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Adrift ?

Adrift ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

Spot prawns live in the deepest parts of the ocean around Orcas Island and when shrimping season is open, it creates a minor traffic jam. From dawn until dusk each day, boats drop shrimp pots at a depth of 250-400 feet, wait an hour or so, and then pull them up. The traffic is often most concentrated during the slack tide, when currents are the calmest. 

This is our second year catching spot prawns and we’ve become proficient. On our first day out this year, we caught our legal daily limit of 80 prawns per person. Over the winter we had our 15’ Boston Whaler, Short Story, serviced and all signs pointed to a summer of fun on the water. Our new Honda outboard had less than 200 hours on it. Bring it on!

Our normal process for catching prawns is to set the pots on the bottom, kill the motor, and just drift silently for about an hour. I love that hour of calm and quiet time on the water. We watch all boats we covet and wave at passers-by. All the while, knowing that prawns may be falling for our clever trap. The thing about all types of fishing, we’re learning, is that it’s akin to gambling and can produce the same rush. Thankfully, unlike Blackjack, most of the time you only stand to lose time, bait, and the occasional tackle. For most, this potential cost is acceptable for a day spent on the water. 

Last Thursday, there were two slack tides. We chose to go in the afternoon and we were not alone. We always try to go a little early and stake our claim. It’s decidedly poor form to place pots too close to others. We use an app called Navionics that allows us to place virtual pins on a map that helps us navigate to locations of past success. The afternoon was windier than expected and we placed our pots upwind from the majority of shrimpers. As soon as our buoys hit the water, they seemed to take off like the barrels attached to the shark in Jaws. We hoped the heavy rebar we tied to the pots would keep them in place. 

I looked around and didn’t see nearby boats, so I killed the motor to start the drifting phase of the trip. I underestimated the wind and soon found that we were drifting toward other boats. I suggested that we motor to a location where we could drift downwind without worry. 

I put the boat in neutral, turned the key and knew immediately that something was amiss. There was no beep, no click, no turnover. It was like someone cut the power from the battery. I kept turning the ignition as if it might catch with the perfect turn. Nothing. 

At first, we assumed it was something obvious. Maybe the boat wasn’t in neutral? Maybe the safety switch was off? We both tried everything we could think of. I must have turned that ignition switch thirty times. The battery was connected and looked brand new. No corrosion. No missing hardware. I tapped and wiggled the terminals just in case. 

We were flummoxed and slowly drifting into a dense area of boats. Without a motor, we had no way to navigate. We have two paddles and could alter our course a bit, but not much. This situation was a bit more serious than any we had experienced, but wasn’t dire. We were not in danger and we could always call a tow service to get us home. That was the last resort. 

We brainstormed who to call for advice and quickly decided our contractor, Drew, might be the best person. He helped us with our first oil change and is an amazing problem solver. At the time. he was driving his 50-foot boat, Refuge, back from the mainland and had a few ideas to try. Nothing helped. Strangely, other parts of the boat, like the bilge pump, had power, just not the motor. He asked about fuses and we shrugged. We’d never changed a fuse on this boat and didn’t know where to find them.

He mentioned that our plumber, Greg, was also shrimping and maybe he could help. I called Greg and found that he was at least an hour from getting on the water. He asked a key question from the start: “Are you in danger?” No, I said. Maybe in danger of embarrassment. He laughed.  

Meanwhile, we’re still adrift in the wind. As we approached a boat twice our size, it seemed to slowly move out of the way. Part of me thinks they could tell we were having an issue. Maybe they could see it on our faces. My head being deep in the center console was a sure sign. 

We switched to thinking about other friends with boat knowledge who could help. I called Will and Smiley, who live close by, and have a boat in our marina. Will is a talented mechanic and together, we hatched a plan for them to come and help us figure it out, or at least tow us the 15 minutes home. I mentioned the potential of fuses causing the problem, and he said he’d bring a bag of them. 

As we drifted past the remaining boats in the shrimping area, Sachi studied the owner’s manual for the motor and found a section about fuses. The manual had a nice graphic of the inside of the fuse box and what fuses were connected to what circuits. 

