May 14, 2009

History offers lessons on alcohol abuse

Posted in Adult, Lopez Island, Non-fiction, Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Shaw Island tagged at 8:24 pm by bhelstien

book cover of Pig War Islands

book cover of Pig War Islands

Pig War Islands: The San Juans of Northwest Washington by David Richardson

© 2009 by Beth Helstien

For National Historic Preservation Month I decided to review Richardson’s history. As I sat to write up my thoughts about it, I was also thinking about the impact the of the recent “Every 15 Minutes” program to reduce drinking and driving. So I dedicate this review to the many lives of islanders lost or maimed due to alcohol abuse.

Richardson did not intend it, but one can read his book as a chronicle of this community’s relationship with spirits. Each of the commanders of American Camp struggled with lawlessness in San Juan Town–historically located in Griffin Bay below the American encampment–due to excessive drinking and illegal activity selling alcohol. Capt. Pickett (camp commander from July to August 1859 and April 1860 to July 1861) begged civil authorities to enforce order. Capt. Bissell (camp commander from February 1862 to October 1865) resorted to de facto martial law. You can still find pieces of historic wine bottle glass along the shore at English Camp.

Another telling story is the founding of the county seat by Edward Warbass and how close the town father’s vision came to failure. When we speak with pride of the historic appearance of Friday Harbor, most of us probably are not thinking that the town’s success was the result of the opening of the second store with a backroom saloon when William Douglas became the third person to own a business here. Three business properties in “town”—two of them bars.

Customs was one of the sources of the conflict. The good people of the islands often preferred to get their products without the benefit of taxation. Before national jurisdiction was decided, importing from Victoria was a way of life. Such importation continued, without customs duties, after the national boundary was settled; only now it was smuggling.

During Prohibition, smuggling from Canada via the San Juan Islands flourished. Many islanders learned to keep silent about well known rendezvous location sites and to ignore the night time sounds of engines on beaches as exchanges took place. Rum-runners would sew their loads into gunny sacks in case of such emergencies. When a ‘rummy’ felt he might be boarded, he would toss the contraband overboard. There were benefits from close calls with the Coast Guard: locals learned to find the sack-wrapped bottles in the shallows, and would sometimes haul in the entire load before the smugglers had a chance to return to retrieve their jettisoned cargo.

Alcohol and the San Juans: is there such a thing as moderation?

Pig War Islands, like all books reviewed in this column, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

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May 2, 2009

Reward a completed task with a trip outside

Posted in Adult, Guide book, Local Author, Lopez Island, Non-fiction, Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Shaw Island, Waldron Island at 9:29 pm by bhelstien

book cover of natural areas of the san juan islands

book cover of natural areas of the san juan islands

Natural Areas of the San Juan Islands © 2007 by Terry Domico

© 2008 Beth Helstien

Having the assignment to write book review each month seems simple enough, especially for a person like me, who reads constantly. I am usually reading at least three different books.

But some book reviews are challenging. When one’s neighbor has written a terrible book, what does one say? How to write about a book about controversial issues without seeming to promote one side or another? How to write about subjects or genres with which I am completely unfamiliar without making a fool of myself? Not surprisingly, I have failed at all these assignments at one time or another.

Terry Domico succeeded beautifully last fall when he published Natural Areas of the San Juan Islands, completing an assignment he began more than twenty years ago. The book is a general field guide to sixty special locations owned by the public. The sites are mostly in San Juan County, but the book covers the bioregion of the Salish Sea, including areas near Anacortes, and a few sites in the Canadian gulf islands.

For each entry, there are directions on how to get to it, a map, and a description pointing out some of the key features.  The sites are a diverse mix, including mountain lakes and shoreline sites, prairies and wetlands. Some locations are important because they provide habitat for wildlife. Other places are important for the views to which they provide access, or the solitude to be enjoyed.

I thought I knew a fair amount about native plants and animals in the San Juans, but I learned a lot about special life forms: flying squirrels on San Juan Island, the brittle cactus, and the rough-skinned newt, for instance. Domico doesn’t insult his readers, assuming we can all follow along in his explanations of how natural processes shape the landscape we live in. Yet the book remains accessible to all.

Most people won’t sit down and read through a guide like this, but it is a book well-worth perusing. Inside one can easily find some new place to visit. Careful readers are sure to learn something new about a plant, animal or natural process that contributes to making the islands special.

The book inspired me to take more advantage of the natural places that grace these islands. Speaking of inspiration—congratulations are due to Domico for actually completing the book, bringing to fruition a project he thought about for more than two decades! I am sure this will become one of those books found in many island homes for years to come. That should be inspiration to all of us with writing assignments.

Natural Areas of the San Juan Islands, like all books reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.