The Bible, biology and Blakely

A hazy sunset view of Blakely Peak. Photo: Hailey Hooper-Gray

Ecotheology: crossed between faith and science.

Gethsemane was the garden Jesus prayed in. Symbolically, it reminds Christians of another garden, where sin entered the world. From Eden to Gethsemane, nature is a reflection and redemption of faith. 

Spring quarter of 2024, Dr. Mike Langford’s Creation Care course ventured to Blakely Island for a weekend trip as part of their official course schedule. The Undergraduate Catalog describes the course as “[investigating] the ecological implications of Christian faith.”

(from left) Dr. Mike Langford, Dr. Eric Long, and Brian Rodda look out from Bald Bluff. Photo: Hailey Hooper-Gray

Along with Dr. Langford and his students, Dr. Eric Long, a professor of biology at Seattle Pacific University, also went on the weekend trip to Blakely. He took the class around the island, sharing biological facts and encouraging students to look closely at their surroundings.

While the biology courses that Dr. Long takes to Blakely have an emphasis of “let’s make sure we memorize the names of all these different things,” the Creation Care class has a different aim. Dr. Long says, “The major motivation for this class is to just open our eyes to the diversity of the different things that are out there.”

The class took a trip to the tidepools on the Northeast corner of the island, “the best spot on the island for tide pools,” according to Dr. Long, where students were able to investigate the different organisms living in these pools. With a striking view of Mt. Baker in the background, students passed around a bright purple starfish that Dr. Long plucked up out of the water.

Hiking up to Bald Bluff at ecologist speed, the class stopped frequently for Dr. Long to point out the different things happening ecologically in the forest. While standing slightly off the trail, the students all circled around him, Dr. Long said, “Sorry if I’m overly dramatic—what you’re standing on right now is a carpet of death. Soil. This is dead stuff that’s getting turned into new life.” He went on to explain how the organisms in the soil help cycle the nutrients from dead plants and animals back into the trees. “That’s all part of the ecosystem.”

Dr. Eric Long talks to students on a hike to Bald Bluff. Photo: Hailey Hooper-Gray

Dr. Langford commented on the ecological importance of death from a theological stance. He says, “When we look at the rest of God’s creation, outside of ourselves, we see that actually most of creation is okay with death; it’s part of life; it’s something that happens. We actually need death to make way for new life.” He explains that “Christians believe…that death is not the last word; that there is something on the other side. And actually, if you look at creation, that’s true as well.”

Discussions like this, bridging ecology and theology, were numerous throughout the weekend. With scheduled times of exploring the island and ample free time, students were able to experience nature without the sound of the interstate throbbing in the background.

An afternoon rain shower shed doubt on the initial plans for students to hike to Blakely Peak, the highest point on the island. The class took the vans up to the peak instead, and the clouds broke just in time for them to stand in awe of a magnificent, mist-hazed sunset.

Student Ellie Jancola watches the sunset from a tree on Blakely Peak. Photo: Hailey Hooper-Gray
Dr. Mike Langford and students watch the sunset from Blakely Peak. Photo: Hailey Hooper-Gray
A view of the sunset from Blakely Peak. Photo: Hailey Hooper-Gray

When asked what he hopes his students were taking away from their time on Blakely, Dr. Langford echoed the themes that he has emphasized in lectures throughout the quarter: “You can’t love something that you don’t know. And you don’t know something that you don’t experience…I’m hoping that by coming out here we can experience a little bit of God’s creation that maybe we haven’t before.”

He went on to say, “Hopefully, by experiencing that a little bit, we’ll get to know the vastness of God’s creation a little bit better, at least from a certain vantage point. And hopefully, by getting to know it better, we can love it better. And we want to love it better because we want to love the things that God loves, and God wanted us to love all of creation.”

II.

Back on campus, ecotheology enters a wider territory. It finds itself wedged between two seemingly different disciplines. To its left is a copy of the Bible and to its right is a McGraw Hill 10th edition of Ecology Concepts and Applications. But at Blakely, browsing the bookshelves inside the dining hall or upstairs in the dormitory’s common room, botany beside beatitudes. 

As a Christian university with many STEM opportunities, science is a faith conversation. The Christian biologist and the eco-theologian must ask questions that demand intersectionality and challenge faith. 

