Yesterday we stopped in Bellingham on our way back from the farm. We haven’t spent much time in Bellingham, but are interested in the city, in part because we have been connecting with a United Church of Christ congregation there since we retired. With the pandemic, the congregation is still not meeting face-to-face, so our connection has been through social media and online worship, but there are several things about the congregation that are attractive to us, including a well-developed music program and an organist who is not afraid to pull out all of the stops. We did worship in-person with the congregation during our 2018 sabbatical and have made connections with the pastors as well. However, with online-only worship, we haven’t had a reason to go to Bellingham during the time we have lived here, except to drive by the city on the Interstate on our way to and from the farm.
Yesterday, however, we wanted to look for a gift and there is an REI store in Bellingham. We have been members of the recreational equipment cooperative since 1978, but have mostly shopped through the mail and later online. Picking up a gift at the last minute, however, required being able to see and touch the merchandise, so we made the stop. Our stop was successful and we found the gift we were seeking.
It was the middle of the afternoon and we wanted to get in a walk before the early sunset, so we decided to look for a place to walk in Bellingham. We knew were near the campus of Western Washington University and thought that we could walk around the campus. I used my smartphone to google “hiking trails near me” and found out that Sehome Hill Arboretum was very near to our location. We quickly found a parking lot at the arboretum and started to walk on the trail. Most of the intersections of trails in the park have trail maps that made it easy to plan a loop of the distance we are used to walking. As is often the case with maps, it is not easy to determine the steeples of the trails, so I selected a trail that headed up the hill. In my defense, the arboretum is located on a hill (check out its official name) and the parking lot is at the bottom of the hill. A mile up a steep and winding path with a wet and sometimes muddy path beneath our feed turned out to be a pretty good workout. By the time we reached the top of the hill, where there are beautiful views of Bellingham, Bellingham Bay and the surrounding area, we were ready to hike downhill for a while. We found a paved trail that made our descent much easier than the trip up the hill.
The arboretum is a real treasure. Like the rest of the area, including Mount Vernon where we live, it is located on the ancestral homelands of the Coast Salish Peoples, who have lived in the Salish Sea basin, all throughout the San Juan Islands and the North Cascades watershed from time immemorial. The arboretum was a large private tract of land and home to a quarry from which stone was taken for use in building many of the historic buildings. Much of the tract of land is covered in old growth forest and it provides an excellent natural classroom for university students studying biology and botany. The arboretum forms the eastern side of the university campus with Bellingham bay to the west.
Our walk yesterday brought to mind how different the place where we find ourselves is from where we were just a year ago. After being hospitalized in October, Susan was working hard to build up her stamina by walking every day. By early December, most of the walks were laps in the church parking lot which is regularly plowed and provides stable footing in the winter. Occasionally we would park our car downtown and walk a one mile loop through downtown Rapid City. On the first days of that loop, we planned our walks so that we could stop in a coffeeshop for a cup of tea and sometimes for lunch mid way through our walk. These days we don’t need a break to walk a mile. Our usual is around 2 1/2 miles and we often only stop once in a hike of that length to take a sip of water.
The arboretum, with its 150-foot tall cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir trees and its lush undergrowth of fungi and ferns, is a very different place from the Black Hills of South Dakota. The dense forest dampens the sounds of the city and we were free to walk at our own pace without worries about coming into close contact with other people. After our hike, I noticed one other thing about the arboretum. Bicycles are not permitted on the trails in the park. Most of the places we have hiked in recent years are trails that are shared by bicycles and hikers. It is a natural connection, and we haven’t minded occasionally stepping aide to allow a bicycle to pass. Most mountain bikers are responsible trail users and the collective body of mountain bikers provides a good volunteer base for trail development and maintenance. We have appreciated the bikers and felt privileged to share their trails. In the arboretum, however, we had trails that were reserved for walkers. Given the steepness of the trails, I am sure that it helps keep the trails from excessive erosion and I’m sure that bikes would be coming down the trails at high speed occasionally making a challenge for bikers and walkers. As it is, we were able to take our walk as if we had exclusive use of the park, meeting only one other group of hikers who were going the opposite direction from us.
We’ll soon go back to the arboretum to further explore its trails. One of the joys of our life right now is that of discovering new trails. Some give us incredible vistas to view.