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”.