We removed the motor’s cover and found a box that looked like the diagram. Will suggested using the boat key to pry out the fuses and see if one is bad. I could feel the momentum building. The table in the manual said the second 10amp fuse controlled the ignition and power to the motor. I removed that fuse, held it up to the sunlight and Voila! The culprit was identified on the first try. 

Referring back to the manual, I saw that the fuse box contained spare fuses. Wow, I thought. Honda is thinking ahead. I plugged in the spare 10amp fuse, turned on the power and the boat started right up. At that moment, Will was in his garage gathering supplies and called to ask a question. Before he could get it out, I interrupted and said, “We fixed it! It was a fuse and we have a spare!” I texted Drew and Greg for good measure. 

More than any other experience so far, this was a lesson. We now know what happens when a fuse blows, where to find the fuses, and how to replace them. The next day, we bought a bunch of spare fuses and created a backup bag that will always be on the boat. 

As amazing as it felt to fix the problem on the water, it was a stark reminder of how little we know. Fuses are boating 101 and a simple problem to fix. As we continue boating, we’ll surely have more problems to solve. It’s part of the challenge and a skill we both want to develop. 

Here’s to learning through experience and helpful friends under non-dangerous circumstances.

Boat Creep ? ?

Boat Creep ? ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

A few weeks back, I shared a story called Lee Night that was, in part, about spending an evening watching boats go by our house. I wrote:

As boats float by the house, I can’t help but feel like I’m the creepy guy on the beach watching girls walk by. Every boat is different and interesting in myriad ways.

Now that Labor Day has passed and boating season is winding down, I’m taking an inventory of the interesting boats I’ve seen over the summer. After Lee Night, I admit I became a full-on boat creep, watching from my deck as they float by, unaware of my peering lens. I collected a tiny fraction of what passed, but still captured an interesting group of boats.

Tourist Boats

This summer saw heavy traffic from boats full of tourists, usually going to watch whales. The “whaleboats” as we call them are always noticeable because of their size and speed. Few recreational boaters choose to burn as much fuel.

One that always stands out is Blackfish (which is an old name for killer whales).

Blackfish boat

Another is the Western Explorer.

Western Explorer

Sometimes the whales end up in the water in front of our house and the big whaleboats show up.

whale boats

If you crop a photo just right, you can pretend that a friendly sailboat is the only boat watching the killer whales.

sailboat and whales

Tourists are also ferried around on other boats that are more focused on destinations. This is the Puget Sound Express.

boat on salish sea
san juan safaris boat

Commercial Boats

The Salish Sea is a commercial waterway used by all kinds of boats, both local and international. In the distance, there are almost always huge ships traveling in Canadian waters to Canada.

ship on salish sea

We don’t see these behemoths in US waters our side of Orcas Island, but we see many barges and other large boats used for transporting items to the islands that don’t have ferry service.

barge with truck

You find the strangest things on barges. That’s a two-story house.

house on barge

Lindsey Foss is a fire-fighting vessel.

lindsey Foss

A local service will tow you if your boat has a problem.

Tow US

An sometimes a Canadian Warship goes by.

canadian battleship

Recreational/Private Boats

The vast majority of boats that pass our house are recreational or privately owned. Cabin cruisers are a dime a dozen, but sometimes more impressive boats pass by.

M/V Pelican is a 1930 78ft Classic wooden fisheries research vessel that recently started doing charters.

Pelican Salish Sea

Our friends Mahlon and Deb live on this 65′ boat called Salish Song. Yes, that’s a lovely palm tree adorning their rear deck.

Salish Song

New Pacific is a 97′ expedition yacht that was recently refitted to have a 60kwh hybrid energy system that reduces the use of the boat’s generators.

new pacific
boat on salish sea

Other

This caravel style sailboat is one of the biggest we’ve seen.

big sailboat

Like cabin cruisers, sailboats are very common in all shapes and sizes.

sailboat on salish sea

And of course, small crafts like kayaks. Sea kayaking is one of the most popular activities in the San Juans. Jet Skis are prohibited, thankfully.

kayakers

Not a boat. Or is it?

