Blakely: A legacy of family, nature, community

Blakely Island, a peaceful and beautiful retreat, is a beloved escape for many, including Elise Nelson, the daughter of the current director of Blakely Island, Dr. Tim Nelson. Over the years, Nelson has created countless memories, drawn to the island’s natural charm and close-knit communities.

“It’s a place where people can leave the city behind and truly reconnect with nature,” Elsie Nelson said.

As the rain poured down outside, dimly lighting the atrium, Nelson cuddled Kaya, the caretaker’s dog, under the skylight, reminiscing about her first visit to Blakely. The island’s magic continues to weave into her life, providing a sanctuary where cherished memories and new adventures unfold.

Elsie Nelson on Blakely Campus, taking a stroll (Sharli Mishra).

Since the tender age of three and a half months, Nelson has visited Blakely Island, building a quilt of memories that intertwine with the island’s serene landscapes and vibrant community.

“One of my favorite memories is a boat ride, playing cards, probably Go Fish, with my family and the previous caretakers’ black Labrador sitting by the door,” recalled Elsie Nelson. These early experiences laid the foundation for a lifelong bond with Blakely Island.

Dr. Tim Nelson and Elsie Nelson on the peak of Blakely chatting about the Douglas Fir
Dr. Tim Nelson and Elsie Nelson on the peak of Blakely chatting about the Douglas Fir (Sharli Mishra).

The island not only has a beautiful environment, but it also fosters a sense of community.

“The community that gets built in just one weekend is amazing,” Elsie Nelson shared.

This camaraderie, coupled with the opportunity to disconnect from the city’s chaos, makes each visit a rejuvenating escape. The consistent return to familiar faces and places cultivates a sense of homecoming and nostalgia. Each trip to Blakely is marked by familiar rituals and new adventures. A favorite spot for Nelson is a little pier by the lake, offering a peaceful retreat to soak in the surroundings. Nelson’s connection to Blakely is also deeply rooted in family traditions.

Many memories involve exploring the island with her father, strengthening their bond through shared adventures. The relationship with past and present caretakers of the island has also enriched these experiences. From enjoying cookies set out by previous caretakers to bonding with the current ones, these interactions add a layer of warmth and familiarity to each visit.

Elise cuddling Kaya by a door in the Atrium (Sharli Mishra).

One of the highlights of any trip to Blakely is the encounter with Kaya, the caretaker’s affectionate dog.

“Kaya is a sweetheart, always ready to greet you when you get off the boat,” Elsie Nelson fondly mentioned.

These small yet significant moments with Kaya encapsulate the welcoming spirit of the island. Nelson speaks fondly of the tall Douglas fir trees and the shorter hemlocks, whose presence contrasts sharply with the concrete jungle of Seattle. The island’s flora, including the distinctive skunk cabbage, evokes a sense of nostalgia with its unique scent, bringing back memories.

Reflecting on her father’s influence, Nelson acknowledges the impact of Tim Nelson’s long association with Blakely. Tim Nelson first visited the island as a college freshman in 1984, taking a junior-level ecology class.

“We were measuring trees, just hanging out at the field station. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I thought it was an amazing place,” Tim Nelson recalled.

The experience left such an impression that he resolved to take as many classes as possible that involved fieldwork, often returning to Blakely for research and teaching.

“It was warm, it was comfortable, it was welcoming. Nature there is spectacular,” Tim Nelson added.

Tim’s dedication to the island has shaped Elise’s experiences as well. He fondly recounted how the island has evolved over the years.

“There have been a few new homes built, and the island did have a pretty serious thinning operation that cut down a lot of trees. But in a lot of ways, it hasn’t changed much in terms of the physical structure,” Tim Nelson noted.

The unchanged aspects of Blakely contribute to the timeless charm that continues to draw the Nelson family back. In addition to family hikes and teaching moments, Tim has countless memories on the island. These explorations not only strengthened the father-daughter bond but also instilled in Elise a deep appreciation for the natural world.

Elise exploring the Tidepools
Elise exploring the Tidepools (Sharli Mishra).

Despite the strong connection to nature, Elise’s career aspirations lie elsewhere. Preferring a math-based path, she aims to enter elementary education, inspired in part by a family legacy of teaching. Interestingly, one of her former teachers was a student of her father, highlighting the interconnectedness of their educational journey and Blakely Island.  Elise Nelson considers Blakely Island a place of peace, community and personal growth. Her visits to this cherished place strengthen the bond, making it a constant source of joy and nostalgia. As Tim explained in his testimony, Blakely was the start of a legacy of shared experiences and a deep connection to nature that will continue to shape his and his family’s lives for years to come.