Corona-rona, bo-bona, Bonana-fana fo-fona, Fe-Fi-mo-mona, Corona!

In these strange times, it helps to remember all the things that make our lives wondrous and happy. And to do some of them. C’mon, you surely have the time!

Eat well. Make it more fun by challenging yourselves to use everything in your fridge and cupboards. Example: breakfast at Grampa’s Cafe today – a Frittata.

Eggs were very fresh, but all the veggies were near the edge

Spring cleaning? Depending on how much you procrastinated over the winter, this could eat up a lot of hostage time!

Washing the car. After a winter parked in the back lot, my truck had green algae “drips” running from every nook and cranny!

Blog. ‘Nuff said.

Power walking. Tired, but predictably satisfied.

Art. In any form. Share it. (see: Blog)

Write.

Sing. Maybe by yourself, ask your significant other for advice. The title above can give you a starting place.

Sounds counter-intuitive, but stay away from social media. Or at least read everything with a severely jaded eye. Be a detective, corroborate! After all, all of the world’s knowledge (credit: Brin and Page, Google) is at the end of that wire. Start with this post.

Read. That stack of “books for later” has your name all over it. And maybe the author’s.

What are you waiting for? Lastly, Tippy’s got one for you.

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Escape to Orcas

For my birthday we traveled up to Orcas Island, where my sister and Brother-in-Law maintain a vacation cottage.

We did this just ahead of the Washington state-wide advisory not to travel needlessly, which I thought was pretty fortuitous, until Governor Newsom of California banned seniors from leaving their houses. My sis, a senior, whose normal residence is in San Diego, would have fallen under Gavin’s mandate had she not, just the day before, escaped to Washington for a planned Spring Cleaning of the cottage. These upside-down times have a senior escaping to a “hot zone” to gain her freedom. You can’t make this stuff up.

We were rewarded with a beautiful, but cold, sunny day, something in very short order lately in the Pacific Northwest. These sunny winter days provide some of the best scenery to be had in these parts, and it’s a big reason why we live here. The ferry gliding into the landing on flat water, and the pre-dawn shots from the front of the cottage give you just a wee taste of it.

Our ferry ride over was as empty as I have ever seen it, and the Island felt deserted too. Winter has something to do with that, I suppose.

The beach in front of the cottage is rocky, not sandy, and sheltered. This makes it one of the best beaches I’ve ever seen for sea glass hunting. It gets just enough churn through the tides and chop to bring tons to the surface. My sister is especially tickled to find “letter glass”, pieces of bottles or other stuff that has readable letters in it. Jeff, my brother-in-law, found Christ on that beach, literally. Printed right there what might pass for a large piece of a Brew Growler. I’m sticking with that story, by the way.

Finding Christ on the beach!
Some of the sea glass we found in only 1 hour

The cottage yard is decorated in “everything floaty”. Driftwood pieces, old boats, net floats, etc. On the beach today was a very large, rusted out buoy that once was used to support a log-boom breakwater. She had her eye on it, and a caper had been hatched to snatch it from the jaws of the ocean.  It’s a good idea, when possible, to get this stuff out of the water so it doesn’t end up floating out into the channel and killing some small sport boat that doesn’t happen to see it. Once towed up onto dry land and emptied of its floating core, it will be placed in a deserving spot in her landscape. Too bad I won’t be staying long enough to see that project through! I did, however, help the BIL to get a float and rope attached so he could come back the next day with his boat to tow it over to the marina launch facility, where the boat hoist can grab it to put it on his trailer. Future story spoiler: there is a twin to this one still floating off their beach, attached to the last rotting piece of the log boom.

For my birthday dinner, we visited the Orcas Hotel (www.orcashotel.com), right at the ferry landing. It has been there practically forever and now has new owners, Julia and John, who are both chefs. They are refurbishing the grand dining room, but graciously offered us a table in their small café coupled with some gourmet dining. If this is a small sample of what they will be offering in the finished restaurant, we are in for some very fine times on the island in the future. Fabulous! They have cleverly created an intimate “dining special” that includes a four-course meal and a bottle of wine in a private room, for $100. Great people, great chefs, great creativity.

