Some of the San Juan Islands are on a main ferry route, but the boats taking people and their vehicles there are not large. It’s wise to make reservations, or to walk on if possible. I had to take two ferries to get where I was going. Fortunately, I drive a Honda Fit. I got squeezed into the Keystone Ferry without a reservation. Small is beautiful.
I drove North through the upper half of Whidbey Island across the bridge at Deception Pass to the upper tip of Fidalgo Island, where I parked the car and walked on to the second ferry. Having finished my first week’s work at the Urgent Care clinic, I had decided to celebrate by visiting friends on Lopez Island. I’ve known them for a long time, and hadn’t seen the dream home they lovingly designed and built. I also wanted to test my comfort level in a more isolated place because it’s still undetermined where my wife and I will be living.
There’s so much beauty of every kind in this region that I feel transfixed. I’m as dumbstruck by things that must be ordinary to local residents as a farm boy staring at the Grand Canyon. The first island I ever knew was Santa Catalina, where my wife and I honeymooned. I lived on a sailboat for a couple of years, and went there often. In the case of most island cultures, the restriction of being surrounded by sea encourages islanders to be self-reliant but also interdependent with each other. They need each other. I think this is a big factor in nurturing the “aloha spirit” of Hawaii and other Polynesian islands. Catalina Island has that spirit too. Many tourists visit, but the island residents wave to them and to each other unbidden, and will make time for talk no matter what’s on the schedule.
Lopez Island has about 2,000 residents. During tourist season the population doubles. It’s still early in the year. The flowers and trees have begun blooming, but the transients haven’t arrived to take their picture. Out on the coasts of the island the wind blows so fiercely it alters the growth of large trees. Their branches become twisted into wild, unruly angles, and rows of them bend away from the sea, huddling together for warmth.
The rocky bluffs drop down to pebbled beaches and coves sculpted by Neptune. It’s a remote and romantic vista. Cell phones don’t work on most areas of Lopez.
There is a tug-of-war going on among island residents. They want enough conveniences and services, but what constitutes “enough” is the basis of a chronic philosophic argument. Full-time islanders value the abundance of the pristine natural beauty surrounding them, but many islanders only live on them part-time and view the islands more like a vacation resort. They want their supermarket and video store. And lurking somewhere outside the forest are developers, always ready to make life more vanilla.
My friends live on five acres of forested land by the coast. She’s a designer and he’s handy with all sorts of practical things like the homing device he invented for people who have fallen from boats. A large split boulder marks their driveway. I wondered where Arthur had gone with Excalibur. A bit farther in is the big garden project they are building, with a greenhouse and a variety of boxes where vegetables, berries, and herbs have begun to come up. The trees felled to clear for the house were chipped and spread on the trails and in the garden. Rain water from the house is gathered into tanks to provide water for the garden.
The home itself has two separate structures connected by beams of wood and steel. There’s the main house with living room, dining, kitchen, office/library plus master suite above, and the other part containing a pair of ground-floor workshops plus bath with a bedroom above. Cars park between the structures. At the rear of the house toward the sea are decks above and below. The sauna isn’t finished yet.
The entire place is full of windows affording different views through the forest. Because she loves and collects Asian art objects, there are spaces for them built-in throughout the home.
Every home reflects its residents by their possessions. This home reflects the hopes, dreams and sensibility of the designer in its very structure. She spent more than a year staining the wood by hand. The wooden accents flow from room to room. The smoothness and simplicity embrace a hidden sadness as well. The designer’s mother, who hoped to move in, died before the house could be completed.
A brunch was planned by the designer. She’s also a good cook. Hubby and I were sous chefs. We chopped, peeled and sliced things as ordered. She got a bit upset when her Hollandaise sauce “broke”. I didn’t even know sauces were breakable.
Another couple of islanders would be arriving, ones who lived on an island where no ferry goes. They were bringing beehives to add to the big garden project. Islanders share things freely if they aren’t using them, or they’ll barter goods for labor. A popular spot is the “take it or leave it” at the dump. You can bring what you aren’t using. Someone else might want it. They’ll take it away.
The guests were soft-spoken, generous spirits. The conversation at brunch was about working in silver, boat design and everyone’s appreciation for the amount of attention to detail throughout the house. Good design influences mood and thought. These dear people have such clear plans and projects. All I have is a skill-set and clear intent. My plans keep changing shape as I’m led to a destination ahead that I do not know.
My wife sent me an email. There are some houses up here she likes that cost less than what our original planned price range was. She may fly up early to look them over, and we might buy one and be together sooner than I expected. This journey is a process for her too. She’s letting go of a long career, and of the area she’s lived in nearly all of her life. We are both trying to learn to live with less. Like the islanders, we’re trying to decide how much is “enough.” Everyone acquires stuff they do not need. It’s time to visit the “take it or leave it”.
