Sep 272012

Lummi Island is more like Fidalgo, and Sammish than, say, Waldron. Because of the ferry we experience few of the inconveniences of islands not served by car ferries. The Whatcom Chief has been a virtual bridge to the mainland. The ferry makes the island attractive to a number of people who wouldn’t consider Waldron, Sinclair or Blakely, for example.

But what if we were forced into a situation with limited car ferry service? Could we deal with it? How would we deal with it?

It’s actually not so rare to find car free or limited car islands and communities around the world. You can verify this statement by viewing this website.

If there was limited car ferry service we would, as a natural result have limited vehicle use. For one reason, it would be harder to get gasoline. We could look to other ways to move around the island: shuttles, livery service, car share, ride sharing, hitchhiking, bikes, motorcycles, electric bikes, scooters, electric cars, Segways, by foot, etc.

For all of us it’s hard not to contemplate grabbing the keys and jumping in our personal auto and going about our business, filling the tank when we need to with not unreasonably priced fuel. But there are other ways we could get around if it were necessary.

Right now the county could designate Lummi Island as a golf cart zone so that street legal golf carts could be driven on our roads. Using golf carts and other neighborhood electric vehicles would be a great start to saving fuel and reducing the number of automobiles on the road. (A couple of us have made repeated requests to the County Council to look at this with no action so far: note in the comments section of this blog the recent back and forth between Mike Skehan and Barbara Brenner.

In 2010 the Washington legislature approved the use of golf carts on roads with speed limits of 25mph or less (the Lummi Island speed limit).

Here’s the ordinance passed by the city of Langley on Whidbey Island: Most of these ordinances require that golf carts be equipped with headlights, taillights, rear view mirrors and other safety equipment. Golf carts can be electric or gas powered. Obviously, in a reduced fuel environment electric power would be preferred.

Golf carts are modified to make them into Neighbor Electric Vehicles (NEV). Why golf carts? Golf carts are a relatively inexpensive way to begin. At $4 a gallon on golf cart dealer estimates that an electric golf cart gives you 200 mph based on the cost of recharging a cart. There are other benefits as well (which also apply to NEVs and full size electric cars): less maintenance, quiet, cheaper insurance, in most cases a lower initial investment than a gas powered car, easier to park.

Golf carts are not as comfortable as NEVs and electric cars. But, they could get you around the island and make a good transition vehicle.

Next: more about NEVs

Sep 242012

Larry Ellison, the billionaire owner of Oracle, recently bought 98% of the Hawaiian island of Lanai for a reported $600,000,000. One wonders what he plans to do with it. According to the 2011 Assessor’s report on the Lummi Island the market value of taxable properties is close to $300,000,000. For the sake of argument we’ll suggest that the non taxable portion of the island might be worth another $300,000,000. Not too different than the island of Lanai.

If a billionaire could purchase Lummi Island and all its properties what changes might he or she make?

The geography is fixed. The on island infrastructure is not complex—eighteen miles of road, power lines, cable, phone, several water systems, lots of wells, a mix of small lots, larger properties, Trust lands and publicly owned lands. There is a school, a library building, a Grange Hall, a store, a restaurant and an inn. There is a ferry dock, a few boat ramps (none publicly owned), and a couple of natural harbors which are, unfortunately located away from the majority of the population. There is no local government save for a fire district which supports the volunteer fire department.

The longest distance between two points (Migley Pt to Scenic Estates) is a bit less than six miles. Some beaches are accessible at high tide. Many are not. There are a few low spots that have full time beach access (Lane Spit and Legoe Bay, for example). There is no regular bus service or public transportation. Biking is fairly easy for those young enough to pedal although the weather isn’t amenable to bicycle travel year round.

There is no on site power. Electricity arrives via underwater cable but is quite reliable. There is no place to purchase fuel on the island. A few islanders have storage in the hundreds of gallons. Most keep a gas can or two filled for emergencies. There are but a handful of solar/wind powered homes.

Supplies are obtained from the mainlined or via UPS, USPS or Federal Express. It is very difficult for retail business on the island because of the ease of getting to town. The morning ferries usually have a number of service and sales vehicles from the mainland arriving to do contracting or service work. There are a few contractors and some service people working on the island. Some are able to keep busy. Businesses tend to be home based and fill niches in the marketplace.

