Sunday, November 17, 2019

Equine Realism And The Law Of Averages


One of the great things about creativity is its seemingly endless possibilities, limited only by our imaginations and aspirations. It’s absolutely amazing what people come up with, isn’t it? Just when we think we’ve seen it all, someone spins it all on its head!

Even so, we’ve chosen an art form with pretty strict limitations, haven't we? Equine realism has rules, nonnegotiable boundaries that direct our imaginations down a relatively narrow path. Even within this box, however, artists push in every conceivable direction, creating work that surprises, inspires, and delights in fresh, new ways. Really, when I judged custom minis at The Jennifer Show this year, all that fresh thinking was wonderful to see! Artists today are less hesitant to veer into the unconventional, willing to explore more novel depictions of the equine and it’s so exciting. We need more of this than we may realize.

Nevertheless, there are still limitations. I still saw similarities with past works because we’re dealing with a finite subject all the same. Horses only come in certain colors and patterns. They can only move in certain ways. They’re built as evolution dictates. Breed type homogenizes, and some phenotypes can look so similar as to seem nearly identical. We still have the confines of that box, the limited reality of our subject matter.

What's more, design and materials technologies for sculpture limit our options even further. Glass, ceramic, resin, metals, and customization can only support and achieve so much within the laws of physics and fatigue. We also want things to be archival—even shippable—so that means certain ideas just aren't quite feasible right now which can corral our possibilities even more. Sure, it would be amazing for accessible new tech to offer fully free-floating sculptures, for example, but for now we have to jury-rig supports and certain poses. And when it comes to customs, in particular, we'll see multiple variations on a theme since so many of us like the very same molds. 

Put all this together and we have an inevitable, unavoidable outcome: Similarities between multiple pieces simply due to the law of averages. When we have loads of minds working within this little box for all these years—and those in the future—we’re going to have overlap, spontaneously and independently. There’s only so many ways we can depict the equine available to us. Sure, those ways seem suitably plentiful, but that isn’t always the case. Similar ideas simply inspire multiple hearts. We’ve all seen the cantering warmblood, the windblown stock horse, the snorty trotting Arabian, the leg cocked drafter, the cantankerous mare, the pugnacious pony, the standing horse with a cocked ear and eyewhites, and the playful foal—and a plethora of others—many times over the years, haven’t we? The grullo sabino Paint, palomino high white Half-Arab, "skjevet" Fjord, dominant white Thoroughbred, isabella Lusitano, pintaloosa pony, dappled buckskin Teke, and other appealing colors and patterns have peppered our rings, too. And what of the same popular molds used over and over with similar interpretations? How many head-turned PAMs have we seen? And even with fantasy pieces...how many times have we seen the striping of falcon or hawk wings on pegasus wings? Then—whammo—we open this up to the bigger arts landscape and this issue explodes in sheer numbers, often in uncanny ways. For instance, I just recently discovered that I'd thought up almost the exact same idea as Degas sketched out so many years ago. Almost down to the tail position! I about fell out of my chair! And completely unaware. Similar things just captivate us—and that’s not a bad thing. It’s simply the law of averages in that little box.

But you know what’s a bad thing? The knee-jerk accusation of plagiarism.

I really wish this would stop. Why? Well, contrary to belief, it’s exceedingly harmful to creativity by ever chopping down the possibilities artists can explore. What if the subject of “rearing Arabian with whippy tail” was off limits because some other artist did it? Or the visual of “twisty leaping Akhal-Teke” was verboten because it was already done? What if the concept of “red roan overo with cornspots Paint” was already taken? The idea of “trotting pinto mule foal with floppy ears”? "Densely fleabit Arabian with extensive blood mark"? "Horses playing?" "Horse with non-equine friend?" Or "mama bear mare protecting her foal"? If each new piece removes that concept from the pool, what will eventually be left? Now grandfather in all the past pieces from forty years of work—and also include the plethora of conventional artworks—and that becomes a rather tiny pool, doesn’t it? Really, it's an ever-shrinking skim of moisture on a driveway, that's what. 

Now it can be argued that artists can infuse various changes to make their pieces different, and that’s certainly true. But it’s also true that because of the law of averages, another artist can come up with a very similar, even the same, concept spontaneously and independently, including those little changes, in total innocence. Shouldn’t we give artists the benefit of the doubt? If for nothing else than protecting creativity in our community? While that seems counter-intuitive, it’s true nonetheless. Indeed, I know of one artist who hasn’t created some exciting new work because of fear of this accusation, depriving us all. Likewise, another artist and myself both came up with very similar ideas for a galloping Marwari totally independently and at the same time, yet we both ended up not creating those pieces to avoid being labeled a plagiarist. How unfortunate is that? This is the destructive power of this accusation. 

Now it can also be said that this effect forces artists to explore new routes of design, and that’s true as well. But it’s also true that we can’t always know what each other is doing! What are we supposed to do? Broadcast all our future plans to claim “ownership"? And what if we change our mind? And what if we're so enamored of our own original idea that coincidentally echoes another, we’re loathe to change it? An independently arrived at idea is still our own even if something similar already exists or will exist in the future. Aren’t we entitled to follow our own original inspirations? Indeed, there's a lot of work out there we don't know about so if we end up creating something similar to it, how is that our fault? When we start dictating what artists can and can’t create because of an inevitable overlap, aren't we actually squelching creativity, innovation, and inspiration? And what kind of limits are we placing on future artists, those not even around yet? When we start shrinking the pool of what’s possible, what we’re actually doing is destroying our arts community, not protecting it.

Now, absolutely, deliberately copying or borrowing too heavily isn’t kosher. It's wrong. Of course it is. But is this actually the case most of the time? I’m not so sure only because I’ve experienced and observed the reality of independent inspiration too often. Instead, I tend to believe that most of our artists are creating their works with integrity and honesty, according to their coincidental inspirations. Perhaps then it's newbies and youth who are doing much of the outright copying since some seem to be unaware it’s wrong. This is all the more reason to be kind and educational then, right? It’s a teaching moment, not a reason to go on the attack. In fact, in all my years involved in this community, I’ve only known a handful of artists who've actually flat out copied or borrowed too much, but that’s a tiny percentage in the grand scheme of things.

What’s more, ten artists could recreate the very same concept or even the very same photograph, and each one would end up different due to style and what each artist Sees and doesn’t See, likes or doesn’t like, focuses on or doesn’t focus on, etc. Each one might add their own special spin, too, like a flicked ear, different tail, cat tracks, or application of technique. So yes, we can infuse little changes, but we can also approach the very same visual and not actually be copying each other as well. Even so, those little alterations can be applied in a similar way, too, because so many of us like them. For example, a twitchy ear, a breezy tail, a pooky lip, a cocked head, Belton Spots, eyewhites, extensive mapping, stained feathers, or any number of similar tweaks inspire so many of us the same way. As long as we don’t actually outright copy someone’s work then, aren’t we allowed the happenstance of inevitability within a limited subject? Creating our own individual visuals that unwittingly end up markedly similar isn’t the same as deliberate, outright copying. It’s a different phenomena created by different circumstances. Even copyright law recognizes this unpredictability of creativity and is less likely to prosecute an independently arrived at idea that’s similar to another. And what of an artist repeatedly revisiting their own idea? What if they create multiple “pudgy pinto ponies”? Is that so bad? Indeed, this is a rather common practice in the art world as artists explore variations within a concept. It's called a series. Therefore, giving artists the benefit of the doubt and the room to be creative on their own terms, even when overlap happens, can actually encourage more new work.

It may seem another contradiction, but giving more brains the opportunity to work similar problems elevates our efforts to new heights, too, because we learn from each other. Studying how each artist approached comparable challenges is instructive and actually provides the opportunity to explore more options to make our own our own. For example, “arched neck standing, snorty Arabian” has been explored countless times, but each one is slightly different, isn’t it? But years ago I observed people accuse an artist of plagiarism for simply creating their own “stretched halter stance foal” because they thought this artist was copying the work of another. Seriously? How many times have we seen halter stretched foals in the past and how many more will be created in the future? So is this visual now off limits? Even if it’s on the same mold, don’t many of us often love the same ones? Isn’t it inevitable then that “stretched bay Hackney pony done from a Swaps" would happen at least twice? I know of two created totally independently. And what if we’re inspired by the work of another artist? Granted, it can be a fine linethat's certainly true. But it’s certainly possible we may not outright plagiarize their work while still being influenced by it. Because I also know of two trotting Hackney ponies in which one artist was directly inspired by another—and no harm, no foul. Influences happens all the time to tell the truth, even in the conventional art world. It can get even more complicated. I know of two artists who deliberately borrowed heavily from each other in a playful game of oneupmanship with perfectly good intentions. I was even accused of plagiarism of the PAM with Stormwatch's position even though the PAM never even entered my mind when creating him. He simply popped into my head one day so it was just coincidence that the positions were similar. I was even accused of remaking a PAM to create him when I can clearly show anyone the original solid epoxy sculpture. Let's X-ray him! Things aren't so cut n' dry when we’re dealing with a law of averages that involves inspiration bound by realism. Boiled down then, it also means that ill-informed assumptions or irresponsible speculation can be just as troublesome in this unfair blame game of plagiarism.

