Seattle Japanese Garden

Even when many people are walking its paths, the Seattle Japanese Garden invites a contemplative state of mind. A pond rests in its center and the placement of each element, whether built or growing, suggests deep care went into its design. Even the turtles seem thoughtful about how they arrange themselves to bask in the spring sun.

Turtle harmony in the park
Turtle harmony in the park

Most of the pond is cloudy today so it takes a few minutes to focus on the many koi who have taken up watery residence. I adore koi and am thrilled to see so many large fish – a foot or longer in length – that hang out for handouts. Visitors toss in anything resembling food and the pond roils with fishy mouths in a host of hues. The murky water creates a mysterious frame for these colorful lovelies.

Koi art
Koi art

When you have the time, one curling fern frond is as interesting as a tree loaded with blooms.

The grace of one frond
The grace of one frond
Bloom-a-rama!
Bloom-a-rama!

It seems that each angle of a spot in the garden has been considered.

Visual layers make me wish I could paint
Visual layers make me wish I could paint

I wonder why it’s taken us so long to wander this wonderful place. For Seattle, it is affordable and for once there is parking – probably because it’s early spring.

A bubbling brook (really!) feeds the pond
A bubbling brook (really!) feeds the pond

Surely the garden has been designed to enjoy in every season, so there is reason to return and wander more.

Amazing on a tiny scale
Amazing on a tiny scale
Amazing on a bigger scale
Amazing on a bigger scale
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Parting glimpses – a photo essay

Living on an island, especially a small one, requires a special commitment. A willingness to live without some conveniences while also living at some distance from what islanders call The Mainland and all of its distractions and stresses. A willingness to be tied to the pulse of ferry schedules and the cost of tickets, which change at the dictate of the ferry corporation, frequently enraging those who are fiercely devoted to their uniquely detached way of life. Years ago, I remember islanders protesting reductions in sailings and increases in fares by laying down in front of disembarking ferry traffic. Fortunately, no one was injured, though a few protest signs were damaged, and for the most part Canadian decorum prevailed. Today I look across Fulford Harbour, watching the ferry in the distance and a pair of swans in the foreground, who of course declined to be photographed.

Click on any photo to enlarge!

Fulford Harbour features one of three ferry terminals on Salt Spring
Fulford Harbour features one of three ferry terminals on Salt Spring
Garden of old homestead farm - Ruckle Park
Garden of old homestead farm – Ruckle Park

Coming to visit Salt Spring reveals a small slice of this life so treasured. That is, unless one is seized by island fever: that deep need to step on land that is not surrounded on all sides by water. Then the treasure is found on dry terra firma. But most are able to adapt by making forays off island to shop, visit and be entertained. These days, though, so much can be accomplished online and enjoyed on big screen TVs. However, the presence of spring lambs must be experienced in person.

The famous Salt Spring lambs
The famous Salt Spring lambs
Spring fruit blossoms brighten a grey day
Spring fruit blossoms brighten a grey day

The little Catholic church in Fulford is probably the most photographed church on the island. It was built in the late 1800s with building material delivered by canoes. It was years before I discovered that the faux stone façade was added in the 1970s, which solved the mystery of how the canoes could have carried all that stone! Hawaiians who adopted this new set of islands around 1850 helped build this church and some of their descendants still live on Salt Spring.

Salt Spring's oldest church, dedicated in 1885, with building materials brought by canoe.
Salt Spring’s oldest church, dedicated in 1885, with building materials brought by canoe.
My favorite church on the island, built around 1898 and still serving as a place of worship
My favorite church on the island, built around 1898 and still serving as a place of worship

I am always a little sad to leave, but now my heart enjoys the knowledge that I can and will return. Waiting for the ferry I see a solitary otter fishing in the shallow bay next to the Long Harbour terminal. He moves through the water like mercury, sliding and diving and bobbing. I enjoy him for long minutes, confident that I will never be able to catch his slick seagoing image on camera, save for a blur.

An otter was fishing in this bay as I was waiting for the ferry
An otter was fishing in this bay as I was waiting for the ferry

On the ferry deck, I feel the cold sea air bite into my hair and watch the island retreat. We pass a very small island with large pine trees. Tucked into the top branches are a pair of nesting bald eagles, their heads blazing white amid the deep green. Then, a few hundred feet away, a lone eagle flies out of the trees and lands on the rocky shoreline. All of this is, of course, too far away for a decent picture. I am not worried, though. I will be back, with my camera.

Bald eagle territory
Bald eagle territory
Big sky and big clouds offer a dramatic frame for the day
Big sky and big clouds offer a dramatic frame for the day
Final glimpse of an island before we reach Tsawwassen ferry terminal
Final glimpse of an island before we reach Tsawwassen ferry terminal

My favorite park on Salt Spring Island

A working heritage farm at Ruckle Park
A working heritage farm at Ruckle Park
The entrance to Ruckle Provincial Park features an immaculate heritage farm, with some homes still occupied by members of the Ruckle family. It is one of the only provincial parks I’ve visited that does not have a pay-to-park system. All parking is free.

