By David Hampshire
A while back, long-time San Juan Island resident Sue Evans loaned me her well-loved copy of June Burn’s book, “Living High.” (Skip this paragraph if you’ve read the book already.) June called it “an unconventional autobiography” about her life with her husband, Farrar, and their two sons in the 1920s and 1930s. Among many other adventures, June described homesteading Sentinel Island, a 15-acre “gumdrop” (her word) near Speiden in the San Juans (which now belongs to The Nature Conservancy).
It’s a remarkable book, thoughtful and beautifully written. June was an avid environmentalist long before the word was in common usage. I recently took advantage of our stay-at-home situation to read the book for the second time. As a homebody, I was intrigued by — and envious of— the family’s willingness to drop everything on a moment’s notice and travel thousands of miles, sometimes on foot, without worrying where the next meal was coming from.
Among many insights in that book, one, in particular, stuck with me. “When you walk, you are somewhere at every step,” June wrote. “In a car, you are somewhere only when you stop.”
It stuck with me because June articulates something I firmly believe. The best way to experience a place, new or familiar, is on foot. Chances are you’ve passed me roaming the streets, roads and trails of Friday Harbor and San Juan Island. I’m the old white guy with gray hair. That really narrows it down, huh?
Anyway, in the process, I’ve stumbled across some curiosities that people wouldn’t necessarily appreciate, or even notice, from inside a vehicle. Here are a few of my favorites. Please forgive me if you know about them already. They’re still new to me.
I’ve been fascinated by Simeon LaRiviere’s place ever since I started walking past it on my way out to Terrace Drive. (Incidentally, the public part of Terrace Drive goes up a long hill if you’re looking for a workout.) Simeon’s folk art, a colorful mosaic of shapes and patterns painted on every conceivable surface, is attached to the outside of his mobile home in the Harbor Ridge community just off Roche Harbor Road.
Simeon is quite a character. He loves to talk. One day he saw me gawking at his art and came over to introduce himself. That was a couple of years ago and I don’t remember the whole conversation. However, I do recall that he said the work is both his and his partner’s (Mollie Heath). His French name, he told me, comes from an ancestor — his grandfather, I believe — who immigrated to Eastern Washington from French Canada.
Simeon’s art reminds me of Maud Lewis, a Nova Scotia folk artist who turned the walls of her tiny house into a canvas for her paintings. She started painting individual pieces and selling them for next-to-nothing and became a local celebrity. Her quirky story — and it is quirky — was turned into “Maudie,” a 2016 film starring Sally Hawkins as Maud and Ethan Hawke as her husband, Everett, which has earned a 90 percent rating on “Rotten Tomatoes.” It’s compelling. I’ve already watched it twice.
If, while walking, I feel the need to stop and decompress, my favorite place is the Steele Memorial Park, a brick patio surrounded by flowerbeds on the east side of the San Juan Community Theatre. What a peaceful spot! I stopped there recently on one of my jaunts around town. I could feel myself relax as I paused to gaze out over the north end of the harbor. Other than the muffled rumble of traffic and a few chattering ravens, it was quiet. I watched a hummingbird flit from flower to flower in the garden.
On the other side of the theatre, at the end of Culver Avenue (the extension of Blair Avenue), is a path leading to a funky set of steps that takes you down to another view of the harbor at the east end of McDonald Street. I stumbled across —but not down — these steps one morning during a visit to Friday Harbor before my partner Lynne decided to move here. Since then I’ve taken them a number of times, but steer clear of them when it’s raining.
Not long ago, signs went up indicating that the steps are part of the Friday Harbor Centennial Trail. I’m still looking for the rest of it.
Speaking of trails, I love what the Land Bank people have been doing on Mount Grant. These days I like to push up the paved road to the top, then saunter back down on one of the new trails they’ve built that wind through the trees.
A few weeks ago I walked along the American Camp Trail past the airport as far as Shelter Road, then back into town via Cattle Point Road and Mullis Street. In a pasture across from the airport, I spotted a rock that, in the right light, is a dead ringer for an oversized set of buttocks. I had driven that way many times without noticing it. It’s a classic. It would have made Rodin proud.
I like alliteration, so I’ve been calling it Big-Buns Boulder. You may have another name for it. I imagine that this rock has been the butt of many jokes over the years, and I could probably add a wise-crack or two of my own. But I refuse to be a smart ass and stoop to that level.
And did you know that Sasquatch is alive and well on San Juan Island? So far I’ve spotted four Sasquatch silhouettes: one lurking in the trees behind a home on Terrace Drive and three more (a Sasquatch family!) traipsing along a fence line next to a home on Hillcrest Place.
Incidentally, that same house on Hillcrest has a wind spinner made up of four model sailboats mounted on a pole. When the wind is right, the boats “sail” in a circle around the pole. Underneath the boats, attached to the pole, is a cluster of signs including one that says, “When the storm of life comes, adjust your sails.”
Isn’t that what we’re all doing right now?