Float Plane

I’ll miss boating season and being on the lookout for interesting boats. They’ll be back before we know it.

The Pig War ?

The Pig War ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

As I write this from my home office, I can see Canada’s Gulf Islands, which are like sister islands to the San Juan Islands. This view is one I don’t take for granted because living on the extreme NW edge of the US mainland is where I want to be. It feels as if the entire westward expansion of the US has ended here, on the rocky western shore of Orcas Island. It’s nearly impossible to go any further west and remain in America. This is especially true today, as the Canadian border is likely to be closed to recreational boats until 2022. 

Another reason I don’t take the view for granted is that Orcas Island, along with the rest of the San Juans, could have easily been property of the English, and later of Canada. The story of how the border was drawn, and why, is often referred to as The Pig War, which began in 1859.

At the time, the election of Lincoln was a year away and the Civil War was soon to follow. As tempers flared on the eastern side of the country, the west was still wild and becoming populated with settlers, trappers, and gold diggers. Washington was not yet a US state, but that was coming, too. 

The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore our part of the Washington coast and named many of the islands, like Lopez, San Juan, and Horcasitas, which eventually became “Orcas“. Then came the British and George Vancouver, who sailed into the region and named mountains, rivers, islands, ports, and more from the deck of his ship, the HMS Discovery. Peter Rainier, for example, was his Rear Admiral and namesake for Mount Rainier, which was called “Tahoma” by the Native Americans.  

Americans were settling the Pacific Northwest by land and the British by sea. What is now Washington State was essentially the end of the road in terms of westward expansion, with the territory being surrounded by British territories to the north and west. In the middle of the landmasses were hundreds of islands with ambiguous ownership. Border disputes were inevitable. 

The main issue was commerce. The growing population of the area meant that military and supply boats needed reliable ways to navigate from the Pacific to inland settlements in places like modern day Seattle and Vancouver, BC. To help ensure safe passage, US and British military forces helped protect territories and secure the shipping lanes they considered their own. 

Both sides were concerned with where to draw the North/South line between the US and British territories. This was debated for years and there were two contenders. One potential border, on the east side of the San Juan Islands, claimed them for Britain. The other border was on the west side of the San Juans, near Vancouver Island, which would make the San Juans American. This situation made the San Juan Islands a kind of DMZ, caught in the middle of a disagreement between empires. 

The Pig War

In June of 1859 an American farmer named Lyman Cutler found a large black pig repeatedly rooting in his garden on San Juan Island. He became so upset that he shot and killed the pig. The owner of the pig, Charles Griffin, was an Irish farmer and employee of the powerful Hudson Bay Company. The two men tried to settle the dispute with money, but came to no agreement. One version of events has Cutler saying to Griffin, “It was eating my potatoes”; and Griffin replying, “It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig.”

San Juan Island at the time of the Pig War

The disagreement escalated and led Griffin to demand that Cutler be arrested by British forces. This threat was answered by Americans requesting military protection. This eventually led to a standoff between nearly 500 mainland Americans and over 2,000 British soldiers in ships off San Juan Island. Both sides were under orders to defend themselves and not fire the first shot. 

As the Civil War was about to commence in South Carolina, a lesser-known war was possible in the wilds of Washington State. Thankfully, through negotiation, no shots were ever fired in “The Pig War”, but about 100 American and British forces ended up occupying opposite ends of San Juan Island for about twelve years. 

During the stalemate, ownership of the San Juans remained unresolved and both sides looked for a way to settle it amicably. They eventually turned to international arbitration, with German Emperor Wilhelm I as arbitrator. After meeting for a year, the arbitration commission sided with the United States and set the border in the Haro Strait, on the west side of the San Juan Islands.  By 1874, the San Juan Islands were indisputably American.

Map of the San Juan Islands
Today’s Border

When I look out of my office window over to Canada, I can see huge cargo ships about nine miles away, some of them over 1000 feet long. These ships arrived in the Salish Sea from the Pacific Ocean, just like George Vancouver, nearly 150 years ago. They are headed for his namesake port, Vancouver, BC, and travel exclusively in Canadian waters. American ships bound for US ports use similar lanes that head south to Seattle and Tacoma.