Dr. Rodney Stiling is a retired Associate History Professor at SPU whose specialty focused on the history of science. Stiling has only been once to Blakely, but it was to answer the faith and science question for the honors program. 

“I’ve been there one time. Interestingly, it was for the purpose of gathering with students and faculty of the honors program all involved with the faith and science curriculum, and we had a retreat out there. We talked about what kinds of things should we have in the courses and what things are superfluous,” Stiling said. 

Stiling used to teach an honors class with physics professor Dr. Wade Grabow, covering the history of science, religion and cosmology.  

Stiling helped design the faith and science curriculum as part of the SPU Honors program. Source: https://stories.spu.edu/articles/rod-stiling-a-history-and-future-with-spu 

Theological questions of eschatology and apologetics are age-old questions, but the world they respond to is always different. Historical case studies reveal that the tension between the observable world and scripture never finds relief. 

“There’s a famous one about Copernicus. He was a devout Catholic, and yet he postulated based on very good information that the earth was in motion around the Sun and not the other way around. And the Bible seems to assume and speak in a very geocentric manner. The Bible speaks of the Sun moving around the Earth. So what are we going to do with that?” Stiling said. 

Well, we live with it. Our best theories about the sun and space become true once proven.  Satellites and space crafts give our naked eyes access to the world as is, and as Christians, we reconcile the past with the present. 

“I’ve never heard of even one case of a person, a Christian believer today, losing their faith, because it turned out that the Earth goes around the sun and not the other way around,” Stiling said. “A well-informed person of faith acknowledges that the world is, is created, and that our place in the world is as creatures that we are also created.”

But when today’s science gives us gene splicing, particle colliders, mRNA vaccines, and ice core carbon dating, discernment calls Christians to the pulpit and the laboratory once again. Sometimes, it calls us back to the classroom. 

Dr. Lisa Goodhew is an assistant professor of physics at SPU. While she has yet to teach a class at Blakely, Goodhew was once a student who visited the island. 

“I was a student at SPU and I went to Blakely as part of an alternative and sustainable engineering class, one of my favorite classes of my physics major. We got to build our own wind turbine and go to Blakely to learn more about hydroelectric power because that’s how they power a lot of the stuff on Blakely,” Goodhew said. 

Goodhew teaches physics and climate change at SPU.

From assignments and lectures, the principal moves to practice, giving students a sense of tangibility in their work. But there are other principles to test in life, principles of faith

“Another thing that was really big for me when I was in college as a physics major was this understanding that all truth ultimately comes from God from a Christian perspective,” Goodhew said. 

This notion of truth informs Christian spirituality. That the spirit is embodied in the real world of being created human. And as we understand the world, it is getting worse. 

Goodhew teaches an upper-division physics class titled “Global Climate Change: Scientific, Social and Moral Implications.” Throughout the class, the physical causes of global warming are taught, but its knowledge is equipped and calls students to moral action. 

“Christians have a big role to play in science because we have this history and a whole set of resources for making world decisions and developing virtue,” Goodhew said. “That comes into the climate change part of it especially because a lot of what we see with climate change data… is there are going to be hard choices we make now that may require some personal or systematic sacrifice that is going to ultimately lead to better things.”

And Christians can either look forward to revelation or backward to the garden for an ideal vision. Stiling sees ecotheology as God’s command to humanity. 

“No matter how you take the Genesis account, even if you take it as completely figurative, the lesson is very clear… The lesson is [that] humans are expected to serve in the role as stewards of the earth to keep and to tend the garden, to protect [it], and to live well,” Stiling said. “For agriculture, forestry, and animal husbandry, how should our attitudes be? Is it okay to do mining? Yes, it probably is if we clean up afterward and have those discussions. And then I would hope that a person of science if they are not also a person of faith, would approach their work as the investigation and exploration of God’s handiwork.”

Blakely is not self-contained. It is part of a global system: the ocean, the air, and the biosphere. To leave our homes and retreat to the island is not an escape; it’s a calling. As students leave the island, they sail back to their communities.

“Climate change, and the evidence we have that it’s caused by humans, provides us a new opportunity and a new calling to show love in a different way. This is on a global scale that really requires cooperation, and that’s something Christians can do,” Goodhew said. 

End of an era: The fate of the field station plates

Decades long tradition comes to close, but spirit of project lives on.

