San Juans

It’s been quite a while now since I made this trip north to the San Juans. It was at a really busy time as the summer was winding down, filled with lots of other trips, which is why it came and went without notice. My dear friend Lindsay and I used to take trips like this all the time when we were younger. In high school, our parents let us drive the 5+ hours from Eugene to Seattle for the weekend and stay in a hostel. Looking back, even though we were responsible enough, we were also really fast drivers and a little careless (read: u-turns on the freeway). I think our last weekend trip was for a Cat Power concert with our friend Jess during college.

We’d been talking about a trip to Vancouver for a while, and decided to add a couple days in the San Juans onto it. And I’m so glad we did. It had been 10 years since I had been to Vancouver, and while it’s a really beautiful city, I felt like much of what we were doing there could be done at home in Portland. Although, there were certainly a few highlights – getting to go to Old Faithful, the deliciousness and charm of Nelson the Seagull, a great meal at Bao Bei, drinks gifted by strangers, and MacLeod’s Books. But I preferred our time in the San Juans.

The trip as a whole made me think a lot about the idea behind this blog, and the connection I have to both urban and rural life. I kept telling Lindsay that I could definitely live on the islands, and once we were home I was determined to find my own cabin up there. That obviously didn’t happen, but it’s still on my mind. Just like that cabin in the Berkshires that I’m always dreaming about…

Lindsay and I stayed in a teepee on an organic farm, with a little outdoor kitchen and shower. The posting online claimed there was a “composting toilet” which sounds like it could be charming, like in a wooden hut or something, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was a generic plastic outhouse. But it didn’t really matter.

Lindsay’s younger sister Emily, who I’ve known since she was just a little girl, was working on San Juan Island during the summer for a whale watching tour company. Their family tells a story about when Emily was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, at age of 3 or so, she replied, “an orca!” So this was pretty much her dream job. We bundled up and went out one afternoon on a boat and saw tons of orcas and learned about their migration patterns. It was really beautiful and amazing.

The two little towns on San Juan Island, where we were staying, were also very sweet. My favorite of the two was this one, Roche Harbor. I have no idea if my grandma ever visited this area, but there was something about it that reminded me of her. I could imagine her staying in the old Hotel de Haro, sipping a martini on the front porch, eating clam chowder. I got my itch to travel from her. She kept files of all the places around the world she had visited, with ticket stubs, maps, brochures and postcards picked up along the way. When I was young, every time I’d go to her house, I’d ask to look through her files. Sometimes I’d sneak a postcard of New York or Paris and hang it on my wall once I was home. I’d have her tell me stories of far away places, and I’d daydream of visiting one day. When she was still alive but could no longer travel, I’d always send her a postcard from every place I’d visit. Sometimes I miss doing that, as I know how much she loved it too.

The San Juans are a truly special place. I can’t wait to go back and spend more time there, like maybe an entire summer?

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All photos were taken with my film camera.

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3 comments

  1. Oh I would love to go somewhere like this. I’ve always wanted to go whale watching!

    I got my travel itch from my grandmother too – and she also let me steal from her postcard collection. :) in fact, she still travels, several international trips per year! She’s quite an inspiration.

    Glad to have found your blog, it’s so nice.

  2. microfoam

    It sure would be nice if someone would grant us the occupations and means to acquire vacation cabins or tepees or anything else our souls need in order to recover and thrive. This trip looks splendid.

  3. Jeez, hold on, how did I miss this post until just now??? Come up to the San Juans this summer and I will give you a personal tour of Waldron Island, my dearest little rock of a home, and my parents organic farm! For serious.

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