On our return trip, we saw something I’ve never seen from off a ferry vessel (it has happened a couple of times while I’m on the boat). A full emergency stop by the Samish enroute from Anacortes to Friday harbor. No explanation given, just a full-reverse dead stop as she was passing us. Those things are big, and it’s impressive how short of a distance they can bring them to a halt! I’m going to guess the captain had suspected they might have run over a crab pot line and he was taking action to clear the line from the shafts before it could do any damage. Just a guess. It was underway shortly after that.

I love winter in the Islands. I would encourage anyone to take a day or two up there, and to enjoy the raw nature. Treat yourself to a nice dinner and bottle of wine with our new friends at the Orcas Hotel (I had the bacon-wrapped venison meatloaf, yum!), do some shopping in Eastsound, maybe get a cottage out at West Beach Resort (www.westbeachresort.com). This is the time of the year you can actually get a reservation! You won’t regret it. And neither would Tippy!

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Jones Island Tiny Deer? Fairies? Really?

Yikes! It’s been over a year since the last post. How time gets away when you turn your head.

Well, to say the least, we’ve been busy. Yes, in 2019 we made a few trips in the trailer, went to some fun spots. Did our usual Mother’s Day trip to Deception Pass, and all that. And we have plans for 2020, and it’s likely that some of that will make its way into a post.

But this post celebrates a new “chapter” (pardon the pun, or don’t) in the Muddscape. I’m already a published author, even if it’s just a short E-Book, on Amazon. But I had the opportunity to finally get a children’s book into print early this year, with the help of my 4 year old granddaughter, Samara.

She’s quite the artist. Given enough paper and ink, she will eventually cover the face of the earth. She got a ream of copy paper for Christmas, and went through more than ½ of it that very day. While she loves to draw almost anything, she is particularly fond of drawing fairies, princesses, and queens. It’s a 4-year-old thing, I’m sure, but she tends to just grab pen and paper and become a high-speed “fairy mill”, with one drawing barely floating to the ground while she starts another one.

A Storm of Fairies, Princesses and Queens

I wondered what it would be like for her to have some direction, or focus, for an art project. So I suggested “Sam, if I write a short story, would you draw the pictures for it?” I knew just the story, one I have told countless times. I tell it when we are on vacation in the San Juan Islands, and make our annual day trip to Jones Island, a small island that is also a Washington State Park. Jones Island is home to a herd of tiny deer, the only ones I’ve ever seen.

When we all boat over to the island for a picnic, we have a short walk through a forest to get to the beach. Of course, the young ones all want to know the story of how the deer came to be tiny, and over the years my story of the magic fairies in the trees enchanting them has become one of their favorites. It doesn’t take long on our walk for the kiddos to start seeing them, sparkling and shiny, flitting through the trees and ferns.

I wrote all this down, stapled together like a book, and gave it to her. Her mom, Rachel, offered a little assistance with some deer drawings, and Sam took off like Bob Ross. In about 2 hours, she had the whole story illustrated. It was beautiful! I thought, “This would look great as a hard bound book, and a great gift for Sam!” and that got me started. I quickly found there are dozens of self-publishing websites that will print a single copy of a book for you. In that process, I also found that I had forgotten I already had a publisher, Kindle Direct Press, which could do the same thing for me. One thing led to another, and before long, Sam was a published Illustrator. At 4 years old, this is not only quite an accomplishment, it’s a very good demonstration of the true Superpower of our great country: the ability for a 4 year old to become an entrepreneur by utilizing a talent and effort to accomplish a purpose. I’m inspired!

