Ulanah Roberta McCoy passed away peacefully on Sept. 16, 2018.
Born July 2, 1962, in Dr. Heath’s office in Friday Harbor, Ulanah was an independent and strong soul from the beginning. Having been brought home in the family sailboat on day two, she was introduced to the elements of nature at an early age. By age 4 and 5, she and her brother Kevin were learning the work ethic by hauling split firewood out of the woods. Soon, they were counting, wrapping and selling beautiful correspondence cards with lined envelopes under the name West Wind at the Cottage Gift Shop at Orcas Village. Their next job was cutting thistle heads at the Warm Valley Farm.
For her 5th birthday, Ulanah received her own lavender and pale yellow skiff, which she could row up the bay by herself to visit Mary Schoen just around the point. When I thought there were no flowers for the house, she would go for a walk and bring home a charming little bouquet of natural plants. She grew up with pet dogs and cats, and was an avid cat lover the rest of her life.
By junior high school age, she became interested in horses and was able to take care of a Four Winds horse for two winters, and then was offered an untrained 3-year-old gelding from the Clark Arabian ranch in Crow Valley. The deal was to meet with Walt and Carol Clark and make a contract with them about payments. She carried out this contract in due time with various jobs in the summer. Tutsch was his name, and Ulanah trained him herself and earned enough money to buy a saddle and bridle. Through horse 4-H and open classes at the San Juan County Fair, she won many trophies and was the first 4-H horse person to earn a spot to compete at the state fair in Puyallup.
In high school, she was playing basketball and the violin, and performed with Catherine Peterson’s first orchestra to play with the newly formed Orcas Choral Society. In a countywide essay contest for seniors sponsored by the Friday Harbor Journal about what it meant to be living in the San Juan Islands, she won first prize.
Ulanah thought that she wanted to become a saddle and harness maker. Finding that Spokane Falls Community College was rated the best program at that time, she enrolled for the two-year program. Her last project was a western saddle with hand tooling and silver, a beauty and so comfortable a ride. While there, she tried to join a fiddling class but never found anybody there at the appointed hour. However, she did find a poster that the logger sports team at Spokane Community College was looking for new members. She showed up and soon learned single buck, axe throwing, running the choker race, log burling and pole climbing. She was a natural, and was soon bringing in first place for the girls side of the team, and with her partner in the Jack and Jill bucking class. The SCC team took many top prizes in meets against Idaho, Montana, Oregon and British Columbia. Ulanah ended up as coach of the team after two years. After that, she and her Jack and Jill bucking partner continued to compete on the Northwest and British Columbia. Circuit for a couple of years. They became known as the mean bucking machine and were able to cover all traveling expenses with there winnings.
On July 2, 1983, Ulanah helped organize the first annual log jam on Orcas on the museum grounds. Many locals turned out for the fun, and when she climbed the 50-foot pole set there for the event, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to her. In 1985 she brought a team of her logger friends to the San Juan County Fair, including the World Champion pole climber from Australia. Ellen Helsell brought one of her dad’s draft horses and for three days, Ulanah and Ellen had a drive-off pulling logs through and around pylons – a first for the fair.
After finishing her two years at SFCC, she entered the forestry department at SCC. She was sent to Winthrop after finishing school and was there able to use her knowledge of leather to repair harnesses for the forest service. Ulanah was also able to have her Arab Tutsch there in Winthrop and use the saddle she had made. She then took training to be part of a three-person team as first responders at forest fires. They trained to throw their gear out of a helicopter and then rappel out of the copter to the ground because there was usually nowhere for a copter to land. She also was involved in marking trees for sales.
Back in her life before leaving Orcas, Ulanah had obtained her private pilot’s license from Gordon Koenig. With the experience of flying and rappelling out of helicopters, she decided to try for a helicopter license. This is an expensive undertaking, so it took her about five years to accomplish. In the meantime, the forest service was pressing her to take more schooling. She said if she did that, they would put her in an office – the last thing she wanted. Leaving the forest service, she found a job driving gas trucks for a small helicopter operation in eastern Washington and was able to get some time in on lessons. Eventually, she got her helicopter license and a part time job in Spokane flying tourists north to visit the apple festivals.
Ulanah then settled in Spokane for quite awhile, working for the U.S. Postal Service and buying a house. After living in eastern Washington for 20 years, she moved back to Orcas. She found a job immediately with FedEx. People who had never had their packages delivered to them before because of their steep roads were surprised when Ulanah showed up at their door delivering in person.
At the time of her arrival back on the island in 2001, the Port of Orcas was in the news with elections for new board members coming up. She decided to jump into the race and easily took a seat on the board. Her time spent there was a successful experience.
Glad to be back on Orcas, Ulanah bought a house with a pond and soon had a garden, chickens, ducks and bees. In the summer on her days off from FedEx, she worked for Orcas Island Eclipse Whale Watching Tours and also spent a summer tending gardens with Nancy Jones of All Season’s Gardening. As the years rolled by, she began to miss the drier climate she had become used to in her 20-year absence. She was looking for her next adventure, somewhere drier and warmer.
In 2014, fate took her to Phoenix, Arizona. Although it didn’t turn out to be the adventure she was looking for, she took it in stride and looked at Arizona as her new adventure. She loved hiking in the desert, biking and discovering new places. She went on a trip to Ireland and Scotland with her best friend, and then they went on another to the desert in southern Texas where it was so quiet that they never heard an airplane the whole time. Instead they heard and saw many new birds and flora and wrote home “… island girl in the desert going to Mexico on a ferry.” For $5, they were rowed across the river to Mexico where they hiked to a very small isolated village and back for another row across the river to Texas.
At this time, Ulanah was on her journey with cancer. Rather than spend her last days with doctors, treatments and medicines, she chose to spend them hiking in the desert as long as she could. When that was not possible any longer, it was time for her journey home to Orcas. Much gratitude goes to her brother Kevin and best friend, Lynda Hoffman from Carlton, Washington, for making this trip possible. Close to nature at her brother Kevin’s and Carol’s home, she was lovingly taken care of by her family, her friend Debra Martyn and hospice. To the end, Ulanah was still her strong and independent self. She was looking forward to her next journey in life and where it might take her.
Ulanah is survived by her parents, Miles and Louellen McCoy, her brother Kevin and his wife Carol, and by many cousins and friends who love her dearly. She requested a green burial which she had been planning herself. It took place at The Meadows in Greenacres Memorial Park in Ferndale. Her friend Debra Martyn made a beautiful palest blue linen dress and shroud for her. While living in Spokane, Ulanah had learned beading from a Native American grandmother and wanted one of the medallions that she had made laying on her chest. And so it was; she was laid to rest by her immediate family, Debra and family dogs onto her next journey.
The family thanks Hospice of the Northwest and her caretakers, her many friends and the community for their loving wishes and support. Memorials may be sent to Sea Shepard.