26 Oct Bow|Edison

Bow and Edison (named after Thomas Edison) are two small hamlets in the northwest Skagit Valley, a fertile farming region divided from the Olympic Peninsual by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The land that surrounds these two towns is one of my favorite places – I am fortunate to live nearby on Colony Mountain which rises behind them and which was, beginning in 1897, the home of a Utopian society called Equality Colony.  Part of a national movement to develop and connect socialist communities, Equality’s first settlers arrived from the East Coast in 1897 and and built cabins across 640 very beautiful acres.

The colony has disappeared but the idea that Utopia, if possible at all would be most possible here, lingers.

Bordering on the northern edge of the valley, or North Bow, the Chuckanut Mountains rise up in stark contrast to the valley that rolls out from their base, a flat stretch that marks the pathway of Alpine glaciers during the last ice age.  The Chuckanut Drive begins at the northern end of the valley and follows alongside the Samish and Bellingham Bays, winding snake-like north to Bellingham.  In between the tall trees and granite outcroppings you can look across the spectacular view of the Strait to the San Juan Islands and the surrounding watery expanse that connects them. On your way north you will drive past a point where the trail to the famed Oyster Dome begins, a steep hike that brings the hearty to a promontory overseeing oyster farms to the west and the Skagit Valley farmlands to the south. This hike is so popular that there never seem to be fewer than a dozen cars parked at the base, and often many more, no matter the season or weather.

Bow (named either after a large railway station in London, or a homesteader named James T. Bow – opinions vary) and Edison are surrounded by the sea and mountains. To the east the Northern Cascades rise up out of the flood plain of the valley creating a massive wall running north to south. The sight of these mountains, without evidence of human occupation and creating their own distant horizon, take the mind out of the ordinary.  They relocate you, metaphorically, into the wilder world, framing both our human insignificance, in contrast, and also our cellular connection.  Early morning there is often fog or low lying clouds blanketing their upper reaches, creating a variety of poses depending on the day and time of year. Sometimes they are entirely hidden or there may be a tear in the curtain of white that offers up sumptuous visions of unearthly light or beams golden searchlights down from a setting sun  – a paradise, possibly utopian.

Of course the great gem of Nature’s alpine masterpieces is the proud, ancient and thoroughly riveting patriarch of the North Cascades, Mount Baker. Snow covered year round, rising high above its neighbors, a beacon of wildness that dominates every part of the horizon to the east. If the clouds part, you literally can’t take your eyes away and if it is hidden, you are continually searching for it. Something comes over me when I see it, a wordless kind of joy. It seems so big and pure and untouchable.


Bow and Edison are two popular day trip destinations. These small villages attract a raft of visitors from all over Washington and Vancouver. Rustic, charming, with a density of great restaurants, bakeries, galleries, and eccentric shops – surprising considering the lack of population – and a laid back attitude, all surrounded by intense beauty.  It makes for a worthwhile journey.

Cycling in the area offers quiet country roads with mesmerizing views of the mountains to the east, the surprisingly mountainous islands to the west – Lummi, Orcas, and Lopez are among the most prominent. Rolling but with no great climbs, it’s a fun place to ride, taking in the surrounding pastoral of farms, another reason that this corner of Washington is so special.