Spring is Here…and so are the Tulips

The best springtime destination in the whole wide world for someone with a camera in hand is Washington State’s Skagit Valley tulip fields. Monday this week, sun breaks and towering clouds coincided to make perfect lighting and background for fields ablaze with color. A chilly wind thinned the crowds so that parking, often a nightmare, was not a problem.

We pulled off Best Road and parked where tulips nearly inundated this old barn.
Artists were out, and who could blame them?

Fields of rainbows rolled away for what looked like a mile, ending at Beaver Marsh Road and the RoozenGaarde display garden.

Sometimes the best beauty is the least noticed!

Don’t walk between the rows. Not only might you lose your shoes in the mud, you might damage the flowers. The top layer of mud had dried on the road, but the ground moved beneath our feet as if we walked on a mattress.
Children and tulips…a perfect combination.

Parrot tulips have their own weird beauty.

Part of the display garden, with acres of daffodils in the background.

Pattern, design, color…beauty in the details.

Generous bystanders offered to take our picture.

RoozenGaarde was established in 1985 by the Roozen family, whose patriarch, William Roozen, emigrated from Holland in 1947. He found the Skagit Valley to be perfect for growing the bulbs he’d grown in Holland. Today the family business is the largest grower of tulips, daffodils, and irises in the world.

There are more than 1000 acres of blooming fields, 15 acres of greenhouses, and a 4-acre display garden which is completely redesigned each autumn and replanted with over a quarter million spring flowering bulbs.

Bulbs are shipped all over the world. My sister-in-law in Marysville tells of the year she ordered bulbs from Holland and waited eagerly for them to arrive. When the shipment finally reached her, the label on the package proudly announced, “Grown in the Skagit Valley of Washington.”

Not Your Usual Tulip Tour

    I’m not suggesting one would ever get tired of the rainbow of tulips in Washington’s northwest corner this time of year, but locals know Skagit County holds many attractions besides the beauteous bulbs. While following our curiosity along a new-to-us back road recently, we came across an ancient schoolhouse. It brought back memories of one that stood around the bend from my family’s home when I was growing up. A faded, hand-crafted sign on front announced that this was the Pleasant Ridge School, No. 14. A little online sleuthing helped me pull together an interesting side trip for anyone who wants to broaden an outing to include more than just tulips.

    Following Interstate 5 from either north or south, take the Conway exit and follow Fir Island Road west. It turns north, past the Snow Goose Produce stand and its monster ice cream cones, and crosses a high bridge over the Skagit River. It then becomes Best Road.

     The high ground you’ll be traveling along has been called Pleasant Ridge since the days of the early white settlers. When they made their homes on the forested promontory, the fields surrounding it on three sides were still salt marsh and tidal channels. Rising above the flat like the prow of a huge green ark, the ridge was bounded to the south by the Skagit River, at Rexville. The trading post of LaConner, across the Swinomish Channel from the village of the Swinomish people to the north, was a two-and-a-half mile trip by horse and wagon from the ridge. Or you could go by canoe or boat.

   The first settlers came to the flats as early as 1863 to build dikes and clear the land for farming. The single men and families found home sites on the high ground of the ridge out of danger from seasonal flooding. As sections of land were diked, the farmers planted barley, oats, and hay in Beaver Marsh to the east and Dodge Valley to the west. The farmers were amazed at the yields from that fertile land. People heard the tales all the way back to the east coast.

    Today’s Best Road takes you past beautifully kept Victorian-style homes with sweeping views across green fields and flower farms to Mt. Baker and other peaks of the Cascades. Then it descends to the fields and carries you on to LaConner. LaConner is one of our favorite places to spend an afternoon, but it’s worthy of a blog all to itself. Let’s go there later. Instead of descending to the valley floor, watch for Valentine Road, which turns uphill past one of those Victorian-looking homes. There’s a cluster of old-fashioned country homes, and among them, on a plot to itself, is the dilapidated but still charming old school. It was built in 1891 and served the district for 38 years.

The Pleasant Ridge Schoolhouse

    A teacher’s cottage stood across Valentine Road from the school and housed the teacher for the Pleasant Ridge School as well as the teacher from the Rexville School, about three miles away by trail through trees and brush. Mary E. Childberg was the first teacher in the new school. Prior to that, classes had been held in homes or small cabins. The very first school was held in the home of the Leamer family. The teacher was fifteen-year-old Ida Leamer, who held the first teacher’s certificate ever issued in Skagit County.

