Volkswalking in Kitsap County

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I lost my virginity in Nepal in 2007. My status as a Hash House Harrier Virgin ended after a Hash sponsored 10K walk through rice fields when I managed to slog down the required Hash urn of beer before the end of the ceremonial group initiation song. I even have the t-shirt to prove it because if you’re going to lose it, there’s no better t-shirt to boast about it with than the Kathmandu Himalayan Hash House Harriers. The U.S. Ambassador to Nepal was an avid Hasher (he was a runner; I was a walker) and helped with the initiation. It turns out there’s a Kitsap County Hash Club which requires further investigation on my part because as the tagline goes for all international HHH Clubs – “Hash House Harriers – “A Drinking Club With A Running Problem.” But I digress. It’s really volkswalking I want to talk about in this post.

I was grabbing a latte at the Port Gamble General Store when I noticed the plastic box next to the front door. “Kitsap Volkssporters Walk Box”. Inside were maps, registration logs and information about the Kitsap Volkssporters. It sounded like a significantly tamer version of the Hash House Harriers.

Volkswalking, also called volksmarching, originated in Europe as a way to encourage fitness by offering non-competitive biking, swimming, walking and other activities in scenic or historical areas. Volksmarsch is a German word that literally means “peoples’ march”.  Kitsap County has a Volkssporters Club that offers a full array of volkswalking (and some biking) activities from one time traditional walks to year round walks. This coming 2016 summer, the Kitsap club will be offering a Tuesday Night Guided Walk Series all over the county.

The group sponsors regular group walks on the first and third Saturdays of the month. The 2016 schedule can be found here.

If you don’t have the time to participate in the guided walk series, the club has walk boxes in eleven locations throughout the county. Inside each box are specific directions and descriptions of local walks between 5 and 10 kilometers. Each walk is rated from 1-A (easiest) to 5E (hardest) and the description advises whether it’s appropriate for strollers, pets and if it has bathroom facilities. I checked out two other walk box locations in addition to the one in Port Gamble. Located in coffee shops, stores and medical facilities, I found that employees in the locations often didn’t know there was a walk box there. Ask around. They’re generally located in a visible location in the front of the premises.

The traditional group walks often end with group refreshments, though I suspect not with drinking songs and virgin initiations. And while I’m not sure if there are t-shirts, there are club sanctioned achievement awards based on mileage and number of walks completed.

 

 

Poulsbo’s Teeny Tiny Tearoom

 

This little gem of a place has become my new favorite local indoor sketching nook. Who can resist a sidewalk sign declaring “The earth without art is just “eh”?

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Located in Liberty Bay Art Gallery in downtown Poulsbo, the gallery has been an institution on the Poulsbo art scene for years. Before the historical building housed the current gallery, it housed another gallery. Before that it was an appliance store and prior to that an annex for the Olympic Hotel.

The current owner, who was fond of the town’s now shuttered tearoom, decided to convert a space in the back used as a classroom to a cozy tearoom with an open invitation for visitors to make art and sip tea. She also offers classes in the space.

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There’s a supply of art tools on the table but I bring my own. I like spreading out my markers, watercolors and pad of paper surrounded by the work of professional painters, weavers, sculptors and photographers. Their art silently reminds me to up my game. I find I spend more time on a sketch lulled by the tea and the music that wafts through the gallery.

The gallery is located next to Sogno di Vino Restaurant (formerly the main Olympic Hotel) and the picture window in the tearoom overlooks the restaurant’s patio and comely magnolia tree. I can’t wait for the weather to get warm enough for the tree to bloom and the patio to get populated with people to sketch.

The Shire of Kitsap

My brother, Tony, thinks he’s Bilbo Baggins. Its not that he’s delusional, but in his job working for a UN humanitarian agency, he lives a nomadic life, often in the most inhospitable of places and so he identifies with the wandering Hobbit of the Shire. It may be the reason he calls Poulsbo his permanent home when not off burglaring with the Dwarves to reclaim the Lonely Mountain. Kitsap County resembles the Shire.

When you have a brother who channels Bilbo Baggins, it’s difficult to ignore all things “hobbitish”. That’s why I stopped for a closer look at this Bainbridge structure on High School Road while driving the island doing research on labyrinths of Kitsap County. The Bainbridge building has been dubbed the Hobbit House according to one of its neighbors. It’s available as a vacation rental (the sign posted out front advertises 206-842-0255 for inquiries) and it comes with its own miniature Hobbit playhouse for…..well, really tiny Hobbits.

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Bainbridge’s Hobbit House looks suspiciously like the Old Mill owned by the Sandyman family in the village of Hobbiton in the Shires where Bilbo lived.

