I now celebrate every opportunity to head into the forest and get my tree Zen on, yet this was not always so. Spending most of my childhood years in the Chicago area, I only had true tastes of nature’s glory while attending Camp Windego, a Girls Scout Camp in Wild Rose, Wisconsin, which I attended for at least a month most summers. As I got older, I traded in these blissful summer weeks learning to horseback ride, canoe, swim, and sail for a solid training regimen in the pool and in the dance studio growing as a diver and a Highland dancer. During my training at the United States Naval Academy I was reintroduced to sailing and even taught this basic seamanship skill after I graduated while waiting to go to flight school. Yet in early adulthood, aside from this limited time on the water and a brief foray into the holly-laden bramble of Quantico, Virginia, when I learned decidedly that the Marine Corps was not my best career path, I hadn’t spent much time in nature.
When Uncle Sam moved me to Whidbey Island in Washington State in my early 20s, I surprised myself by discovering that I was far more a country mouse than a city one. While surrounded by so much natural glory, it is nearly impossible to be otherwise. Sure, there were plenty of Navy folks who bemoaned the distance to the nearest shopping complex and yearned for easy access to strip malls, but I delighted in having just what was needed and nothing extraneous. In fact, that suited me just fine.
It was during my JO (junior officer) tour with Patrol Squadron Forty (VP-40) that I was introduced to Washington Park. Even if it hadn’t been Flight who introduced us, I would have immediately fallen in love with this sacred space. Stretching out into the Puget Sound on the farthest northwest reaching corner of Fidalgo Island, this spectacular 220 acres is riddled with incredible hiking/mountain biking trails boasting insane views of the Olympic mountains, the San Juan Islands, and the Cascade Mountains around every corner.
For the less adventurous, there is a loop trail open to cars that will take you to some beautiful sites with perhaps the most photographed tree in the San Juan Islands (see the pic I snapped of Firebolt in our mother-daughter trip back to Anacortes last June), but so much is lost by not journeying on foot (or bike).
Perhaps my favorite piece of town history is that a fair chunk of Washington Park was paid for by the women of this community who raised money by selling $1000 worth of lemon pies in 1922. As all Anacortes women were called upon to bake pies, all Anacortes men were encouraged to purchase a pie at $1, $2, or $3 each, depending on what one could afford with all proceeds going towards this $1000 goal. This article from the local paper shares the big push for pie sales as well as providing two recipes for lemon pie.
When Washington Park and I were first getting to know each other, I began to understand that there is something magical about a gathering of trees, and, the taller the trees, the more seemingly majestic their congregation. Commanding all and yet expecting nothing, such collections of trees have inspired me to wonder what they must have seen in their lifetimes beyond lemon pie sales. Fast forward to our visit with the Redwoods earlier this fall where I was blown away by their awe-inspiring height and calming energy of these soaring cathedral-like beings.
Meeting the Redwoods reminded me of something out of Inner Bridges written by Dr. Fritz Smith. A little background… Fritz is an osteopath who is also licensed as an MD and studied with both Ida Rolf (founder of Rolfing Structural Integration) and J.R. Worsley who brought 5-Element Acupuncture to the West. A profound healer who immersed himself in studying many avenues to tap into the body’s resources to self-heal, his book focuses on the integration of these traditions and the extrapolation of which evolved into Zero Balancing, his own style of bodywork that systemically reorganizes. I had the good fortune to attend initial Zero Balancing training with Fritz in 2015, who, then at the at of 86, easily lectured all four days and performed manipulations and treatments. Just being in his Zen presence was incredibly calming, not unlike the energetically soothing effects of trees that he describes in Inner Bridges.
Trees, because of their tall vertical structure, serve to streamline and regulate energetic fields. So, when maybe you feel like this… (I refer to this as the swirling vortex of ick and found the below image online to illustrate it…)
… it’s incredibly helpful to bask in the mollifying majesty of these giants. I wholeheartedly felt such reverence and calming amidst the Redwoods, yet was less so pacified by the Sequoias. Perhaps I am in a more melancholy space recognizing that we were nearing an undefined pause in our journey with plans to return to Maryland to overwinter, yet I was less inspired by these behemoths than their cousins to the north. The Sequoias were impressive, don’t get me wrong – how could they not be as the girthiest of the bunch, the General Sherman Tree, wears the crown for the largest living being on our planet (that we know of, I’m sure there are some larger ocean-dwellers that I’m fairly certain I don’t want to meet…) – yet, I just wasn’t as moved. Regardless of my psycho-emotional response, this particular panorama captures the enormity of these beings…
It also happens to be where our children may or may not have been frolicking off the path and chasing each other clumsily weaving in between the sleeping giants along the Congress Trail. Always a speedster, Keeper was tearing after his sisters when he caught a root and brutally rolled his ankle. So brutally, in fact, that he had dirt on the top of his foot where the cuboid and lateral cuniform bones meet. If you haven’t studied foot anatomy, basically the top of his foot was kissing the ground. He stood up to assess the battle damage and discovered he wasn’t able to put weight on that foot. After momentarily considering (and dismissing) aborting our hike, I encouraged Keeper to sit down and, with his permission, went to work on his ankle. Fortunately, I had heard my angel whisper that today’s “go bag” should include some of my sprain and bruise liniment, which works wonders in healing soft tissue damage. Between the application of the liniment and doing some sinew channel acupressure work, Keeper was able to walk, gingerly at first and then painlessly, and even climb about on some downed soldiers.
Meanwhile, his sisters worked to find the most interesting (sometimes precarious) places to work on their Junior Ranger badges.
While watching Keeper cautiously take his ankle for a test drive, I surprised myself by tearing up, overwhelmed by the simple joy of catalyzing healing in another. I turned to Flight and choked out, “I really miss being a healer…”
Making a note to dig into missing that aspect of my essence when I might carve out appropriate time to do so, I took a deep breath and redirected my thoughts to savoring the park’s highlights. My favorite collection of sequoia was the Senate Cluster where I could only imagine the debates that have spanned millennia.
The runner up was the grove I captured in Flight’s sunglasses…
As we made our way back to the car, we saw several downed trees that looked as though their skirts had been unceremoniously flipped over their heads as they tumbled and their altogether was on display.
Our crew managed one last proper photo before we made for Moro Rock.
Encouraged by Keeper’s ease with regaining his stride, we opted to explore another of the park’s famous treks, overlooking his (and my) dislike of heights. Although it is only a ¼ mile amble from the parking lot to summit this granite dome, much of the path is flanked by steep drop offs, reminiscent of our incomplete visit to Angels Landing. Here’s a picture I found on the National Park Service site to illustrate the summit.
What is not pictured here, and also why I didn’t try to capture this perspective, were the eleventy billion foreign tourists who had no qualms about pushing by others and crowding into personal space. Keeper and I both need to work to battle our respective bouts of acrophobia in such places and the pressing throng of enthusiastic sight-seekers made that more challenging. I became distracted mesmerized by the landscape’s shifting colors as the sun set, yet Keeper remained thoroughly nonplussed.
After getting some great shots of the family at the summit, I remained at the top snapping pictures as the sun dropped lower. Looking West it just got more beautiful by the moment…
And the view to the East wasn’t so bad either…
Flight, ever clued into our flight’s (dis)comfort level, ushered Keeper and his sisters back down to the car while I remained transfixed by the sunset. After one last shot, I too descended, my thoughts again relishing today’s opportunity to flex my healing skills and giving thanks for the resiliency of Keeper’s youthful joints…