The unfortunate truth then is that not only is innocently-conceived work not getting created, but even worse, artists who are creating works in perfect innocence are being stomped on, their reputations besmirched, and their achievements tarnished because of this issue with plagiarism. Are those really the outcomes we want? Heck, I’ve not created certain pieces simply because of this. And you know what? I don’t think so anymore. Instead, I think I’m going to follow my individually arrived at inspirations and if those end up being similar to something else, so be it. BecauseheyI create in a fishbowl. I don't get out much. So when I judged TJS, there was a slew of work I'd never seen before, not even online. Yet some of those ideas echoed my own that I'd planned out in my sketch book years ago, only I hadn't gotten to them yet. So I can't create those now? Are we really okay with someone's creativity being stymied by the law of averages within a finite subject? When artists exploring their honest concepts free from worry of the stigma pushes the possibilities out even more? This benefits us all. How? Well, it fosters an artist's drive to imagine, explore, and innovate, enriching our arts and pushing skill sets ever further. In this sense then, weaponizing plagiarism only backfires on everyone and our future. Indeed, when we try to corral the honest creative experience, we risk killing it altogether. No serious artist particularly likes to create work exactly like another—we like to tell our own storiesyet making that box ever smaller will have the opposite effect. 

The reality is that an artist doesn’t “own” a general idea, only the very specific manifestation of that idea. This is why, for example, a photographer doesn’t own the nature of a tricep or the muscling of a neck in their photo, but only the very specific image of that specific horse in that specific photo as a whole, novel composition. This is why we have to ask permission of the photographer when we directly copy their photograph but we can still use the anatomical components as direct references to “frankenstein” our own original work together. It's also why countless photographers can take photos of the very same halter pose and not have to worry. "Arabian halter stance" just isn't an "owned" concept because it's just too common and intrinsically necessary in life. It's also why I own the very specific visual of Stormwatch but not the concept of "windswept rangy horse." It’s also why we shouldn’t get upset when multiple artists create “bay Saddlebred weanling with three white socks and a blaze” because imagine the future if this concept was off limits? And—hey—there will be oodles of exactly that color and markings on real Saddlebred weanlings in the future who'll serve as references for new artists. What's more, I know of a group of very upstanding artists who deliberately recreated the very same color simply to see how each different Eye would create variations. It was a very interesting experiment. So are they copying each other or the reference they all used? And how would we know without asking? I also know a group of ceramists who put the very same glaze on the very same piece simply to see how each kiln fired it. I'm one of them. And I’ve actually had other artists feel compelled to ask permission from me to create their own windblown mustang. What if I said “no”? What would I have deprived our community? If we punish artists for these benign explorations in overlap, what are we actually sacrificing? I suspect a lot more than we imagine. 

There’s this, too: Innovation begs imitation because many want to stay ahead of the curve. A new technique, a new look, a new effect, especially when more effective, will naturally spin into duplication. I remember when roans were done with the spray can or splatter technique then all of a sudden the hair-by-hair technique became dominant, for instance. I'm unaware who pioneered it, but is it wrong for others to adopt a new technique? How else will our arts grow? How else will we push the boundaries of what’s possible? I also remember when hairing was simply what we did as matter of course, then—boom—a prominent artist made sculpted manes and tails popular and it took off to become modus operandi today. So do we force artists to stick only to their own technologies even when that may disadvantage them? How in the world does that encourage growth and further innovation? Sure, some methodologies are proprietary in the art world, but are we more interested in elevating this unique art form for everyone in our genre, or do we care more about monopolizing outcomes? But I admit, I'm all about sharing because I want to see how others improve my methods. Maybe that's rash, but it's how I prefer to live my art life. I must note, too, that our community has a real penchant for sharing information compared to the conventional art world, and it's truly fantastic. It would be a shame to compromise it.

Nevertheless, I have heard the suggestion that creating work too similar to each other can compromise the value of the earlier piece, so how is that fair to collectors? That the distinctive visual itself has inherent value. And that’s a very good point, one that deserves reflection. We can’t ignore that novelty has an intrinsic value. Yet most upstanding artists seek to make their own work distinctive anyway, and so they may visit a similar concept but either by chance or by choice, naturally make it different enough to create a buffer zone. Undeniably, too, the sheer influence of artistic style can infuse enough difference to avoid too much exacting overlap. To be sure, different styles appeal to different people…and different judges. So while outright copying a piece's specific visual or novelty would definitely compromise valuemaking it clearly the wrong thing to doI’m not sure that unintentional or unavoidable overlap can have the same impact. How many "palomino ISHs with medium white" are out there now yet each seems to hold its value? Or how many lovely Khemosabi resins have been painted just like the grand ol' Khemo himself? 

So while encouraging artistic freedom can inevitably produce similarities between different works, sometimes markedly so, I still believe that’s perfectly okay. It just comes with the territory when we’re dealing with a subject unavoidably stuck in a box. Because what’s our best option here? Limit creativity by increasingly prohibiting swaths of subject matter or simply accept the nature of the box and give artists the benefit of the doubt? I choose to live by the latter because I've known too many artists with the honest desire to create their own honest work but end up creating similarities all the same. 

I’d like to repeat that it’s one thing to purposely copy another work unauthorized and quite another to inadvertently create something similar or even be inspired by a similar idea. To my mind, those are very different scenarios. And again—yes—that can be a very fine line. Even so, there's a big difference between copying a specific work and visiting a similar concept. As such, I would like to think that most folks consider all this when deciding which is which as new work emerges, choosing to err on the side of creative generosity rather than pointing a finger. Therefore, I chose to believe that most artists are upstanding and seek to express only their own individual, original fancies, even if they end up being similar. Is that naive? I don’t know. But I do see the law of averages at work every year despite all our best efforts to avoid it. And I do know the powerful desire to stay true to our own novel interpretation even if a concept has been visited many times before. And I do know what kind of creative future I want for this community. 

Even so, it’s easy to get twitchy when we perceive another borrowing too heavily or overlapping too closely. It’s easy to assume the worst such as spiteful or thoughtless intentions to steal our thunder. For example, if we come out with “standing Warmblood stallion” and that very year another artist pops out one, too, perhaps even close on our heels, slipping into resentment and suspicion is an easy slide. The rumor mill is also no help as some fan the flames to needlessly amplify the situation. Ill-informed speculation and careless assumptions can be very dangerous poisons and even more dangerous weapons. But while there have indeed been times when an artist did deliberately overlap on purpose, even spitefully, I prefer to think most arrived at their work with coincidental inspirations. Artists also tend to fill perceived holes in the show ring, funneling focus on those avenues of competition with more meager representation. This can cause an unintentional barrage of similar work all at once through no fault of anyone. For instance, Friesians spontaneously exploded on the scene back in the 90s, a particular streaky style of sabino became immensely popular all at once some years back, and several artists were coincidentally inspired by Gambling Man’s specific splash pattern when it was discovered by the community some decades ago. Performance requirements also confine what's possible even further which is probably why we see so much repetition of a concept with pieces designed for it. Sometimes it just happens.

Admittedly, too, I tend to think the best of people in this regard because I’ve just seen too many innocent similarities over the years and have known many of the artists involved. I've also seen artists ask permission from photographers to directly copy specific visuals with tremendous results that enrich the experience for us all. And what's more, I've seen the power of an originally inspired idea grip an artist’s imagination and compel them to new heights of accomplishment. Truly, it would be unfortunate to systematically squelch all this out of hand with that awful accusation of plagiarism. Maybe this optimism is a fault of mine. Maybe it’s foolish. But I don’t like the thought of limiting potential by dictating what form inspiration should take so tightly, even cruelly. Because it hurts to be accused of plagiarism, too. Here we create this shiny new thing we’re so proud of only to meet with suspicion, hostility, prosecution, besmirching, even snubbing. It can spook an artist outright, preventing new work from ever coming into existence, even almost killing the desire to create anything at all. And consider thisin this renewed age of the DIYer, what kind of serious threat does this accusation of plagiarism now pose? I worry it's a decided one.

I don’t know what the answer is. Is there even a solution to overlap? Should there even be one? Really, I wonder if it’s just not better to trust that most artists are creating with honest intentions or that they’ll naturally seek novelty in their work to make it distinctively their own. It cannot be denied that the serious artist does so out of pride and integrity anyway, and many artists in our community take their work very seriously to their credit. But even with every effort, there's always that law of averages that will ensure that innocent coincidental overlap sometimes happens. Nowyes—there have been cases of outright plagiarism. Yes—there have been times when an artist downright snatched another's concept to "beat them to it." Yes—there have those who have borrowed too heavily from another artist. Yes—there have been artists who thought they could do better and simply copied another's concept to "improve" on it. Yesthere have been those who base their work on another and try to pass it off as their own original creation. Yes—there have been those struggling with a learning curve seeking guidance in other work and end up borrowing too much. All this is true. But isn't it also true that many similarities could be accidental, a function of the law of averages within a finite subject? Is it really the best policy then to so easily burn those involved with the brand of plagiarism? 

It all depends on what kind of arts future we want and how we want to regard our artists. What kind of creative freedoms will we accept and which will we kibosh? In all this, I’d like to think we’d be generous, giving leeway to the accidents of coincidence and inevitable overlap. I’d like to believe we’d think the best of each other because how else can we build a cohesive community that’s inclusive and supportive of its talents, especially new ones? I want to assume we’d pause with the wisdom of experience and graciousness before dropping the anvil of accusation on our peers. Again, maybe I’m being naive. I hope not.