So inspired that I now have 3 publishers. One, Bookemon.com, will produce hard-cover or paperback in a large format, and also list the book on Amazon. Kindle Direct Press, a division of Amazon, will only produce paperbacks, and in a smaller format. The third, IngramSpark.com, will produce the book in both hard cover and paperback, for distribution to retailers, bookstores, and libraries at wholesale costs in case lots of 134 books each. Next month, their Children’s Book Catalog will be issued that has our book, and I’m very interested to see if we get any traction on that. For now, it looks like Amazon is the outlet for the paperback, and Bookemon/Amazon for the hardcover (which is pretty darn expensive at $32 for single print orders!).

Grandma Wendy got into the act too, becoming our Marketing and Press Agent. She came up with this cool promotional idea, and is on the cusp of deploying it. We have a local toy store that is her first target.

Who knows? Maybe there is a Jones Island book signing in our future!

And, as always, h e e e e r ‘ s Tippy!

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Make 2019 a Great Year!

We had a great year, with our new trailer and all the great camping with family. We are grateful for the blessings bestowed upon us, and wish all of you a fantastic New Year! Stay tuned for even more Muddscape adventures in 2019!

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Kid Camping Paradise – Belfair State Park

We wound up the summer trailer camping season at Belfair State Park, at the tip of the Hood Canal. Wanting to explore more of this area, and feast on some of the yummy oysters from Hamma Hamma, the closeness of this park and the availability (last one left!) of a site for our rig was perfect for what we call a “2 Nighter”, leaving work at 5PM on Saturday and arriving before sundown to get set up. That schedule makes for a longer Saturday, but gives us a full Sunday and a healthy part of Monday to explore, making it feel somewhat like a 3 day weekend.

Belfair SP Google Map

About 2 hours (on a Saturday evening), we arrived right at 7PM and were enjoying a great little camp fire as I grilled burgers by 7:30. The sites are a little cramped (this campground heavily favors tent camping), but they have full hookups, while many State Parks are electricity and water only, and the utilities are recent and modern. We easily fit into the 70′ deep site, with a nice private campfire area at the back, but the maneuvering to get into the space was challenging. Next time we’ll shoot for one of the pull-thru sites, although I did like the privacy of ours.

There is a huge playground area on the north side of the park, with easy access to the beach along the canal to the east. The playground has a large play structure, climbing structures, swings, and large bathrooms with plenty of picnic tables and barbeques. When we visited there weren’t many families because school was back in session, but we found ample evidence that our site had recently been inhabited by a whimsical family. They left some painted rocks (camp fairies) that we discovered on the ground and tucked into a tree.

It was 2010 the last time we went anywhere near this part of the Hood Canal, and at that time we visited Hama Hama Oyster Company, a small retail store located on the oyster farm at the outlet of the Hamma Hamma River. I don’t have a clue as to the difference in spelling, but the oysters couldn’t care less. These are the tastiest I have ever had, hands down my favorites. I think it has something to do with the right mix of fresh water flowing into the saltwater right over the beds themselves, imparting a sweetness that is just perfect with the natural saltiness.

In 2014 they added the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon, a restaurant that serves up raw and cooked oysters fresh from the farm, other seafood (as available), and local craft beers and wines. Even though it was an hour drive to get there, we added the Saloon as a stop to our exploring and made a late lunch out of a few dozen raw and baked oysters.

The Saloon has transformed this small store into a destination, with license plates from Oregon readily apparent on a beautiful Sunday, including the one on this totally cool 1928 Bentley Sportster. I’m an “LBC” (Little British Car) fan, owning a 1968 MG Midget, but this tops anything I would ever hope to have, especially within my budget. I couldn’t find a reliable value for this online, but I would have to start my guess well into 6 figures. It is, after all, a Bentley.

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Totally Cool 1928 Bentley Sportster

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Warren’s 1968 MG Midget, a whole different price range!

