Another birthday for my fourth-born nature-loving daughter, another hike in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, right?
On this birthday outing, we hiked two lovely trails in a single afternoon, each one a dream.
Gracie loves to lead our hikes. She also loves to double back, walk in circles around us, and tie us up in a life-size cat's cradle.
The original plan was to combine forest and beach in a single hike along the beach access trail at South Whidbey State Park. But due to beach erosion, that trail has been shuttered indefinitely. So we shifted our sights to the Wilburt Trail, an easy .8 mile stroll through old growth.
Approximately once every 2.5 seconds, she swivels her head back to make sure we're still coming.
And what a tale these trees could tell, if only they could talk. Back in 1977, this lovely glade was slated to be clear cut until a local small-scale logger named Jack Noel recognized the value of rhis place as one of the few remaining stands of old growth on the island, and vowed to protect it. Noel rallied the community to help him, and together they formed a group called Save The Trees.
One key feature of an old growth forest is the wide spaces between the towering mature trees and plenty of leafy ferns on the forest floor in which the Ewoks hide.
Yes. You've heard the slogan. This is where it all began.
Way, way over our heads, the trees' canopies nearly block out the sun. Which on a rainy February day in the Pacific Northwest is a particularly funny joke.
The Wilburts, for whom the trail is named, joined the group and were apparently particularly stalwart defenders of said trees.
I'm no expert but over the years I've learned to tell most local evergreens by their distinctive bark. The Western Red Cedar features smooth, even lines that are just begging to be harvested by a Coast Salish native and woven into a delicate basket.
Fast forward to the happy ending: these majestic old trees were indeed saved, though not without being encircled by humans holding hands to protect the trees against chain saws and bulldozers.
Try as I might, I failed to convince my dog to pose for me inside this cedar tree.
She has her own mind.
I am not kidding. These woods gave birth to the tree-hugging movement and forever changed the way Washington manages its forests.
If a group of threatening loggers suddenly burst from the brush, I have no doubt that my birthday girl would hug the Ancient Cedar for all she's worth.
This particular tree, known as the Ancient Cedar and revered as the Queen of the Forest, dates back at least 500 years and was one of the favored trees protected by the tree-huggers. Visiting just a week after Valentine's Day, we noticed that the ground around the trunk was strewn with red rose petals, which led us to theorize that someone used this magical place for a marriage proposal. Brilliant idea.
Pretty feet. Good thing we brought plenty of towels.
We cruised the full length of the Wilbert Trail, then followed our steps back again. A great trail for little kids, though we saw mostly dogs with their humans.
Gracie explored thoroughly and repeatedly demonstrated her fearlessness of oozing black mud.
Which was all well and good. But now our muddy princess was in desperate need of some beachfront playtime and salt-water bathing stat.
She marched right into the water, well above the line of mud on her legs, and I breathed a sigh of contentment and relief.
Happily, our old friend Double Bluff Beach waited for us just a few miles down the island. The mud didn't even have time to dry before Gracie was romping across the sand and into the chilly water.
"Ducks! I see ducks!"
Plenty of dogs and their humans at this spot too, though even at high tide, the beach offers plenty of room to spread out. Gracie greeted a handful of dogs her size in a subdued fashion, then found a poodle wearing a turquoise fleece vest who really captured her fancy. Their joyful romp set us all to smiling.
The sky was filled with waves of rolling grey clouds, straight in off the Pacific Ocean. We filled our lungs with snapping cold air till we felt renewed; raindrops fell but not hard enough to threaten our fun.
Gulls soared through the air, ducks floated in platoons across the waves which always delights Gracie, and we saw a bald eagle at the top of the bluff, watching us staring back up at him.
My husband came along and so we had binoculars. He's the type who always remembers to bring the binoculars.
We hitched a ride on the MV Tokitae, the older of Mukilteo's two ferries. launched in 2014 to carry 144 vehicles across the water more than a dozen times a day.
And then, with the afternoon well spent, we headed home.
Okay it's not Palm Springs but I love this place.
Just a few miles back across the island, and then a hop, skip, and a jump across Possession Sound, and we're home.
On both of our crossings today, we were one of the last cars boarded, affording us a lovely view from our mirrors. Here's looking at you, Whidbey Island.
And while this marks the end of another splendid birthday outing, with not one but two satisfying adventures, we will soon be back, Whidbey Island. We've always got our sights set on you.