Top O' the morn
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:42 PM
"We were recently treated to a photograph of a big log boom moving through Deception Pass.The booms are a regular sight. They are towed through the pass a couple of times a week, says Mit Harlan, of Dunlap Towing in La Conner, en route from Canada to Everett, Tacoma, Olympia and other destinations. Most of the logs go to sawmills to be cut into lumber, while others are exported. They are threaded through the narrow waters of Deception Pass so that they can be moved south in protected waters. But none of them are delivered to Whidbey Island. The sight of the big booms reminds us of the time when logging was the main industry on Whidbey. We remember seeing logs being hauled in to Oak Harbor from the Silver Lake area and dumped into the bay at the foot of Eerkes Hill, then formed into booms and towed away by tugs.Touring through the woods north of Crescent Harbor, one comes upon the stump of what was once a huge fir tree, the wood of which went to build homes for early day settlers. When Oak Harbor was named, it is said that the entire landscape surrounding the harbor was covered with oaks. And in the years that followed, the oaks came down to clear land for planting, for making lumber for homes, and most of all for building boats, the only method of transportation about the islands of the Sound.The Indians were responsible for the oak trees, old timers said. Indians living on Vancouver Island, where the Garry oak flourished, took acorns or what they called bitter butter in their canoes as famine food, just in case there was nothing else to eat. The bitter butter was made by smashing acorns into a mass. When the Indians brought their canoes to where Oak Harbor is today, they left what was left of the acorns near the waterfront. Voila! Garry oaks!The most representative and most beautiful street in Oak Harbor is Eighth Avenue with a corridor of Garry oaks all the way from Midway Boulevard to the Victory Homes on the hill. Islanders who have made their homes here kept what is left of a forest of oaks 300 years old, some extending to the street and one left in the middle of the avenue. It took a little more than small talk to convince the city's cutter of trees that the tree should remain in the middle of the street, but it is there today.At one time the City Council was asked to protect the city's namesake and they made it mandatory that anyone planning to cut an oak should make it known to the council for discussion as to its need to remain.One doesn't cut a 400-year-old Garry oak to make room for a motel sign or a barbecue pit.The Garry oaks didn't all grow in what is today's Oak Harbor. We recall going through San de Fuca, on the highway, where young oaks sprouted in the ditches along the way. The boat builders of yesterday couldn't find a better spot to do business. The lumber was right there!Our own Garry oak is about 35 years old, a strapping sapling alongside our front steps, an oak tree planted by a young grandson who was playing with a handful of acorns. Its trunk measures about 6 inches through, and it is beginning to produce acorns of its own. Who knows but when the time comes that condominiums grace this part of the hill, a small forest of oaks will be left to assure the occupants that oak trees do grow at Oak Harbor.We wonder what Joseph Whidbey would think if he could revisit the island named for him?Carl Engle of Coupeville told us a story of how his father, one of Coupeville's earliest settlers, came by boat from Olympia, and the boat stopped at the entrance to the pass to wait for the tide to turn. He told how the sea around them was flashing with salmon leaping into the air (also waiting the tide turn). Environmentalists today would be amazed at the story.Early day settlers in the northwest counties thought for some time that the pass was a rushing river emptying into the sea. We remember a dear auntie who came to Mount Vernon when she was 14, and still insisted that the pass was a river. She told how dances were held at Fort Casey on an island called Whidbey way out there and a boat left La Conner carrying a load of young people who danced the night away, after journeying the river through the pass.Dorothy Neil has gathered and recorded Whidbey Island history for more than 50 years. She is the author of 10 books, including By Canoe and Sailing Ship They Came, which chronicle Whidbey life and times."