Among Visitors


In my previous post, Among Friends, I wrote about recent travels to England and Wales. I had gone to the UK for a Quaker (Society of Friends) writing conference. I added on touring in Cumbria (the “cradle of Quakerism”) plus a stop in London to attend Britain Yearly Meeting. Throughout those two weeks, I felt that I was not only among Friends, but also “friends,” as I was warmly greeted on buses, trains, and walking trails; in restaurants, coffee shops and pubs; and at inns, bookshops, museums, and galleries.

As always, I was happy to return to my home on Lopez Island. I carried a few souvenirs, many photos, and a journal filled with reflections—and a potent reminder of the importance of hospitality. I experienced the generosity of being welcomed by local residents everywhere I went, and I resolved to be a better host as the tourist season ramps up here at home.

I’ll have many opportunities to shake out the welcome mat; last summer, over 90,000 visitors stopped here. This year, I feel more prepared, thanks to my recent experience as the “visitor” and to the inspiration and wisdom of five Lopez Island women.

Last week, an email arrived announcing a Go Fund Me campaign to support a “Lopez Welcome Card.” Created by Nancy Bingham, Joyce Brinar, Callie North, Sorrel North, and Pat Torpie, the 6” x 9” card is, as they describe it, “…a folksy welcome card from the locals, with interesting facts and some suggestions of how to tread lightly on the land.” welcome card

Nancy’s gorgeous depiction of local flora and fauna serves as a frame to informative facts about the island’s natural and fragile environment and how visitors can help steward it.

card side 2The women set the initial goal at $1,000 to cover printing for approximately 12,000 cards. Supporters responded to the team’s suggestion that “… if we treat them as our guests rather than tourists, we believe they will respond in kind. We have all been visitors somewhere, and it’s nice to feel welcome.” Within 24 hours, the request was fulfilled!

With that show of support in just one day, the team revised their goal to $2,000 in order to print enough welcome cards for the entire summer season. Once again, the community came through and met that challenge; soon the cards will be distributed to the Chamber of Commerce, ferry landing, vacation rental properties, public parks, and local businesses.

Having just traveled to new places, I’m more aware than ever of how my ignorance about local issues and needs can impact a community; and still, I received a warm welcome. I want to be that kind of host, and I believe most people want to be respectful visitors. This exquisite card will help us all.


The Bliss of Lit Fest

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The question from a friend seemed innocent enough: “Would you be willing to work with me and some other writers to plan a literary festival?” My positive response rose from that blissful place of ignorance. A few weeks later, I naively made the twenty-minute ferry trip to neighboring Orcas Island to meet (and be elected to) the board of the embryonic festival.

That was about eight months ago. After this past weekend’s inaugural Orcas Island Literary Festival, the ignorance has been replaced by experience, but the bliss remains.

festmapToday, I’ve returned to the quiet and calm of my writing desk to reflect on the journey of organizing, and participating in, a literary festival. It began, as so many meaningful life events do, with a walk.

litwalkLit Walk – authors read and chatted at a variety of venues throughout Eastsound Village. The Olympic Mountains’ “rain shadow” didn’t protect us from April showers, but storytelling, poetry, essays, and food and drink cloaked us. It turned out to be a luck- and fun-filled Friday the 13th.

Twin Peaks: Black Box and Center Stage – The Orcas Center theaters pulled everyone to new heights with panels discussing home, humor, landscapes, suspense-thrillers, memoir, food, and turning books into film. food


Interviews with bestselling and award-winning authors revealed some of the stories behind the stories.










Kids Read (and Write) Too – The Lit Fest Family Fest (free, thanks to partners and sponsors) encouraged all ages to venture into the world of words.



Refueling at the Book Fair and Bistro – Trekking literary territory is invigorating and demanding. The Madrona Room and lobbies at Orcas Center replenished us with good food, coffee, small presses, local goods, performances, and bookseller extraordinaire, Darvill’s Bookstore.journals










Battle of the Genres – The only “conflict” throughout this expedition was all in fun, late on Saturday night. Trivia, improv, and puns marked good-humored competition among poets, YA (young adult) authors, and writers of thrillers. Local wine, beer, and sweet and savory snacks kept energy up.

As with all exhilarating outings, I’m eager to explore other trails we bypassed this year and to revisit the ones we followed. I’ll have that chance soon. On Monday, the board members will convene by conference call to begin work on next year’s festival.


Want to be updated about the 2019 plan? Sign up for the Orcas Island Lit Fest newsletter on the OILF website or Facebook page.