“There is no ‘right way’ to make art. The only wrong is in not trying. Not doing. Don’t put barriers up that aren’t there—just get to work and make something.” ~ Lisa Golightly

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Our San Juan Island Adventure 2018!



We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary (and 21 years together) this year in grand stylewith a quick jaunt to Seattle and a four day trip to San Juan Island, which lies on the border with Canada. We sorta picked this place on a whim. We usually spend most of our vacations at Cannon Beach, OR but this year we wanted to explore something new and since we love the Northwest best, San Juan Island was an intriguing choice. But even more, hubby wanted to go whale watching this time and the San Juans apparently are a great place to see them. So it was a first for both of us and only the second time hubby has ever been on an island.

And San Juan Island is a good size! It's actually the second largest of a group of about 172 islands in the regionthe San Juan Islands, situated between Seattle and Vancouver, making up a rich ecosystem for a multitude of iconic critters and really cool places, towns, and cities to explore. We make it a habit to each pick one thing we most want to do and then build the trip around those. So for me, I have a thing for lighthouses and so wanted to see Kiln Lime Lighthouse and Cattlepoint Lighthouse. Hubby, of course, wanted to go whale watching—to see Orcas! Targets acquired. Even so, we originally planned to be gone from Thursday to Monday, but at the last minute we tacked on Wednesday since he wanted to go to Seattle again plus journey to his mecca—Fry's. He's building a new computer and for an IT geek, Fry's is homeworld. Motherboards, processors, and video cards—oh my! Luckily, my Mom could babysit the charmkins for that extra day so off we went.

Wednesday
We left at o-dark-hundred—3:30am—to miss various rush hours and arrive in Seattle at a decent enough time to do some adventuring and do Fry's. But before we head out on the road, we hit Los Betos for their famous breakfast burritos. Huge and delicious, they feed us for the whole trip. We make great time and the ride was thankfully smooth sailing and we arrive at our hotel around noon. Now I really wanted to see the Chihuly Museum and he wanted to go up in the Space Needle (cliché, but we wanted to do it anyway since the weather was so clear and sunny). Hubby splurged a bit on a really nice hotel room at the Hyatt Regency in Renton, but we got upgraded to a suite for a song! So what the heck! What a rare, fun indulgence. It was a beautiful room, too—the best room in the house apparently—and the terrace was amazing. What a view!

That's Seattle back there!

Hey Lesli! I just had to take it with me!

Our view. I know, right?

Lake Washington with Seattle's skyline in the distance—such a treat! So after we get settled we head to Seattle to explore. We've visited this grand city previously and this time we wanted to visit the Seattle Center, something new to us. In particular, it has the Chihuly Museum, Space Needle, Science Museum, and the Museum of Pop Culture (Mo Pop). We only had a few hoursbecause Fry's closed at 8pmso we thought this condensed center would be a good choice. It was a glorious day as promisedclear, sunny, and high 60s. Perfect! However, unfortunately the Space Needle was closed for construction—bummer! But it's a great excuse to return, right? 

So off we go to the Chihuly Garden and Glass and are blown away. Stunning and inspiring aren't even suitable words. I'm a ridiculous fan of art glass so this was such soul food for me I can't even describe it. Chihuly largely helped to establish the Northwest as the American hub of the art glass movement so to enjoy a master's work in the native setting was wonderful. And the way they set up the installations was so great! It really showcased the rich colors and luminescence of glass so your eyes were thoroughly filled with all the glowing beauty only glass can offer (none of those photos have been enhanced!). To see lots more, go to my Chihuly album here. They even had a Hot Shop for demos and education which were very informative, fun, and fascinating. And as an artist I was so happy that Chihuly had his own museum—and in such a pole position location. To have an entire museum dedicated to your work...well...WOW.


So we take a quick break to get fueled up, so to speak—translation: we need coffee. So we head to the cafe area and bee-line to Starbucks. We don't usually get those fancy "candy coffee" drinks loaded with sugar being on our low-carb regular diets, but we splurged and totally candied ourselves to death with their new convoluted caramel and mocha drinks, whatever they are. I can see why these kinds of coffee drinks are so popular! Yow! And the jolt you get from the caffeine and the sugar...well...it was exactly what we needed! Vroooom.

So next we—on a whim—went to see Mo Pop, having no idea what to expect. We literally walked in clueless. Boy, were we happily surprised! The exhibits were fantastic! Go here for lots more in my Mo Pop album. They had a Marvel exhibit that featured historical art work from the Marvel comics and even the original costumes from the Marvel movies! They had a Nirvana section, a section for horror movies, fantasy movies, sci-fi movies, and a Star Trek exhibition. But my favorite in the whole place was Jimi Hendrix's favorite Stratocaster, the very one he played the Star Spangled Banner on at Woodstock. Whoa. And, of course, hubby loved the Star Wars pieces. But I think his favorite was Gimli's axe, the very one used in the movie. They also had Frodo's shortsword and Aragorn's sword! And I gotta say, those LOTR weapons were amazing! Each was hand-forged as an actual weapon and the detail and craftsmanship was just stunning. As for exhibit set-ups, my favorite was the giant dragonfly TV, its giant round eyes being the screens!

This was my favorite costume. Look at all that beading! And I loved the blending of the traditional and modern materials...the culture behind this design.

This is so cool!

But we have to leave afterwards in order to get to Fry's with enough time to shop so we have to skip the Space Museum. But again...another great excuse to return! There's just so much to see in Seattle, you could spend a week there and still have more to see. So we'll definitely be coming back since I also want to visit Bruce Lee's and Jimi Hendrix's gravesites to boot. Bruce Lee is one of my personal heroes so to visit would be a kind of pilgrimage for me. 


Anyway, Fry's is dedicated to all things IT and tech, about the size of Costco. Hubby was in heaven! Firstly though we need to eatwe're famished and running on empty so we wolf down sugary snacks for energy...I've never eaten a cinnamon roll so fast in my life and hubby chowed down a giant cookie then we wash all that down with an energy drink (remember, we've been up since 3am). Okay—we're ready to rock. Unfortunately, however, this particular Fry's was sold out of all of hubby's wanted components so that was a major disappointment. Luckily though, all of them are available at Amazon and for a good $50 cheaper so problem quickly solved. We had fun though. My favorite thing we bought were the walkie-talkies. I've always wanted some so we didn't have to yell from different ends of the house (my studio and his mancave are on opposite ends) and to...well...just have them because they're fun. So we've been playing with them like idiots. I also got some small, portable Ottlites on a good sale because I want to host some DnD figurine painting parties and they're perfect for each person. And consistent to my new IT kit for trips, I also buy an unusual round multi-plug surge protector that would pack compactly and easily in my suitcase. I've discovered that many hotels simply don't have enough plugs and in this day and age, one can never have too many outlets! So that'll prove very handy I think. Hubby also wanted to get a fancy Sony Playstation to play the new God of War (he's a huge gamer), but they were sold out of that, too. Hooray for Amazon! With all the sell-outs, I think Fry's is no longer on our destination list especially since everything is available on Amazon and for cheaper and in stock. Lesson learned, but I'm glad we went anyway. It got my walkie-talkies! "HamMan, this is Variable, over." "Yes, dear, over." "You are the cyootest thing in the whole wide world, over." "Good grief, over."


So we get back to the hotel and have a tasty dinner then spend some goodly time on the terrace enjoying the evening view and then crash, sleeping hard on the big, comfy bed. One thing we do ponder though is how Starbuck's coffee tastes so much better in Seattle. We're not fans ourselvesit's too bitter and harsh tasting for our palettesbut we're surprised how it tastes totally different in its home city. Curious.


Thursday

I'm an early riser—2:30am is my typical wake-up time—but I slept in 'till 5am. I quietly get out of bed since hubby is still snoozing, and make coffee. With my steaming mug on the terrace I watch the sunrise over the lake and Seattle—it's a beautiful clear, cool morning. I swear, there's nothing like a Northwest morning! Little birds visit me, chirping to greet the day and I savor the beauty of the place. I'm a big fan of blending the outside with the inside, too, so I left the terrace door open to let in fresh air. HamMan gets up about three hours later and enjoys coffee on the terrace, too. 

Heaven is a Northwest morning!

Hubby enjoying his morning coffee and the view.

Then we head down to a tasty breakfast in the restaurant, and sated, we head back up to the room to enjoy the terrace a bit more and pack. We say a longing goodbye to the lake and this fabulous room and pile into the car to head to Anacortes to catch our ferry to San Juan Island. 

By the way, we always rent a car for road trips so we don't put that wear and tear on our car. We also like being able to call someone else to deal with car difficulties rather than have to deal with them ourselves. This time we got a Ford Fusion hybrid and I gotta say—it was fantastic! What a perfect car for a road trip! We barely used any gas and it handled like a dream. It was super comfortable, had great turning radius and pick-up, too, essential things for city driving and road trips. We're definitely going to request this car next time! 


We also wear compression socks or compression stockings for long road trips—say, anything over five hours. We've had two friends come down with blood clots due to long road trips these last three years so we aren't taking any chances. They feel weird when you first get them on—which is a bit of a productionbut you get used to them to the point where you don't even notice them anymore. And they actually make quite a big difference in how your legs respond to long periods of inactivity so we're definitely glad we adopted this habit.


