Hello fellow submarine racers!
I may have never told you this, but our family crest bears the image of the noble WARTHOG. We are the Warthog Family, warting our hoggy way around the obscure and wonderful places in Western America since 1986 and often leaving graffiti in our wake to mark our progress, which is childish, destructive, and antisocial. Like warthogs.
The Mighty Warthog Will Find All That Is Funky And Dig All Which Is Diggable
Imagine that you are in your favorite place.
That’s where I am now. Anacortes, Washington.
The motel where we are staying is as good as any out there, for 1500.00 a night less than we used to pay. And so we contribute to a privately owned, local business run by people we really like, that has the same linens and decor as the $$$$$ place we used to visit, and we feel all smug and shit about how we really commit to that whole Thinking Globally and Acting Locally thingaroo. Or acting out locally, which will inevitably occur after our third high-test craft beer.
We used to stay in the most deluxe accommodations in town. It was absolutely wonderful, please, don’t get me wrong. The Majestic, Anacortes Washington. I mean, GO THERE NOW. Views unparalleled. Amenities galore. Beautiful historic building - check. Fine dining? Room service? Gym? Spa? Tours? Excellent staff? Check. One of the finest accommodations on the West Coast, check checkity check. We spent vacations, Thanksgiving and Christmas at this inn for years, and mooned out over the waters of Puget Sound by day and did the wild thang out on the balcony at night, and lolled in their Lucullan bathrooms like chubby warthog gods. And that was nice, but no matter where we stayed, what we loved was Anacortes. We are intrepid explorer warthogs, not gym-rat, spa-loving warthogs, and while balcony sex is great, they were not Warthog sized balconies. And so we made our move.
Anacortes is genuinely worth loving. The neighborhoods, the people, the shops, the food, the amazing byways and particularly all the freaky, amazing places big and small, some charmless and some sugar sweet with sprinkles, all left in time out in the nearby hills. Old resorts from the 1920’s, tumbledown logger-baron mansions that have ghosts dripping out of the windows, stretches of windblown madrona and ancient juniper sheeted like flames blown back against the granite headlands that spear up from the water, hidden beaches and parks, eccentric public art and private homes... and hands down THE BEST FARMERS MARKET I’VE EVER VISITED. I mean a no bullshit, non-hipster, A-1 farmers market with real farmers marketing their locally grown vegetables, meats and cheeses, honey, eggs, cured meats, fish...you GOTTA visit. I mean it. You’re my Elect. My most trusted minions. Skagit county is a miracle, but Anacortes is the crown of the region.
It’s a small part of the Western U.S. that few people have heard of ( and don’t spread it around, kids. It’s our secret.) There are untouched, pristine biomes here! I mean, my God, the ENVIRONMENT, folks.
Don’t come here expecting Oregon’s Disneyesque color saturation, the lush growth, the soft-focus sunshine and gentle mosses and ferns through which trip clueless fawns and sassy bunnies and birdies in kerchiefs. This is more boreal, more dramatic, wilder, Game of Thrones stuff. And it's right there. All around you.
Anacortes is a historical working town dropped into the middle of tidal flats alive with uncounted birds, marine life and sea-flora, sudden cliffs, vast fucking evergreens too clawed into the steep hillsides to ever log, Pacific madronas with smooth red bark like satin and broad green leaves like laurels; always shining like they’re polished, and cove after cove of small hidden beaches and parks and places to swim (clothed and nekkid.) In fact the graveled coves are rubbing places for killer whales, who will beach themselves in the wash of the waves just to exfoliate their bellies on the rocks. They look like big puppies playing as they wriggle around and roll back into the water, clearly having the time of their lives as they tumble into each other. Wow, right? Fuck yes, wow!
J.R.R. Tolkein didn’t have a goddamn CLUE. Someone should have told him about this place, the San Juan Archipelago, the eerie grace of the rainfall as it sweeps down from the clouds in twisting arcs among the islands, the flights of thousands of birds just over the tops of the waves, all lifting like a single living sheet of shadow into the sky before the bow of your boat. This is the land of bold ravens, wolves and bears and cougar, eagles and every kind of bird of prey; sea birds and water birds in wild profusion, where deer walk the streets of downtown, where the casinos rake in the cash, where the refinery takes care of what the Alaskan pipeline puts out, where the traffic is part log trucks and part supercars, an international freight and passenger gateway to Canada, Russia and the Orient.