Woodland Force

heidi-barr-cover-250These days, my reading alternates between strategies to resist President Trump’s malevolent policies as well as to promote political change and writing that prompts reflection, grounding, and hope. A title that fits in the latter category is Heidi Barr’s forthcoming Woodland Manitou: To Be On Earth. Scheduled for release by Homebound Publications in September, this collection of essays is rooted in the rhythm of the natural world. Through the turn of the seasons, Heidi demonstrates that the cycles of the earth inform her everyday life. She paints a picture of how remaining close to the earth provides a solid foundation, even as the climate changes and the story of the world shifts.

Part stories, part wonderings, and part call to act, Heidi’s words invite reflection, encourage awareness, and inspire action. Once I have a hard copy of Woodland Manitou, I expect it will live on my nightstand, like a book of devotions I can pick up when I need wise words, sustenance, and comfort. Heidi’s writing is rich with nature and farming images that serve as metaphors for the seasons of life and big questions that are part of the every day—loss, control, change, transformation, fear, hope. These short essays require only a few minutes to read, but they lead to many more moments of reflection and looking inward.

HBblackwThough we have yet to meet in person, I’m getting to know Heidi through her writing, our association with Homebound (the publisher for my forthcoming memoir Hiking Naked), and this interview. She lives near the St. Croix River Valley in Minnesota with her husband and daughter. They tend a large organic vegetable garden, explore nature, and do their best to live simply. Heidi works as a wellness coach, offers retreats and teaches online courses through Wildfire Wellness, writes books, and strives to give voice to stories that need to be told.

Although Woodland Manitou is available for pre-order through Homebound Publications, you’ll have to wait a few months to hold it in your hands. Until then, enjoy these thoughts from fellow writer, Heidi Barr.

Iris: Woodland Manitou is rich with nature and farming images that serve as metaphors for the seasons of life. When and how did you first recognize the importance of the natural world for you?

Heidi: It’s hard for me to pinpoint a certain time when I realized nature was important in my life, but I think I noticed its absence during my years in graduate school—living in a very urban area was difficult, and I often felt cut off from what was important to me, even if I didn’t always realize it at the time. As a young child, I spent hours outside in the huge vegetable garden my parents kept, and my family’s vacations were to wild places. We’d load up the family van and the camping gear and head out to Acadia National Park, or the Black Hills of South Dakota, or the Colorado Rockies for a week of hiking and exploring. And growing up in a rural area, out of town, everyday playtime meant running through prairie grass, picking vegetables, or finding enchanted groves in the shelterbelt. Nature was just a part of life. Now, as an adult, and especially as the parent of a five year old, I recognize the gift of those opportunities: to know nature as a regular part of life. These days if I’m feeling cross, my husband just says, “Have you been outside yet today?” Being connected to the earth in a fundamental way is what keeps me feeling balanced and in tune with myself.

Iris: What’s something that surprised you as you worked on this essay collection?

Heidi: Before I started collecting these essays into a cohesive work, I don’t know that I realized how much the seasons impact my life! Only in sifting through old blog posts and journal entries and musings did I come to truly acknowledge the importance the changing of the season has in my life and in how I operate in the world. It was fun to see the themes come out as I worked on it, and it felt good to be continually reminded why I have chosen to live as I do.

 Iris: I’m always fascinated by how writers work. You obviously have a full life and juggle many roles. What’s your writing process?

Heidi: I’d love to say I sit down every morning and write for an hour, but I don’t think I’ve ever done that. With a full time job as a health coach, a huge garden, a young child, and plenty of side projects going all the time, I weave writing into the fabric of the days.   I’ll think of an idea while out for my morning jog around the lake, and then later I’ll type out a few sentences while waiting for a meeting to start, or while the casserole is in the oven, or while my daughter is winding down for the day with a book. It can feel like writing happens in the margins of “real life,” but when I really think about it, sometimes it’s almost like writing is the thread that connects the dots. Because after all, a lot of the writing process is experiencing life, being present in the ordinary, reflecting on it, musing over why something impacts you like it does…..the actual act of writing sentences is just the outcome of all of that.

 Iris: Woodland Manitou is your second book. Tell us a bit about your first book, Prairie Grown.

Heidi: Prairie Grown: Stories and Recipes from a South Dakota Hillside is a cookbook that walks through a year of life on my parents’ organic vegetable farm, the homestead where I grew up. It includes seasonal recipes for each month of the year, tips for putting up produce, really lovely photographs taken by a few different people, and stories about life on the farm.

Iris: What are you writing now?

Heidi: I’m currently co-writing a book with author Ellie Roscher (her new book, Play Like a Girl, comes out in August). Our book is about tapping into the root “tiny thing” of twelve different areas of life—everything from home to food to sensuality to style—and figuring out how to be intentional about incorporating these small practices into one’s daily practice.   It’s been a really life-giving project, and I’m pretty excited to get it finalized and on to the next step of the publishing process! We have a couple chapters to go before the first draft is complete. I’m also working on another essay collection that may or may not turn into a book. We’ll see what happens there.  