17 responses to “Island Adventure”
I’m constantly seeing parallels between your life, your inner life, and mine. I was intrigued by your suggestion of a difference between the “clear plans and projects” of your geospatially settled friends and your own changing plans — “all I have is a skillset and clear intent” based on the “unknown-ness” of your destination. How is that unknownness problematic for you in ways that you think it would not be for your Lopezian friends? Not a rhetorical question, I’m really asking, because I wrestle with these issues myself. Is tomorrow a big question mark for roosted and roaming alike or do we someday “get there”, to someplace on earth and in ourselves that feels like a more stable patch of ground? How is it that people become content where they are? Is that possible for me? Y’know. Stuff like that.
I write these things in hopes I will get the sort of reaction you’ve given me. Thanks, Matt. It’s harder for some people to know what they want, and what they are after, and what they actually can achieve, than others. My Lopez friends went through lots of searching in the process of creating their current situation. For creative people, that journeying is sometimes more important than arriving. The Wheel turns, turns, and returns.
But I think you can be content in the moment, even when you aren’t content in general. That’s my method for the moment, ha ha…
I like your word about the journeying. A friend of mine, when I start getting glum and thinking I don’t have the life I want, grins at me in this obnoxious way and says “don’t miss it!” I have to thank him every time. Most of what I long for is stuff I missed by longing, or in the phrasing of my favorite graffito….”I wish I was what I was when I wished I was what I am now.”
There’s a great Chinese curse that says “May you live in interesting times!”
I thought that was an Irish blessing.
Like other “wise sayings”, the true origin is obscure. Here’s a wiki link citing several possible sources:
I first heard it told by the professor in a Chinese Lit course, attributed to Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius).
As a multi-celtic genotype myself, I tend to assume that the Irish, Welsh and Scots knew and invented everything, and only got ripped-off in attribution.
I truly wish your Lopez Island friends lived around the bend from me, there’s a lot of parallels between their chosen life and my own, I’ve even written about the tug-of-war between tourists and residents in our town a few times.
I think the bare bones of this life, for people like us, is the suddenly apparent need to be responsible for oneself. We’ve lived for so long, more than slightly, if not conciously, dependent on those around us, co-workers, neighbors, grocery baggers…the time hits when you wonder why you, as a strong, intelligent, self-reliant person, are relying on the talents of others to live a sustainable life. Waking up to that realization can be pretty scary.
Learning to “live with less” may turn out to be easier than it would seem, however. Once you find an interest in “self-sustainability”, it blooms like periwinkle.
I let out a physical *sigh* to read your wife may be with you soon. This is pleasant news.
I believe the realization that the typical modern life of trading human intimacy for electronic and chemical conveniences is not the only way to survive goes on all over the “civilized” world.
I may be strong, but my skill-set is best suited for life on the grid, though it need not be in an over-populated city as it has been.
Regarding the wife – you and I had the same reaction.
Don’t be so quick to underestimate yourself Mikey, I for one, look forward to watching you prove yourself wrong. Or at the very least, finding the perfect balance.
I sometimes wish the realization was a little more wide-spread. The hardest part of what we did was dealing with the family and friends who felt (and still feel) anger because we’re no longer available to them. As if we only did it to leave them behind.
You could be correct about that. Maybe I’ll end up writing more than taking x-rays. Beats me. Whatever door opens, I’M GOING THROUGH!
— and the wife’s coming up on May 6th! (WOO-HOO)
Wow! That’s wicked cool, it’s only what? 3 weeks from now? (I have this image of *you* bouncing around like a 6 year old not wanting to go to bed on Christmas Eve)
This was a lovely post and that house is amazing. I love my technology, but I love connecting with people even more, in whatever form. You’re right about the realisations that are coming to us in the so-called civilised world, but it’s a slow process.
You have some thrills coming up, as you get to the posts that bring together my personal history with how these themes all fit together into the solution I have now of work & lifestyle.
I think I need to stop reading your posts; every time I do, they make me want to move out of here and find a more peaceful place. Sometimes cities that are always bustling and alive make me feel less alive and free; I know this statement doesn’t really make sense, but once in a while I have these overwhelming moments where I feel incredibly happy and alive and in awe of the world. I have only had these thankful moments in pretty isolated, untouched areas – similar to the island.
Perhaps you are experiencing the correct level of confusion and longing (and connection and excitement) appropriate to your time of life. I wouldn’t have given up my experiences in showbiz for anything. Sucky traffic aside, I had a great time. However, that’s a younger person’s domain. I’m creating a more contemplative life now because it’s appropriate to MY age and current character.
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Thank you. Sorry I didn’t reply earlier, but your comment was in the spam bucket and I didn’t see it. (I don’t know how that thing works.) Also, I’m not a Dr, but by your photo you look healthy. Not every woman gains a lot of weight in pregnancy. Those hormones do tend to make women extra-sensitive to worrying, however.