Being Away on Lopez

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Day 1 (not counting driving up here)

It’s been a really lovely day. The sun’s shone, the light has been really stunning. It’s been a really wonderful introduction to Lopez Island.

The pandemic has made holidays a bit fraught, the concept of going somewhere – anywhere – away from home brings with it ideas about whether we should be doing that, can we do that safely, is it fair on the people in the area we’re going to?

But with the evidence about vaccination, with our general carefulness, it felt reasonable to take the punt on actually getting away. Initially we looked at Canada – hoping to scoot up to one of the islands that form part of the group that are part US – San Juan, and part Canadian. We thought we’d be hopping off the coast of Vancouver to an island.

But the pandemic had other ideas, and our five day vacation would require a plan for a 14 day quarantine stay – at the whim of a border guard. Being vaccinated we would most likely be exempt from that requirement, but we weren’t willing to take a punt on the border guard not having a good day and declaring that we needed to hide out for fourteen days when we’d both just booked off five. So we cancelled our rental and remade plans.

Disappointment at the time has become delight at being here. The century old farmhouse – is what looks like it was once a foursquare (apparently, though, its construction is peculiar to the island and is “frameless”, with a hip roof – both thing that one particular builder seems to have done). Despite a first – very cold – night, the heater seems to have manged to get the temperature up to something reasonable today, especially with the addition of the log stove in the lounge. Kathryn posited that maybe they didn’t have anyone staying just before us, so the house had got cold…

…which seems like a pretty reasonable thought. But it was bloody cold yesterday – and this morning.

Today I did my run – I’m on day 16 of running and core muscles exercises. Hell if I know whether it might finally stick after fortysome years of intermittently trying. But I’m working at it. Then after breakfast and a fairly relaxed morning we went to find Lopez Hill. The leaflet isn’t… entirely clear about where the parking is for the walk. Or it is, but the design of the leaflet kind of obscures that. So… we did some impromptu off-roading. Well, somewhat.

The leaflet says it’s down an unmaintained country road. And we chose the wrong unmaintained country road. Having got to a point where I looked at it and thought that we would struggle to get our two-wheel drive faux SUV over the large rock in the road, we turned around and made our way out and then realized that it was the correct road – but the wrong end of it. Having navigated around to the other end we made our way into the nature reserve and meandered around through some wonderfully peaceful woodland.

A stop for lunch at Vortex, and coffee at Isabelle’s Espresso, and then we mosied down the northernmost spit – another Friends of Lopez park – where we were met by the remnants of many of the reef-net fishing boats. The sea was wonderfully peaceful and clear… and just… Getting some time to just be quiet and listen to the world is exactly what I needed right now.

We spent some time absorbing the sounds of the sea washing up against the beach, and some more time poking around the slowly disintegrating remnants of the reef-net fishing boats which are pulled up on the shore and more and more becoming part of the shore.

Finally, and unsurprisingly, we headed to the bookshop ‘on the way’ home. The bookshop here is astonishingly well stocked for such a tiny island, and we walked away with… more books than perhaps we expected. Ah well, we can always build more shelves.

Day 2

We pretty much always attempt to get at least one day away from the car. Not that I mind driving, I actually like driving, it can be fun and can give me space and time to think. But when we’re away, particularly on a trip like this that’s got a fairly long (by British standards) trip to get here (add in that the ferry across to Lopez Island, this being COVID times we just stayed in the car). Side thought: this is going to be a pretty well documented experience of pandemic times. And human’s stupidity around pandemics.

Anyhow, so Day two was assigned the avoid driving day. We planned ahead the previous day making sure to grab stuff for lunch and dinner, and stuff for the day after. We, as usual, had a fairly relaxed holiday morning, munching on granola from home and local greek yoghurt – which incidentally was much better than the local greek yoghurt we get in Oly. We need to persuade our local coop to stock it because it’s actually greek like in its creamyness, unlike the stuff we can get normally which is greekish in terms of flavour, but the texture is entirely wrong.

We started off following the directions given by the house’s owner, which indicated a fairly simple walk to Chadwick Hill (which was apparently formerly known as Moar’s Mountain (or something like that – I forget, we saw the name at the Museum the next day but I forgot to write it down. It was previously named after the woman who lived at the base of the cliff face, in what was once a settlement there, but which has now pretty much disappeared. The only evidence we saw was the remnants of a car sticking up from the ground).

Anyhow, that walk didn’t entirely go as planned, in so far as the map indicated one fairly clear trail through the woods up to the highest point, at which we were promised views across to Mount Baker. Unfortunately (and I say unfortunately, it was a very pleasant walk all the same), it turned out that the woodland we were walking through contained many, many trails. None of which were signposted.

And it’s a small island so we were happy meandering and just vaguely heading in the direction that we thought we should… only… we emerged about an hour and a half later on the same path that we’d used to come in to the woodland. Having accepted the damning endightment of our navigational abilities, we chose instead to continue our walk down to Watmaugh Bay. Knowing that the weather was going to get less good as the evening wore on, we pootled onwards, spending some time watching the sea and the birds of prey that are so common here.