For decades, Seattle Pacific University students who made the trek to Blakely Island were met at the end of their trip by a red plate. Every class that made their way to the field station in a given year would come up with a slogan and sign that year’s plate. Now that Blakely Island is under new caretakers, that tradition has ended. But the spirit of the project lives on, in the memories of the people who created it and in the minds of the new caretakers.

Cindy Hubbert worked as the caretaker for the Blakely Island Field Station for 22 years alongside her husband Leroy, and it was them that brought the tradition to Blakely. However, it was not something they came up with themselves. In fact, it was something they experienced before they even came to SPU.

“We used to live in a town in South Carolina. My brother-in-law and his wife lived there and we became acquainted with good friends of theirs. We were invited to dinner one evening and our hosts had a red plate placed under another plate at the dinner table.  The person who sat at that place setting was asked to sign the plate. It was their way of showing them, over time, who all had come to their home! I always thought that was a great way to remember,” Hubbert said.

The red plate from 2001 (Courtesy of Peg Achterman).

It was that memory which inspired the Hubberts to implement a similar practice on Blakely.

“When we were hired to work at the field station, I thought about that special plate, for those who had visited our friends home, and wondered how that might work at our ‘home’ on the island. I, unfortunately, didn’t think about it quick enough, that first year we were there, to get one.  But every year after that I made sure I had a special red plate for each group to think of something to say and have a classmate write it on the plate,” Hubbert said.

Once students found out about the tradition, demand spread quickly.

The red plate from 2004 with class slogans (Courtesy of Peg Achterman).

“It got to where I was asked, at the end of every group, if they would get to sign the red plate.  It was always a lot of fun to see what each group would say,” Hubbert said.

Given the special place that the plates held for Hubbert and the fact that she and her husband started the tradition, when they retired in 2022, Hubbert recalled a choice she had to make.

“When we were retiring, I was asked if I wanted to take the plates with me. I had thought it would be fun to have them and remember what each group wrote over the years, but it just did not seem right to take them from the field station,” she said.

And so, the plates remained at the Blakely Island field station. But once the new caretakers arrived, it became clear that the tradition would have to come to an end.

Brian Rodda and his wife Deb arrived as the new caretakers in 2022, but by the time they got to the field station, there were no more blank plates. Soon after, a surprise visit from the fire marshal spelled the end of the tradition.

“I talked to the previous caretakers and the story goes that when they started the tradition they brought up a large heavy glass case from the lab, put it along the wall, and put all the plates in there. But, as it turns out, the case blocked the light switch and part of the door and the fire marshall said we had to move it,” Rodda said.

Once they realized the safety concern, the they were faced with a difficult decision, Rodda recalled.

“What are we gonna do with all these plates? How are we gonna find a place to store them that’s safe? So we decided that maybe we wouldn’t continue the tradition. But that’s hard because you feel bad. We don’t want to let anybody down,” Rodda said.

Various plates from over the years next to the container in which they are stored (Courtesy of Peg Achterman).

Currently, according to Rodda, the plates are all stored in a plastic container in the storage room of the dormitory. Regarding this storage method, Rodda noted that as new caretakers, they have a lot on their plates already.

“It would be nice to display the plates in the lab, but there are other projects that require our attention first,” Rodda said.

The Blakely Island guestbooks (Helen Petersen).

However, not everything from the old days of the field station has gone away. Amid the towering shelves of books in the dining pavilion, placed on side tables beside plushy seats are the Blakely Island guestbooks. Dating back to 1992, these books have seen many groups come and go. However, the most recent signature was from last April, so there’s potential for a revival yet.

“We love the old guest books but it doesn’t seem to resonate with this generation of students, so we haven’t purchased a new one. We’re totally open to buying a new one  and see who fills it out this summer,” Rodda said.

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!

Value of Blakely Island

DONATING:

Thinking about giving to the Blakely Island Field Station, listen to these testimonials of Blakely Island employees, professors and students.

