartment. I hung my beads at the window and we waited for our furniture, our clothes, our – everything – to arrive. For about ten days we slept on an air mattress and dined on an upturned box. Our netbooks became our lifelines at the local cafe. We slowly stocked the fridge and explored our neighborhood in a rental car while waiting for our own cars to make their way across the country. Yes! – we found a Trader Joe’s and plenty of good espresso joints nearby.

Eventually our furniture arrived – hardly anything broke!  Then one car, and eventually the other. The planning really paid off. One thing we could not control though, was our aging cat’s health. We found a good vet and they tried their best, but it was all too much, and we had to say goodbye to Pablo towards the end of the month.  It was a terrible blow, and we were dealing with it alone, in a strange place. The vet said his ashes would be spread at an apple orchard on the road into the mountains.  We were heartened by the thought of his body nourishing apples that might someday nourish us.  RIP Pabs.

We set about exploring the Pacific Northwest with a vengeance – rarely going more than two hours away – there were islands and mountains, a new city, interesting small towns, miles of shoreline and acres of farms.

Whether a distant view or a close-up, it was all looking good to me. And so different!

What are those weird things on the beach?

Bull whip kelp!  That’s like seaweed!  They grow everything so damn big out here!

When we weren’t exploring the countryside we poked around Seattle. Yes, there’s culture and yes, there’s art.

And MOSS. Moss everywhere! Even in the cold winter months it was brilliant green, coating branches like fur.


And what a refreshing change the open space was. I discovered Duvall, a nearby town founded in 1913 (like that was a long time ago?) with a great sense of style.

 I found a conservatory that I could escape to on the endless gray days, as I waited for spring.

Eventually spring did start to peek around the corner, but it took forever to warm up.

I volunteered at a botanical garden to get closer to the plants I love.

In the woods there were wildflowers I hadn’t seen in years – trilliums seemed almost commonplace. Back east they’re picked clean, at least around metropolitan New York.


I went up to see the fields of tulips and daffodils that are grown north of here. It was, of course, another gray day, but everyone promised that summer would be endlessly sunny.

I was getting tired of waiting for the sun.


So I amused myself by joining a photography group and working harder on my photography.

Overcast days can make for lovely, even light, so I tried to understand how to take better advantage of the weather.

When we had time we drove into the mountains and hiked among the old growth – the giants – and I was humbled and full of love for them.


Back in Seattle we discovered Georgetown, a photogenic neighborhood with an appealing funk quotient.

I volunteered for a court program that advocates for children. It was hard work but rewarding.

I read about a project that involves local people in making prints for the families of people killed on 9/11, and so I volunteered for that, too, and carved a block for a print.


Summer finally came, and it was simply gorgeous – dry every day for months, never hot.

Up on the mountain passes there was beautiful fog to wander through, and plentiful berries in the fields.

Wherever I live I make it a point to find scraps of land with wildflowers that become my florists. Ten minutes from home I found an abandoned railroad track with butterfly bush, California poppies, fireweed, tansy, St. Johnswort…heaven!

We explored the working docks and shipyards of Seattle. Back in New York we used to watch tugs and container ships from our window, but here we can get close up to small crew fishing boats.

In August I began this blog with a brief post about a mid-summer day when I felt glum and uninspired, but after walking through fields and recording the amazing light on seed, flower, leaf and fruit, I was renewed. It was a good beginning to the blog that has become a rewarding way to express myself and be inspired by others all over the world who are doing the same thing.

In the fall we took a day trip back to Mount Rainier. When we visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 2011, our day at Mount Rainier was one of the most powerful experiences we had.  This time I felt sick all say but I didn’t let it stop me – there were plentiful wildflowers, and we saw bears!

A few weeks later we took an overnight trip to the Olympic Peninsula and caught a drizzly late afternoon chill on Hurricane Ridge. The infamous, quickly changing Pacific Northwest weather was demanding that we pay attention.


In November we returned to New York for a wedding, a week after Sandy had devastated the region. We stayed with family on Long Island who had been out of power for a week already.  We tried to help untangle wires from the broken trees and huddled in front of a gas fire.

But oh, the food! And the pizza! The Pacific Northwest has great fresh food, but nowhere else, as far as we know, can you get anything like this slice, from an ordinary pizza place in Manhattan.

The wedding went off without a hitch. We had a day or so to see more family and revisit old haunts like the Rubin Museum, Battery Park and Financier Patisserie, and then suddenly the trip was over.

Back home, I talked myself into appreciating the drizzly gray days.