The entire Hood Canal is prime shellfish country, and Belfair State Park is no exception. It’s considered one of the best oystering beaches in Washington, and there is ample evidence that campers and visitors here have harvested plenty, because the harvest rules call for shucking your catch on the beach and leaving the shells behind. I’m guessing many are also bringing along a picnic basket and making the whole affair a feast. We didn’t jump into our boots and head out with a bucket to pick any, but our stop at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon made up for it.

Our take on Belfair State Park: a nice stop, with a very clean park and plenty of amenities for the kids. Like other Washington State Parks, it books up solid for the summer, so make your plans, and take Tippy’s advice!

WA SP Reservations

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Stepping Out Onto a Ledge

If you like a view, expansive and inspiring, then the hike to Rattlesnake Ledge will do it.

The Ledge

This view is from the parking lot to the Ledge at the arrow point.

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On a day without traffic, just 45 minutes east of Seattle to the parking lot

We were looking for a short day hike over Labor Day weekend, and The Ledge came highly recommended. “It’s not too terribly steep, not too terribly long, but definitely crowded” paraphrases most of the commentary. And indeed, virtually every trail guide we researched said the same thing. Rattlesnake Ledge is, according to almost every source I found, the most heavily hiked trail in all of Washington State. Since we had the luxury of hiking on either the holiday, or the day after, we opted for an early Tuesday morning start. This paid off nicely. As you can see, the trail starts out wide, but can get a little narrow.

We arrived at the ample parking lot near the trail head at 8AM, with our choice of every parking spot but one. We took a short walk to the bathrooms, and when we returned a few minutes later there were already 10 or so more cars there. Better get started! So off we trekked. The trail head is a short walk from the parking lot, and has plenty of bathroom space available, testimony to the heavy usage.

It’s about 2 miles to the Ledge, with the trail winding back and forth up the front of the mountain in 4 large switchbacks. The first half is mildly challenging, but it just leads you to the much steeper second half, which was quite a huffer. You get some peeks through the trees back down to Rattlesnake Lake where you started, but very quickly loose sight of the monster cliff you are hiking. My mind wandered from “This isn’t so tough” early on, to “Geez, I wonder where the top went?” in the middle, to “Holy crap, when is this going to end?”. But, all of a sudden, there we were! And everyone was right, the view is spectacular!

What nobody mentioned is that you also get spectacular cell phone reception from the top. So, while you were struggling up the front side of the cliff, you phone was also struggling to get reception. But once you break out on top, all the emails, texts, phone messages, and everything else that makes a beep, come flooding in. It sounds like a carnival on top with everyone’s phone dinging and chirping away. And of course, when one dings, everyone reaches for theirs!

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From no bars to 4 bars in 50 steps – ding ding ding ding ding ding

You would think a place named Rattlesnake anything would be crawling with the vipers. But, and I’ve been told this many times, there apparently aren’t any rattlesnakes west of the Cascades. I’m not a total believer in this, understand. Even so, the closest we came to any kind of snake was this tree root.

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The trail is very scenic, but also pretty rustic. Lots of tree roots (we call them toe killers), rocks, some washed-out places, and lots of general wear-and-tear. I always remind myself to look up and see the beauty around me (including my lovely bride, which is going to buy me a lot of points!). This gets easier when you have to stop a lot to get your breath. Unfortunately, we still had quite a bit of wild fire smoke in the view, and this doesn’t help with the breath-catching either. This view can only improve as that smoke goes away.

We highly recommend this hike. It’s kinda steep in many places, so if you have bad knees you will pay for it going up and coming down. But if you take your time, this is a high effort, high reward deal. And Tippy agrees!

Rattlesnake Ledge

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A Whale of a Tale

The title this time refers mostly to the sheer size of this post. It was a busy month, with most of the action crammed into a single week. But, I promise, whales will also make an appearance!

Our annual summer trek to Orcas Island took us again to West Beach Resort. We’ve been coming to WBR on and off (mostly on) since 1994. We just haven’t found anything else in the Pacific Northwest that compares for adult relaxation, kid fun, water access, rustic but comfortable accommodations, proximity to tons of things to do, and a great summer cool-off near the ocean. So, back we go year after year.

