Nostalgic for the Pacific NW

In April of 2022, I packed my belongings into a relocation cube and traveled by train 3,000 miles to Vermont. I spent six months searching for a home in Vermont and then ended up in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania (not part of my original plan). While it’s too early to make comparisons between Pennsylvania and my home state, Washington, I’m feeling nostalgia. We all know that nostalgia is just another word for pining for the past while wearing rose-colored glasses.

Having said that, there are activities and places that I truly miss when it comes to Washington State. I will always be a north westerner at heart, despite an astrologer once telling me that I would fit better in the northeast given my personality. While I thought Vermont would move at a slower pace, I found that not to be the case. Of course, I spent most of my stay in Brattleboro and Montpelier which are more bustling than Vermont’s countryside and villages. But even the folks in Putney seemed to be on the go and not relaxed, as far as I could tell. The south end of Whidbey Island, the last place I lived in Washington seemed like a yoga retreat in comparison to the places I stayed in Vermont.

Here are Six Places I miss about Washington State.

  1. Washington State Ferries and the Puget Sound

From taking the Bainbridge Ferry from Seattle to the Kitsap Peninsula to taking the Coupeville Ferry to Port Townsend across the Admiralty Straits, riding the Washington State Ferries was usually a peaceful experience. I loved sitting on the end of ship that faced the shore we departed. Gazing at Mount Baker and sometimes Mount Rainier was a meditation practice for me. I also enjoyed as the ship approached its destinations whether that was Port Townsend beckoning with it’s sandy beaches or from the view of the Kingston Ferry as it approached Edmonds (another sweet community). Growing up on an island fostered a love of the sea for me. Sadly, there are no ferries in Erie County except for the small ferry that travels to Lake Erie from the bay front.

Another journey worth taking by ferry is to the San Juan Islands or Vancouver Island in Canada. Often we spotted orcas and other sea life. Some folks had spotted grey whales and porpoises or sea lions. And speaking of Canada, Washington State acts as a gateway to supernatural British Columbia. Taking Amtrak from Seattle or Bellingham to the mainland also offers an enchanting respite (but train travel in Washington State is not related to ferries).

2. Skagit Valley

Many international folks know Skagit Valley for its annual tulip festival which takes place in April, right after the snow geese and trumpeter swans returned to the north. Also known as Magic Skagit, this region is known for its rich farming land as well as, artist communities. When I lived in Mount Vernon, the seat of Skagit County, I enjoyed opera and symphonic performances by locals as well as, theater, movies, and other types of musical events. Visiting art galleries and studios was also on the agenda but sadly, the main bookstore had shuttered prior to me moving to Mount Vernon (2007-2011).

Skagit Valley is the home of several cities and small towns from the charming Edison (near Chuckanut Highway) to the transformed fishing village La Conner, another art center, Anacortes (where you catch the ferry to the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island), to Burlington (a shopping district), to Mount Vernon, which I mentioned earlier.

If you choose to avoid crowds, travel to Skagit Valley during the winter or late summer months. Don’t travel to the valley in April unless you are there to attend the tulip festival. The traffic will drive you crazy. The locals endure it, but it’s a hassle for them. I know because I lived there for several years. Also, check out the Skagit Valley Food Coop or the food coop’s restaurant.

When I lived in Skagit Valley, I wrote poetry and short fiction. I also wrote for the local newspaper, the Skagit Valley Herald for sixteen months, covering the arts. I recommend the valley for authors, photographers, painters, and other artisans or for those seeking a quieter lifestyle. The folks in Skagit are genuine and friendly. They are what people would call, the salt of the Earth.

3. Whatcom Falls Park

Whatcom Falls Park on the edge of Bellingham proper is well-known by locals. This park has more than one waterfall and Whatcom Creek flowing through it. If ecology is your thing, then check out the marsh also known as Scudder Pond where you can view a variety of ducks (it’s a nature photographer’s dream) and Derby Pond where you can also view ducks. There are also fish ladders for the salmon and trout. Most people visit the park to walk the endless trails or to ride their mountain bikes through the park.

I spent many hours hiking in the park and even getting lost in a good way. I lost track of time as I photographed birds or sat by the trees absorbing Gaia’s energies. I experienced vertigo walking past the large falls and crossing the stone bridge. People might laugh at this but one time I saw a police officer walking on a trail and I told him that I was phobic of crossing the bridge which meant I had to walk the long way around. The police officer escorted me across the bridge and I was able to catch my bus back into town.

Some of my best photography happened in Whatcom Falls Park. Some of my best meditative moments happened there as well. I struggled through financial and emotional hardships when I lived in Bellingham, but visiting the park helped me to forget my troubles. Visiting Whatcom Falls Park was therapy for me. Priceless.