Friendship and Community

Belle Burnside

SPU Ecology Student and Former BIFS Summer Employee

Practical Application of Education

Krysta Reece

SPU Ecology Student, BIOCORE Scholar’s Learning Assistant and Former BIFS Spring Break Employee

Emphasis on Research and Teaching

Dr. bruce COngdon

Professor Emeritus of Biology and Former Field Station Director

Student, Professor Connections

Gemma Gaxiola

SPU Integrated Studies Student, attended ’24 Spring Session with “Introduction to Biology” course

Breathtaking Boat Views

Katie HIll

SPU Elementary Education Student, attended ’24 Spring Session with “Introduction to Biology” course

Hands-on Learning

Kiersten Moranville

SPU Elementary Education Student, Attended ’22 SPring

Unique Resources

Kaitlynn Knocke

SPU Biology Student

Embark on journey of nature: discover Blakely Island

Nestled within the tranquil embrace of the San Juan Islands in Washington state, Blakely Island stands as a testament to the enduring allure of unspoiled wilderness. A sanctuary of natural beauty, this hidden gem beckons intrepid explorers and seekers of solace alike to immerse themselves in its pristine landscapes and abundant biodiversity. In the heart of Blakely Island, time takes on a new meaning—one dictated not by minutes and hours, but by the flow of the natural world. 

Trail Time

A tour of Blakely Island’s maze of hiking trails is a perfect way to embark on a journey of discovery as you pass through a patchwork quilt of wonders. Ranging from tranquil walks in dense ancient forests to thrilling hikes up to the top of hills where views are panoramic, the island’s paths have something for everyone in its quest for knowledge. The popular Blakely Trail is an ode to the scenic beauty of this island; it features rugged terrain combined with stunning vistas and offers an unforgettable adventure across Mother Nature’s enchanting masterpiece. Deb shared with us about the trails around the accommodation. “You can walk along the trail next to the house in the early morning to enjoy the fresh air, plus hear the sound of running water next door, which is very chill.” She said

Dr. Eric Long exploring the forest and nature on Blakely Island (Duyen).

Wildlife Watching

As you venture along Blakely Island’s trails or set sail upon its azure waters, be prepared to encounter a menagerie of wildlife that calls this pristine sanctuary home. Bald eagles soar majestically overhead, their keen eyes scanning the landscape for prey, while playful harbor seals frolic in sheltered coves. Keep a vigilant watch, for it is not uncommon to witness the graceful dance of orcas as they glide effortlessly through the waves, their sleek forms a testament to the majesty of the marine world. Each encounter with Blakely’s diverse fauna serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance that exists within this natural ecosystem, inviting contemplation and reverence for the interconnectedness of all life.

Bat family – The only bats on Blakely Island (Duyen).

Nature’s Beauty

Blakely Island is not merely a destination for outdoor recreation—it is a sanctuary for the soul, a place where the wonders of the natural world unfold in breathtaking splendor. As you wander through its verdant forests and meandering pathways, you’ll find yourself ensconced in a world of botanical diversity, where towering conifers cast dappled shadows upon the forest floor and delicate wildflowers carpet the earth in a riot of color. Take a moment to savor the symphony of nature’s sounds—the gentle rustle of leaves, the melodious trill of songbirds—as you lose yourself in the timeless rhythm of life.

SPU students rowing boats next to the homestay (Duyen).

Sail Away

For those drawn to the serenity of the sea, Blakely Island offers a maritime playground like no other. Set sail upon its tranquil bays and sheltered inlets, where the salt-laden breeze invigorates the senses and the rhythmic lapping of waves against the hull provides a soothing soundtrack to your journey. Navigate coastal waters adorned with rugged cliffs and hidden coves, or simply drift aimlessly beneath the azure sky, embracing the timeless allure of seafaring adventure. Whether you’re an experienced mariner or a novice enthusiast, Blakely Island beckons you to embark on an odyssey of nautical exploration, where every voyage promises new horizons and unforgettable memories. And you don’t have to sail too far but can boat next to the lakeside house

Starry Nights

As the sun sets on Blakely Island, a celestial symphony takes center stage, captivating stargazers with its awe-inspiring beauty. Far from the glare of city lights, the island’s dark skies come alive with the brilliance of a thousand stars, their twinkling lights casting a luminous glow upon the landscape below. Lie back and gaze in wonder at the celestial panorama above, where constellations dance in silent splendor and shooting stars streak across the heavens like fleeting embers. At this moment of quiet reflection, you’ll find yourself transported to a realm of boundless possibility, where the mysteries of the cosmos are laid bare before your eyes.

