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.

Deer dynamics of Blakely Island

Inside the eclectic sanctuary of Dr. Eric Long

Dr. Eric Long’s office is a sanctuary for the curious mind, a repository of knowledge and memories. Upon entering, one is immediately struck by the walls lined with a rich collection of ecology books on the freshly polished shelves. These shelves groan under the weight of an impressive mini ecology library, with volumes ranging from ancient botanical texts to the latest research in environmental science. Each book, lovingly worn, tells a story of countless hours spent in study and contemplation. 

Scattered throughout the room are personal photographs, capturing fleeting moments of joy and discovery. In this small part of his room, Long can be seen smiling broadly with a group of students, their faces alight with the thrill of learning. There is also a candid shot of him and his family on a rugged hiking trail.

Dr. Long Office tables that reflect memories created over a lifetime

These pictures, framed in simple, understated wood, bring warmth to the space, reminding visitors of the man behind the scholar.  But perhaps the most arresting feature of Long’s office is his collection of deer skulls. These macabre yet fascinating artifacts are displayed with a reverence that borders on sacred. Each skull is unique and carefully mounted, with its antlers stretching like gnarled fingers grasping the air. They are not trophies of conquest but relics of curiosity, each representing a story of the wild and untamed.

The room is bathed in a soft, natural light that filters through a large window overlooking a verdant campus quad. This light, coupled with the earthy scent of old paper and polished wood, creates an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. Dr. Long has created a space that is as much a reflection of his mind as it is a tribute to the natural world he cherishes.

Long shared insights into his lifelong passion for wildlife and ecology, tracing his journey from a young ornithologist to a distinguished expert in large mammal ecology.

“I have always been interested in wildlife,” Long said, reminiscing about his early experiences with birds. “I just loved the feeling of working with wild animals and figuring out what stories these things could tell me if I had a chance to track them.

Long’s master’s project involved working with cougars, which he described as a “blast,” despite the challenge of working with a small number of individuals over many years. Transitioning to his PhD, he found himself immersed in deer ecology.

“I enjoyed it because I was still working with large mammals, but there were a lot of deer,” Long explained. Over four years, he and his team captured over 2,000 deer and placed radio collars on 600, allowing them to ask and answer critical ecological questions.

Long talks about how blacktail deer got into Blakely.
He mentioned one of his memories with a deer named Pablo, who traveled on and off Blakely Island.

One significant focus of Dr. Long’s research has been the impact of hyper-abundant deer populations on ecosystems, particularly on Blakely Island.

“The population density of deer is higher than it was historically, largely due to the eradication of predators and extensive logging, which opened up the forest canopy,” Long noted.

This has led to an imbalance in which preferred tree species like Douglas fir and Western Red Cedar struggle to regenerate, while less favored species like Western Hemlock thrive. Long and his students have spent nearly two decades at Blakely, a tenure that has also led to his extensive collection of deer skulls.

“It’s kind of a research project,” Long said. “Whenever my students find a deer skull, they bring it back to me, and we take basic data on it.” This collection, now numbering over 700 skulls, has provided a unique opportunity to study the effects of ecological changes on the deer population.

In discussing the broader ecological implications, Dr. Long highlighted the concept of trophic cascades.

“If you remove predators, the deer population increases, which then decreases the vegetation they feed on,” Long explained.

This imbalance affects plant regeneration and increases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

“Hemlock, which deer don’t prefer, is more fire-prone than other species. With the climate getting hotter and drier, these hemlocks become tinder, creating a fire ladder that can turn ground fires into devastating canopy fires,” Long said.

Long’s work underscores the complex connections within ecosystems and the far-reaching consequences of human interventions. His research, deeply rooted in both scientific inquiry and a profound respect for nature, continues to shed light on the delicate balance required to maintain healthy and sustainable environments.

Tidepools

This video delves into the fascinating world of tidepools, highlighting a recent field trip by Seattle Pacific University ecology students to Blakely Island. Led by expert professors Tim Nelson and Eric Long, the exploration focuses on the diverse marine life found in tidepools, including seaweeds and starfish. Discover the ecological roles of these organisms, their unique adaptations to the intertidal zone, and the complex interactions within tidepool ecosystems. The video aims to provide detailed insights and educational content for marine biology enthusiasts and anyone interested in coastal ecology.

Fungi, algae, mushrooms

Join us on an exciting field trip to Blakely Island in with the ecology students from Seattle Pacific University! Led by professors Dr. Tim Nelson and Dr. Eric Long, this immersive experience dives deep into the fascinating world of fungi, mushrooms, algae and more.

Throughout the hike, the professors share their extensive knowledge on various ecological topics, including the evolution of plant life, the complex relationships within forest ecosystems and the unique species that inhabit Blakely Island.

Whether you are an ecology enthusiast or just curious about the natural world, this video offers a wealth of interesting facts and insights about the vibrant forests of the Blakely Island Field Station. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about the wonders of nature from two expert ecologists!

Taking a hike

Join us on an exciting field trip to Blakely Island with the ecology students from Seattle Pacific University! Led by Professors Tim Nelson and Eric Long, this immersive experience dives deep into the fascinating world of fungi, mushrooms, algae, and more.

Throughout the hike, our professors share their extensive knowledge on various ecological topics, including the evolution of plant life, the complex relationships within forest ecosystems, and the unique species that inhabit Blakely Island.

Whether you’re an ecology enthusiast or just curious about the natural world, this video offers a wealth of interesting facts and insights about the vibrant forests of the Blakely Island Field Station. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about the wonders of nature from two expert ecologists!