Friday, August 28, 2009

We Visit the Kilns (but not C. S. Lewis's Home)

So, the next day (Wednesday), we started off with an amazing breakfast at our B&B that included one (okay, two) of the best scones I can remember having. We also, among other things, had an oddish fruit that was new to me: toad-skinned melon. By now we'd made ourselves at home, having discovered that our hosts were v. friendly in the matter of providing hot water for tea (and I drink a lot of tea) and also had their shelves stocked with interesting-looking books, including an Ogden Nash collection (in which I found one of my favorites, The Strange Case of the Girl of Mr. Spoonerson's Dreams), Jared Diamond's GUNS, GERMS, & STEEL (wh. Janice just finished reading on her Kindle), and BEES IN AMERICA: HOW THE HONEY BEE SHAPED AMERICA by Tammy Horn (turns out Amish bees aren't affected by Colony Collapse Disorder, or hadn't been by the time this book was written [2005]).

Afterwards, we went out and explored the farm a little, feeding the alpacas carrots (twice). Janice got sneezed on by an alpaca -- she thinks by accident; I wonder if instead of spitting, like camels, an annoyed alpaca sneezes instead. We also wandered over to watch the sheep for a while, saw some barn swallows (swooping in and out of the barn), and almost got to pet a small black snake, but he was a bit too quick for me. 

Our morning excursion took us up to the northern part of the island, where we visited English Camp. This is one of the two legacies of the so-called 'pig war' [circa 1859] between the British Empire on the one hand and the United States, in which the only casualty, luckily, was a hog owned by an English settler that got shot by an American squatter. The other relic, of course, is American Camp, which is located at the southern tip of the island. We both agreed that British Camp was a much more pleasant spot to actually live in, as the soldiers stationed here did for twelve years. There were some wonderful old trees, a re-created flower-garden (originally planted and maintained I think by officers' wives), a few (reconstructed?) buildings, and a telescope trained on an osprey's nest atop a distant tree. I got to see some AmeriCore workers; a first for me. A side-path led us to some strange contraption that was clearly some kind of weather device; I'll see if the photo we took of it comes out.  A walk up the hill led us to The Kaiser's Monument, erected in honor of Wilhelm the 1st, we mediated the US/UK dispute, eventually awarding the islands to the Americans.  I was glad no one had climbed up and toppled it during the Great War, when feelings in this country ran so high that it was actually illegal to play Beethoven (yes, the proud stupidity most recently expressed by "freedom fries" has a long and ignoble history). We also visited the encampment's cemetery, where seven British soldiers are buried (is there any country on earth where British soldiers haven't fought and died somewhere at some point during The Empire?), all of whom have tombstones, some of which told interesting stories (not always grammatically). The nearby sign says there are eight people buried here, with the eighth body being that of a civilian, but there's no marker or indication of who he or she might be.

Next, we drove over to Snug Harbor (more or less on the island's northwest corner), where Janice embarked on three hours of sea-kayaking (her second time in a month) while I drove back to Friday Harbor to explore a bit. Two best stops were at Harbor Books, where I picked up the fascinating-looking book MEETINGS WITH REMARKABLE TREES by Thomas Pakenham (I wonder if this is one of the famous Pakenhams, and thus a great-nephew or something of the sort to Lady Dunsany). And, somewhat to my regret, passed on the graphic novel THE RABBI'S CAT.*  Also, I stopped in at 'The Doctor's Office', a tea house/coffee shop in an old house overlooking the harbor right by the ferry dock that served hot tea and ice cream. It was an altogether satisfactory spot, and I regretted not having allowed myself more time to enjoy it. 

After meeting back up with Janice again, we drove down the west side of the island to the Lime Kiln lighthouse. The lighthouse itself -- another of the tiny Puget Sound lighthouses I was beginning to get familiar with by now (Mukilteo, Ft Casey, &c) was locked up, like so many historic buildings in San Juan Island's parks, but they did have a spot outside where you could listen to underwater sound from offshore. 

Next we walked along an uncomfortably high & narrow path leading north from the lighthouse to the Kiln -- basically a huge square brick oven in which they used to melt down limestone chips. There's still a noticeable white streak down the cliffs on that side of the island which we'd seen from the sea the day before, left behind by discarded lime. I would have liked to have carried away one of the discarded bricks piled nearby, but it Wouldn't Do. 

Retracing our steps (nervously, hugging the cliff, on my part), we then went on past the lighthouse a little further south (i.e., more or less in the middle of the island's west coast),to the whale-watching lookout. It was a peaceful spot, where we enjoyed watching one shy harbor seal appear and disappear among floating seaweed. After about forty-five minutes and still no whales, we decided to move one. Luckily, someone in the parking lot told us the whales were on their way, so we returned and took up our post again. And sure enough, not too long afterwards . . . 

Whales. Lots of whales. Many more than we'd seen the day before from the water, coming from roughly the same spot but moving in the opposite direction. The appeared from further out to sea to the left, coming in closer to the shore as they passing slowly to the right out of sight in the golden glare of the sun on the water. At least three whale-watching boats hovered around them (not too close) -- one of them v. probably the next day's cruise of the same one we'd been on twenty-four hours earlier, and another of which we thought was the Zodiac out of Victoria. They kept coming and kept coming, for a good forty-five minutes at least; by the time the last of them slipped by, all the whale-watching boats had departed and it was just a few of us left on the shore to enjoy the show, which only ended near twilight. They were so close we could hear them take each breath. Wonderful.

