San Juan Islands Flora: Or, I Cling, Therefore I Am

The view from the bow of a ferry boat making its way through the San Juan Islands in summer. Photo by Barbara Newhall

To get to Washington’s San Juan Islands, you have to take a ferry boat. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

The Buddhists have a name for it—clinging. Westerners call it greed, getting attached to the earthly at the expensive of things eternal and divine. Greedy clinging is not good for you, the wise folks say. It’ll make you suffer.

Some of us do it anyway. We cling. We cling to stuff. We cling to moments in time. Last summer while vacationing on one of the woodsy, marshy, rocky San Juan Islands, I found lots to get greedy about, starting with the San Juan Islands flora:

Pickle grass, brigh green algae and foam drift in the shallow water in a bay in the San Juan Islands. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Pickle grass, bright green algae and foam waft in the shallows of a bay. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Rotting logs coated with moss. Tall stands of fireweed waving pink-to-purple blossoms over my head. Granite boulders painted orange with sunburst lichen. Slimy strands of kelp tossed ashore to dry on the beach. Eagles nesting overhead, their scat splattered across my path, fertilizing the bunchberry.

Granite rocks with lichen and pickle grass in Washington's San Juan Islands. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Granite rocks with lichen and pickle grass. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The truth is, of course, nothing lasts. Especially not four days spent in a cabin in the woods with husband and friends. There’s always a plane to catch.

You can’t sit on this fallen tree trunk indefinitely, stroking the furry moss growing out of its rot. And, no, you can’t keep walking around and around that same patch of fireweed studying the petals as their colors shift in the sunlight from pink to violet and back to pink.

But you can take photos. That’s one way to hang on to the moment.

A bald eagle flies back to its nest in Washington's  San Juan Islands. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A bald eagle returning to its nest . Photo by Barbara Newhall

Also, it helps to get the names of things. Name a thing and you’ve pinned it to your brain; it doesn’t slip off into oblivion quite as readily.

It’s getting dark. It’s dinner time. People will be setting the table. It’s time to let go of this moment and move on to the next. A pretty good moment is on its way, come to think of it. It’s going to involve a glass of wine and a pot of fish stew.

But the blazing moment with the pickle grass is over. No two ways about it.

Yellow verbena flowers bloom along the shores of the San Juan Islands. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Verbena blooms along the shore. Photo by Barbara Newhall



  1. Barb, I feel the same way when walking the beach at Lake Superior. Thanks for your observations and riffs
    on life.

  2. lovely and evocative


  1. […] More San Juan Islands thoughts and photos at “A Patch of Fireweed in the Northwest” and “San Juan Islands Flora: Or, I Cling, Therefore I Am.”   […]

  2. […] More Pacific Northwest flora at “San Juan Islands Flora: Or, I Cling, Therefore I Am.” […]

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