Anyway, we planned our leaving time to miss the rush hour, which we do, and make it to Anacortes in good time. But let me backtrack a bit—poor hubby had one helluva SCARE. We stopped for gas so we didn't have to on the island (we like to use our Chevron card and there's no Chevron on the island). So I'm in the bathroom when I get a call from Hammy, "COME OUT TO THE CAR ***RIGHT NOW***." Something is horribly horribly wrong! Oh GOD. I bust a move out there and find him wide-eyed and shaking, "PLEASE tell me you have the fob!" Now ordinarily a rental place cables the two fobs together (for what reason I don't know since that totally defeats the purpose, doesn't it?), but happily Enterprise didn't do that. So we split them up between us before we left home and I put mine on my key chain. Always safer to put eggs in different baskets, right? And OH MY GAWD did that prove to be a smart move now! Apparently the fob was missingmaybe the valet forgot to actually give it to us or it accidentally fell on the drivewayso when Hammy turned off the car to gas it up he couldn't turn it back on! We'd miss our ferry and be stranded to boot! That's a vacation-ruiner right there. Calmly though I pull the second fob out of my purse and vacation SAVED! He didn't know that I took my keys with me which had the second fob so his relief was beyond profound. And lets just say we kept meticulous tabs on where that fob was at all times afterwards! But poor Hammy—he was still shaking and seriously stressed out from the panic on our way to the ferry dock and it takes him quite awhile to calm down. He also has to take some anti-nausea medication since he got so worked up, he got a little sick. We were so lucky! So we get in the car line for the ferry and wait. Meanwhile we search the car for that missing fob and nada. We call the hotel to see if they have it. Nada. It's simply vanished! I'm a little worried that we'll be found liable and have to replace it which is really expensive! But I chose not to think about it—it's vacation! Anyway, we hear an announcement that the ferry is running about forty-five minutes late so we decide to get sandwiches at the food truck for lunch (which ended up being really good). But as we start to walk over, I reach into my pocket. OMG. NO WAY! It's the missing fob! The valet must've given it to me and not thinking, I stuffed it into my pocket! Ham lets out a "GAH!" and rolls his eyes and shakes his head with a big smile and I start busting up. I am the center of chaos and mayhem in his tidy world of organization and order, aren't I? Anyway, we load into the ferry and head up to the passenger sections to enjoy the scenery on the clear, sunny ride over to San Juan Island. It's such a novel experience, taking a ferry ride let alone taking a car so we enjoy it immensely.


 Here comes our ferry!

 A happy 21 years together!



We get our first sight of Friday Harbor, the main harbor on San Juan Island! It's picturesque and beautiful so our excitement definitely ramps up. So idyllic, in fact, it reminds me a bit of The Village in The Prisoner. So we off-load and head to the local grocery to stock up, especially on breakfast food so I can cook us a couple of breakfasts. Then we head to our cabin, the Boathouse at Lonesome Cove. This was my first pick for a place to stay on the island being so quiet, remote, and peaceful which also gives lots of opportunities for wildlife to visit. We check in and meet the proprietors, Kim and Karl, who are delightful hosts! Kim is also a gifted photographer and her photos of the area are beautiful. And I gotta say, Lonesome Cove is the only way to stay on San Juan Island. It was simply wonderful—magical! Nine miles out of Friday Harbor, it's so serene and quiet, a great way to "unplug" and savor the experience of the island. It's also centrally located between the main hubs on the Island, Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor, which makes it particularly convenient. Nestled on the north shore in a thick forest, it looks at Spieden Island, a privately owned island currently for sale at 44 million dollars (!). The Boathouse itself was very clean, super cozy, and very comfortable and with a full kitchen allowed me to cook a couple of breakfasts so we could just chill out in the morning rather than rush off to a restaurant breakfast. They also let us sit out on their dock to enjoy the sunsets, and my early mornings on the balcony with my coffee were indescribably wonderful. And as I'd hoped, wildlife was abundant. A fox came to visit, along with deer, seals, a bald eagle, various native birds, various jellyfish, and an otter (!!!). We also saw harbor porpoise swim by and the frogs at night were so cool. The San Juan Islands will certainly be our new destination vacation spot for awhile and we're definitely staying here again! A must! 


 The resident friendly seal!

 View from the balcony to the west.

 Another view to the east.

 View to the northwest.

 Waiting for the sunset on the dock.

 Lonesome Cove from the water. That's our Boathouse on the far right.

They have a little library! How cool is that? I couldn't decide between the shot during the day or nightso both!

 The panoramic view from the balcony of the Boathouse. Totally, right?

The weather was amazing all week!

So we get settled and I unpack our stuff then based on Kim's recommendation, we head to Madrona Bar and Grill in charming Roche Harbor for dinner. It was fantastic. The food was delicious and the place itself was lovely. I ordered the homemade Bloody Mary on a whim andyowwas it tasty! It also came with a huge, fresh, Pacific prawn! For starters then we ordered the Prawn and Avocado cocktail which is obscenely delicious and the Asian Pork Lollipops which were tasty, too. But that cocktail—WOW


 LOOK at that thang!

Cool seal bronze sculpture in the harbor.

I'm also a clam chowder snob and affectionado, and I try it wherever I go, especially when traveling the coast. I had a current #1 for a long time, but after enjoying Madrona's clam chowder it became the new #1! How awesome is that?! It was perfect clam chowder! Very flavorful with huge chunks of fresh clams with a perfect balance of flavors and the perfect consistency to the tasty cream sauce. Most of all, it was totally uncomplicated. Good clam chowder is utterly simple. One of the biggest mistakes with clam chowder is to overcomplicate it with "stuff" so you lose the nuances and subtleties of the sea flavors. Indeed, the moment you have complicated clam chowder you know they're using inferior ingredients. And carrots should never be present in clam chowder! And for gosh sakes no dill! They're just too strong a flavor. If we must have a vegetable in there other than the potato, celery or onion are the only choices. And salt and pepper only—a bit of paprika if you must. And voilá—Madrona delivered in spades. It was the just the taste of clams, potatoes, onions, cream, and the sea. Now for dinner, we both ordered the local rockfish and chips which is really good, too. For dessert we pick the carrot cake made there andyowzait was super. Like one of the very best ever. It was also served on a "Happy Anniversary" plate and the place got the dessert for us, being our anniversary. Wow! 
And the owner's wife, Carlawho was also our waitresswas a hoot! She's a blast! We also got a pole position table on the patio right on the water so we could see the colors ceremony, something done for some fifty years. They lower the Washington flag, British flag, Canadian flag, and the American flag all to their own music then shoot off a loud cannon at sunset then all the harbor boats blow their horns. It was a lot of fun. And to our surprise, our names and anniversary were announced afterwards in the announcement section after the ceremony! First thing! And everyone clapped for us! Carla! Whoo-hoo! What a fun surprise! That was so cool. 

So after being stuffed with deliciousness, we head back to the cabin and enjoy the gorgeous sunset sitting on the dock. 


Yeah—every sunset was this glorious!

Then we head back to our cabin, Hammy lights a fire in the fireplace, and I fall asleep on the couch to the crackle of the fire, the lap of the waves, and the song of the frogs. What a piece of Heaven. I wake up around 1am to find that Ham has gotten up to check on me. He's been so excited he's having a hard time sleeping himself so he's been watching the little bay, seeing all sorts of critters at night. In fact, he points out an otter feeding on the minnows attracted to the dock light! An otter! Of course, I die of joy! He's bigs n' blobby and busily eating by the light of the moon. We both crawl into bed and crash, sleeping soundly.

MAN MAKE FIRE

Friday

I sleep in again until 5am and quietly make coffee and sit out on the balcony to greet the  lovely sunrise and soak in the morning in this beautiful place. It feels awkward but so great to be unplugged and existing just in the moment here, quietly and serenely. Exactly what I needed. 

Good morning, San Juan!

While we had a busy day planned, I let hubby sleep in to let him wake up naturally—it's vacation, right? Heck, he does all the driving so he definitely earns a good night sleep every night. I've learned to always sleep in on vacation unless it's imperative not to—being rested allows us to enjoy and "be present" on vacation more. So about three hours later, Mr. Bedhead enjoys his first cuppa Joe on the balcony and I get about to cooking breakfast. I cook a big one so it fortifies us for our packed day plus he loves a hearty breakfast anyway. Eggs, sausage, bacon, and bagels with cream cheese (though I have Texas toast with lots of butter). Yeah, baby.

Our first stop: the San Juan Sculpture Park! We have another gorgeous sunny, clear day, perfect for enjoying this wonderful park and art. It's also a great excuse to have a delightful 2.5 hour walk. We visit each sculpture and my favorite ends up being what looks like blue lanterns anchored to a boulder because it echos a lighthouse. But I also loved the dragonfly and the spaceship which were a lot of fun. The one of Rapunzel was also a favoriteI liked its message. For lots more go to my Sculpture Park album here.


