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Monday, September 2, 2019

Resurrecting the Western Flyer

The Western Flyer  - John Steinbeck's escape into environmental science

The shipyard next to Boat Haven Marina in Port Townsend is a health and fitness clinic for big boats. The Hawaiian Chieftan sits on drydock. Rumor has it that Pete Townsend’s yacht comes in for check-ups. Big cabin cruisers, a shiny  sky-blue 80 foot sailing yacht, a ginormous rusty metal fishing boat all scatter the boatyard. The star of the show these days, however, is the Western Flyer.

This eighty foot wooden former sardine fishing vessel, originally named the Gemini, was the home of authorJohn Steinbeck and biologist Ed Rickerts back in 1940 when they embarked on their 4-month long journey documented in the book Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research. The boat itself is an historic artifact—a symbol of adventure, freedom, camaraderie, or perhaps even refuge for John Steinbeck, who was at the time under public attack for his novel Grapes of Wrath and it’s depiction of America during the depression.

Steinbeck and  Rickerts hired Anton "Tony" Berry and his fishing vessel. Once in the Sea of Cortez, habitat to an unmatched collection of sea flora and fauna, Steinbeck’s attention was fastened to what he saw. He documented the unqualified inter-dependence of sea-life, unwittingly writing the first supplementary textbook for the study of ecology. The book documents the scientific findings and tells the story through Steinbeck’s narrative.

Built in 1937 as a purse seiner, the Western Flyer, first fished for sardines out of Monterey Bay. After the epic journey documented in the book it returned to Monterey and continued sardine fishing until the early 50’s when it went to Alaska as a fishing vessel. In the 60’s it fished in northwest waters, then caught crabs in the 70’s. It changed hands several times during the next few decades ending up in Anacortes where it hauled salmon to canneries.

In 2013 it was salvaged from the dregs of Puget Sound where it had sunk twice during the previous winter. Several entrepreneurs made plans to revive it for moneymaking purposes. Finally in 2015 it was purchased by a geologist, John Gregg, with the dream to restore the vessel exactly as it had been when it made the historic voyage that became the birth of today’s science of ecology.

It’s an awesome sight to see the work being done by Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op to restore the boat to its original state. Remnants of the original hull are stacked near the warehouse. The skilled boat builders work long hours, steaming wooden planks to shape the boat’s hull. Countless school field traipse through the shipyard learning about the history of the boat and it’s role in exposing our planetary interdependence. The owners expect the ship to be finished in 2020 and hope to use it as a floating classroom for the study of marine biology. If you get a chance to visit Port Townsend check it out. The site is open to the public and welcomes visitors.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Take it or Leave it

I first heard about Lopez Island’s unique trash collection system, last summer when visiting the island with friends. We met Kate Scott, an artist and long-time Lopez resident who, during the course of our visit, showed us photos of the Trashion Show, an annual fundraiser for the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District. Although the show has retired along with it’s coordinator, it is evidence of the creative community on Lopez. While visiting “The Friendly Island” again this year we got a closer look at the story behind the show.

It seems back in 2011, the San Juan County Council decided to stop operating wast facilities on all of the San Juan Islands. They wanted to contract with commercial carriers on the mainland – out of sight out of mind.  Lopez Island residents voted with their signatures and pocketbooks, committing to establish their own district and take care of their own trash.

Key to it’s success is SWAP – Solid Waste Alternatives Program. SWAP is a non-profit dedicated to supporting the Solid Waste Disposal District with supplemental funds. Their tagline: Reuse. Repurpose. Recycle. It serves to educate the community on “responsible waste management practices working towards zero waste.”.

We came upon the solid waste disposal site while walking along the road on our way from our boat to Lopez Village. I’ve never seen anything like it.  First, they have a giant free store—“Take It or Leave It” where folks bring stuff they don’t want any more--stuff you might give to Goodwill or donation center that runs a thrift store. On Lopez people can just go pick out what they want. Volunteers accept and sort the second-hand items, all usable, clean, to-good-to-toss. “It’s been open since 2015”, the woman at the receiving table told me, “all run by volunteers.” Islanders and even visitors can pop in and select what they want and walk away. We found a sharp knife, a spatula—two items we forgot to bring on our boat—and a small boat bumper for our bow. The place was as busy as our next stop, the farmers’s market.

At the market, SWAP runs a booth that sells skirts sewn from recycled t-shirts and shopping bags made from plastic feed sacks. The booth was staffed by all volunteers. one them, Kim Norton, current chair of the Board of Directors, told me the story. “Every month I send out an email to about 40 people”.  She rents space at a local church, sets out old t-shirts and patterns and people come to design and cut the skirts. “We have a design party. People come and cut the t-shirts up and design the skirts. Then we give them to volunteers to sew. All the money goes to the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District.”