Blakely Island sunset looking on the waters (Duyen).

Blakely Island beckons, a bastion of natural wonder awaiting your discovery. Whether you seek adventure, tranquility, or simply a deeper connection with the world around you, this Pacific Northwest paradise promises an experience like no other. Pack your sense of wonder, lace up your hiking boots, and set sail for Blakely Island—a journey of discovery awaits.

Blakely Island: A history

Blakely Island: A History

Blakely Island provides an immersive experience. Here is the timeline of how it became a place for Seattle Pacific students to be in nature.

1592: Juan De Fuca, potentially the first explorer of the San Juans, sails through the Sound

1791: Spaniard Francisco Eliza sends his first Pilot, Juan Pantoja y Arriago, to explore the Haro Strait and the Gulf Islands, but his boat is forced southward by the wind toward the Rosario Strait

May 18th, 1791: Captain George Vancouver navigates the San Juan Islands.

Captain George Vancouver (22 June 1757 – 10 May 1798) was a British Royal Navy officer (Photo: Google)

1841: Charles Wilkes discovers Blakely Island, named after naval commander Johnston Blakely

1850: Paul K Hubbs jr. moves to Blakely, becoming the first property owner

February 1862: Edward C. Gillette arrives on the island as a surveyor and later becomes the superintendent of San Juan County Schools


Thatcher Bay Mill (Photo: Blakely Archives)

March 16th, 1867: Isabelle Reed is born, the first known child born on the island.

1874: Gillette moves to the island to raise Sheep

1879:  Thatcher Bay Mill is started 

1889: Gillette sells his land to Richard H. Staub, who becomes the teacher at the Blakely Island School, succeeding John Vierick

Thatcher School (Photo: SPU Archives)

1889:  Harrison Coffielt finishes the school, and the first class is held 

1892:  Theodore Spencer buys the mill and box factory, renaming it Spencer Mill 

1900: Mineral exploration begins at Bald Bluff

1922: The State Game Commission placed elk on Blakely Island, but they eventually died off

1929: Logging operations stop

1942: Mill ends operations

1946: The Spencer family sells mill and island holdings to Dr. Lloyd W. Hines and his wife, Margaret

Blakely Island Airport (Photo: Peg Achterman)

January 1948:  Blakely Island Airport activated 

June 1st, 1949: Blakely Island School stops operating

July 1st,, 1954: Floyd Johnson purchased the entire Island from Hines 

May 10th, 1956: Harold Bartram and Floyd Johnson enter into a partnership to develop Blakely

March 15th, 1957: Hines sells interest to Johnson

August 27th, 1957: Floyd Johnson sells part of the island to the Puget Sound Pulp & Timber Company of Bellingham

1962: Blakely Marina renovated

The Bell at the Marina (Photo: Emilia Bishop)

1965: Thatcher Bay post office destroyed by Spencer Lake washout

May 27th, 1975: Tom Cowley and David Syre entered into a partnership for a conservation easement for tax-saving purposes

December 1975: Gordon Plume designed the first building that SPU would use

Shortly after construction, Blakely Island Field Station’s Dormitory finished in 1984. (Photo: Adrienne Meier, SPU Archivist)

1976: Seattle Pacific University comes to the Island

1978: The first-weekend class is held on the island

1980s: SPU begins holding summer classes

September 1st, 1983: Dr. Ross and wife move into living Quarters

February 1984: The Thomas B. Cowley Laboratory is completed

Thomas B. Crowley Laboratory (Photo: Emilia Bishop)

1993: 50% of the island was placed in trust

1996: Dr. Shaw retires, Leroy Hubbert becomes campus manager, and Bruce Congdon takes charge of school courses

1995: Bruce Congdon becomes director of Field Station

2010: 80 more acres placed into trust

2014: The Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group dredged Thatcher Bay, and restoration of marine life has begun.

2018:  The Hubberts retire from being caretakers at the Field Station 

Deb and Bryan Rodda and their puppy Kaia (Photo: Kolby Benthin)

2018: Journalism students accompany biology professors Elena Bresynski, Eric Long, Tim Nelson (current director), Bruce Congdon, and Blaine Craft for the first time

2022:  Deb and Bryan Rodda take over as caretakers 

2024: A second set of SPU journalism students join biology classes to Blakely