Remembering John Willis | Letter

I first met John Willis some 25 years ago. He had been hired by Moran State Park to take down a very large Doug Fir tree that was just beside the road near the Cascade Lake shelter. The tree had been topped in the 50’s in an effort to keep it a manageable size. Unfortunately, that fix opened the tree up to rot and it was starting to drop limbs. The park administration decided to have it cut down before it toppled and hurt someone.

I went to the park the day John and his crew worked to fell the tree. It was massive-you can still see the stump right next to the road. John was so careful and skilled. He was able to drop the tree right between the picnic shelter and the play structure.

When it hit the ground, the top third disappeared in a dust cloud, and the rot could be seen all the way down the core of the tree.

John cut the remaining wood into sections. He cut a few slices for display (I believe one still hangs near Eagle Lake). He sold a section to a cello maker, some to a fine woodworker, and the remainder went for firewood. John made sure that tree had a good death, transforming into useful and beautiful objects. It was an honor to watch.

Shortly after this experience, we moved to Willis Lane and ended up being neighbors with John for the next 25 years. We traded eggs for hay, coffee for a good story, and a potluck dish for a place at the neighborhood picnic. He knew more about this place than I could imagine, keeping track of the weather, the people, and the community with great care. He was always at the ready with a story, never passed without a wave, and could not be hurried. He lived his life on island time and when John died this last week, this island lost a treasure.

John’s legacy is the heart and soul of the community he loved so dearly. We carry that legacy forward by telling his stories, taking time to greet folks in the store, slowing down on our drive home, and connecting with each other. Sail on, John.

Hilary Canty

Orcas Island