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.

Fairy garden

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.

Iconclast and vestments

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.

 

Bainbridge Island: The Yama Archaeological Site

Yama. In Japanese it means “mountain” or “hill”. On Kitsap County’s Bainbridge Island, Yama was the hillside home for the earliest Japanese residents of the island; about 300 men and later women and children recruited to work in the expanding Port Blakely Mill. Though the village of Yama only existed from 1890-the 1920’s when it burnt and was abandoned, the influence of Yama has shaped much of Bainbridge’s history. Yama was the beginning of a shameful period of the island, state and nation’s history – the forced removal of 276 of the island’s Japanese citizens to internment camps in California and Idaho during World War II, many of them Yama residents and descendants who remained on the island. The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association has dedicated itself to remembering that time by erecting a beautiful but sobering memorial, The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial located at the now defunct Eagledale Ferry Dock Harbor, the site of the forced removal.

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Located on the south end of Bainbridge Island overlooking Blakely Park, today Yama is a tangle of vines and fast growing northwest vegetation covering the remains of what was once a thriving village about a mile from the mill.

Based on oral history, a few photographs and the beginnings of an archaeological project, evidence indicates that Yama once had a Buddhist temple and Baptist church, a hotel, a general store with an ice cream shop and photography studio and a bathhouse that lined the wooden planked sidewalks to the houses. The earliest residents were bachelors, many who eventually married. Those who didn’t were consigned to the bachelor quarter away from the families.

While nearby Bainbridge residents were aware of Yama; some even doing their own excavation of pottery and other remnants, it wasn’t until 2010 when the city and parks departments traded who had jurisdiction over the seven acre site, that plans began to develop to fully study it as the important archaeological site that it is. A partnership of Olympic College’s Anthropology Department, the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, the Kitsap County Historical Society and Museum, the Bainbridge Historical Preservation Commission and the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community formed and applied for grant funding.

During the summer of 2015, the three year archaeological research began with a team of students from Olympic College participating in an archaeological field school and 37 volunteers who contributed 670 hours of work. I was a very occasional volunteer and can attest to the considerable effort that occurred in the summer of 2015: surveying the hilly overgrown site, removing vines to search for surface level artifacts and cleaning, identifying and cataloging over 2500 artifacts that ranged from metal stoves and pans to parts of shoes, a porcelain dolls head and a lot of glass shards. While some artifacts will be housed at the Bainbridge Historical Museum, the eventual collection is too extensive and so it will be housed at the Burke Museum in Seattle, an internationally renowned museum of Washington history and culture on the University of Washington campus.

The second year of the archaeological project will begin again in the summer of 2016. If interested in volunteering, it can be done here. If you don’t want to volunteer but are interested in following the project, the Yama site has a Facebook page called Yama Anthro that tracked the daily progress of last summer’s work. And the Bainbridge Historical Museum has an impressive display of the history of the Port Blakely Mill, Yama and a collection of artifacts from both.

 

 

 

 

The African Savannah of Kitsap County

They were still there. Standing like sentinels as though it was the African wetlands. As I waded closer I could see they were both sporting Seahawks gear – a scarf on the giraffe and a sort of Turkish Seahawk fez on the elephant – the 12’s in inanimate animal form. It’s football Sunday in Seattle and likely about the end of the first quarter. I wonder if they can tell me what the score is? But more realistically I wonder, yet again, how they got there -two life size wooden African animals in the bush known as the Clear Creek Trail in Silverdale, Kitsap County.  I’d seen them many times before the torrential fall and winter rain had turned the Clear Creek savannah into a wetlands. It’s a mystery how they got there. Even Google doesn’t have an explanation.

Clear Creek Trail is one my my favorite walking trails in the county. While the entire trail system amounts to seven miles, my favorite section is the northern end. It’s easily accessed just off Viking Way NW (aka Silverdale Way NW)  between Poulsbo and Silverdale and has a habit of nagging me to take 30 minutes to park and walk whenever I drive by.

I love that the changes of the season are on constant display there. When it’s monsoon season as it has been lately, there are parts of the trail side that look like the Louisiana bayous, all dark with submerged signs of civilization. On some days galoshes are required footwear on the main trail. It’s a valley formed in the last ice age 13,000 -15,000 years ago and in that section Clear Creek moves slowly because the watershed is low lying. When it rains heavily the creek overflows its banks.

I also love that the entire trail system is maintained and is being restored by a variety of volunteer organizations including twelve trail adoption groups. Donated to the Great Peninsula Conservancy by the last private owners of the land, it was not until the Clear Creek Task Force was created in 1993 that a vision of how to manage and restore the vast Clear Creek ecosystem was developed. Each time I walk the trail it seems as though a new interpretive sign has been installed or a bench that was an Eagle Scout project.

Restoration is a major undertaking. The valley was originally the fishing and hunting area of the local native Suquamish people who called parts of the current Clear Creek ecosystem, Duwe’iq and Sa’qad. In the 1850’s loggers moved in and clear cut the valley turning lush forest into fertile farmland, but in the process destroying wildlife habitat and resources for the native tribe. The efforts to replant the valley are visible everywhere and today the Suquamish Tribe is part of the Clear Creek Task Force.

HeronWhenever I walk the trails I get to witness the slow healing taking place. Part of that healing process is the return of native animal life like the coho salmon who return to Clear Creek between October and January annually. My favorite encounter occurred two weeks ago as I rounded a turn in the boardwalk and came upon this blue heron. The photo was taken with my cellphone so you can see how close the heron let me creep. We spent five minutes staring at each other (me hoping nobody else would interrupt our special moment) before it spread its magnificent wings, cast me one last glance and took off in the air. I wonder how it co-exists with Kitsap County’s African wildlife?

Poulsbo: A Norwegian Christmas at Home

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I’m not Norwegian. Not one iota of Norwegian blood is in my family roots. And yet by sheer serendipity, I’ve grown up surrounded by Norwegian tradition and history. My birthplace of Hettinger, North Dakota was 68% German (mostly Catholic) and 11% Norwegian (mostly Lutheran). A fellow Hettingerite and blogger at The Prairie Blog recalls the saga of the “mixed marriage” in his family, one similar to my own family history . Despite the minority status of the Hettinger Norwegian community, my German Catholic grandmother and parents played their weekly pinochle games with Norwegians and owned businesses with them so I grew up eating lefse (only at Christmas and only with butter, sugar and cinnamon), making krumkake and going as a guest to the far better events for children over at the Lutheran church than the staid Catholic Church offered.

In both high school and graduate school, the school mascot was…

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