The island is not self-sufficient in any category except for water and there are many question marks about the water. A few people have added rainwater catchment. The island is dependent on County government for ferry service, road maintenance, law enforcement, on electric company for  power, the garbage company for garbage pickup, etc. Tourism provides a few dollars for a few people, there is some seasonal fishing, home business and telecommuting. The most reliable job is working on the ferry. There is not enough agriculture to provide food for the islanders. It is an import economy.

If a billionaire bought the island lock stock and barrel they would see that it was tethered to the mainland depending on the car ferry like a fetus relies on an umbilical cord. The billionaire would need to decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

In Lanai the debate over what Larry Ellison will do continues. Will he preserve or develop?Whatever he does, taking a fresh look at how an island might look in the future isn’t an exercise just limited to billionaires.

Sep 222012

During dry dock on Lummi Island we get our annual chance to experience life on an island with limited access. Some love it; others hate it.  Everyone, however, does some planning for the event, even if it is to leave. Leaving is an important “tell.” It probably means you really don’t like living on an island and the inconvenience that island living entails. Leaving is a valid strategy.

If one is staying, there’s a big shopping run and gas cans are filled. Decisions have to be made about transportation. Park a car on the other side? Share a car on the mainland? Put a car at the marina in Bellingham or Blaine? Take the bus? Or, perhaps plan to hunker down for the three weeks that the car ferry is getting her annual once over and paint job.

Utility companies station a rig on this side: a PSE truck in case of power outages, Century Link for the phones, the cable company to keep TV and internet going, a garbage truck and a sheriff’s car. The county makes plans for a passenger ferry and passenger docks on both sides. During the three weeks of dry dock we prove every year that it is possible to live with limited access. There’s a shuttle bus, there’s ride sharing. There’s car sharing on the other side. There are more people taking the bus.

We always stay here for the three weeks. It is pleasant bordering on idyllic. The weather is good, the traffic is light, there’s lots of biking and walking. This year we tried a run in the boat to Fairhaven to drop a couple people off. I was thankful that it was a beautiful day with calm water because certain people have made me extremely fearful of that stretch between Portage Island and Eliza Island at the entrance to Bellingham Bay. I have yet to see it at it’s worst but am convinced that it can resemble the Bermuda Triangle where boats of all size disappear never to be seen again. We were lucky and survived our passage. Made it from Isle Aire Beach to the visitor dock in Fairhaven in slightly under 40 minutes, dropped our passengers and their stuff and returned in the same amount of time.

This was my first trip by water from Bellingham to the Island. I was struck by the beauty of the route with the mountain dead ahead and wild Portage Island on the right (or starboard, if you will).

Lummi is quite the impressive island when you approach along the length of it with a notable wilderness on the south end, the jarring gash in the landscape that is the quarry, then interesting homes along the water as the island levels out and seems to become civilized.

Feng shui, according to Wikipedia translates as “wind-water” and is a short hand translation of this longer quote: “Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water.”

I’m not sure that feng shui can be applied to approaching a location like an island but I think I will try to do it anyway by suggesting that the feng shui of the approach via the Rez and Gooseberry Pt. is not as satisfying as the approach from Bellingham via water.

It is entirely possible that at some point in the future we may not be able to enjoy the virtual bridge to the mainland that we do now with car ferry service every thirty minutes all day long. There are many things that could impact ferry service, the economy, County finances, more difficulties with the Lummis, and gasoline prices to name but a few. It is conceivable to me that we could end up in a permanent condition resembling dry dock with passenger ferry service and limited car ferry service. Very few people want to concede that this could happen. Yet it could. Without regular car ferry service we could face a life without petroleum fueled automobiles or, more likely, limited use of petro-fueled equipment.

Interesting that many communities have decided to go without cars now even though fuel is still readily available. In the next couple of blog posts I will try to imagine what a gasoline fueled car free island might look like, what the pluses and minuses might be and how we could manage the change.

Sep 122012

Kitchen Garden at Hagley Farm 1964

Until WWII a lot of people in this country lived on subsistence farms and had for generations. By subsistence I mean that they produced most of their own food and, in addition, raised cash crops like milk, hay, eggs, meat or maybe something more exotic like tobacco. The cash was used to buy equipment, extras and foodstuffs they didn’t produce themselves. They didn’t go to malls or supermarkets. Those did not exist.