    Community life in Pleasant Ridge centered around the two churches and the school building. There were clubs, dances, potlucks, Christmas pageants and parties…even a small orchestra. The people living on Pleasant Ridge visited back and forth or travelled to these functions on foot or by horseback along the trails leading through thick Douglas fir forests. Kids on their way to and from school often encountered deer, black bears, and other wildlife. After paved highways came into existence around 1930, social activity tapered off in favor of quick access by automobile to more distant activities in LaConner, Mt. Vernon, Stanwood and beyond.

    Now, let’s leave the echo of the schoolbell ringing from the cupola and the imagined children playing in the school yard and continue a short distance up the hill to the point of the promontory and Pleasant Ridge Cemetery. There’s plenty of parking along the verge of the road and plenty of solitude to wander and wonder about the people whose names are on the gravestones…some simple, some ornate.

    This is the oldest cemetery in Skagit County. John and Bessie Cornelius settled here in 1868. They had come from Whidbey Island, where John was a government surveyor. When their little boy, Charles, died of typhoid fever in 1875, the couple established the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery on a piece of their land. A teacher from LaConner and a neighboring farmer were buried there soon after. Five years later, John Cornelius died, leaving his wife and children without support. His friend Joseph Rudene married Bessie two years later, in 1882. Title to the cemetery land then passed to Rudene. He sold forty-foot square plots which were maintained by individual families. These are visible inside the welcoming archway.

This must have been a strong lady.
The marker for the Conner family. Individual graves fill the 40′ plot.

L.A. Conner, for whom LaConner is named.

    Walk along the graveled drives, noting the changing styles of cemetery architecture and the stories chiseled in the stones. Many of Skagit County’s earliest pioneers are buried here, including the founders of LaConner. Through the trees fringing the cemetery, you can glimpse farmers working their croplands. At the base of the bluff you may see black and white Holsteins crowding their barnyard. If the wind is right you will have already smelled their presence.

    Now you can retrace your route to Best Road, or you can follow Valentine Road to its intersection with Dodge Valley Road. Turn right and head north, then west, to LaConner, an artist’s paradise, or continue north to the tulip fields. Do a little exploring of your own. You won’t be disappointed.

Snow geese and daffodils from Best Road

Tulip Festival Garage Sale

  What can you do when it’s Tulip Festival time in Mt. Vernon, but it’s too wet to get up close and personal with the tulips or daffodils?

    Well, you can visit the indoor displays at Tulip Town or RoozenGarde. You can go to one of the numerous art shows or the downtown street fair. You can feast at the Kiwanis Salmon Barbecue, daily at Hillside Park. Or if it’s the right weekend, you can attend the World’s Largest Garage Sale at the Mt. Vernon Fairgrounds. The fairground buildings are filled with vendors selling everything from antiques to zoology textbooks.

    Son Rob started a sideline business this spring, with the help of his teenage daughter Annie and her brother Kevin. Have you ever wondered what happens to the contents of those ubiquitous storage units when renters default on their rent? What they’ve stored is forfeited to auction. Rob and other bidders are allowed to look through the door at what they can see. Then the entire contents of a unit goes to the highest bidder.

    Next comes the treasure hunt. It’s amazing what people store, and what they will buy! Rob and Kevin haul the truckloads of items home, where they sort them. Annie photographs saleable items and advertises them on Craigslist. Once a week they have a home garage sale for those responding to Craigslist ads. And during the yearly Tulip Festival they rent a space at the World’s Biggest Garage Sale for the rest.

    Here are some links to help you enjoy the Tulip Festival (and the Garage Sale):





Waiting for customers

Donuts and coffee

Love the get-me-out-of-here expression
Bargains galore

Rob and Kevin

Annie and Lydia ready to go to work

Another vendor’s offerings


Tulip Time in the Skagit Valley

You know that spring has arrived in Washington’s Skagit Valley when blossoms open in the tulip fields. The blooms were late again this year, but judging from the hordes of people oohing and aahing from the sidelines this weekend, the spectacle was well worth the wait.

 Rows of bright tulips stretched across rolling fields, striping a living quilt in rainbows. Another rainbow of nationalities mixed together in the crowds that moved along the edges of the fields. People from all corners of the earth, all ages from infant to ancient, called to each other in a kaleidoscope of languages. Because children are admitted free, at least at the farm we visited, there were many families: Asian, Hispanic, East Indian, American Indian, girls and women in bright saris or the native dress of Bangladesh. We saw every shade of skin color, black to brown to cream-in-your-coffee tan; blue-eyed blondes, redheads, some with hair as black as crow’s wings. But on every face was the same happy smile.