Then we head into town for lunch at San Juan Cheese, a charming little place featuring all manner of delicious cheeses and cheese-based food. We get a nice table on the patio in the shade, and though the menu is wonderful, I manage to narrow it down to the grilled cheese and lox sandwich. I mean seriously—where else am I going to find this? And I'm so glad I got it—amazing! I could eat this everyday. We also got the cheeseboard which was lovely. It had an unusual selection of wonderful cheeses with an array of gastric accoutrements like marcona almonds and apricot chutney and these amazing homemade crisps. On top of that, hubby got the cauliflower and leek soup which was tasty, too—something light since he was still a bit full from breakfast. Their coffee was amazing, by the way. We sucked down quite a bit of it. Then we finished with a scrumptious slice of mint cheesecake with cocoa crust. Yeah—we plan to eat our way across the island.

We then take our time to explore downtown Friday Harbor. To get us started we get the best mocha we've ever had at the San Juan Roasting Company down by the pier. Slurping on that, we stop in at Maya's Legacy Whale Watching to just touch bases before our big excursion on Saturday. I picked this particular company because of their good reputation on sightings and on education and especially on friendliness. I wanted Ham to have not only a fruitful experience, but a fun one, too. More on them later. So off we go downtown to peruse and poke our noses around. And we do some shopping! When we go on our trips I like to get a souvenir, but not your typical one and especially not one made in another country. Seriously—what's the point?  I want one made by a local artist to not only support the local arts, but give me something really special to remind me of the area. Happily, San Juan Island is loaded with talented artists. They actually have a famous studio tour circuit in June which I'd love to go to next year on a return trip. So we find the artist co-op store downtown and I get a fabulous pair of art glass earrings made by a resident glass artistbright clear citrine green danglies with clear sky blue dots. I also buy five art glass beads made by another resident art glass artist—I get to pick them out of a giant bowl to get just the right onesto make zipper pulls and dice bag danglies. Ham even picked one out for himself for me to make him a zipper pull. The work in the shop is spectacular with a diverse range of media, type, and scope. 


Then we hit the local chocolate shop—because chocolate. Made on the island, we pick our favorites to snack on on the dock later that night and lo and behold—they also sell imported ports! Hubby loves a good port so he selects his favorite to sip on the dock while he nibbles his chocolates. We head down to the pier again to check out the shops there and I get Ham a seaman's chart of the islands—he loves maps. I get us a cute Orca magnet for our fridge, too. We get another mocha at the Roasting Company, which I pair with a chocolate and caramel covered pretzel, of course. We also get their souvenir mugs featuring Orcas—Ham gets a big one and I get the small one. They're really nicely done. Then we get an ice cream cone at the Friday Harbor Ice Cream Company on the pier—two scoops in a waffle cone! I get the most scrumptious lemon meringue flavor. I swear I could've eaten ten of them. We explore the pier a bit and watch the boats and ferries come and go as we sit and enjoy our cones.

Then we head off to Kiln Lime State Park so we can do a gorgeous walk with a view and I can see the Kiln Lime Lighthouse. Apparently this particular place is good for seeing whales and so the lighthouse also serves as a research center, making it extra cool. And it didn't disappoint. What a view! And we see Canada on the far shore! We sit and soak in the place then hit the trail to find the lighthouse. It's definitely a neat place and still a functioning lighthouse which delights me to no end. And though locked up, we can see the research records and boards inside. 


Here are some views from the hike to Kiln Lime Lighthouse...
That's Canada in the distance! HI CANADA! We love you!

By this time it's getting late so we head off back to Friday Harbor to have dinner at Coho. I pick where we eat very carefully on every trip. That's one of "my" jobs. Hubby picks the route and plans the road trip and I plan the incidentals and the activities while there. So I take it very seriously. One of our vacation perks is eating well—we're shameless foodies and eating local and "mom and pop" is crucial for us. No chains! We want the real deal, especially where the locals eat. So I had specific restaurants picked for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Coho was definitely on the dinner list based on all the recommendations. And holy smokes did it deliver! Wow. I've never encountered a chef with this refined and quirky a palette and every dish was a delightful discovery! Off the charts! We got the Chef's Tasting because that was just easier and we could split it since we were still a bit full from lunch. He started us on the Spanish Octopus which was spectacular! We've never had such good octopus—more tender than maguro and flavorful beyond measure. He even made the skin crispy somehow! Then he offered us his Tagliatelle, made non-spicy as per our request. Wow! The bright, fresh flavors were outstanding! As for our entree, he chose the market fish for us which was local cod. Wow again! I've never had cod so flavorful or perfectly cooked. And the baby morel mushroom risotto bed was outrageously good. For dessert, we picked the Valencia Orange Cake which was so simple and humble but insanely delicious with a strong orange flavor and with the most amazing moist, dense texture. Our waitress was so attentive and charming, too, and the space was quiet and intimate but causal—just perfect! But darn it—we were so enrapt with our goodies we forgot to take photos! A pesky sign of something awesome, I guess!


So we head back to the Boathouse to chillax and we again enjoy the sunset on the dock, Ham sipping his port in the weathered, wood Adirondack chairs, listening to the frogs, birds, and Bald Eagles in the distance. Again, I crash on the couch to the sound of a crackling fire, lapping waves, and frog song then come to bed later that night to find hubby asleep with his iPad.


Saturday
Now it's The Big Day—whale watching day! I decided to keep the day rather fluid with our whale watching date the only thing set in stone. So again, I wake up at 5am and enjoy the sunrise with my coffee. A Bald Eagle flies overhead! Little birds line the balcony railing, chirping happily! And our friendly seal visits the little bay again—hello! I let Hammy sleep in again so he'll be fully rested for his big experience. So at around 8am, he gets up and I make a hearty breakfast and we leisurely enjoy the morning.

We saunter downtown to the Farmer's Market which though small is high quality as everything is local and absolutely fresh. The artisans are insanely talented, too. The photography! The jewelry! The art work! There's also huge paella pans cooking up what smells to be obscenely delicious paella and the baked goods look outrageously delish, too. But as a treat, I buy two local raw oysters—shucked right there and harvested that morning! They're big, fat and seriously the most scrumptious, best oysters I've ever had in my entire life! WHOA BABY. I am ruined for all other oysters now! Holy SMOKES.


Oh, that paella smelled divine! And that oyster! OMG. More great excuses to come back!

So it's close to noon, when we're supposed to meet at Maya's to group and get on the boat. We head down thereit's on the piergetting another mocha at the San Juan Roasting Company to fortify us while we wait. It's a glorious day, but we know it's going to be much cooler on the ocean—about 10˚ cooler plus the wind chill of the trip out there and back. So we have extra layers and we slathered ourselves with sunscreen. I also wear a wide-brimmed hat since I fry in the sun, even with sunscreen. Our captain is Spencer and his First Mate is Jeff, and both are a blast and super friendly. One of the big reasons I chose this companyaside from the massive recommendations—was that it was a small boat. Only about fifteen people, tops. I didn't want us to get on a giant boat with tons of other people. When it comes to tours like this, big isn't necessarily better. And we luck out and have a great group of people, including a nice couple from Idaho! From Moscow, Idaho, she was taking a break before her PhD dissertation and he was an mechanical engineer. His big goal was to see a humpback and her Bucket List item was to see Orcas—so fingers crossed! And while Ham's big goal was to see Orcas, I didn't care what I saw. It was another gorgeous sunny, clear day in the 70s on a beautiful boat with a great group of people touring the beautiful islands. I was happy with just that! Anything else would be gravy. So off we head into big blue, the boat speeding along with spray flying up the sides and hubby with a ginormous grin on his face. He was in such a happy place! He loves the ocean and being on a boat in the middle of it was beyond awesome for him! In another lifetime he'd be a marine biologist.

That is one happy Ham!

We see beautiful Harbor Porpoises and loads of Steller Seal Lions and Harbor Seals. All manner of sea birds and even a Minke Whale! More Bald Eagles, too. They show us the rich, dense kelp forests hoping to see some otter, but they were off doing other things. 


What's also great about this company is that they have a local naturalist on board as education, and Jeff is a wealth of information about the area, the islands, the ecosystems, and the critters. He answered our every question with enthusiasm and had all manner of esoteric tidbits to lend depth to the learning experience. Definitely learned lots of new things! Like did you know that the male Steller Sea Lion has a skull similar to a Grizzly and actually gets bigger than a Grizzly!? A whooping 2,500 lbs!


Unfortunately there are no reports of Orcas in the area, but we'll all hopeful nonetheless. All the boats in the area work together to report Orcas to the whale watching and research vessels, which is kinda a cool thing. Just goes to show how much this area loves its whales! So we're heading back from a large group of Stellar Sea Lions—making all manner of racket—when we come across a mature Humpback Whale! A Humpback! A female! Apparently, her name is Slate and she's been going back and forth across the Strait feeding like an eating machine, building up reserves to make the migration to mate. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, she eats, for weeks. She needs to consume a minimum of 1 million calories a day in order to gain that needed weight. Jeff tells us that the waters in which she'll mate and later give birth are terrible feeding grounds for Humpbacks so she'll end up having to nurse her baby and mate again as she's starving! She has to nurse and care for her baby on a calorie deficit! I had no idea. So that's why she's spending all this time gaining weight—she's going to need every pound. I swear—these Humpback Moms have to be one of the toughest animals out there. Spencer maneuvers the boat to get us as close as possible. We're not allowed to get closer than 100 feet and definitely not allowed to touch her, but if she comes up closer than that on her own, that's okay. And lo—she pops up a mere 30 feet from our boat! So close you can see the barnacles on her tail fin! Amazing! Such a large creature so gentle and graceful—it's so humbling. And I make a mental note that Maya's was the first on the scene, something which tended to be a theme throughout our experience with them. They definitely know what they're doing!

