Whatcom Magazine

Two Bellingham poets create their works far from the madding crowd

Who: James (Jim) Bertolino, 72, “old enough to know better;” and Anita K. Boyle, 59, “old enough not to care.”

Residence: North of Bellingham.

When did you acquire your residence?

Anita: My first husband, Barry Boyle, and I purchased this place in 1987 when our kids, Angela and Isaac, were 5 and 3 years old. Jim has shared this residence with me since 2003.

Jim: The poetry shed (which I hauled to the property on a flat-bed trailer from a house I used to own on Emerald Lake Way on Toad Mountain) already had more than 1,000 volumes of poetry shelved in it when I moved to the property. Now it probably houses around 2,000 books, from the tiniest self-published books to some beautiful handset, limited-edition volumes.

What’s an interesting aspect of your home’s history?

Anita: The log house replaced our single-wide mobile home in 1995, the same year I started studying at Western Washington University. Jim housesat for me in 2003 when I had a one-month writer’s residency in Oysterville. He enjoyed the animals (two horses, a dog, two cats, fish) so much he never left when I came home.

Jim: When I moved in, I hired a business called Hoist and Haul to bring down the poetry shed from Toad Mountain. When the driver got to the narrow place in our driveway, he lifted the poetry shed over the top of the storage unit and set it exactly straight onto the cement blocks we had ready to accept it. It was amazing just to watch that happen.

How have you changed your home?

Jim: We had an art studio built with a large first floor and plenty of natural light (24 windows). The small second floor is used for Anita’s graphic design work. We have an extensive collection of art on the walls, many of the pieces by Anita. We also have lots of work space and tables, as well as comfortable places to sit. The front patio is comprised of paving bricks that were once in use at Western Washington University. We call the building Egress Studio.

Anita: The studio is a perfect place to make art, including the graphic design work I do. This is a studio where I create assemblages, paintings and drawings; make paper; assemble books, and there’s even a letterpress that I use to make small poetry broadsides. Now I use my old studio as a frame shop and for art storage.

Jim: But an even more interesting change that has happened here is the new railing on the front deck of the house.

Anita: The old one was rotten and wobbly, so I asked my son, Isaac, if he would build a railing to these specifications: use limbs from maples or other trees from our little forest in the back, and anything useable from the present railing. He did. The new railing, from an engineering standpoint, looks almost impossible to build. While he was building it, one engineer just shook his head, saying it wouldn’t work.

Jim: For the last part of its assembly, Anita and I held pieces together while Isaac hammered with the tools he made, shoved, swore, and jostled the railing into place. It makes us happy every day just to see it.

What’s your favorite place, and why do you enjoy it?

Anita: Our favorite place, without a doubt, is the pond, which is beyond the barn, near the forested area of our property.

Jim: We often have an approved adult beverage while sitting there on one of our benches in the late afternoon or early evening. Our dog, Blue, always joins us there. The heron usually leaves when we show up, but this year a kingfisher has visited the pond, along with the regular mallards, wood ducks, mergansers and other traveling waterfowl.

Anita: There’s also mourning doves, yellow warblers, robins, juncos and other feathered visitors. One summer, there was a muskrat family that nested on the island. Another odd “duck” was the year the Virginia rail showed up. It enjoyed lifting the lily pads and gobbling the insects from their undersides.

What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced with your home?

Jim: Maintaining the property is one of the pleasures of living here, but it is also the biggest challenge. Who wants to pick up branches after every windstorm, or climb onto a roof and have a chance to fall off a ladder?

Anita: I don’t, but Jim is now banned from using ladders, as well as the table saw, the chain saw, the big paper cutter. … Somehow, we’re keeping steady with the maintenance. Recently I cleaned gutters while Jim raked up autumn’s beautiful leaves. Then we made a trip out to the pond. It’s a beautiful thing to live at such an inspiring place.