 The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival runs through the month of April, with the tulip crop scattered over hundreds of acres throughout the Skagit Valley and festival activities scattered throughout the valley as well. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come from all fifty states and as many as fifty-one foreign nations.


Photos by Joan Husby
Taken at Tulip Town, Mt. Vernon, WA

The Spirit of Generosity

    This Christmas will go down in my personal history book as “the best ever.” Not because of the gifts, or the way-too-abundant holiday treats, or the decorations. Not because of the Christmas concerts and other celebrations, or the cards and letters reminding us that we’re important to the far-flung people we love.

    What made it “best ever” was the spirit of generosity that touched us in many ways.

    Every year, somebody hangs giant snowflakes and lighted wreaths along our town’s main street. While out walking the morning after Thanksgiving, we caught them in the act. Stanwood Lions Club volunteers were partnering with a TV cable company to put up snowflakes that sparkled in the fog. The man in charge told us the Lions also hoist the lighted Christmas tree to the top of Stanwood’s icon, the old Hamilton Lumber Mill smokestack, as well as install other symbols for later holidays.

    Another day, we joined a number of senior citizens at Stanwood’s Community and Senior Center for Christmas luncheon. We were all delighted when one hundred fifty children from nearby Cedarhome Elementary School filed in to entertain us with a varied and enthusiastic program of holiday music, some of it original compositions from their teacher, Mr. Rich Crouch. Thanks kids and teacher, for sharing your talent!

Dennis Bunch on his Honda 1300cc

    When we drove to Camano Island to finish our Christmas shopping, we were amused to see Santa Claus sitting by the highway, waving from a bright red Honda motorcycle. We stopped to talk with him and take his picture. Santa (Dennis Bunch) has been sitting on that motorcycle for several hours a day, every Christmas season for six years, because he feels its a way he can bless others.

    Volunteers around Stanwood come by ones, by a few, or by the hundreds. The Warm Beach Lights of Christmas, only four miles from town, is known all over the country for its more than one million lights and its family-friendly activities that go on for twenty nights in December. More than 800 volunteers band together to set up the displays, man the events, and later take it all down again. They make this a happy, well-loved destination for young and old.

    For us, what made this Christmas truly “the best ever” was a generous gesture from one of our sons. His sister lives in the Arizona desert. She’s homesick for the damp green Pacific Northwest at Christmas time and we miss her, too. His gift to all of us was to fly her home for a weekend packed with love and fun.

    What better way to celebrate the birth of One who gave the best gift ever than to imitate his giving spirit? That spirit of generosity is the thread that ties the whole package together.

Giving the Gift of Heritage


    Sharing Your Stories
    Guest Blogger, Sharon Brilla

Something in our hearts responds to story. Before the invention of radio and TV, before we even had access to the written word, stories were the way we passed on our history and our culture. We especially love tales of courage and triumph over difficult circumstances. Stories about family help us know where we fit in the scheme of things. What small child doesn’t beg, “Tell me a story?”
Sharon Brilla, Co-Director of Social Services at Josephine Sunset Home here in Stanwood, says:
“One of the greatest gifts we can give to our families is sharing our trials and failures and how we overcame in the midst of turmoil.” She relates this to the Biblical account of Moses leading the Israelites out of their Egyptian captivity to the land God had promised them. Moses told the people, “‘Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.’ As we face tough economic times we can help the current generation learn to face adversity and remind them we can be over comers.

“My mother told about putting cardboard in her shoes because she couldn’t afford another pair of shoes. All of us have Exodus stories about how our family has survived when life happens. Our challenge is to share our stories with the next generation and teach them to recognize their own stories.

Christmas time is a perfect opportunity to remind our families of our triumphs and lessons learned from the hard times. This year give the gift of legacy and start a new family tradition.”
Here are some of Sharon’s ideas:

* Start a journal with stories from the past and add new stories throughout the year

* Play a game of remembering past victories. ‘I remember the time Grandpa’s car broke down on the  freeway and….’

* Start a prayer journal with your family. Record answers to your prayers.

* Share a time when you failed and what you learned from the failure.

* Encourage younger family members to share their Exodus stories. This year I will remind my grandson of his fears on the first day of school. That morning he asked me to pray, and when school was out, he said, ‘I had a good day, Grandma.’

Here are a few ideas from Sun Breaks:

* When you put your photos in albums, or download them to your computer, be sure to label them with the occasion, place, and people in them. Don’t let your treasured photos end up in a shoe box in some estate sale because no one knows their significance.

* Keep a journal, if only jottings on a calendar to keep track of important daily happenings.

* Keep scrapbooks of family events.