We left Tacoma almost an hour late, but the travel time just flew by. Peg read to me from Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig as I drove north to La Conner and then into Anacortes. We met friendly people and although our pace started hectic we managed to enjoy moments of solitude and relaxation.
Our last stop before leaving Tacoma was a visitation to Overhead Door of Tacoma, owned by Scott Mathew. Normally, weekly meetings of the Tacoma Executives Association are held at Shenanigans along Ruston Way on Commencement Bay. Occasionally we hold our meetings at our members' shops and offices. We took advantage of grilled hotdogs and comradery before hitting the freeway.
Near Mt. Vernon, we stopped at a rest center to visit a twenty foot stump of Western Red Cedar. This cedar is a towering example of the forest that once covered much of Snohomish and Skagit Valley. It's estimated that this tree, when alive, was about two hundred feet tall and a thousand years old. The tree was killed in 1893 by a fire that started in its hollow base. The tree was felled in 1916. Horse teams dragged the impressive stump approximately 150 feet to a concrete base. It rested first near Highway 99 and then was finally moved to its present location along I-5. On May 27, 1939, Crown Prince Olav and Princess Martha of Norway drove through the hollowed out base of the stump.
Each time we've stayed in La Conner we’ve stayed at the Queen of the Valley Inn. This time we stayed at The Armstrong House. A few years ago Shelly sold the Queen of the Valley and it became The Armstrong House. Not too much has changed. The basics remain the same, friendly people and excellent food. We were greeted by innkeeper Michael Bucy and the friendly watchdog, Matthew. There must be story there somewhere.
The biggest change was that in addition to the parlor piano, there were now a number of stringed instruments, which come into "play" later in our adventure.
We've been in and around Skagit Valley a number of times before. They say the best time to visit is when the tulips bloom, or the swans and snow geese flock to the harvested grain fields. The growing grounds around LaConner (spelling varies) are very productive and often you see roadside produce stands. This trip it appeared that the fertile soil was a little on the dry side . . . especially for the middle of September. We saw several tractors working the grounds and all were followed by a sky trail of dust. The rich dirt was a lighter shade of brown this year. We love to purchase locally grown fresh veggies. Normally, we would have stopped and bought local apples and vegetables, but we were always a little bit behind . . . or needing a nap.
At dinner time we drove around town a couple of times. We wanted to dine in a place we hadn't visited before. Michael had mentioned the Oyster & Thistle Restaurant & Pub. The valley and the town of La Conner have scattered outcroppings of solid rock. The Oyster & Thistle sits midway up one of these croppings and looks out over downtown La Conner. The pub is downstairs and you walk upstairs for dining.
The waiter brought our menus. I had to look at him twice. He looked so familiar. There were a number of items on the menu that attracted our taste buds. We selected the apple and fennel salad along with Pan Fried Samish Bay Oysters to share as well as the onion soup. There was nothing left of the salad. The oysters disappeared almost as quickly. The temperature of the soup is the only thing that slowed us down. The soup was beautiful and wonderful. I used up much of the bread with the broth.
We also agreed to share the main dish, the Kurabota Pork Shank with a deep ebony sauce and thick, house-made noodles. The pork fell off the bone and the rich sauce worked so well with the pasta. I never expected the food to be oh, oh, so good. The food was comparable to the Lobster Shop, Pacific Grill and the Adriatic Grill in Tacoma.
For dessert we each had a rich and chewy salted caramel-chocolate mousse. We thought we had asked for one with two spoons, but the waiter brought one each. We agreed to take one for the Gipper.
We'll break our rule and dine at the Oyster & Thistle the next time we visit La Conner, too.
The next morning was the reason for the trip. I woke up early and traveled to Anacortes to the Swinomish Casino & Lodge on Padilla Bay. I was there to video tape a number of presentations for the Tribal Summit Group.
The presentations were mostly about marketing so I enjoyed hearing the latest about merchandising. I did think I saw our waiter from the night before.
I loved the lodge, which faces north onto a number of islands. The lodge has outdoor seating areas with wild grasses and stones as to set the stage for the views.
During the lunch break I went out to call Peg and heard my name. The “familiar waiter” turned out to be a fellow member of Tacoma Rotary, Scott Ramsey. He was attending the meeting as a representative of Korsmo Constuction. He really looked like the waiter, but Scott swore it hadn't been him. He also refused to return my twenty dollar tip, so he was probably right.
I called Peg to let her know how the presentations were going. When I hung up the phone I thought I heard tribal drums. I couldn't get back into the meeting hall, so returned to the main entrance. There was a drum line performing tribal songs. I loved it.
Both the staff of the lodge and the members of the tribal group were friendly and welcoming. The work, which took most of the day, was a breeze and the entertainment outstanding.
The lodge is located near Anacortes, which is just a little north and east of Victoria, British Columbia. It took me about fifteen minutes to get back to La Conner. I picked up my copy of Last Bus to Wisdom and lay down on the bed. The novel is set in 1951 and is about an eleven year-old boy travelling by "dog bus" (Greyhound) during the summer from Montana to Wisconsin, meeting native Americans and cowboys and grifters and thieves as well. Except for the cowboys, grifters and thieves my journey up I-5 was similar. Soon I was napping.
Peg had slept in, had a nice breakfast, sketched, read and relaxed. She needed it and deserved it. Business has been busy lately. When I woke up it was time for dinner. We drove the two minutes to downtown La Conner and looked for a good place for dinner. We found it at the Pantry Pub.