On  Thanksgiving Day those overcast skies cast a gorgeous silvery light on the sound.

I still scream “SUN!” when it peaks out from behind the clouds, but I’m more reconciled to the weather than I was the first few months. There is so much to enjoy here, and somehow, spending a week back in New York helped me feel more like this is my home.  We’re sure that the spirit of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest will engage our curiosity for a long time.

Whether expressed in something fashioned by human hands or embodied in a roadside field, I find a great respect for the land and nature here.

The other day we saw this:

a stretch of hundred-year-old brick road and

a lovely, eccentric woman

taking a walk with her miniature horse, named


We expect to enjoy many years of pleasant surprises in this corner of the country. We wish our families were closer, but we’ll try to rack up frequent flier miles for visits – New York and the east coast are great places to visit, aren’t they?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Architecture

Jake from Manila is challenging bloggers to submit photographs of architecture this week. He has some interesting points to make about architecture, saying that architecture is to building as literature is to the printed word…that architectural structures are culturally significant and have aesthetic meaning:  architecture as social art.

Once more I can’t leave well enough alone, so I will color outside the lines a bit as I interpret the challenge.

First, an architectural gem that most anyone would agree has significance, whether they appreciate it aesthetically or not (I love it). Gehry’s IAC Building, with its subtle curves and softly banded exterior, as seen from the High Line in Manhattan:

Another Gehry building, the Experience Music Project is in Jimi Hendrix’s hometown of Seattle. Its voluptuous, undulating curves below are, according to arcspace.com, inspired in part by the image of a shattered Fender Stratocaster. And the colors are real eye candy.

More curves, this time gracefully Italianate, are on a small building whose arched windows perfectly echo curves in the landscape around it.

The Lemon House at the Tuscan Garden, Snug Harbor, Staten Island, NYC:

Another New York City Botanical Garden building, in the Bronx (New York City) is the gorgeous Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, America’s largest glass house, 110 years old this year. As beautiful outside as it is inside.


But what about vernacular architecture? I love that just as much.

On a roadside in northwestern Arkansas, a deceptively simple looking stone house begs shade from a hot day with a corrugated metal awning, whose angle reflects the building’s roof line.


On St. Helena Island near Beaufort, South Carolina, Spanish moss lends atmosphere to a ruin built of tabby called the Chapel of Ease. Tabby is a mixture of oyster shells, sand and lime and was used extensively in the area. Built around 1740, the chapel served plantation owners who could not always get to church in Beaufort, on the mainland. It was deserted after 1861, when residents fled from Civil War strife, and later it was used by northerners to educate freedmen. In 1886 it burned in a forest fire but much of the building still stands today. Some history of this fascinating area can be found here:

Click to access MPS033.pdf


A barn in Adna, Washington, sports a series of angles that are dumbfounding. Why? Maybe no reason, I don’t know!

But when you view it from different sides you can appreciate the way it settles into the landscape and, I assume, fulfills its function.

and…(yes, it’s the same barn!)…

Another weathered example of vernacular architecture sits abandoned along a rural road in Wayne County, North Carolina, about halfway between Raleigh-Durham and the coast.

I think it still has a very graceful roof line.

Here’s a link to the Vernacular Architecture Forum: site http://www.vernaculararchitectureforum.org/about/index.html

And examples of vernacular architecture are here: http://www.archdaily.com/155224/vernacular-architecture-and-the-21st-century/

Going further out on an architectural limb, sometimes temporary structures also show a strong aesthetic impulse:

On Whidbey Island in Washington, someone has built a shelter from driftwood and logs that washed up on the beach.

You can’t do much better at blending with the landscape.  And look at the view from the inside:

Another beach structure, on Camano Island in Washington’s Puget Sound, really works the angles and pays close attention to surface decoration:

Angles are featured in these buildings, too, but in a context that’s a little…shinier, shall we say?

This was taken last week, on another island, on another coast.

On the left is One World Trade Center, slowly rising up near the empty square beds of the World Trade Center Towers that were destroyed on 9/11 and now mark the memorial site.  I stood next to the building on the right, across the street from the building site, so it looks taller – but it’s not.

The antenna for One World Trade Center will rise 1776 feet. Needless to say, the structure is designed around strength and durability as much as aesthetics. It’s also said to be the most environmentally sustainable project of its size in the world, with LEED Gold Certification and energy performance that exceeds code requirements by 20%. I bet the beach structures exceed local codes too.


So there you are, from a humble beach lean on a quiet island to a Manhattan skyscraper, with a few stops in between.

More entries are at: