We are, all of us, creatures. We belong to this gorgeous world in all the same ways that the [foxes on the prairie] belong to this world. In all the same ways that the fog-shrouded trees belong to this world. You may come someday to feel trapped in asphalt and concrete, but you are not trapped. When you are restless or lonely or afraid, go for a walk in the park or a hike in the woods. Plant a little garden, if only in pots on the sidewalk. Being in the wild world will make you feel better. Get your hands dirty. I promise you will feel better.
And merely by falling in love with the world, you will begin to make it better. Human beings will work to their dying breath to save something they love. Fall in love with the wild world, and you are taking the first step toward saving it.
The world is beautiful. People are good.--Margaret Renkl, New York Times
Good morning from American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park, where we've now been in residence for two weeks. Melanie and I are truly fortunate that the National Park Service has, in exchange for our volunteer services, provided us with a great spot to camp with a spectacular view of the Salish Sea and Olympic Mountain Range to our west.
So much has happened in our two weeks here that it's a bit difficult to know where to start.
We officially opened American Camp visitors' center on Saturday, May 13th. English Camp will officially open this coming Saturday, May 20th.
We had two more days of training for V.I.P.s the beginning of last week before we began work Saturday past. The dedication of and the depth and breadth of our park service rangers' knowledge about San Juan Island National Historical Park is humbling. There are historians, biologists, botanists, geologists, and tribal liaison between the park and Coast Salish peoples, among other specialists.
While I'm not sure how much of what was presented I've retained (I'm definitely the weak link between me and Melanie in that regard), I'm certain as our season here progresses, we'll be able to use much of the information provided us to assist park visitors in their enjoyment of this national park treasure.
The Pig War and an emphasis on the value of negotiation over war in resolving conflict is the reason the park was established in 1966, but our Superintendent, Elexis (Lex) Fredy, was clear in sharing with us volunteers that the indigenous peoples -- the Coast Salish tribes -- are an integral part of the park's and the island's history. The new visitor's center at American Camp contains thoughtful exhibits to this end.
At English Camp, a Reefnet Captain Pole and two Salmon Story Boards are there to remind visitors that indigenous people lived on the land for centuries before the English set up camp there. The Captain Pole was carved by Temosen Charles Elliott, Tsartlip, and the Story Boards by Jewell Praying Wolf James, Lummi.
Our volunteer days have been divided thus far between the American Camp visitors center and a wildlife viewing station we will set up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week. The brainchild of Ranger Allison Herkey, the viewing station allows visitors to view wildlife in the park at a proper distance and, if visitors own an iPhone, connect via hotspot to make images and movies in real time as keepsakes. On days the viewing station is not set up we'll rove the park trails for half of each work day, interacting with visitors as interpretive rangers.
I'm so, so grateful for the National Park Service. San Juan Island National Historical Park commemorates "Peace Over War" in the telling of the peaceful resolution of the "crisis" around the establishment of the final boundary between the U. S. and Canada. The so called "Pig War" is remembered and is held out as a splendid example of successful diplomacy. However, the true heart of this Park is its interpretation of the indigenous peoples who inhabited this land since time immemorial, and the stunning and diverse flora and fauna of the land and sea found in this Eden.
The new Visitors' Center at American Camp is but two years old, and it is thoughtfully curated in collaboration with leadership from the various Coast Salish peoples. In fact, you could fairly say that it is indigenous-centric.
My love affair with the National Park Service began in my youth when I first visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When I started working and traveling for Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Steven and I began visiting the National Parks in earnest, and I firmly believe that the Park system is one of the few ways our federal government effectively demonstrates its love for the American people and her resources. In 2019, we had the life-changing opportunity to be at Fort Monroe National Historical Park for the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing at Point Comfort, and I wrote a short love note about the experience HERE.
The image above captures a gesture of welcome which I have experienced first hand at a gathering of the Swinomish over near what we call LaConner, WA last month. I was thrilled to find the raised hands of gratitude and honor as one of the first things visitors to American Camp see -- signaling to all who come in that this is a National Park which celebrates all the lives which have been nurtured here, have thrived here, and still have connection to this holy paradise.
Our work this summer will include supporting the rangers who are protecting the endangered Island Marble Butterfly, educating visitors about the rare prairie at American Camp and the animals who call it home, and, of course, more broadly helping a new generation of visitors to fall in love with the National Park Service and its mission.
Greetings from San Juan Island National Historical Park. We've been located in American Camp since traveling over from Anacortes, Washington to Friday Harbor, Washington via ferry on the 2nd.
Arriving early afternoon, we spent most to the rest of the day setting up camp in a more permanent fashion than we would normally.
I purchased wheel covers for the sprinter and a bike cover for our electric assist bikes anticipating we'd want easier access to the bikes than storing them in our KOMO carrier gives us.
Ranger Jeff gave me the code to the tool storage shed and I was able to rake and clean up debris from both our campsite, our neighbors' site (they'd not yet arrived) and our driveway. We even swept the porch of the rearing lab for the endangered Island Marble Butterfly that sits adjacent to our campsite.
Afterwards, Melanie and I enjoyed an adult beverage and our view of the Salish Sea and the Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I believe we're going to like our five months here.
On the 3rd Melanie walked down to nearby Grandma's Cove to check it out while I continued to set up camp. She came back excited at having had a seal sighting and brought a shell and a piece of sea glass for our table.
We then got on the bikes and headed north along the west coast of the island. Taking False Bay Drive we took our time stopping along the way to take in the views of the Salish Sea and wild flowers.
We stopped briefly at Westside Preserve and spoke with a woman from Bellingham whose daughter was visiting from North Carolina. They were watching seals.
We then stopped briefly at Lime Kiln Point State Park for a restroom break. Our friend, Nancy Crowell, took us to Lime Kiln when we visited the island with her a few weeks back. That time we hiked down to the lighthouse located there and she told us the park was a great spot for Orcas sightings.
Continuing on the Westside Road we rode past San Juan County Park eventually connecting with West Valley Road. From there we rode past San Juan National Historical Park (English Camp) where we will be volunteering one day a week and then on into Roche Harbor where we had lunch on the pier.
After lunch we stopped briefly at San Juan Islands Sculpture Park Nature Reserve then we chose the shortest route back to American Camp (15 miles) and proceeded with our ride back home enjoying another nice spring Pacific Northwest evening. Our total ride for the day was 36 miles.
Yesterday morning Melanie wanted to show me Grandma's Cove so we hiked over to the Visitor's Center at American Camp and just past it to the trail head. The trail is a half mile out and back and moderate. We saw seals, an otter and met a few local folks along the way, The wild flowers are nice and we located a spot for future sunset views this summer.
We then got on our bikes and rode on Cattle Point Road south towards the Cattle Point Lighthouse, stopping along the way for a great view of the prairie where we spotted a few foxes meandering.
Stopping at the trailhead of the lighthouse, we walked in towards it immediately spotting a fox who appeared to be on the hunt for something. We met a nice couple from Ann Arbor, Michigan and talked to them briefly then made our way on to the lighthouse where a bald eagle was perched on the top of it.
We then cycled into Friday Harbor for lunch, picked up a few grocery items we needed and cycled back to camp. Temperatures were dropping as we approached camp so we secured things outside in anticipation of a rainy day today and moved inside for the evening.
Today's been mostly a rest day as rain moved into the area after midnight and has been pretty steady throughout the morning and afternoon.
We had our monthly phone call with family back east in Kentucky, something to which we always look forward. It's a good day for a bit of journaling and down time.
We are eager to have a few more days to explore before we engage in more work training the first of next week. We begin our volunteer duties on the 15th.
So much gratitude comes with us to this place. Our dear Nancy Crowell sent us the job listing for our VIP position back in March, and if she had not thought of us, and acted swiftly, we would not even be here. As a nature photographer, Nancy's love for this place and its creatures is all the endorsement we needed to leap with trust towards this new opportunity. She has generously shared her deep knowledge of the plants and animals of the Pacific Northwest with us -- even drove us out here for a little sneak peek a few weeks ago -- introducing us to the foxes, rabbits and bald eagles which are now our nearest neighbors. Her friendship is grace to us. It will probably take me some time before I stop thinking about her every single time I locate a red fox with the binoculars, wanting to share the moment with her and wishing I had her talent with a camera. I'm just lucky enough to be married to a very talented photographer of my own. I hope that by the end of the summer, I won't need her beside me to name the blooming things that dot the landscape. (Nancy is also a master gardener, and a patient teacher!) I'm also quite grateful that she and her husband, Michael, are just across the Sound in La Conner, WA, so we can work in some visits over the summer, perhaps even a kayak adventure to see the resident orcas.
Steven and Melanie