Wander about the grounds of Harrison House Inn and Suites on C Street in Friday Harbor, and you will discover a tree whose origins trace back to the days of the dinosaurs.
The Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria Araucana), located on the corner of the Inn’s property, is native to the Southern Andes foothills, and was declared an endangered species in 2013 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In 1976 it was declared the National Tree of Chile.
There is no official record of how this tree was brought to Friday Harbor, but it was probably brought here by someone who admired the unusual shape and hardiness of the Monkey Puzzle in an ornamental garden in the British Isles. How did these seeds make their way from Chile, to England and Ireland, and finally to Friday Harbor? The answer lies in the famous expedition of George Vancouver, 1790 – 1795. After exploring the Pacific Northwest, the ships made their way home, stopping in Chile. Monkey Puzzle Tree seeds were added to the expedition’s collection, and in the 1840’s, a British nursery was able to produce enough seeds to begin marketing Monkey Puzzle trees to the public.
The British and Irish wealthy were entranced with the unusual tree, and with good reason. The Monkey Puzzle can reach 70-130 feet in height, is fire-resistant, and can live for over a thousand years.
It soon became a status symbol to have a Monkey Puzzle in one’s ornamental garden. One of the first purchasers was a man named Sir William Molesworth, whose friend coined the name “monkey puzzle tree” by saying “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that!” In French, the tree is called a “monkey’s despair”. By the early 1900’s these intriguing plants began showing up in gardens in Seattle, and in the San Juan Islands.
However, we can find only three so far on San Juan Island. One is here at Harrison House Suites, one in a residential area of downtown Friday Harbor, and one at the San Juan Historical Society Museum.
Maybe you will find another Monkey Puzzle in your travels of San Juan Island – and if you do, we would love to hear about it!
The town of Friday Harbor turned 105 this February and without much fanfare, Friday Harbor is getting gussied up – an infrastructure face lift of sorts. Much of the work has focused behind the scenes in sewage or water treatment plants or beneath the road beds – replacing aging water and sewer lines, fixing storm water catch basins and repairing pump stations.
These types of repairs remind me of the Inns – all the behind the scenes repairs and proactive maintenance that you can’t do without. Somehow the 6 new water heaters or rewired electrical box do not have the same gee whiz factor as a newly painted room or landscape installation.
The town recently completed a few projects that you can’t help but notice. Blair Avenue from Spring to Guard Street will open this week. Those of you reading from a big city probably think we’re crazy highlighting this as news. This new 2 lane road, a veritable highway for the Island, has new sidewalks, street lights, and tree planters with beautiful Native American designs. The entire road bed of Blair Avenue was completely rebuilt.
Busy summer traffic was detoured from this major cross town arterial plus traffic to the middle and high schools, the post office and many other businesses that line the boulevard had to be rerouted. Islanders are musing with delight to say they can now drive the entire length of Blair Avenue without a detour. They describe the smoothness of the asphalt lift with the adjectives used to describe the facial complexion of models. Ah Island life. We are all proud of this new road project!
Speaking of road projects, the town completed a chip seal project that did an overlay on many of the down town roads and side streets. While it was a bit dusty for a few weeks and difficult for cyclists to maneuver upon, those inconveniences are distant memories for the improved road surface we now enjoy.
Friday Harbor’s new trash and recycle containers are showing up in prominent places in the down town core. No more having to carry your recyclables back to the Inn to find an appropriate receptacle for disposal.
The town will make a big splash for the holidays. Gone are the years when the tree lighting didn’t light as planned. The Town hired a professional company to light Memorial Circle Park, the entrance to town, for the holidays. From the installation previews, it is going to be nothing short of spectacular. No more Charlie Brown trees for Friday Harbor! Do plan a visit for an old town holiday celebration.
Friday Harbor is San Juan Island’s gateway. Our small little town of 2,200 residents maintains infrastructure that supports the growing summer population of visitors.
When Peace Island Hospital moved Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to the hospital complex, the Island Museum of Art (IMA) used this as an opportunity to transform the now empty building into a permanent home for the museum. Over the years the museum has occupied a variety of storefronts in downtown Friday Harbor. The new building would house IMA’s permanent collection as well as rotating exhibits.
Noted local architect Richard Hobbs designed the new building which apropos to an art museum is a work of art, with three galleries and an airy artist workshop. He transformed a utilitarian building into an a visual focal point for the town. The dramatic glass atrium facing Spring Street is inviting. Speaking of inviting, the IMA will welcome the community to their housewarming in early November.
For all you bird enthusiasts, or shall I say birders, there isn’t a more perfect place to come to see many species of birds in the Pacific Northwest. San Juan Island has more than 200 species of birds. Birders consider San Juan Island some of the best bird watching in the state of Washington.
One reason is that the volume of water that flushes from the Strait of Georgia through Haro Strait, and the Salish Sea is a rich environment for birds. Currently you can see, common murres, Cassin’s auklets and the occasional forktailed storm petrel.
On American Camp’s rocky shorelines you can find, black oystercatchers, surf scoters and rafts of seabirds on the open water. Shorebird migration begins around July 1, when birds such as black-bellied plovers stop to feed in the prairie grasses. Fourth of July Beach and Jakle’s Lagoon are big wintering spots for ducks, including buffleheads and Harlequin ducks as well as common loons.
In the woodlands of American Camp and English Camp, you’ll find winter wrens, chestnut-backed chickadees and rufous hummingbirds. On the prairie, look for American goldfinches, great horned owls, and 18 varieties of raptors, from merlins to peregrine falcons to northern harriers. In spring you’ll see Savannah sparrows and vesper sparrows, and winter is a good time to see migrating seabirds.
It has been a spectacular year for seeing orca whales in the San Juan Islands! Many of our guests return from whales watching trips or from LimeKiln State Park, “Whale Watch Park” and have wonderful stories of seeing mother and baby orcas feeding together or some orcas putting on a breaching and jumping show. Stay with us at Harrison House Suites and have a chance to see the orca whales this season!
J pod arrived in the Salish Sea May 29, followed soon by some of L pod members June 3 and a month later on July 2 K pod showed up. So for well over a month now some combination of J pod with Ks and/or Ls has been found almost every day shuffling up and down the west side of San Juan Island or points north into Georgia Strait. Reports have been filled with wonder and appreciation for the opportunity to witness these whales’ graceful moves and intense socializing.
Transients/Bigg’s whales are still here as well, mainly near Victoria and Nanaimo.