In Washington state, living a sweet life

Lummi Island dwellers take a laid-back view

Destination: The Northwest

June 26, 2005|By Carol Pucci

Stenciled across a stone wall on the patio of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Wash., are the words dolce far niente, an Italian phrase that means the "sweetness of doing nothing."

While it sums up the picture many city dwellers have about island living, it rarely describes real life.

Many of Lummi's 800 residents are an energetic mix of retirees, artists, organic farmers and fishermen who keep busy growing lavender, making pasta, painting, sculpting, playing bocce ball and building open-air art museums.

Thanks to their efforts, there's plenty for a visitor to do.

Nine miles long and 2 miles wide, Lummi is part of the San Juan chain of islands, reachable from the mainland near Bellingham, Wash., at Gooseberry Point aboard a car ferry that crosses the water in about eight minutes.

There's not much here, but there's enough -- one store, an eight-room inn; a B&B, a handful of cabins for rent, two restaurants, a pub and an espresso shop called "Well Latte Dah," a name that pretty well describes islanders' attitudes toward anyone prone to displays of self-importance.

The Indians who first inhabited the island called it Skallaham. The U.S. Geodetic Survey renamed it Lummi in 1853. Historians say it referred to "luminara," or great bonfires seen by the Spaniards as they arrived.

Start your tour at the Saturday farmers' market in the parking lot of the Islander store across from the ferry dock.

"There are special dishes that you can make only on Lummi," says Seattle City Councilwoman Jean Godden, who owns a cabin on the island, where she tries to get away every other weekend. "Sometimes friends come," she says. "We play Scrabble and cook and sort of live off the fat of the land."

Godden recommends the fresh-caught crab or locally raised lamb and the organic produce sold by Nettles Farm owners Judy Olsen and Riley Starks, who run a farm-to-table restaurant at the Willows, an inn.

Pick up a snack or picnic supplies at the market or the Islander, then head south along Nugent Road. Your first stop will be Windy Hill Art, at 1825 S. Nugent.

There's no sign, so look to your left for huge objects crafted from metal, rope and wood spread out over eight acres of farmland. They are kinetic wind sculptures crafted by artist Michael Oppenheimer.

When the wind is right, a work called the "Clavichord," with "strings" made from leather straps, sounds like an old weathered piano. Oppenheimer fashioned another, called "Wind Wave," from 25-foot-tall cedar poles and vertical ropes. He provides maps for a self-guided walk and explanations of each piece.

At Nugent and Sunrise roads is the Tree Frog Farm. Diana Pepper and John Robinson have built a labyrinth garden next to a yurt where they cultivate flowers and plants for natural healing and aromatherapy.

If you're interested, Pepper will explain how she makes and bottles 67 different flower essences, many from plants native to Lummi, and preserves them with tea and vinegar or brandy.

Lummi is a hilly, wooded island, better for hiking than beach combing since most of the land is privately owned and beach access is restricted. One of the best spots for a short hike is the Otto Preserve, a 70-acre wildlife refuge near the Tree Frog Farm, owned by the Lummi Island Heritage Trust.

To get there, continue east on Sunrise Road past Tree Frog Farm. The preserve is on the north side. There's no sign, so keep an eye out for a building and a gravel parking lot, and stop by the building for a map. Markers point out the names of plants and trees along a loop trail that takes about 45 minutes to walk.

Scenic Seacrest Road skirts the east side of the island. Water views are on the right as you double back north. Turn right when you get to Nugent again, then left on Legoe Bay Road.

Assuming you've called or e-mailed ahead for an appointment, find Sculpture Woods, where artist Ann Morris has installed 15 of her life-size bronze sculptures on 15 acres of forest surrounding her studio.

Morris, 70, moved to Lummi in 1983 and has been creating her figurative pieces since 1992. She explores the relationship between nature and humankind in works such as the 9-foot high "Dance of Life," a bronze piece symbolizing the joining of male and female. Pick up a map at the entrance for a self-guided tour.

There are two small patches of beach on Lummi with public access, one of them just west of Sculpture Woods, behind the Lummi Island Congregational Church. (The other is next to the ferry dock.)

Park in the church lot, and follow the steps to a strip of pebbled sand littered with driftwood, but be aware that the beach on either side is privately owned.

In July and August, watching the fishermen "reefnetting" in Legoe Bay is a fascinating way to pass the time.

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