The Humpback! Marvelous and magnificent!

Now what's amazing about seeing a Humpback is this—they're incredibly rare in these waters. We essentially just saw a Unicorn. They used to be plentiful in the area, but the whaling industry wiped out the local population. And since calves learn where to go to feed from their Moms, there were no longer any Moms to show their calves the area and so for decades, the area went Humpback-less. Then all of a sudden some Moms began to venture into the area as new explorers, rediscovering these feeding grounds and so the Humpbacks have been slowly returning to the Islands. How awesome is that?!


Alas however, we miss out on the Orcas. Though we're out there for a good three hours, they're just off doing other things in the deep ocean and still no reports. Though he's thrilled about the Humpback, Ham is very disappointed about the Orcas, but here's the good news: Maya's—being awesome—offers us a spot on their boat on Sunday if they get reports of Orcas, at no charge! They'll contact us when they get a report and we'll all gather back at the dock and head out. So there's still hope! Fingers crossed! I make a silent wish this happens, for Hammy's sake.


So we get back to shore and get another ice cream cone—this time I get salted caramel and pecan praline. Delish! Then we walk to The Whale MuseumUnfortunately though, we find they're closing in 20 minutes and we want to spend some decent time in there. Luckily, however, they're open on Sunday so we decide to return the following day to do it right. So we walk around downtown a little bit and visit the used book store. I find I already have every horse book they have! Ha ha ha! Then we head back to the car and back to the Boathouse. Now because I got so caught up in the day previously, I forgot to call my intended restaurant, Duck Soup, to make reservations...and it being Mother's Day weekend, I really should have! Because I find out on Saturday that all their seatings are booked solid and I'm so disappointed. That was the one place I really wanted to try! Oh well—but hey, another great excuse to return, right? And as expected, literally every nice restaurant on the island is booked for Mother's Day. But this actually works out unexpectedly nicely for us. Ham decides to cook breakfast for dinner and so we enjoy a restful, quiet evening at the Boathouse, something we really kinda needed after such an amazing experience that day. Again, we watch the sunset on the dock and I fall asleep to a cracking fire, lapping waves, and croaking frogs. I get up again at 2am and come to bed, finding hubby again asleep with his iPad.



Sunday
We're finally at our last day! It's amazing how time truly flies when you're having a blast. In the blink of an eye, really. Again, I'm up at 5am to greet the sunrise. I enjoy my coffee on the balcony—drinking out of my new Orca mugthis time sketching to the sound of sea birds and exchanging glances with our friend the harbor seal again. A Bald Eagle flies overhead again and I see the fox in the woods next to us. I sketch out a new idea for Tanis, the Barb stallion I want to sculpt, inspired by the gorgeous grey horse Indy rides in Indiana Jones. I had him previously composed, but in that moment I worked out an even better pose and "feel" for him and now I'm all jazzed to get him started! I have to admit it's been hard to "get out of the studio" on this trip. It's important to be here and now on a vacation I think, but leaving the studio when I'm so fired up creatively isn't easy. But I've always found this to be true: even when we're most geared up to create, getting out of the studio actually amplifies creativity when you return. That break—that change—somehow intensifies everything and inspires even new ideas that can take work in whole new and often better directions. In the truest sense then, time away from the studio is as important as time spent in it! Truly, I'd never have come up with this particular better composition for Tanis if not for that moment on the balcony. It's all serendipity, isn't it?

But most of all, today is also a very special day to boot: it's our actual wedding anniversary! May the 13th! Happy Anniversary, Hammy! Eighteen incredible years married! Every minute has been a true blessing. And goshhow they've gone by so fast. It feels only like six or seven years! So I make dinner reservations at McMillin's, a fancy restaurant right above Madrona in Roche Harbor, something fitting for our wedding anniversary. I make them for 8:30pm, thinking we'd go back to the Boathouse and dress up a little bit.


As for plans for the day, they're much more open and fluid though we did have a couple of local suggestions we decided to do. First was the Young Hill Trail hike which provides an expansive view of many of the San Juans and Canada at the top. The second was the western coastal drive on the island which would provide a terrific view of Canada, the mountains, and the Haro Strait. And I wanted to see Cattle Point Lighthouse, the second on the island. But first—breakfast! Kiln Lime Cafe was highly recommended to us by a couple of locals and I'm glad we took them up on it! It was in Roche Harbor, just across from Madrona, and was a very popular local spot. They make their own donuts and biscuits, things of profound importance to me at breakfast. We luck out on a pole position table right on the corner of the patio right on the water, and chow down on our stellar breakfast. I had something simple—two eggs over hard, hash browns and a biscuit, started with a fresh, homemade chocolate-glazed donut. Hubby has the eggs benedict with hash browns and sourdough toast. I have fresh-squeezed OJ while he has a ginormous mocha. Everything is delicious and generous—the hash browns are especially amazingbut the real stars are the donut (made that morning!) and the incredible biscuit (also made that morning) with homemade local strawberry jam. I've never had a better biscuit in my entire life! I could've eaten a dozen of them. Soft, fluffy, and moist and oh-so buttery on the inside and crunchy and slightly salty on the outside. Unbelievable. Perfect.


Fully stuffed, we check out two of the historic lime kilns right there at the harbor. These two massive hillside kilns were used to burn the lime rock up to 2000˚F to remove the carbon dioxide to leave pure lime which was crucial for industrial uses like making cement. At one point, San Juan Island was the largest producer of lime west of the Mississippi! Judging by how massive those kilns were, I can only imagine what it took to fuel them. I wonder if these kilns had names? Every kiln needs a name! Quietly in my head I name the one on the left "Buzzy" and the one on the right "Wonks." I have no idea why—they just pop in my head.



So we head out to the trailhead for the Young Hill Trail hike. And true to form, the locals didn't disappoint! The mile long hike up is lovely, deep in temperate rainforest with deciduous trees, ferns, pines, oaks, moss, and lush foliage densely packed along the path. It's cool and moist, and the twitter of birds guides us through the shade and dappled sunlight. It smells earthy and clean, full of life and growing things. And so quiet! No one is around, being 9:30am. It's wonderful. And as promised, the top view is spectacular! We see Canada clearly, and with such a clear, sunny, gorgeous morning, we see well back right to the snow-capped mountains! Now the hike itself is essentially one mile straight up with a few switchbacks. Ham is fit, being a gym rat, but me...let's just say I hate to sweat and avoid exercise like the plague. So there he is powering up the hillside while I'm huffing and puffing wanting to throw up and die—not necessarily in that order—and having to take breaks. But I do it! I got more exercise in that one hike up than I have all year long, and I want to keep it that way. I actually planned quite a bit of walking in this trip because I knew he worked out...and he gets a little crabby if he doesn't. So as I expected, all this walking really eased him and got all that energy out, putting him in a good frame of mind throughout the trip. It also helped us to walk off the copious amounts of rich food we mowed down so we didn't feel like quite the bloated whale we should have felt. We definitely gained some weight on this trip—as expected—our pants are a little tighter! But we know it'll come off quickly when we get back to our regular eating habits. Always indulge on vacation!

 My native habitat: cool, shady, moist, and greeeeeeeen. Ferns and moss everywhere!

 Once common the Garry Oak is very rare now. They sure are beautiful!

 A panoramic view from the top. Wow!

Hi again, Canada!

So we head back down to the car to take the western coastal drive down to the other end of the island to see Cattle Point Lighthouse, seeing False Bay along the way. The view is again fantastic and we stop to take some shots as we go. One thing we did learn about the island though is this: Net access can be really spotty. We lost service several times and without that, we lost our maps. So for next time we learned to always have a paper map of the island as a backup for when we inevitably lose service. Oh, the irony! I could just hear Mom "You and your technology! Give me a real map any day!" Anyway, we reach Cattle Point Lighthouse—which is also happily still functional—and it's as cool as Kiln Lime Lighthouse. Like a lonely sentinel, it overlooks the southern point of the Island warning boats away from its rocky shores, ever vigilant. Awesome!


Cattle Point Lighthouse on the southernmost tip of the Island.

So we head back to Friday Harbor to the Whale Museum and find it a wonderful, really well-done compact museum full of great exhibits and lots of information on the local pods and wildlife. The life-size models of the whales are amazing and so well-done and the skeletal mounts are fabulous! I loved all the bones and skulls—all that anatomy—of the local animals. The size of the grey whale vertebrae—even for just for a juvenile—was flabbergasting! And the skulls of the different whales, porpoises, and seals was fascinating. So glad we decided to return to take our time in there!


Look at the size of that thing!

 That's a whale baleen! I think one from a Gray Whale if I remember right.

 A sightings map—look at them all gathered around the Islands!