The sights and sounds of the farm are rich. Cattle in the verdant fields, a pheasant in the distance, the ever-present ravens croaking in the trees, many song birds trill, an army of bees hum through the fruit trees and wait … what is that sound? Yup, it’s gobbling turkeys. The farm has a flock and the boys are feeling showy today, with tail plumes flaring while the hens call out their sweet and gentle sounds. A couple walks by just as a gobblefest breaks out and they dissolve into giggles. Domesticated turkeys are just plain funny.

The turkey hut, complete with real gobblers
The turkey hut, complete with real gobblers

The wind slips through fir branches as I leave the farm and follow the path to the shoreline, and a memory swirls into view. My grandma and I walking the same route in the 1980s came across a rather large fish smack in the middle of the path, some distance from the ocean. Hmmm. We looked around – no other people or fish. We looked up, way up and saw a rather large eagle looking down, way down at his lost meal lying blank-eyed before us. A raptor moment.

Even on a cloudy day, the view is stunning
Even on a cloudy day, the view is stunning

As I reach the shoreline, a quartet of Canada geese honk through the misty air, flying in their signature formation. Several benches are placed in view areas – one is dedicated to Mark, whose memory has inspired his loved ones to sponsor a bench in a timeless spot.

Mark's bench - a place of remembrance
Mark’s bench – a place of remembrance

Back at the heritage farm, I realize why the grass is such a luxurious green. Aside from the benefits of ample rain, the farm animals regularly visit the area and, ahem, enrich the soil. My shoes will carry home some extra special memories.

Along the path to the shoreline
Along the path to the shoreline
Salal in bloom on the path
Salal in bloom on the path

Stopping at the park’s farm stand, I hear a pheasant nearby so I sneak around a hedge clutching my camera. There he is, red head and slender, elegant tail, strutting along the edge of a plowed field. Alas, too far away for a good picture so I enjoy watching him add color to a dull day. I wrap up my visit with a sachet of lavender from the stand. On the way home, a doe trots across the lane and completes my personal wildlife landscape.

The forge - dating from the late 1800s
The forge – dating from the late 1800s
The old homestead, occupied until the 1960s - squint hard and you can see turkeys in the field!
The old homestead, occupied until the 1960s – squint hard and you can see turkeys in the field!
Visitors must keep a respectful distance from the turkeys
Visitors must keep a respectful distance from the turkeys

Scenic Ganges Harbour

Easter weekend signals the beginning of the always wonderful Saturday Market at Ganges, and the launch of tourist season on the island. People will arrive by ferry, by private boat, by seaplane. I’m glad to be wandering through Ganges just before the little town begins to absorb all of that activity. The walkway along the water reveals anchored tugs – great for a photo, even on a cloudy day.

Early April in Ganges Harbour
Early April in Ganges Harbour

It’s always fun to shoot the colorful Coast Guard boats – note the seaplane behind. I think about the bravery of the Coast Guard crews in this part of the world, intrepid in all kinds of extreme weather and seas.

The Coast Guard is stationed at Ganges.
The Coast Guard is stationed at Ganges.

A visit to the kayak rental store does not disappoint for a photo.

Colorful kayaks ready to launch.
Colorful kayaks ready to launch.

A visit to the local coffee company leaves me stumped – they won’t sell me a half pound of coffee. Only by the pound. Only on Salt Spring!

On the way home I stop off to admire more bicycle art. The mayor of London would love this place. He rides a bike to work and heavily promotes cycling. Much safer on this island than a teeming metropolis, I think!

And more bicycle art!
And more bicycle art!

Scenes along Tripp Road

Tripp Road runs alongside the west side of St. Mary’s Lake. It’s really more of a lane that eventually turns to gravel and dead ends in the forest. I’ve walked its length many times and today, after a few years’ absence, I’m a bit surprised that it’s changed very little. But this is Salt Spring, not the mainland, and things have their own pace and pattern here.

Bicycle art along Tripp Road
Bicycle art along Tripp Road

I’m breathing in the fragrances of spring, grateful that my genetics do not include pollen allergies. Bird song upholsters the air – robins, blackbirds, finches, wrens and more that I don’t recognize including a single-noted call that moves through the forest like a tuning fork, only more soulful. The mystery bird drops a key and sings, then moves back up a key and holds onto the note like an opera diva. Pure entertainment.

Blooms, glorious blooms!
Blooms, glorious blooms!

The lake pops into view between houses and trees, so calm and mellow today. Cars drive by, most drivers wave or nod hello. A bee crash lands in my hair (did I mention there are plenty of bees here?) momentarily distracting me from the view of Maple Ridge Cottages. The handful of rustic cottages look like they’ve been spruced up a bit and all but one has a car parked in front. Guests can wander down the grassy bank to a small pier on the lake.