Cultural cross-pollination has been good to Anacortes. It makes the place attractive to just about anybody. Live and let live is the rule. It’s home to all the retired bigwigs from nearby Whidbey Island Naval Air Base, big petrochem, college professors, Burners, Wiccans, truck drivers, and Microsoft geniuses. There is a huge population of farmers, native fishermen, and the people who work in the tulip fields that provide flower bulbs for the world, even more than Holland. It was home to a pioneer ‘Free Love’ commune (Imagine all those grim people in the daguerreotypes sans clothes, joyously hippity hopping through the mud celebrating their right to dangle!) Nearby is a branch of the famed Ramtha cult. Bow Edison a couple of miles away hosts at least five organic farming communes, all flourishing, cheek by jowl with gnarly old loggers, internationally known artists, general rich as fuck people, The Banditos MC, and the largest Mexican population in the state. It is also the center of the Coastal Salish Nation and a party destination for the swabbies. This is the most multicultural town I’ve ever visited.
The town of Anacortes is the unofficial Victorian capitol of Skagit and Island counties. It is weird and wonderful. The geology supports xeri, temperate and boreal plants. You’ll see barrel cactus, palm trees, tundra willow and Douglas firs side by side. The geology changes by the mile. Ancient granite meets basalt meets sedimentary deposits carrying different fossil aeons. The inhabitants date from the pre-Ainu Pacifia dispersal adventurers, who set up their longhouse palaces and then met and embraced the latter-day Celtic expansion to boldly screw and damn the torpedoes. They just took a long, primordial look at one another and said “We must do the Bossa Nova!!” (I am related in a small way to the Salish Nation, and they kick ass. As you would expect.)
My room looks out on an alley- not the cement nightmare of most cities, but a back byway for service vehicles. There is laurel growing in huge swathes, verdant in the last days of Winter. I can see the old downtown from here. An old theatre, with its shameful uppermost balcony still giving testimony to how we used to divide ourselves into better and worse - and failed. I can see the gardens of private homes, and parts of a few of the main roads, and finally Puget Sound. We are three blocks away from a park that was designed in homage to Gaudi- which is weird as fuck. I meant; they did, and I’m grateful, because it’s funky as shit and right in the center of town. And town itself is a modest commercial strip surrounded by houses from every decade since the place was started. Things are jumbled together here, which I love. They still use the pioneer shipyards and warehouses, storefronts and homes. There are sleek modernist mansions next to old Victorian cathouses. There is A LOT of money here in Anacortes, but it’s a working town, not a quaint historical district, and that’s what we love best about it.
We are also a mile away from a vast Catholic cemetery where years ago the nuns and priests buried the young Native girls and their illegitimate infants in numbered blocks, hidden away by overgrown trees and grass, the Girls Home now gone, and that kind of shit driven out by the Salish Nation for good. The best bakery in the state is in Anacortes - 'Store Bakery' is it's name, weirdly, but it's their bakery, and with baked goods as excellent as theirs they can call it whatever the fuck they want.
You will eventually run into Puget Sound in Anacortes. It’s connected by a thin strip of land and a couple of two-lane bridges to Whidbey Island, so think of it as a kind of spur starting out from the flats and fields of the mainland out into the long, wide fjord that cuts down through Washington state from the north. There are islands everywhere, some tiny, some private, some huge, and most of them connected by a ferry system which is counted as federal highway.
There isn’t much traffic in this year of our lord Covid 2021. But the business district is busy, and all the restaurants have turned the parking places on the main street into covered and heated outdoor dining areas, which is the most forward thinking thing I’ve seen - and people are out there in the rain and cold, partying it up! Not old farts like me who get to sit inside, but still.
So here's the scoop. We took advantage of our states’ declaring ‘Stage 2’ to get out of fucking MAGA Sumas and hit our favorite town, and to eat at our favorite hangout, and drink their limited-run Scotch Ale (probably not a real thing on the world stage but we love it) and eat their wonderful food and explore their wonderful town. We are staying nearby in our favorite privately-owned lodgings in our favorite town, loving the fact that no matter where we go, we will be accepted and greeted no matter how we present ourselves.
Anacortes has always welcomed our Warthog nature.
Rock the fuck on, Anacortes. We love you.