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Campfires, Family, and the best sunsets in the San Juans keep us coming back

In all our years of enjoying this magical spot, we have never (read: zero times) seen Orcas off the beach. But this year we were relaxing in the rustic Adirondack chairs along the beach and I noticed the Victoria Clipper coming around the point at the end of the bay. Odd, I think, since the usual route for this Seattle to Victoria BC boat is far to the west. But then I realize that they also claim you can whale watch on your transit, and at the same time I see a few other whale-watching boats following along. Where there are whale-watching boats, there must be whales. And there they were! It’s difficult to get a good photo from so far out. Even at our distance, it was pretty stunning. The cry of “Whales!” got everybody out of their cabins. What a great place.

Orca Sighting

Some details may be exaggerated to aid in illustration

Fast friends

One of the great things about West Beach is that it’s really hard to get a reservation. Why, you say, is this so great? When you rent a cabin for the week, you get an automatic first-right-of-refusal to reserve the same cabin for the same week next year. As a result, the same families come back year after year, sometimes (like us) for decades. We have friends from WBR that date back to the 90’s, and have watched their kids grow up, and even a few of their grandkids show up too. Our kids and grandkids have made friendships there that get renewed every summer, and last seemingly forever. This year was no different, and this motley crew can look forward to many future summers together. Great, right?

The Best Boat Ever

Anyone who has ever owned a boat will tell you, the best boat ever belongs to somebody else. We recently sold our boat to make room for a travel trailer, which we are using much more than we ever did the boat. But that left us with a hole in the water that was unfilled at the West Beach Resort dock. Not willing to sacrifice all the fun things a boat can deliver, we gladly accepted my sister’s offer of their newly acquired Parker outboard, Doogie (see the earlier blog How’s Your Doogie). It was perfect for our group, with plenty of room for our island hopping. This year we hopped to Jones Island (a nearly annual deal), and again to Suchia Island, which has Fox Bay, a totally cool spot at low tide, and the fossil cliffs, with real fossils. It also has some great beach glass hunting.

We usually travel to West Beach Resort in 2 “shifts”. Wendy and I take the earlier departure so we can pick up the boat and do some shopping for groceries, check into one of the cabins, and just generally get set for the arrival of the grandkids. This year, we felt the trip got off to a super start when we ended up in the front row of the ferry, on the bottom level, assuring us to be the first off the ferry. This might not sound too astounding to those of you who haven’t yet traveled a summer schedule San Juan Islands ferry, but not having to wait behind all of that ferry traffic on the 2 lane road on Orcas is pretty nice! Every ferry has a No. 1 end and a No. 2 end, and I was strangely relieved to see that we were NOT in No. 2!

A Fistful of Firsts

This year our trip included a first: grandson Dylan, from Los Angeles and just recently turned 9, came along. It was quite a treat for us; we’ve been trying for a couple of years to get him to come. Getting here was no easy feat. His Mom and Dad accompanied him up from his home in LA, combining the flight with a few days of family visit with family in Seattle. “Launch Day”, departure for the ferry that would take us to The Rock, as Orcas is known to the locals, was Saturday July 21. There is, at least, a majority of enthusiasm as the three youngest settle into the rear seat of Aunt Rachel’s SUV. And thank God we have a ton of space in the pickup. It takes a lot of toys and stuff to make the best of our week!

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This trip also included a fistful of firsts for Dylan. From these, the reader can also get a good idea of the variety of fun things to do we find for our week in the sun.

This was Dylan’s first week away from home and his parents, kind of like a giant sleep-away camp. His older brother, Brandon, has been going to sleep-away camp for years, but Dylan, 6 years younger, hasn’t yet started. So this was a good opportunity for him to develop some camp skills.

It was also his first time driving a boat, something he thoroughly enjoyed, and took to quite naturally. Not just the driving, but the handling at dockside, and the general activities of a good Deckhand.