The Pantry Pub is one of those places we're always looking for, a mom and pop restaurant that the locals enjoy. The whole place was being run by one young man. He was making pizza, answering the phone, taking orders, cooking the food, and baking the pies. From the size of the pizza box one man carried out, I gotta bring four friends and order one; it was big as a manhole cover. I had the crunchy fried oysters and Peg had the salmon BLT on sourdough; both were excellent.
Peg left her sketchbook there so the next morning I returned to the pub to retrieve it. Since I was there, I thought "Well, I may as well have breakfast." Mom found Peg's book for me and then took my order. I told her what I wanted: "Hash browns (burnt, burnt, burnt), bacon and gravy." Mom figured out I needed the Farmer's Breakfast without the eggs, which included a biscuit. While I waited, I listened to the other early risers. I think the pub is the Skagit Valley Seahawks headquarters. They have a backroom for pool and live entertainment. I got the latest news about the presidential debate, violence in high school football, and general local information from the older men. Women joggers came in as well as other early coffee drinkers.
Since I knew I was having breakfast around 9:30 at the B&B, I didn't intend to eat much of my breakfast at the Pantry Pub. However, the bacon, the gravy, the biscuit, and the hash browns were absolutely perfect. This is unusual, because hardly anyone ever makes and serves perfect hand-made biscuits in restaurants. What can I say; I left a healthy tip and bid farewell to another rise & shiner. "You too, buddy," he called to me.
Across the street from the pub were a number of interesting houses. They were tucked into the side of the same rock outcropping that the Oyster & Thistle was perched on, just on the opposite side perhaps a hundred yards away.
One of the homes was in need of a new roof, but directly below the house was a coffee shop. The problem wasn't so much about replacing the roof, but rather figuring out how to get a dumpster near by for the old shingles.
Less of a problem was a nice little duplex. Peg and I had discussed the night before. We thought the duplex just needed something to call attention to itself: contrasting shutters perhaps, or even a mural of the LaConner waterfront, just a few blocks away.
The Skagit Valley floor is criss-crossed with irrigation ditches. I stopped at one on my way back to The Armstrong House. I needed a few minutes to digest my first breakfast.
I was hoping to find some wild life gathered around the pond and cattails. I turned on the car radio and thought about the people I was seeing and the book I was reading as I listened to the music.
I didn't need the news, I already had that from the morning discussion at the Pantry . . . and music is always a good companion.
I started to drive away and immediately turned off the road. My eye was attracted to a scarecrow and pumpkin display. One of the local farms had an attractive scene.
Next to the pumpkins were raised flower beds. A small road led off to the south and I could see a lot of flowers growing there as well.
We always enjoy fresh-off-the-farm produce although sometimes we have to settle for fresh off the Yakima farm, but sometimes that's close enough.
Back at the B&B I took my book out to the sunroom, while Michael poured me a cup of coffee. The sunroom is the brightest room in the house. I made notes to myself and did my own sketch as I illustrated a comment from the Ivan Doig book.
On the window sill running around the L-shaped room there are geodes, fossils, bones, and interesting stones. Eclectic pieces of art are hanging all around the room. Each table has a glass top and under the glass there is a table cloth and sheet music from the 1920s and 30s. Japanese lanterns hang from the ceiling and the multi-paned widows look out on a Victorian house across the street with the trees and shrubs just a few feet away as if they were trying to crowd in to share the joy and warmth of the morning.
Second breakfast was accompanied by music from Mike Bucy. Playing his guitar and singing from his three inch binder of music was a real treat. I had missed breakfast and music the day before, but on Friday morning we were joined by Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, and Gene Pitney via Burt Bacharach with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
There was another couple sleeping in. When they had their breakfast Michael provided music, too.
Breakfast was as sweet and as filling as the music - crepes, with Tillamook vanilla bean yogurt (garnished with fresh peaches) alongside sausage links. We didn't leave La Conner hungry that's for sure.
We didn't head directly back to Tacoma. We drove north again to the towns of Boe and Edison. We've gone there before. The towns are only yards apart. One of the bakeries we were hoping to visit was closed when we drove by and so was the cheese shop. Both situations were disappointing, but we couldn't wait around for the summer.
We did luck out with our third Friday travel goal, however. The second bakery was open. Peg looked over the selections and then bought two loaves of Samish River Potato Bread. One was for a potluck dinner that night with friends and the other was just for us. Peg also bought a couple of fig bars and two variations of shortbread cookies along with a chocolate buba roll. It was spiraled up like a cinnamon roll but had chunks of melty chocolate chunks – Peg’s favorite.
No chocolate roll survived the trip home, as well as no bread survived the friends’ dinner that evening..
Saturday morning saw me slicing the potato bread and making toast for myself. Several slices later my friend Donn called to invite me to a breakfast of oatmeal. I said, "As much as I would love to eat oatmeal with you this morning, duty calls. I have some work to do on the computer. So sorry. Maybe next time. Thanks for the invite. I'll call you later." I then sliced a thick slice of potato bread, toasted it, slathered it with butter and savored every bite.
What a nice time we had. The people we met were friendly. The food was outstanding and with Peg reading to me as we drove, I was in heaven. And of course, with me beside Peg, she must have been in heaven, also, I hope.