My father’s family lived in what might be called a “kin” neighborhood in a part of Virginia that can now almost qualify as a suburb of D.C. Relations owned four or five contiguous properties and had lived in this spot since the 1840’s. Often they worked together, sharing labor, teams and equipment. All the places had names: Mt. Atlas, Oak Shade and Hagley. Hagley was my grandfather’s place. Before he built Hagley in around 1910 there was Old Hagley founded by his grandfather. New Hagley was built on higher ground and closer to the road. By US standards the family had been attached to that property for a long while. I was in the sixth or seventh generation to spend time at the place.

I found Hagley fascinating as a child for it was like dropping in on another planet, another style of life and almost another language with the drawls and “you alls.” There was so much food. Tons of food for every meal. Breakfast was breakfast, lunch was dinner, dinner was supper. My grandmother and aunt seemed to live in the kitchen and wouldn’t let you hang around in there. They would shoo us boys out so we helped where we were able or dug worms and headed to the pond to fish. From this photo it appears my brothers, cousin and I were doing something vaguely agricultural.

Farm work

I liked to look at the cellar with cured hams hanging from the ceiling and shelf after shelf of home canned goods. I remember the food most of all, fitting because subsistence farming is all about food: vegetables, pickles, milk, eggs, cheese, chicken, ham, beef, fish, bread, corn, biscuits and on and on. They not only grew food for themselves but for the animals as well: hay, corn, orchard grass, oats, rye and wheat.

At that time I really didn’t understand or appreciate what I was looking at and shortly after I graduated from college it all came to an end when my grandfather decided, perhaps in his dotage, to auction off the farm, all the implements, all the antiques, all the stock and knickknacks and everything that had accumulated in that spot in the previous hundred or more years. I guess he’d had enough of subsistence. He sold it off and along with my widowed aunt and bachelor uncle moved to town and began shopping at the supermarket just like everyone else in America. Grandpa sat on the porch til it was time to die, my old uncle went to the basement and turned wood bowls on his lathe, while my aunt kept cooking breakfast, dinner and supper.

The era of subsistence farming was over. Three generations later it’s starting to regain traction. But it’s much tougher now. There are building codes, safety rules and employment laws one has to follow. Plus, we live in a litigious society where some one will sue you at the drop of a hat or narc on you to some code official. The only instruction I recall getting at Hagley was “Stay out of the pig pen.” There was, apparently, a real danger of being eaten by a large boar. In the hallway was a .22 rifle on the gun rack which I was free to take it out and shoot at stuff like skill pots (snapping turtles) or squirrels. They would no doubt been shocked to learn I’d never even see a .22 before I took that one out in the woods and shot it.

Recently, my cousin who still owns his dad’s farm across the road from Hagley made a diagram of how Hagley looked in 1955 just a few years before the sale. I marvel at this information which details almost a village worth of buildings and functions. Take a look by clicking the link below.

Hagley Farm 1955

First of all note the two large kitchen gardens with a grape arbor in between. Then take a look at the functions and activities represented by the various buildings: hog pen, wood shed, meat house, hog butcher pen, hog butcher tub, chicken house, blacksmith shop, tack room, the dreaded pig shed and pen, turkey/guinea house, tractor shed, mill house and granary, corn house, milk barn and more.

Imagine the difficulty today of trying to get approval for these outbuildings. Then imagine the cost of building them. In those days, all these farmers were also carpenters and mechanics and veterinarians in addition to being horticulturalists. They were experts in animal husbandry as well. The women were experts in everything else. There wasn’t much specialization. One had to know how to do a bit of everything to survive in comfort.

There really aren’t that many back to the land people around today. It’s rare to find someone with a garden in the city. More rare to find a subsistence farm in the country side. It’s possible that we might have to get back to that and important that we maintain some bank of knowledge of the skills we need if we have to do the work ourselves and if we reach a time when we don’t have petroleum to do our work for us.

Today, Hagley still looks like an old farm house. It’s been updated some and the land around it sub-divided and partitioned into a small suburb for folks commuting to the capital and other venues in N. Virginia and Maryland. They are back on the land but not subsisting there. It will be hard for them (and all of us) to make the transition to a simpler, sustainable existence if circumstance dictates that we must.