 Iris: What are you reading now?

Heidi: This is a great question, the answer to which changes daily, some weeks. Sometimes I feel like I read WAY too much, but then I think, na….not possible. I just finished Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, Francesca Varela’s Call of the Sun Child, and the latest issues of Orion and The Sun magazines. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is up next, I think.

Iris: Thank you, Heidi, for our virtual chat about your book, and for posting our conversation about my book on your blog. And Happy Birthday!

In “Waiting for the Sacred,” one of the last essays in Heidi’s book, she advises,

“It might be harder than we thought to stay awake. We can listen and let the ancient become new again, just like the sun that rises and sets. We can step outside the illusions of our time to be in what we know is real. And we can stand in solidarity with those who are experiencing hardship and keep our eyes open to what we are being called to do in the world.”

Woodland Manitou will be a valuable guide in this demanding work.




Historic Day on Lopez Island

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The second Saturday of June comes close to being a Lopez Island holiday. That’s high school graduation day, and it’s a community event. This year was no exception, but the celebration was exceptional for at least five reasons. That’s the number of graduates in the Class of 2017, the smallest class in nearly fifty years.

Those five (and their families) organized the celebration, maintaining many of the ceremony’s traditions—and adding a few twists. smiles.jpgAs usual, the students wore black caps and gowns as they entered the gymnasium. More than one mortarboard listed to the side as the graduates strolled through an arbor, a local bagpiper setting the pace. And as always, the audience remained standing through the Star Spangled Banner, this year played by one of the honorees on an electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix-style.

While there might be disadvantages to such a small class size, a number of benefits were evident. Instead of just one student speaker, all five addressed the crowd. Each of their short speeches included gratitude for feeling part of this community, whether they’d lived here since infancy or arrived in the past year or two. As one newcomer said, “I felt this was home.” One of the teachers spoke about each student as well, identifying their individual strengths and growth, as well as their commitment to question and understand. Two of them want to become carpenters, two plan to study engineering, and one hopes to work as an EMT or paramedic.

I sat near the back of the audience, watching family members nod their heads and smile, just as I had done seventeen years earlier for my own kids. I could tell that a man sitting in the front row was listening intently, jotting notes, and reveling in the celebration along with everyone else. The student who had written him to ask if he’d give the graduation address said, “Please welcome Governor Jay Inslee,” and the audience rose to their feet and applauded as he bounded up the steps of the stage.

Governor Inslee is no stranger to island communities; he’s from Bainbridge Island, and his father spent much time in his final years on Lopez. The governor expressed his pleasure at being invited and then made a claim that is hard to dispute. “Pound for pound, this is the best class in history,” he said.

Evidently, the governor likes making history. He did so recently when he joined the governors of California and New York to form the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the Paris Accord. As of June 7, twelve states and Puerto Rico have joined the alliance, and ten more governors plus the District of Columbia have expressed support. This Washingtonian appreciates Governor Inslee’s leadership on climate change and many other issues. From the cheers and whistles from the crowd, many of my fellow Lopezians do, too.

But he received the most thunderous applause for his follow-up to the historic nature of the small graduating class. He stood a little straighter at the podium and looked out to the crowd. “I’m the first governor in history,” he boomed, “to speak at a graduation wearing a shirt I picked out at the Take-It-Or-Leave-It, thirty-five minutes before the ceremony!” The crowd’s reaction made it clear everyone understood that the Washington governor had gone to our local recycling center at “the dump” to find the blue-and-white-checked shirt he wore under his navy blue suit jacket.

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courtesy Lopez Solid Waste Program

He showed further knowledge of the island when he spoke about waving to all cars, a practice that’s earned Lopez the title of “The Friendly Isle.” He urged the Class of 2017 to use that Friendly Isle awareness to go out to “create a Friendly World.”

The tone grew more serious, though, as the governor reminded us all, “This class faces a threat no other generation has.” He then offered a mini-lesson in what some call climate change’s equally evil twin—ocean acidification. The release of carbon dioxide from industrial and agricultural activities has changed seawater chemistry throughout the world. Inslee’s message included the sobering fact that over the past 200 years, the Salish Sea that surrounds our island has become 30% more acidic. According to the Smithsonian, that’s faster than any known change in ocean chemistry in the last 50 million years.

It will take more than wearing recycled clothes to restore the ocean’s chemical balance (though every effort helps). I suspect that these five graduates will be among those of their generation working to make the sea—and the world—more friendly. THAT will also make history.

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Photo courtesy Lopez Island School District