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The Brothers Greenhouses in Gorst near Port Orchard is where the replica of Bagshot Row and Bilbo’s hobbit hole, Bag End (sans its green door) is located. Built by the owners as a way to showcase garden creativity and plants, the house was decorated with Christmas lights when I visited in December. The tiny hobbit hole’s interior, though smaller than Bag End, is paneled and even sports a faux fireplace. Its available to visit anytime during the nursery’s open hours and the friendly staff are willing to share its origins.

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The Hobbits of the Shire referred to the Elves as fairies and the owners and staff at Brothers cater to the Fellowship by specializing in how to entice them to visit by building fairy gardens. The greenhouse has an entire section devoted to fairy-sized furniture and accessories and offers classes on fairy gardens.

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Guillamot Cove Nature Reserve in Seabeck is the site of the “hobbitish” Stump House. Well signed and easily reached, the Stump House sits on 158 acres of land and trails that were purchased by the Trust for Public Land for public use. There is a rumor the Stump House was built by Dirty Thompson, a criminal who used it as a hideout.  I’m sure it’s a Hobbit-invented story intended to deter the Orcs.

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This week happens to be my brother’s birthday. This is not my brother. It’s a late birthday gift – the Bilbo Baggins costume that awaits his next visit when he returns from the Misty Mountains to wander the Shire. You’re welcome, Tony.

ADDENDUM:  Tony read my post and texted, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Such a Bilbo he is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poulsbo’s Russian Orthodox Church

I passed by it every day enroute to work. The small sign at the entrance to the business park on Highway 305 – St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church. There it was along with signage about a hot yoga business, a Crossfit facility and an auto repair shop. Then it moved but was still on my daily driving route. Now the sign was was posted at the Breidablick Hall, the old rural community building that was most recently used for square dancing and an occasional wedding. Also burials since a cemetery established in 1904 was on the property. St Elizabeth Orthodox Church. What would an Orthodox church be doing an a community largely settled by Scandinavian Lutherans?

I’ve traveled a lot in countries where the Orthodox religion was a significant part of the country’s history and culture. Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Greece, Albania and Macedonia all have ancient, ornate churches steeped in tradition. The Orthodox religion claims to be the oldest Christian church, its roots going back to 33 AD. For its first thousand years the church was run from five centers called Patriarchs located in Rome, Jerusalem, Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), Alexandria in Egypt and the ancient city of Antioch in Greece. The Roman Patriarch broke away in 1054 AD to form what is now the Catholic Church. In 988 AD, Orthodox missionaries made their way to Russia and then in 1794 the first Russian Orthodox missionaries arrived on Kodiak Island, Alaska to introduce the religion to the North American continent. Today the church is a single body with self-governing entities: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox and Orthodox Church in America. St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church is part of the Orthodox Church of America, but it’s roots come from those Russian Orthodox missionaries.

It’s patron saint, St. Elizabeth was a German princess who married into the Russian royal family and converted to the Orthodox religion. As Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia (1864-1918) she saw her husband assassinated, gave away all of her possessions and became an Abbess in an Orthodox convent. In 1918 she was executed by Russia’s new Communist government.

St Elizabeth Church was having a a Christmas Eve service open to the public (as are all of its services). In advance of Christmas Eve I convinced my not particularly religious dinner guests that we should attend. We asked Google if there was any protocol we needed to know. It advised modest dress for men and women (no tank tops, short skirts, cleavage or tight pants). St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church maintains a very informative website with links that explain their Christmas Eve service called Christmas Vigil. Earlier in the day was the celebration of the Eve of Nativity which includes the tradition of Vale, a twelve course dinner served just before the Vigil service begins. Though we opted out of  the church’s Vale, it  was still in progress when we arrived. From the moment we set foot in the door we were graciously greeted, invited to join the holy supper and to participate in the choir’s practice of familiar Christmas carols for the next day.

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After the meal, the lights were darkened and everyone entered the nave (the part of the church where the congregation assembles) which was lit with candles that were reflected in the many Orthodox icons displayed all over the room.

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Though not made of ancient stone and minus the domes, rotundas and murals found in older Orthodox churches, the wooden, square, former square dance hall in Breidablick has been magically transformed into an Orthodox setting. St. Elizabeth’s has a fundraising plan to eventually build a more traditional church on the site which they purchased five years ago.

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There is an iconstasis, the carved and painted partition that separates the sanctuary from the nave. There are large icons, particularly of the patron, St Elizabeth. The clergy wore traditional vestments that changed throughout the service and the tiny choir had glorious voices for coming from such a small congregation.