4. Old Fairhaven

Old Fairhaven was once it’s own town. In fact, what we know as Bellingham contains four towns that the community leaders of the past consolidated. Fairhaven still feels like its own town, and certainly, it has a different vibe than downtown Bellingham. The community consists mainly of Victorian brick buildings, a port (where the Alaskan ferry departs), a marina, and a beach. My favorite spot in Old Fairhaven was Village Books (a three-story independent bookstores in a Victorian brick building). The bookstores has two cafes (one on the top level and another on the first level near the Village Green).

Not only is Old Fairhaven a travel hub (long-distance buses, trains, and the Alaskan ferry), it also hosts a variety of outdoor and indoor events. And a trail connects Old Fairhaven to downtown Bellingham that is along side the railroad tracks and Bellingham Bay. Besides that, Old Fairhaven also boasts art galleries and cooperative artist studios. The downside is it’s super expensive to live on the south side of Bellingham because the city spent decades on gentrification. But having said that, South Hill has always been a haven for wealthy people beginning with the Victorian Era barons. So, I can’t go without mentioning an architectural tour of South Hill and Old Fairhaven. Bring your camera.

Sadly, I left Bellingham because of the lack of affordable housing rentals and employment opportunities. The demographics of Bellingham is either retirees from other states or university students. The city does have a transient feel to it since students graduate and leave for the bigger cities to find employment. The ones who stay take advantage of the outdoor recreation opportunities in the area including nearby Mount Baker and the North Cascade mountains. And yes, Bellingham is one of the coldest cities in western Washington because it shares the Frasier Valley with British Columbia.

5. Deception Pass State Park

Since I grew up in Oak Harbor, I spent much of my youth at Deception Pass State Park. I don’t like crossing the bridge that spans between Fidalgo and Whidbey islands because I have a fear of heights. But you can’t beat the views of the Puget Sound, which is actually the Skagit River running between the islands (where it converges with the sea).

This park boasts lovely beaches including Rosario Beach, Bowman’s Bay, and Cranberry Lake (and Pass Lake) as well as hiking trails through old growth forests. Sadly, in recent years, this beautiful park has been inundated with military jets (Growlers) flying over it as are other state parks on and around Whidbey Island, also home of a naval base. But the memories I have mostly reflect on peaceful times with friends and another sadder memory, of the day, I handed the family’s German shorthaired pointer to his new parents which occurred at Bowman’s Bay.

6. Port Townsend (and the Olympic Peninsula)

This community of 10,000 residents (half of which are snow birds) boasts quaint art galleries, independent bookstores, boutiques, consignment shops, cafes, and restaurants. Politically, it leans to the far left so not everyone will enjoy interaction with the locals. Some of the locals are trust fund hippies (so they haven’t worked a day in their lives) and Californians. But besides the people of the area, the beaches are phenomenal especially the beach at Fort Worden State Park (which you might recall from the movie, An Officer and a Gentleman. And speaking of the Fort, there are also trails among a variety of native trees and shrubbery, including the state flower, rhododendron. Many species of birds (shorebirds, eagles, hawks, woodpeckers, and songbirds) are also found here.

One of my favorite memories was sitting at Better Living through Coffee staring out the window at the sea or watching the ferry runs. I also enjoyed romping on the beach near Fort Worden or visiting Chimacum (the farm stand) or taking the bus to Poulsbo (Kitsap Peninsula). However, the downside of this charming city is the lack of affordable housing. Many of the homes are vacation homes or used as short-term rentals for tourists. This is unfortunate because this community is also home to a large boating community and artists. It’s a perfect location for a wealthy progressive. Everyone else needs to find housing elsewhere on the peninsula, but it won’t be long before those places are cleaned up and gentrified. This has been the curse upon Washington State.

Putney, Vermont

So, now I’m the chick who moved to Vermont and ended up in Pennsylvania. Sometimes we take those sharp left turns in life and I hope to find treasures in the Keystone State. While the health care system is not as robust as Washington State and many people in Pennsylvania live well below the poverty line, this too can be healed. Pennsylvania could be called the first state of the US, even though that would be Massachusetts, because Philadelphia was the US birth place and once the US Capitol.

As much as I miss my homeland, Washington State (because I was born there), I look forward to exploring Pennsylvania, the Midwest and the Northeast. No experience is worthless and nothing is wasted. I’ll find poetic and spiritual meanings no matter where I rest my head.

Other favorite places that I didn’t include are the North Cascades, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Seattle, the Columbia River, the Skagit River, Edison, Chuckanut Highway, Olympic Rain Forest, and the Olympic Mountains.

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All photos and text by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved (Do not Copy without Author’s permission).