Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands

Welcome to Jim Morrison's Island Photo Prose

"In the San Juans the right island convert will conquer enough of his problems to have a good life; but he will not be vainglorious about it. With his partial conquest there will come the realization that the islands have conquered and absorbed him. He will find himself living at half speed and enjoying life at least twice as much as he did before, in a region where people have overthrown the monstrous fiction that time is of the essence. He will find his humor growing saltier and perhaps his English suffering a little around the edges as it expresses more meaningful ideas." Archie Binns from "Sea in the Forest", 1953


Whale Tales


If I were born an Orca, I’d see this island in a different and special way…from underwater.   Different and special, that is, from my human perspective.  This youngster, while nursing to one year of age, then fully weaning at age two, is swimming with either his mom or babysitter (all members of a pod help in child-rearing).  He (or she) will be taught by the pod to see with his eyes and his echolocation so he can feed himself,    The calf in this photo is between four and seven months old and weighs around 400 pounds.

Orcas (Orcinus orca), also known as Killer Whales, are actually the largest of the dolphin family, all of which are very intelligent.   Probably the “Killer” moniker comes from them occasionally playing with their food!   Some Orcas feed on seals, and have been known to throw their prey about in the air, much as a cat will play with a mouse

I once was the host on the west side of the island for a group of mainlanders, and one never knows if there will be Orcas swimming by while, but as we soaked in the marine air and sun-in-the-grass warmth, I noticed a few slow moving boats offshore headed towards us around the point to the south.   Having local knowledge that the boats were following the Orcas, and with a bit of theatrics, I ventured a tiny trick on my visiting guests by saying:  “Let me try summoning the whales:  Oonga, oonga, booga-booga-booga….Here whale-whale-whale!” and not ten seconds later the first Orca rounded the point.   There were a few dropped jaws, but the real treat was that, probably due to the strength of the south-setting current, the Orcas were swimming up-currant right along shore in the eddies, in other words just feet from where we were standing at the water’s edge.   I kid you not, it was my jaw that dropped next as right in front of me a mature female and a new calf came completely out of the water side by side dolphin-style and did a perfectly timed barrel-roll reentering the water together upside down.    I know, you don’t believe me…I wouldn’t either, except I was there and saw it not forty feet away from me.   I imagined the older Orca saying to the tot:  “Remember that trick we practiced yesterday?  Let’s try it now in front of those hume-mans watching us.   Perhaps we can get them to do that thing where they flap their flippers together and make noise.”

For the photo above, the Orcas were about an 1/8th mile offshore.   We had been picnicking at the Limekiln Point State Park on a beautiful summer afternoon, when, just after we had finished our lunch, we were blessed with a parade of one of the local pods.   J, K, and L pods are the resident Orca pods with other transient pods cruising through on occasion.


Convenient perch


Daughter Jamie and her son Liam perched in an ancient madrona tree atop Mt. Young on San Juan Island.

Home is where the heart is…


Home is where the heart is, or so the old saw goes.   I recently read in Ralph Friedman’s “A Touch of Oregon” where he interviewed the last remaining non-resident of what is now a ghost town in far eastern Oregon.   ‘Non-resident’ because Westfall had not a single occupant, not even Mrs. Looney the post-mistress, who lived out of town.  Her post office served a few remaining ranchers in the vicinity, but all townspeople, and indeed all the buildings besides the post office, had gone the way of the tumbleweeds leaving a barren, sun-baked plain.   “I like it here,” she said.  “It’s just home to me…because I’ve lived here so long.   Sometimes,” she added pensively,  “I wonder why I like it.   It’s so hot and dry and dusty.  But it’s home.”

I’m tempted to infer a connection between the desolate terrain and the post-mistress’s name.    But that aside, “HOME,” it seems to me, becomes a recipe…with our hearts and time as the ingredients, and the memories of the past and dreams of the future the fruition we recall or long for.   Memories are the tangible ingredient, made up of the people we’ve known and loved, the experiences we’ve reveled in or simply survived, and these memories become the gluten that binds us to a place, while dreams are the validation of our faith in more to come

Such is my relationship with the San Juan Islands.  The photo above records just the latest in my home places.   In my nearly 44 years here I’ve lived in mobile homes, rental houses, borrowed houses, in the out-islands, Assisted Living quarters as a caregiver, aboard boats (my favorite), and now as a  newlywed in a beautiful house on the hill with the view portrayed above.   I have a partner who shares my dreams…I’ve come home.

Cherry Trees in March

cherry trees in March 002

Don Galt, a relatively recent developer who has done at least two housing neighborhoods in Friday Harbor, arranged for these trees to line the first development on Tucker Avenue.  This photo was captured when zipping through on my motorcycle to help a new family move in.

SAM_2748Here are two of my girls.   Jamie was visiting here for a week from her home in Telluride, Colorado with her son Liam, and Ariel is my newly-wed bride!    I’ve been away from blogging for over a year, but couldn’t resist starting to post again, what with my stimulating new life as a husband and best friend to Ariel.  Two beautiful ladies, if you ask me!

Ariel and I met in the Barbershop singing group on the island, the Chordsmen Plus.   The Plus stands for the women participants, for most barbershop groups don’t have women present with the men; the groups are either all women, or all men.    Our mixed group is catching on, and we hear that there are a number of others starting up, it’s a matter of voice sound rather than on of exclusive gender.

Ariel and I are well matched, having a huge cache of common interests, and our adventures together have been varied and fulfilling.   For instance, we’re going out this evening to celebrate the anniversary of a dear couple we’ve been paling around with, the McDonalds.   Steve McDonald also sings with us in the Chordsmen and coincidentally has the same birthday as my best friend when growing up in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.

I also have to add how much I enjoyed my grandson Liam while he was here.   We spent time together while his mother was visiting other friends on the island, and had a blast!    He is intelligent, funny, and maturing into a great young man.

Since we’re just going into late Spring, I expect to have a bunch of new photos of the island to share with you, so come back and see what’s new.   Happy Spring!


Looking for Cedar

Looking for Cedar

With everything so expensive these days, I doubt my dream will be fulfilled, but I’m looking for some skinny cedar logs, like these on Shaw Island, for building a log cabin on my flatbed trailer. Something in the neighborhood of ten inch diameter would be perfect. I considered 4×4 milled cedar, a compromise in size, but I thought I’d start small just so I wouldn’t croak from sticker shock. I asked at Browne Lumber about 4×4’s which the clerk snorted out the price of $6.19 a foot! I say ‘snorted’ because he was as aghast at the high price as I was!

The light weight, rot resistance, and easy working characteristics I desire are the same traits the Native Americans and First Nations cultures in Canada looked for from the cedar tree in the Northwest. My wish is to carry on that tradition in, no doubt at my age, my last new home I’m building. It has to go on a trailer because my new parcel of land is too narrow to build on, what with offsets and easements. Fortunately, I already have a heavy-duty trailer that I restored two summers ago.

I’m putting the word out in search of these rare trees. It’s not something found in everyone’s back yard, so wish me luck.


Deep Freeze

Deep Freeze

The Port of Friday Harbor usually turns off the pump on this pond-waterfall-pond set up they have in the Fairweather Park on the waterfront, but this year didn’t, and a cold blast out of Canada (that country has been very generous with its cold air this winter for 80% of the U.S.) created this ice sculpture.