SWAP sponsors school activities educating students about zero waste, earth day clean-up, and volunteer appreciation events. Their proceeds helped purchase a backhoe for the disposal site, and equipment for a “remake lab” and fixed holes in the road at the dump. They also fund a levy to provide funds for the disposal site and provide a scholarship for a graduating high school senior.

SWAP also sells “Junk Bonds,” created by local artists that sell for $25.00 and are “not redeemable for anything”. One whose image I found through Google sums it up, “Its not just a transfer station, It's a philosophy.”

Monday, August 12, 2019

Salt Spring Saturday Market Surprise


Friends have been telling me about the Saturday Market in Ganges on Salt Spring Island, for years. What’s another market, I thought. Lots of white tents, great produce, arts and crafts – what’s the big deal. But last week while visiting the Gulf Islands we were fortunate to spend a few days in Ganges and I was delighted that stay included a Saturday Morning.

To some degree my predictions were right. There were lots of white tents, red, blue and green sunbrellas, scads of shoppers and musicians busking here and there. But as I moseyed my way around I was really impressed by the quality of the goods. The jewelry was rich and varied from fine metal work to beautiful tumbled glass and hand-crafted beadwork. The pastries were everywhere—raspberry French tarts, croissants and pain au chocolate, crusty breads, Montreal bagels. I bought a pear “danish” and savored every bite.

As if all of this wasn’t plenty, the absolute highlight of my visit to the Saturday Market came by total surprise. As I entered the main pathway, I saw a small table with cds and books featuring a Baby Beluga game. Since we raised our kids on the song and sing it to our grandkids all the time, I stopped and was checking out the books. The man at the table was chatting with someone and I looked at him closely, then asked the woman next to me incredulously, “Is that Raffi?” Sure enough. In person. Turns out he lives there and has started a foundation called, “Child Honoring”. We chatted for quite a while. I was so impressed with his serene and absolutely lovely demeanor. He had no qualms when I asked if I could sketch him. I was over the moon with delight. After, I am a bona fide #belugagrad! 

Ganges and Kanaka Bay - Salt Spring Island, B.C.

Indigenous people have been in the area for over 3000 years; the town’s name has a connection with the holy Ganges in India. The counter culture is alive and, as one writer said, spiritual healers have become an invasive species. Seaplanes roar in and out of the harbor. There are loads of contrasts on this, the biggest town on the biggest of British Columbian’s Gulf Islands. But I was curious about the name of the bay - Kanaka.

It’s Hawaiian; it means “person” or “man”. But why this Hawaiian name here, in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia? It turns out back in early days of white settlement Many Hawaiians came to work for Hudson’s Bay Company as immigrant laborers. Here in Salt Spring they were contracted for a term and then free to do what they pleased after the term was complete.  Some stayed right here in Salt Spring. I tried to find evidence of the Hawaiian culture beyond the name of the bay. A local told me down in the town of Fulsome, there are gravestones with shells on them. “And Oh yes,” she told me there are the Hawaiians themselves. “

So no Hawaiian artifacts, but the island lifestyle is definitely evident. Lots of tourists, lots of boats, lots of music in open air bars and restaurants. One of the more well known is Treehouse Café, with live music nightly, indoor and outdoor seating and a giant tree growing right through the roof.

Color adjustment in Photoshop

Strolling through town I passed the Courtyard.  Bagels hung on string across the counter window. Who can resist hanging bagels? Not just any bagels, these were Montreal bagels.  They look more like bialies that I saw on the lower east side of Manhattan. I ordered one covered with lox and cream cheese. It came with a yellow and orange pansy sitting on a hand hewn wood cheese board. Absolutely delicous.

The bagel shop was a recent addition to the gallery, Hiro, the owner told me. “ We just opened it 2 weeks ago.” Hiro, is a Polish trader who commissions woodworked objects in Indonesia and brings them to sell in his gallery here on Salt Spring. His Japanese wife, Miro, manages the Montreal bagels. Hiro and Miro.

Just across from the Courtyard is a shiny new airstream mini, the home of Salt Spring Soft Serve. The owner Chris told me, “I mix cocktails for a living.”  He and his family moved to Salt Spring from Vancouver B.C. two years ago. “We didn’t want to raise our kids in downtown Vancouver.” For a while he commuted then just two months ago, after testing recipes for his dairy free, coconut and oat milk based soft serve, he opened his ice cream truck. “It wasn’t hard to go from mixing cocktails to mixing sundaes,” he said.

We really just tapped the surface of this interesting Canadian town and I hope to visit again.