Boat art along Tripp Road
Boat art along Tripp Road
Whether humble or grand, all homes enjoy the same view of the lake.
Whether humble or grand, all homes enjoy the same view of the lake.

On the way back, two cars pass me without slowing down and spray me with bits of gravel. Both have B.C. plates. So much, I say to myself, for that renowned Canadian politeness. I see a trillium lily and forget about bad road manners. The white petals are an elegant surprise among the ferns and other greenery.

The lovely trillium lily
The lovely trillium lily

Back at the house, I sit on the deck and think about the little yellow finch I saw earlier in the day as it took a pit stop on a nearby branch, its beak stuffed with nesting material. Glancing at the northern horizon, I can see part of the Coastal Range, the mountains that give Vancouver its world famous backdrop. Just before dusk, my sister and I watch the pair of yearling deer take a stroll in the front garden, nibbling on grass. The city, with its traffic and crowds, seems a faraway place.

The lake slips into the dusk
The lake slips into the dusk

Visitors to the garden

Hummingbirds pay their respects to newly opened blooms in the garden, a blur of color against the green grass. The ground-level garden is strategically planted to discourage foraging by the ubiquitous deer. Sometimes they don’t chew, sometimes they do. The signs in Salt Spring nurseries declaring a plant deer proof are to be taken with a generous grain of salt. Bumblebees trundle across the expansive deck that is furnished with large pots, anticipating a feast once new plants open more faces to the sun. There is no shortage of bees on this island, especially bumblebees, and I wonder if pervasive organic gardening is at least part of the reason. We are busy planting pots of flowers on the actually deer-proof deck – at least I am happily serving as gardener and my sister as master planner as she recovers from hip replacement surgery.

Nothing says spring like a bird house next to blooms!
Nothing says spring like a bird house next to blooms!

The day before, we had gathered up a bevy of potted lovelies at Thimble Nursery on the southerly side of the island, found at the end of a long, leisurely drive down a two-lane country road interspersed with farms set on rolling hills. Spring lambs in shades of cream, brown and black are a roadside delight in their pastures and I try to forget most of them will become delectable meals – island lamb is renowned for its flavor. At the nursery, a very mellow resident dog rambles up and leans against my leg with a sigh. He doesn’t move and as his warmth spreads into me, I imagine him saying, “Oh hi, I missed your leg so much.” I part company reluctantly – I could have sat down right there for a big hug.

I love the color of this hydrangea on the deck.
I love the color of this hydrangea on the deck.

On the way home from the nursery we stopped at a roadside stand to buy a large bag of donkey manure for 2 bucks. A deal, as cow manure at the nursery was $6. We need it to remediate the soil in the deck pots. I pop a toonie in the plastic yogurt container and heave on a bag. Nothing moves except my arm sockets. I set to dragging the bag to the car in stages, forcing my desk jockey body to obey. Once the deed is done, I am in the car, gasping and laughing with my sister, recalling days gone by when we were much more buff, able to haul around sundry items of heft.
The new kid on the deck - a lilac clematis.
The new kid on the deck – a lilac clematis.

This morning I am enjoying a cup of coffee with the last of my cherished hot-cross buns. They are among a collection of goodies that I cannot find in the U.S., including hermit cookies lush with nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, nuts and raisins; Spartan apples, rather like old-fashioned Macintosh but a bit firmer and crisper and grown here in B.C.; bread that is not loaded with salt and sugar; Eccles cakes; butter tarts and more. I make a mental note to be sure and bring home supplies to freeze as I take yet another photo of the lake’s many personalities.
The morning complexion of St. Mary's Lake.
The morning complexion of St. Mary’s Lake.

Returnings

I was walking a route I hadn’t travelled in four years, past impromptu gatherings of daffodils on the roadside, fences propping up creaky fruit trees, and bicycle art. The spring air still had a crisp feeling whenever I walked in the shadows, cloaked in the moistness of the nearby sea. I was back on Saltspring Island, visiting my sister and brother-in-law, who have returned after a few years in Vancouver, B.C. Though I had once considered making this special island my home, I have always been a visitor, happy once again to slip into a more relaxed pace for a few days.

St. Mary's Lake, Salt Spring Island, B.C.
St. Mary’s Lake, Salt Spring Island, B.C.

My sister’s place overlooks St. Mary’s Lake, which provides both a bucolic view and a water supply for nearby residents. While ravens croak along the treetops, eagles cruise the altitudes sailing past local hills and mountains. Today I heard a flock of Canada geese, those feathered wayfarers who seem to show up everywhere and yet still intrigue me. The robins here are fat and sassy, hopping through the garden in search of a morsel. Many different birds sing in the trees. Deer have a longstanding route around the house – last night we saw a pair of yearlings on the ridge out back, about 25 feet away.

Morning time means coffee in the living room, gazing out the large picture windows at the lake, listening to and watching all the wildlife, glad that this place exists and that my family has returned to it.

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)