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La Conner, Anacortes, and a host of golden daffodils

March 30, 2008
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We made a sentimental journey to La Conner and Anacortes Saturday. Our last visit was in 2002, also a sentimental journey. Our first visit was in 1993, when we knew we’d be moving to Puget Sound. I was about to finish law school as a visiting student at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, but we weren’t sure we wanted to live in Tacoma. Coming from Montana, we thought the 110 miles from Anacortes to Tacoma could be a viable commute–that sort of distance would be thinkable in Montana for one school year. Fortunately, we got a hot tip about Puget Sound corridor traffic and moved to Tacoma. But we looked over Anacortes and found it enchanting, and have returned twice to take in the San Juan Island views and lunch at the Calico Cupboard. It would never do as a commute, but it makes an inspiring road trip.

La Conner, named by John S. Conner for his wife, Louise Anne, was originally a trading post straddling the Swinomish Slough. The town has picked up the growing regional habit of having a quintessentially cute downtown that survives by gouging those with ten bucks for a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread, and the incredibly good fortune of having found a spot to park their car. Antiques, gifts, a marina, and the slough for some reason attract crowds of bad-weather devotees, even before tulip bloom. The tulip festival officially begins next week, but the buds appear to be shooting for a fashionably late arrival.

After our Calico Cupboard lunch and a walk around the unbearably cute downtown, we drove about 15 miles northwest and over the bridge across the Swinomish Channel to Anacortes. Like La Conner, Anacortes was also named for a developer’s wife, but her maiden name was Anna Curtis; Amos Bowden aspired to a Spanish motif for his town, located on the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, on the tip of Fidalgo Island.

Unlike La Conner, Anacortes declines the cute downtown motif. It’s a practical town, dedicated to fishing and port activities. The highlight is Washington Park and spectacular views, especially with hovering rain clouds, of the San Juans. Vic and I remember the avuncular realtor, Harry Ota, who showed us a house there 15 years ago. He pointed to a beach about 150 feet down the ravine at the edge of the property, swinging his arms to express the vastness of our potential good fortune. “It’s all right here!” he exclaimed, his face beaming. The clams in the sand were right there, 150 inaccessible feet down. But alas, Anacortes wasn’t to be our home town anyway.

The 110 miles from Tacoma flew by Saturday in about 2-1/2 hours, as I knitted a few inches on two socks in turn. The last half hour is beautiful farm country. We’re always thrilled to see businesses still dedicated to the sale of tractors and farm equipment. It gives us hope that America hasn’t given up on a most precious and essential legacy and responsibility. Peppermint, berries, and onions are tended and ready for their season, and fields of daffodils bloom bright gold, brilliant even under rain clouds.

Skagit County’s host of golden daffodils would surely have brought bliss to Wordsworth’s vacant or pensive mood.

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