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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Backyard beach retreat

When a debilitating disease kept Karen Druffel from the ocean, she and her husband created a coastal oasis at home in Spokane.

A few years back, Karen’s rheumatoid arthritis nearly stopped her annual coastal trips. Bad spells sent her to bed for days. To help her convalesce, she and her husband, Joe, began planning a backyard retreat at their Browne Mountain home.

“I am very much an outside person, and it was getting very hard to get to the ocean,” Karen says. “So I thought, ‘What do I love besides the ocean?’ I love the smells. I love the grasses, the way they move in the breeze.”

“Creating an ocean refuge was my therapy for a while,” says Karen, who adds that new medications have eased her pain and increased her mobility.

A wrought-iron trellis leads to the tiered lancscape behind her home. Pass beneath it, and ocean smells fill the air. They come from the lavender and blue fescue, the scavenged ropes, driftwood and fish floats.

“Ninety percent of everything is recycled,” Karen says, pointing out the ocean artifacts she’s collected in her yearly trips to West Coast beaches. “These ropes were dug from sand dunes.”

While coastal shops are filled with marine memorabilia, she prefers her own, hard-won treasures, she says. “They might not look as nice, but it’s the real thing.”

When she asked Joe to build her a potting bench, he expanded on her simple request, creating a weathered-looking, mini beach shack from lumber salvaged from a barn. Inside, Karen keeps her gardening journal, a record of when, where and what she planted.

The winding path along the tiers is home to many memories, Karen says. There’s the wooden carving of a bear she gave her mother years ago that her father returned after her mother’s death. There’s the birdhouse her father built. There’s the worn, wooden seagull, a reminder of her mother’s love for birding.

Crafting a garden is a process. Karen plans to expand her backyard refuge, adding plants that continue the “rage of color” she loves. “Perennials are always better two years out,” she says.

While her friends refer to her landscaping as an “ocean walk,” she calls it her “healing walk.”

“I have this feeling that God is very present in nature,” she says. “When I’m out here with my hands in the dirt or simply watching life bloom, I feel very close to God.”

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