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It was his first time to the top of Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands. The view from there is literally breathtaking. A stone lookout “fortress” was built in the 1940’s as a way to put locals to work, and to preserve a piece of wonder for future generations. There is a small vendor in the parking lot, Sugar on Top, which dispenses Lopez Island Ice Cream, our favorite, out of a vintage Airstream trailer.

Fishing rod: $39; hot dog bait: $.04; trip to Orcas where the fishing pier is: $5,600; catching your first fish: Priceless!

Dylan immediately picked up the skills of setting and retrieving a crab pot. Although it was another first for him, he quickly assumed the job of Deck Boss, running a crew of younger enthusiasts in the “fetching of the pots” that would bring us a bunch of fresh crab for dinner.

In a stroke of great coincidence, the family in the cabin between our two hails from Los Angeles. Their son, Ethan, is 10, just about Dylan’s age. He plays the same sports, and lives just a short distance away. They immediately bonded, and it turns out they have continued their friendship at home. Ethan’s folks, Ira and Tamara, offered to chaperone Dylan up next year! What a great place.

Birdwatching up Close and Personal

We rent 2 beachfront cabins at WBR, and upon check in we discovered that a family of swallows had nested up above the front door of one, with 3 teeny chicks poking their heads up every time Mom or Dad came flying in with more food. Swallow chicks know not to “foul the nest”, so they hang their butts over the side of the mud nest to poop. This put the front door squarely on target, so we fashioned a redneck poop deflector out of a Jimmy Dean sausage carton. Resort management offered to replace it with something a little more architecturally pleasing.

We did a little research and discovered that once the chicks fledge (get their feathers), they are out of the nest in about 7 days. These chicks were covered with feathers when we arrived, and we believe that at least one of them, whom we nicknamed Bubba because of his prodigious size difference, had gone before we did.

Our first Wildlife Rescue

On the last day, with time for using the boat running out, a camp neighbor informs me that a Harbor Seal pup has taken up residence on the rear of the boat. This is pretty normal for mother seals to park a new pup somewhere safe while she goes fishing for a couple of hours. She will regularly return to nurse the pup, and either leave it there while going out to fish again, or relocate it somewhere else if it doesn’t look quiet and safe. We took a peek, and being unable to determine if the pup was sleeping or sick, we had the reception desk call a local wildlife rescue service, Sea Docs, to come and have a look. It’s not necessarily legal, or smart, or kind to just boot a baby seal off of your boat, but we needed to get the boat back to my brother in law, Jeff, who had loaned it to us, so the pup had to go somewhere. The rescue team arrived quickly, and produced quite a spectacle for the resort guests as the biologist and her aides tended to the pup, a 10 day old female which turned out to be just napping. She got a full inspection, had her measurements taken, was “tagged” with a small triangular block of wood with her number, B9, on it, used for reporting her whereabouts back to Sea Docs if she is seen. They then relocated her down the beach where it was much quieter, and her mom could easily find her. The rescue team were very nice, allowing the kids watching to come up a couple at a time to discuss the pup before she was taken away.

Speaking of firsts, Grandma Wendy and Dylan both stood up on a paddle board for their first solo! Dylan is shown here piloting one of the boards during the Great Paddle Board Water Wars on Cascade Lake. And Grandma Wendy made the big voyage “around the point” to Beach Haven up the coast.

Toward the end of the week, we have traditionally had a giant water balloon fight, and this trip was no exception. Hundreds of water grenades were deployed, completely filling a small inflatable pool.

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There is a family of Bald Eagles that nests just north of West Beach. The patriarch, Walter, made his usual early morning visit down to say hi as I sat in my morning Adirondack chair with my coffee, binoculars, and camera. While I was still in the shade, Walter was full-sun-on at the top of his tree just over my shoulder.

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Friends, Family, Fun, Firsts, where do we even start to describe it all. You have to see it to believe it.

And, of course, we never leave Tippy behind!

West Beach Resort

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