Afterwards we're a bit peckish so we head to the Cask and Schooner in Friday Harbor to try poutine for the first time. I found it on the menu during my research and decided this was a must for our trip! We order their cheeseboard and I try their clam chowder (of course). The cheeseboard is excellent with a curious salty goat cheese, a really good fruity brie, and a tasty unusual bleu that has a slightly grapefruit finish. The clam chowder—nope! Way overcomplicated, I couldn't even taste clams let alone the sea. Oh well. It wasn't bad per se, it just wasn't the kind of clam chowder I prefer. But the real highlight here was the poutine. OH. MAH. GAWD. I can see now why this stuff has a cult following—it's delish! Rich and savory with such depth of flavors and textural variations, I can see how it could be so addictive...and how you'd need a nap after a full helping of it! Wow. This would fill you all day long plus some!

So there we are mowing down our poutine when Mom calls. "Hi, Mom!" I wish her a Happy Mother's Day and she wishes us Happy Anniversary. Woot! I'm talking to Pop when all of a sudden I get a call on the other line—it's Maya's Whale Watching! I have to hang up on Dad—poor Dad!—in order to take this critical call and find thatyes!—Orcas have been spotted in the waters and would we want to jump back on the boat to find them? HECK YES! So we're set—meet at the office at 4pm and we'll go see those Orcas! Ham is ecstatic, bouncing in his seat, his mouth full of poutine. If anything, it would be another fabulous boat ride on a beautiful sunny, clear day with a great crew on a cool boat. He not only gets to go out on the ocean once, but twice! And what perfect timing! I had so worried that we'd be at the top of Young Hill or some random place when they called and we'd miss out. But nope! We were right there in the harbor at the restaurant when they called, and it was 2:45pm. We only had about an hour to kill! So we head back to the car to slather ourselves with sunscreen, get our extra coats (which we fortuitously brought with us), and feed hubby anti-nausea pills. We then head back downtown, grabbing another ice cream cone (this time I had peppermint and rocky road) and sit out on the pier again to savor them, waiting for our appointment with destiny.


We meet at the office and I buy Hammy a Maya's Legacy t-shirt which has a gorgeous rendition of their logo which was done by one of their employees who's also an artist—and also named Sarah! She becomes Sarah 1 and I'm Sarah 2, like Thing 1 and Thing 2. Ha ha ha. Plus we find that the couple from Moscow, Idaho were also able to respond to the call—awesome! We chat for awhile as we wait and find that she's a big gamer, too. She and Ham talk about God of War (her favorite game) when two other guys—visiting engineers for Boeing—come up hearing them talk and they join in about how they love God of War, too! These guys are a lot of fun and right off the ferry and walked over to Maya's having seen the sign, clueless but wanting to see whales. Luckily there's space on the boat for them so they get paid up and we all have the sneaking feeling that they're going to be our good luck charms. We have another nice group of people, one is even a professional photographer with his family who's hoping to get some good shots. 


Now what's particularly cool is that we'll have Sarah on board as the naturalist along with two shadowing apprentices so we'll get a triple whammy. Even more, though it's his day off, Jeff joins us again hoping to get some good Orca shots. A quadruple whammy! Our Captain this time is Alan, and like Spencer, he's super friendly and fun. Heck, the entire staff are super friendly and fun, happy and good-natured. They're relaxed, good-humored, and casual which makes the entire experience even better. They crack jokes so everyone is giggling and tease each other in a way that makes everyone relax and just chill out in a fun way. And so well-informed! Each is a treasure trove of biological facts about the region and we learn so much! Really, we cannot speak more highly of the Maya's Legacy staff! They're fabulous! And the boat is amazing—it's clean, inspected, well-equipped, and comfortable...and big enough for only about fifteen people, making the experience that much better.


All of them have fancy cameras to catch shots of the Orcas which his neat to see how invested they are with these animals, too. They're genuinely interested in them, they genuinely love them and I appreciate that. So we head out into the big blue again, and as before, Hammy has a big smile on his face, loving every moment out on the ocean, jetting along with ocean spray rooster-tailing alongside the boat. And as sure as there's good juju from those two guys, we see the season's first Puffins! Wow! They're adorable and weird looking, and I remember one of my favorite memes: Puffins gonna puff! What's more, we see another Minke Whale (pronounced "minky"), which Sarah tells me are referred to as "Stinky Minkes" since their breath apparently reeks, which you don't want to smell if you're downwind. I personally find it hilarious that a Sarah is telling me about a Minke whale—oh, the irony!




We see more Harbor Porpoises, but we're on a mission—Orcas! There have been reports of the transient pod, a Mom with her three sons, in the southern waters, so we go racing out there at Mach 7 (I think it was the T38 family). And WOW! There she is with her huge son, his dorsal towering above the water! Ham is mesmerized and I'm so so happy for him! They're gorgeous and moving with purpose, on a hunting search with some 4-5 minute searching dives with a couple of long 10-12 minute driving dives. She's with her youngest son and her two older sons are off in the distance helping with the hunt. Working as a pack in a very coordinated fashion, they're all doing their part to find prey. True to form, Maya's is first on the scene and we have the best position to see them. They're absolutely beautiful and massive, but move so fluidly and effortlessly with such agility! Male Orcas can weigh as much as 10 tons and be up to 32 feet and females as much as 7-8 tons and 28 feet! In a sense then, they're like semi-trucks that can turn on a dime. Even when born they're big with calves weighing about 400-500 pounds and 8 feet long. 


 There's Mom! Hi, Mom! Males have the tall, straight fins and females have the smaller, curved ones.

There she is with her youngest son. He's about 38 years old. She has two older sons who are off in the distance to the south helping with the hunt. Family pods are very close knit and each clan pod has its own unique language and culture.

 That's Mount Baker in the background in the Cascade range. It's covered in old glaciers and is 10,781 feet, the third tallest in Washington.


 "Spyhopping," a behavior they use to scan the surface for prey and to investigate general goings-on.

 They're chasing something! They can go fastup to 50 miles in a day!

That shot is the son's dorsal fin and he's only about 9-10 ft from the boat! He popped up on that side, going under our boat!

One of the older sons busting a move to herd something towards Mom and his brother.

Apparently Orca society is matrilineal, like Elephant society. Calves learn everything from their mothers, even what to eat and how to hunt it, and even how to eat it. Orcas are also extremely picky eaters. They tend to specialize in just one kind of food, and even only certain parts of that food. For instance, the resident pod eat only salmon—that's it. On the other hand, one of the transient pods eats mostly seals (with some Harbor Porpoise thrown in)—and not just the whole thing! They don't eat the skin, spine, intestines, heart, or lungs. Each family pod also has its own distinct language and culture, and don't intermix with other pods unless to mate. What's more, Orcas are highly social and the bond between Mom and calf is immensely strong. Even more, the bond between Mom and son is the most powerful in Orca society. In fact, young males are so dependent on their mothers that a male calf has a 60%-70% chance of mortality if he loses her. Daughters tend to be more independent since they'll have their own bond with their calves eventually. Orcas can also live up to 100 years, having a rich family life with grandchildren and great grandchildren. These are also highly intelligent animals probably with a rich emotional life. In fact, Orcas are one of the few other animals found to have Spindle cells (once thought to be unique to humans and great apes though rats also have them) which are associated with processing social organization and empathy. Indeed, the relative number of Spindle cells is greater in Orcas than they are in us! Here's some more information on Orca hunting behavior and intelligence in case you're interested. Didn't know this either, but at the Whale Museum we learned there's quite a bit of phenotypic variation among the populations with the Northern Arctic pods looking rather different from the Souther Antarctic pods. Who knew?


Anyway, it's a true thrill to see them in the wild, all four of them. And wow—those are two enormous sons even bigger than the youngest. They're definitely on a mission, that's for sure. We see rare behavior such as "spyhopping," when they pop their head above the surface to scan the area. The youngest son also smacks his flippers on the water and appears to be wrestling with something. Because whoa—he and Mom catch something! Not 20 feet from the boat! Sarah thinks it's a seal or a Harbor porpoise. Then up comes a poof of air bubbles and Jeff tells us that's probably from the prey's popped lungs, or what they call "bubbles of death." He also observes a smell of cucumbers which is apparently what seal oil smells like...so yeah...they probably got a seal. Admittedly, I'm a bit traumatized but I keep reminding myself this is nature and luckily for me, everything happened beneath the water! Even so, it's a truly rare thing to witness this and so close! As Jeff said, "This is some serious National Geographic stuff right here! You lucked out, folks!" And we hear all those cameras clicking away like crazy! And to top it off, Mom and son come right at us, swimming under the boat! They get within 9-10 feet of us, both sides! That dorsal fin is huge and really reminds you just how massive these animals are. Yowza! They could have tipped our boat over without even thinking about it, but they left us alone, continuing on their mission to find more prey. So, boy—did we see Orcas! Ham is beyond thrilled—he's elated! The trip is truly complete now. We not only saw a Humpback, we saw Orcas up close and in rare form! 


On a sidetone we also find out that we've been in Canadian waters! Apparently boats can go back and forth freely given we don't tie with another boat or make landfall. It was so cool being at the very edge of the American border with Canada. We definitely want to return with passports so we can visit Vancouver or Victoria for a day—we love Canada! And what's awesome is that there are ferries that leave San Juan Island that go to Canada so it would work perfectly.