Just before it got dark we headed back to Friday Harbor for another try for the Syrian restaurant, only to find it closed yet again, and (since it was getting late) settled on another only minimally successful substitute.  And after that, it was back to the Inn, where there were yet more stars upon thars in the night sky. And then, sleep.

THURSDAY. Started with another fine, fine breakfast, with good food and good company among our chance fellow guests. There were scones again, but the other kind of scones (the ones that look like sweet biscuits, rather than the triangular kind of the day before) -- v. good indeed, but not as good as Janice's. After two more visits to feed the alpacas, we departed, highly gratified that our choice of lodgings turned out so well. 

We'd debated whether to take a mid-day ferry home, which meant we'd need to go directly to Friday Harbor but also would get home well before dark, or to take a later ferry home so we'd have more time on the island this final day but wd arrive back in Kent fairly late (the next day, Friday, being a working day for Janice). Eventually we decided we'd come to see the sights, so we might as well stay a while longer and see them. 

Accordingly, we drove down to  American Camp, at the island's SE corner. I rather amused the museum guard, I think, by actually reading all the informative posters and all the labels on the archeological relics in the glass cases. I was v. taken with his confirming our naturalist's report of the other day that this area had a lot of foxes (brought over to control the rabbits, which were brought over because somebody'd thought it was a good idea at the time). I regretfully said the foxes were probably pretty shy of humans and he said no, they knew that picnic-ers brought food and would sometimes come close enough to see what scraps might be in the offing. Some are red but others are black, and a few a muddled combination of the two colors.

Alas, despite my wishes we saw no foxes, but we did get to walk around the bare, windswept grassy plain that was once American Camp -- as Janice pointed out, you got a better view than at English Camp, but it'd be a fairly unpleasant place to stay month after month and year after year. It was high atop the cliffs because the Americans were (quite rightly) afraid of what guns aboard English ships could do, so they set their Engineer, a fellow named Roberts, to work building earthworks for gun emplacements near the post. The six cannon are long gone, but Roberts' Redoubt is there still.  It was amusing to learn that this forsaken little outpost was briefly home to not one but two famous officers. In addition to Roberts, who later wrote ROBERTS' RULES OF ORDER, the commander here was a Col. Pickett, made famous or infamous just four years later for Picket's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, having resigned his U.S. Army commission at the outbreak of the war and joined his fellow Confederates.**

After a walk down to and nice walk along the beach below American Camp (a nice sandy beach, not at all like the ones on Whidbey Island), on which I picked up a fairly odd shell, it was back to Friday Harbor one last time. After parking the car in line for the ferry, we went over to The Whale Museum, which I enjoyed but Janice found rather depressing, what with all its mounted skeletons and pickled dolphin fetuses on display. We'd heard from our naturalists two days before that a contest was underway to name baby whale #42 from K-pod. Janice came up with the I think inspired name "The Answer" (cf. THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY for the explanation why this is the answer to Life, The Universe, And Everything).  Alas, they simply had four pre-selected names for you to choose among. Too bad.  They did have an interesting  'sponsor a whale' program that we're going to look into; basically your contributions fund the whale-monitoring that constantly goes on. You could buy pictures of individual whales, but I didn't see a folder for sale of all the current whales.  The little film that showed in one corner of the museum had a fascinating bit about a gravelly beach where the killer whales like to rub on the gravel, rather like birds taking a dust bath. There was the story of Luna, who wandered off on his own and fell in love with people, and a great deal about the orcas captured in the Sound and shipped off to sea worlds and the like, a practice from I think the 50s through the 70s; only one captured whale is still alive, and people in the area are advocating for her release -- a forlorn hope, I suspect, but still a good cause.  I was more saddened to learn that the Sound had once been home to a pod of about a hundred other whale  (I forget which kind; minke whales, perhaps?. At any rate, ones not too much bigger than orcas or belugas), the entire pod of which was  wiped out, in I think 1907.  Alas for the massacres of the past, and the damage that can never be undone. Decimated populations can sometimes rebuild themselves, but once they're altogether gone -- like the recently (within the last ten years) Chinese River Dolphin -- there's no return.

My notes for the final part of our trip are sketchy, and this travel report has run quite long already, so I'll just add that we finally did get to eat at that Syrian restaurant, and it was indeed v. good.  After the Whale Museum we stopped at Doc's for ice creams and teas (chai for Janice).  Then it was time for the ferry ride, then the longish drive home down I-5. We got back home about ten o'clock, where we found the kitties reproachful that we'd been away but happy to welcome us back.

It was a great trip.

--John R.


*where the rabbi comes home one day to find the parrot's cage empty and the cat suddenly able to speak: it tells him the parrot had to leave. he said not to wait for him. To which the rabbi replies: my cat can speak -- but he lies!

**I picked up a little book on Pickett's career which confirmed the answer I'd come across second-hand to a question that'd bothered me for years: how did Pickett survive Pickett's Charge? The answer: he didn't charge himself; he stood at the Confederate line and urged them onward. I also learned that one of the very last acts Robert E. Lee did before surrendering at Appomattox was, the night before, to cashier Pickett for cowardice and incompetence during the retreat from Richmond.

1 comment:

Magister said...

You are correct in your guess regarding Thomas Pakenham. He is the 8th Earl of Longford, and his paternal grandmother was the sister of Beatrice, Lady Dunsany.