Eventually hunger and tired feet got the better of us and we headed back to cuddle up avoiding the weather and enjoying a toasty warm fire. I even broke out my somewhat rusty wood-chopping skills to split some (already part split) logs. The first day’s fire had been a bit of a failure because the last occupants didn’t bring in any kindling. I’d hoped, since the wood was clearly very dry, that we might be able to get the fire going anyway, but it didn’t work. It turned out that the owners of the house keep kindling in the woodshed (it’s in the instructions, obviously), and having pulled a few bits in the fire lit really easily.

A few rounds of Haggis and Hive as the weather became somewhat inclement, and lots of cuddling up on the sofa.

Day 3

Our day three plan took us out for more walking around the western side of the island, after a bit of time exploring the corporate centre ;)

We wanted to grab some more of the Lopex island wine that we’d bought the first day – a bottle to take home and some as a gift. While we could have headed up to the winery (which is an actual grow their own grapes kind of winery – a lot of the north-western ones are really making wine from grapes grown in the East of the WA), it’s…COVID time. So we didn’t really want to go hang out tasting wines somewhere. Instead we just headed to a local store and grabbed some, the other plan being to grab some of the pasta we’d bought the first day (which was really yummy).

Unfortuately, this second grocery didn’t carry the pasta ( but we grabbed the wine. We also treated ourselves to…treats. Holly B’s bakery providing some lovely Almond Butterhorns, as well as croissants for our Day 4 breakfast. We also checked out the “mall” – which is the local dump’s take-it-or-leave-it section. Separating out reausable things for local folks to grab rather than sending them to landfill.

Unsurprisingly we came away with…books. I nearly grabbed a network switch, but annoyingly couldn’t find the power supply. And while I could just buy a power supply from what I can find the cost of a power supply is essentially the same as the cost of a cheap switch these days. Since both the one I have at home (which has a British power supply) and this one were both cheap switches, it seemed a little pointless.

It was interesting to have a nose around tho’

We also saw a shop where they make really beautiful handmade knives from a variety of woods – downed madronas or woods sent from their friends around the world. We’re actually tempted to get a replacement for our most used kitchen knife which is, disappointingly a not-quite-the-cheapest ikea 365 knife. The handle on that has been disintegrating for years, and being as it was sharpened using the modern technique, not the old school two sharpened edges coming to a point (I recall reading about the fancy modern sharpening shape which doesn’t hone to sharpness so easily in a home sharpening doohicky), so the idea of replacing it with a really nice knife is quite appealing.

Then we took ourselves out to Shark Reef Park (a mile long walk out to a beautiful view of the ocean). Perching on the rocks at the end of the walk we watched seals ungainly ascent of the reef a little ways out through binoculars. Incredibly, Kathryn remembered to bring binoculars and remembered to bring them on the walk. A previously unheard of level of binocular remembering. I’d take credit, but I had nothing to do with it.

Shark Reef Park, incidentally, is entertainingly named because you can’t actually see Shark Reef from it, the view is blocked by another reef…

After that we meandered down to what was, I think, my favourite walk of the holiday. Iceberg Point. The views were just wonderful, and the sounds of the sea crashing against the rocks was soothing. We meandered out along the wooded inland path, getting to see rare flowers that grow only in these specific environments – a wild orchid – called a Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) and a flower called a Satin Flower (Olsyeum Douglasii). Up on the coast is a marker for a 1908 treaty with Canada regarding the location of the border – it’s indicates where the country border changes direction out in the sea…

The little white obelisk kind of reminded me of the OS markings up in the mountains in the lakes.

Anyway, it was just a peaceful and delightful day.

After some solid walking we headed to the village to get some fud – our first and second plans were foiled by COVID making one place which looked full but might have had space…being quite full. A lot of people were eating in a fairly confined outdoor space. A lot.

The second place we hoped had outdoor seating, which it does, but it wasn’t open at this point in the year…and we weren’t up for eating indoors.

So instead we had pizza…only we didn’t, because they had run out of dough. But instead they had a polenta bake with whatever pizza toppings we wanted. This turned out to be very nice, and the last remannts we had as breakfast along with our croissants the next day…

Day 4

The final morning was spent cleaning up the house. The requirements were incredibly minimal but we wiped things down anyway, and I put together a fire so the next occupants can just light it. We woke to a weather warning – starting at midday. Our ferry’s planned sailing being 12:45 (although we’re only just on it now at 12:50, so I’m guessing the choppy waters and higher than normal winds have delayed things a little.

We took a quick turn around a gallery before heading over, doing our usual art buying (don’t we sound fancy – but it’s pretty common for us to find something that we love from a holiday and bring it back, be it a painting or a bowl). This time it was a very cute painting of a little group of sheep. We might also get a knife made – there’s a place on Lopez island called Skarpari where they make some truly beautiful kitchen knives.

And our kitchen knives are mainly garbage – as I mentioned back in Day 3. So that would probably also count as art.

Photos are here:


Kate's allegedly a human (although increasingly right-wing bigots would say otherwise). She's definitely not a vampire, despite what some other people claim. She's also mostly built out of spite and overcoming oppositional-sexism, racism, and other random bullshit. So she's either a human or a lizard in disguise sent to destroy all of humanity. Either way, she's here to reassure that it's all fine.