It was late by then and we had to get back to shore so we headed back to Friday Harbor at that point. Everyone was amazed at this incredible, rare experience. We were all kinda dazed and processing it all on the way back, quiet and contemplative. Phew. What a day! And all this on our anniversary! We've had such perfect timing for so many things on this trip. It was like it was meant to be. But it's not over yet! I made those dinner reservations at McMillin's thinking we'd be able to dress up a little bit, but with this spontaneous Maya's trip, we were now pressed for time to make our 8:30pm reservations so we'd have to bust a move directly there and hope that our adventuring attire would be acceptable. We say our good-byes and power back to the car and head to Roche Harbor, happily making it early for our reservation and they can seat us immediately. And luckily for us, too, our goofy garb is perfectly fine. Phew! All the fancy places on the Island are closed by 8pm on Sunday except for McMillin's which was one of the reasons I chose this place aside from its great reviews. And we certainly weren't disappointed! We got a great table right by the window overlooking the harbor and the setting sun. For appetizers, we ordered the pesto calamari and the pancetta prawns in Grand Marnier syrupfabulous! I also got Westcott Bay Oysters on the half shellbecause oysters. For entrees, Ham got the special that day, the salmon, and I got the local rockfish. Both were marvelous and we shared them, unable to pick a favorite. Cooked perfectly and flavorful, it was a great ending meal. Then for dessert, we got the brûlée sampler, our favorite being the orange brûlée...and they served it on a Happy Anniversary plate! Creme brûlée is "our" anniversary dessert, it's the one we always try to get on this special day so having a sampler was an unexpected perk. On that note, it was eerie—in fact I thought Ham was responsible—but during our meal, our wedding march played!...Pachelbel, Canon in D minor! We couldn't believe it! Our waitress was wonderful and her name was also Sarah—the second Sarah that day. Crazy! But we told her this and she was stunned, too. As we savored our dessert and Ham savored his 20 year old tawny port, we had another fitting end to our trip: the colors ceremony. How awesome is that? Perfect timing! Again!


Beautiful sunset in Roche Harbor.

It's dark out now and we head back to the Boathouse having to pack and clean up in anticipation of catching the early 5:45am ferry back to Anacortes to start our long trip home. I'm exhausted, but I scrub all the pans, dishes, and utensils and put them away. I pack up our suitcases and bag up all our toiletries and loot, checking to make sure we have everything. Ham takes everything out to the car and packs it, leaving only the barest of essentials with us to take out in the morning. I straighten up the rooms and he takes out the garbage and recycling, and we fall into bed. I set the alarm for 3am—rather early, but better that than late! If we miss this ferry we'd have to ride standby and on a returning Mother's Day weekend with a car that could be dicey, perhaps even compromising our ability to get to Anacortes, stranding us on the island without a hotel reservation and Ham having to miss an unscheduled day of work. So we really had to catch that particular ferry. 


Anyway—I start thinking back on the day laying there in bed...and konk out immediately. I got maybe three words into my thoughts then was out like a light.


Monday

Right in the middle of a great dream, the alarm goes off at 3am on my phone—and thank goodness we relied on my phone! Apparently the power went out in that section of the island and if we'd depended on the clock's alarm, we'd have been hosed! We get the last of our stuff in the car and I make a final walkthrough of the roomsall by the light of the flashlight app on my iPhone. Then we head to the ferry in the darkness, passing plentiful deer as we go, their eyes glowing golden in the headlights. 

We're first in line, having got to the line-up at 3:45am, a full two hours early! Ack. So we rock back in our seats and try to nap which isn't so easy at this point with all the excitement and anticipation of the trip home. We also watch a pair of big raccoons explore the pier and venture off downtown. It was actually kinda cool though, watching the pier come to life as the ferry port woke up. At around 5am other cars and trucks arrived, lining up behind and beside us. Later, passengers began to show up. Ours was a roundtrip ticket so we were set. Then at 5:30am, we start boarding, and we're third on! We have the pole position, too, front and center on the first floor so we may be the first off. So up we go to the commissary for our necessary coffee and breakfast snack. Ham isn't doing so hot. Apparently he maybe got two hours of sleep that night being so wound up about the exciting day and also the trip home. He drinks another cuppa and I give him a 5 Hour Energy and he perks right back up. I offer to do some driving, but he declines. Unless he drives, he gets really car sick but even so, he loves driving. He finds if very relaxing and meditative. I'm glad he does because I'd rather sleep (which I end up doing most of the trip home). Nonetheless, it's another gorgeous morning and we enjoy the coolness and sunrise from the deck. The ferry makes one stop on beautiful Lopez Island then we make it to Anacortes, and as we thought—we're the first to disembark off the ferry, leading the line of cars behind us. That was kinda fun in a silly little way. And so our long trip home really begins.


The somber ferry ride back to Anacortes. What a brilliant time we've had! We're definitely coming back and to explore the other islands, too.

It's an uneventful—thankfully—trip home though we do end up having 2.5 hours tacked on due to hitting Seattle rush hour (which goes way past 9am) and heavy construction before Pendleton. Such is life. If a 10 hour return trip is the price paid for such an incredible trip, so be it. Price happily paid! I sleep most of the way and wake up from a nap just in time to greet the "Welcome To Idaho" sign—perfect timing. We now have only about 40 minutes to home! I order a pizza from the road and Ham sets the air con remotely so our house will be cool on this 80˚ day. We finally get home and walk in the door exhausted but happy to be home. So we unpack the car and our pizza shows up. We munch on our makeshift dinner watching the new Tremors movie, A Cold Day In Hell. It's every bit as goofy and fun as you'd expect from the franchise. Burt Gummer forever! A terrific thing to watch when you're totally fried from a 10-hour trip, eating pizza in a daze. I zonk out at 9pm.


Tuesday

I sleep for a whopping 10 hours, getting up at a super late (for me) 7am. I make coffee and work on this blog post and do a bit of Facebook. Poor Ham took a lot more time to wind down last night and so didn't get to sleep until 11pm so he sleeps for about 10 hours too, getting up at 11:30am. I make him a hearty breakfast, using up the last of our stuff we bought on the trip, and we decide to just take it really easy today, napping as we want and slowly unpacking and settling in. I decide to pick up the charmkins on Wednesday rather than today because I feel a big nap coming on and I'm a firm believer in napping when the body tells you to nap, especially after a big adventure. Indeed, despite all the coffee, I'm still sleepy and physically tired so I go back to bed and power nap for three hard hours. Phew! 

Meanwhile, Ham returns the rental car. Funny enough, I forgot to give him my sister fob so I get another worried call from Ham about it and he's relieved to learn that—yes—I have it and he can give it to the driver when they drive him back.  Me and those dang fobs, right? I also learn that I slept right through a whomper of a thunderstorm with a torrential downpour that floods our cul de sac, but I'm so wiped I probably would've slept right through a lightening strike in our backyard! Later that day, I go to the store to get some dinner and some staples, we eat, and then I work on this blog post and hit the sack at around 11:30pm. Honestly, the day we take to recuperate is—at least for me and Ham—really important. Having that buffer day between vacation and reality to decompress and settle back in can mean a big difference in how well we bounce back. 

We're also looking forward to getting back on our normal simple diets. As much as we adore good food, we also prefer to eat small, simple servings as modus operandi. All these big, rich meals have been fantastic most definitely, but we can't eat that way every day! Indeed, they've really set our bodies into tailspins! I'll certainly be happy to carve sugars out of my daily diet again, for example, starting today! And HamMan cannot wait to hit the gym to get all that accumulated energy out. It's amazing how food so strongly affects the body and mind so getting back to our regular way of eating will really help us settle back in quickly.


And oddly enough, even now as I write this, I still have that swaying sensation of being on a boat. It's not unpleasant, in fact I find it fun! A nice reminder that I hope takes it time to dissipate. I don't get motion sick so I find this sensation novel and curious.


Wrap Up

What a time! I still cannot believe our great timing and good fortune. There's always some trepidation on a vacation because so many things can go so horribly, horribly wrong. It's always a risk and sometimes a big one. Plus breaking from the daily routine can be unpleasant and unsettling. But I've found that it's so important to shake our own cage, to get out of our heads and experience new things and explore new places. To have adventures and build memories together. 

We really get so immersed in our daily lives, don't we? Even entrenched. But a great trip, a great vacation, a great experience can lift you right out of that in the best way, lending a refreshed perspective on your life, your priorities, on things in general...and despite it all, you're glad to be home. Everything takes on new meaning. Yet it does feel really weird coming back home, doesn't it? You know—that strange transition time when you re-accustom yourself with your life. That switch "back to reality." It's like coming from a different planet, a different lifetime, like waking up from a dream. You don't quite know what to do with yourself!


So it'll be a little strange getting back in gear in the studio since I keep expecting I need to be somewhere. But once I pick up my favorite sculpting tool, it'll all fall back into place again only this time with new inspirations and new outlooks. I still have to finish unpacking, of course, and pick up the charmkins today. I also need to work on some shipping so hopefully I'll be back in the studio come Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. Either which way, these incredible memories will feed my soul forever and we'll savor them together for the rest of our lives. 


Thank you San Juan Island! We'll definitely be returning to explore more of your magic that only you can offer! And thank you, Ham, for twenty-one wonderful, amazing years together and eighteen brilliant years of marriage! Every day you enrich my life indescribably, and every year we just grow closer and closer together. You're my fellow adventurer and I love you always, Numy! Happy Anniversary!



"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."
~ David Bowie

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