TRAVELS WITH STELLA Chapter Five September 1st-4th 2012
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The days of summer are in decline. Not only are the mornings cool and dew laden but the evenings are short with the Sun setting before 8 p.m. For this road trip we intended to retrace a former route to Eastern Washington, where daytime temps remain summertime hot and we can enjoy a ‘July’ of our own making. But when we saw a road sign offering diversion to ‘Whidbey Island’, a place we had never been, it took us only the briefest of sidelong glances to conspire a revolution in our plans.
But first some unfinished business - Edison. When we last visited this interesting slough side village we had found a ghost town, the shops being open only on weekends. Now, timing our road trip accordingly we rolled into town early Sunday morning, looking for our breakfast.
Tweets Cafe, set in a rambling timber building of grand proportion, was a treat. Not only was the interior pleasingly retro in it’s curated styling but the food was fantastic and served in astoundingly outsized portions. We gorged on sumptuous quiches and vegetable terrines, plates of fruit and cheeses. Thus fed our breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack all at once, we elected to have a walkabout the village before setting down the road. We found a town tastefully crafted with a careful esthetic eye: shops were exclusively artisan, frontages were all trim and the cottage-like houses sported hand wrought fences which were art installations in themselves. Satisfied on many levels, we rolled out of town eastward towards the Cascades range.
We ambled slowly through the lush agrarian setting, taking in the open views of this broad valley by the sea, and it was by mid afternoon that we hauled ourselves into Concrete at the base of the mountain range to come.
Concrete, as her name implies, is more or less exclusively made of cement. The company town of Portland Superior Cement, (charged with building, what was at the time, the tallest dam in the World) has a very tidy and purposeful main street filled with agreeably vintage concrete buildings cast in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Back to the Sun dappled and curvy route. We made our way through myriad small towns before coming to a sign: ‘Marblemount, Entrance to the American Alps’. With some alacrity we climb to elevation, rising nearly as quickly as Stella’ temp gauge which acts like an altimeter. Time to shift gears and take to the shoulder lane, elbow on the window.. finger on the wheel, we’re cruising now.
Diablo Lake viewpoint is our terminus for a deserved break before we turn back to the lowlands and our date with Whidbey Island. The view is ethereal. You crane to take in the surrounding granite peaks, still clad with patches of snow; then to view the wind gnarled trees on their rocky footings; on to the precipice falling away at your feet and a lake of a rare translucent green. And in the middle distance, the highway you so lately traveled.. with a trace of glinting cars like so many ants.
The following morning we returned to that road sign which tempted us to Whidbey, and to our high expectations of the unaccounted miles ahead. For it was gloriously sunny, the day was young and we soon discovered an impeccable rolling terrain towards the towns of Oak Harbor and Coupeville.
We made camp at Fort Ebey, a national historic site and former component of the Wartime Coastal Defense scheme that guarded the marine approaches to the city of Seattle. Set in the coastline clifftops were retracting gun emplacements, a concrete ‘rabbit warrens’ for moving armaments below ground and for our purposes, some very tidy tree shrouded campsites.
Further south, we visited the Historic Lighthouses at Admiralty Head and after a brief ferry crossing to the mainland, Mukelteo Light. Our final destination before trekking North to Canada is the small town of Monroe, Washington. An otherwise non-descript township on the shores of the Cascade mountain ranges, Monroe has a most interesting annual occurance: the migration of the Vaux Swift, a bird who takes nightly cover in a local chimney. Mid-September sees the birds congregate nightly in the air above the elementary school at sunset, making arial swoops and swirls about the tall brick chimney. As the crucial moment approaches, the swifts spool into an ever tightening, tornado-like funnel. Prior to entry, they change from their head-ﬁrst direction and dive in tail ﬁrst. Once safely ensconsed, they overlap bodies in a shingle-like design and slow their metabolism to a near-dormant state to conserve energy while roosting. At first light, they evacuate their lair until a return at sunset. A peculiar event watched nightly by locals and visitors alike, and a spectacular event when the nightly numbers exceed 30,000 Swifts!