What we didn’t read in our research was that we needed to stand for the two full hours of the service. Or what we could and couldn’t do about the icons and the communion. However, we were each given a very informative pamphlet as everyone extended their goodbyes to us, First Visit to an Orthodox Church: 12 Things I Wish I’d Known. It explains:

  • You stand up for the whole service. As the pamphlet emphasizes, “Really.” Many Orthodox churches have no pews and only  a few chairs scattered about for those who can’t stand. St. Elizabeth had pews arranged in a U shape around the iconstasis and I ultimately sat for half of the service – who knew two hours of standing was so hard?
  • It is appropriate to kiss the icons though only on the feet and hands of the image.
  • Everyone has communion. A portion of the loaf of bread is soaked in wine which is reserved for attendees who have been baptized into the church. The remainder of the loaf is blessed by the priest and distributed to everyone attending.

Perhaps the most impressive thing I learned was how this Russian Orthodox influenced church is part of the greater Poulsbo and Kitsap community. Founded in 2001, it’s the first and only Orthodox church in the county. Beyond its informative and up-to-date website (source of all my photos) St Elizabeth Orthodox Church maintains an active Facebook page. It also has a booth at the Kitsap County Fair and during Poulsbo’s May Viking Fest celebration.

Did I ever find out how a Russian Orthodox church ended up in a community pioneered by Scandinavian Lutherans? No. I never asked. I’m sure there’s an answer, but frankly I don’t need to know. I’m celebrating our growing diversity and inclusivity here on the western shores of Puget Sound and its enough to know the welcoming St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church is emblematic of that.

 

 

Public Labyrinths of Kitsap County

 

Finding the Bainbridge Halls Hill Labyrinth and its Community Tibetan Prayer Wheel is not so easy if, like me, you don’t know the island’s backroads, but I’ve been there a few times now.

It’s stunning in the summer when the Asian inspired landscaping fully complements the labyrinth and prayer wheel and it’s stunning in the winter when rain highlights the varied colors in the four quadrants of the labyrinth. However,  I never remember how to get there and so on my most recent foray I asked The Google for directions and he revealed four more Bainbridge labyrinths also on private land (all of them churches) but regularly open to the public and another one in a public park. How many public labyrinths are there in Kitsap County?

It turns out there are two more – one in Kingston and one in Silverdale, both of them on welcoming church property. And the south end of the county lends its own unique contributions to the county labyrinth culture. A Port Orchard couple who have a semi public labyrinth belong to a state network of labyrinth events and consult on building labyrinths. And a Bremerton based artist makes finger labyrinths.

I set out to walk them all and discovered each is unique. While most of the county labyrinths accessible to the public are on church property, labyrinths are not part of any specific religion. The earliest ones are from the Middle Ages and were intended to be used as both a meditative and spiritual practice.

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The labyrinth at Grace Episcopal Church on East Day Road, Bainbridge is one of two walking meditative features. The architecturally stunning church is located down a long driveway and the labyrinth is on a small north rise above the parking lot.  Made of gravel and lined with stones, this labyrinth was built in the Chartres pattern of two circuitous paths to the center. Beyond the labyrinth is a meditation trail that winds through the trees.

Bethany Lutheran Church on Finch Road, Bainbridge maintains a seven circuit stone and gravel medieval labyrinth on the southwest part of their property. Since the church also hosts a large park and ride parking lot, I wondered if the labyrinth also provided stress reduction for the island’s significant Seattle bound daily commuter population.

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The Eagle Harbor Congregational Church labyrinth in downtown Bainbridge was nearly indistinguishable from its surroundings when I visited. Covered with needles, the seven circuit brick lined labyrinth is on the south side of the church just off the parking lot.

Eagledale Park on Bainbridge has a large, well-signed hilltop labyrinth with a view of Mt. Rainier. The park was once part of a Cold War Nike missile complex which made me wonder how many of THOSE we have in Kitsap County – a future blog post.

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In Kingston, the United Methodist Church on Shorty Campbell Road has a small three circuit labyrinth behind the church. While open to the public the church asks that it not be visited on Sunday mornings while services are in progress.

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It was one of our recent cold, frosty days when I found the Silverdale labyrinth located at the Silverdale Lutheran Church on Ridgepoint Drive. I like that walking the pathway leads to a contemplative bench.

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And for anyone not wanting to brave the elements of an outdoor labyrinth, Brian Watson, a Bremerton artist and woodworker makes beautiful finger labyrinths. The above photo is from his website.

ADDENDUM: Readers of this post informed me of two more labyrinths on Bainbridge Island; one at Sakai Intermediate School and another at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church. Check out this link from the Smithsonian for more information about labyrinths.