Sunday, September 5, 2010

Island Life

Greetings from sunny, partly cloudy Friday Harbor, where we are taking some late summer refuge from the urban areas of Portland.

Life on the San Juan Islands gives one an opportunity to relax and live a more confined life -because you are literally confined with access either via plane, boat, or car (via ferry)... the preferred choice of the island hopper.

The cycles become less about mass transit and 9 to 5 than the lead time to queue for the ferries heading to the mainland or other islands. The concept of hurry up and wait is no more evident in these cycles of escape. The lifeline becomes a schedule (and in our time of modern technological wizardry), the simple web ferry cam to give you an 'oh, not a problem' to a 'we're screwed' reaction, even before arrival. The open lanes mean freedom, but also a wait after the car is firmly planted in the lineup and you have an hour or two to kill.

While anywhere new, but especially in something more isolated, the origins of how a place came to be are often at the forefront. What drew folks to these islands, aside from solitude? A quick history lesson in this case reveals the obvious, fishing, at the forefront of industry. Still practiced (as seen from the purse seiner below pulling record numbers of King Salmon this season). This has alas become more of a secondary industry now.

Much like the canneries that were the major industry (along with Limestone quarries and lime kilns, and farming, which seems productive if indicative of the weekly farmer's market and the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild). Some are still persistent but mostly idle, either post-industrial remnants or transformed into post-modern shopping experiences or interpretive exhibits. This view from our rental across a lagoon is stunning and remote enough to be less tourist-friendly... working now as a boat launch and fishing beach.

The main industry now being tourism, as seen on a idyllic coastal downtown (right up from the ferry terminal) which has that neo-traditional charm of a CNU wet-dream with a number of seasonal shops and restaurants that I imagine rely heavily on the holiday and weekend droves of tourists coming for escape.

Is it about new experiences or quiet. Perhaps both, and things that take you away from the typical cycles of life. A chance to learn about the infamous 'Pig War' of 1859' in sharp contrast to 'War Pigs' from 1970, dine on hyper-local seafood you may have seen being caught, or just to sit on a deck overlooking a not-so distant view of Canada.

:: War Pigs - image via Wikipedia

Alas, even seeing a breaching Orca from 150 yards quickly shifts from high-drama to 'wow, another whale' after a couple of hours. Amazing how we must continually look for greater and great stimulation to tantalize... perhaps our fascinating, as we've all commented this weekend, on electronic gizmos to entertain.

On this whale watching trip, no fewer than half of the passengers sat starting at blackberries, sleeping, or shooting rapidfire with overly expensive cameras, versus just soaking it in. All this as we zoomed through an amazing history lesson akin to the Island of Dr. Moreau (or more likely a precursor to the modern Jurassic Park) on Spieden Island (now owned by the owner of Oakley), where in the island was stocked with wildlife for big-game hunting Safari. Via the Seattle Times:

"It's a modern tale that began in 1969, when a group of investors bought this uninhabited 556-acre, three-mile-long island and stocked it with hundreds of grazing animals and nearly 2,000 game birds from around the world and renamed it "Safari Island." Hunters paid to visit and shoot everything from Asian fallow deer to African guinea fowl... Several species of exotic animals have thrived in the 22 years since hunting was stopped. Today, the more than 500 European Sika deer, Asian Fallow deer and Corsican Big Horn sheep are part of what makes the island special."
Spotting them on our island drive by was perhaps more interesting than the Orcas - although not to the majority of our fellow travelers, who had tunnel vision on seeing one thing and could care less for the journey.

:: Moufflon Sheep - image via Five Star Whale Watching

In the spirit of the fallow deer and corsican big horns, we always seem to adapt to whatever is put in front of us - maybe because we aren't staring at a screen or from behind a lens as life moves past? Perhaps, as I chill on a lazy Sunday, it's time to reconnect with the slow life... and not worry about catching that ferry or check that email. It's about as anti-urban as you can possibly get and perfect timing. Back here soon with more posts... cheers.

(all images (c) Jason King - unless otherwise noted)


  1. Great read Jason, did not know all the history you shared on the San Juans. I camped a year ago on Lopez Island on Labor Day weekend and enjoyed much of islands via ferry & bike. I blogged on Isla Colon, a dense, urban island found here in Panama:

  2. Great read Jason, did not know all the history you shared on the San Juans. I camped a year ago on Lopez Island on Labor Day weekend and enjoyed much of islands via ferry & bike. I recently blogged on Isla Colon, a dense, urban island found here in Panama:

  3. My wife and I have wanted to visit the San Juan Islands for years. This cemented our decision!


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