I like seeing the ships in the distance, even if I sometimes worry about an accident or oil spill that could impact our coast. The cities that make up our region could not have become what they are without clear shipping lanes and defined borders. The ships are a symbol of the importance of our region and two nations who found a way to work together so long ago.

The history of this far-fetched place could have been very different, if not for a hungry pig and a German Emperor. The San Juans could have become British and I might be writing from the American mainland, wishing I could be on an island, watching ships bound for a foreign port on the western horizon. 

Related:

Making The Trailer Video for Big Enough ⛰ ?‍? ?

Making The Trailer Video for Big Enough ⛰ ?‍? ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


Since 2007, I’ve been a very specific kind of video producer. Namely, an indoor one. Common Craft videos are animated and mostly created on a computer. Despite making my living with videos, I have relatively little experience with live-action, outdoor video.

Leading up to the launch of BIG ENOUGH, I decided I would try making a live-action book trailer and do it 100% by myself. That’s part of the Common Craft way. I love learning by doing. The idea was to go on a hike at a nearby preserve with a tripod and drone and capture footage of me walking our two dogs, Maybe and Piper.

The Trailer

That probably sounds fairly simple, but it was far from it. Despite being a sweet, cuddly dog, who always seems to appear on your lap indoors, Piper is a hunter outdoors. If she gets off the leash, she will disappear into the woods. So, in order to keep both dogs safe, I tied their leashes to my leather belt. This meant that everything I did that day happened with over one hundred pounds of canine at my feet.

This would be a challenge without photography, in part because of the place where I hiked. Turtleback Mountain, is, well… a mountain. The loop I hiked is three miles and about 850 feet in elevation. This is where being alone became a challenge.

I wanted a few shots that featured me and the dogs walking through the frame from left to right. To get this footage, I had to hike up a hill, set up the tripod, then hike down the hill, and walk up it again as the camera rolled, then come back down to stop the recording and then up to the next stop. All with two large dogs tied to my waist. The three-mile hike surely went to five miles.

Then, of course, I was carrying a drone with batteries and a remote. Operating the drone is always stressful because I’m worried that it will crash or fly away. I’ve had it abruptly lose control and fly into a tree in the past. What if that happened on a mountain?

I have two drone batteries that each last for about 10 minutes of flight time and it goes quickly. I had a number of locations where I wanted to get footage and this created anxiety about using up the batteries before I could get to the next location. So, I was very cautious about wasting the precious energy and tried to keep the drone in a recoverable range, should something go off the rails.

Turtleback is a popular hiking trail and I was self conscious about other hikers noticing me behaving in a strange way. I imagined them wondering why I kept walking back and forth at the same spot on the trail with my dogs. Why does he have all that equipment? And maybe, why does he look so stressed out?

At the summit of Turtleback, there is a large rock outcropping called Ship Peak and I had been saving batteries for that location. Just before reaching the summit, I dropped my backpack on the side of the trail, something I never do. I think I was overheated and just wanted it gone. I grabbed the drone and made my way to the peak.

Soon after, an older couple appeared with a worried look on their faces. That’s when it hit me. A couple of years ago, someone found a pack on the trail with homemade explosives in it. Nothing ever came of it, but all the locals heard about it and everyone was warned – do not approach random backpacks on Turtleback. I, of course, had just dropped a suspicious-looking backpack, which the couple had found.

The first thing they said was, “Is that your backpack down there?”

I replied, “Yes, I’m sorry…” and before I could get more words out, the woman said, “You know there was a problem with a backpack here?”

“Yes, I know. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

They moved on, but got comfortable on another part of the summit, which left me with a dilemma. They already seemed annoyed, but I was there to fly the drone around and take videos. How long would they stay? Eventually, I just told them, “Hey, I’m just going to fly this around for a couple of minutes.” They nodded and that’s what I did.

On the way out, I looked over at them with a quick wave of acknowledgement. With a smile, the woman said, “Don’t forget your backpack!” I could only laugh and feel a bit embarrassed. I was that guy.

Thankfully, it all worked out beautifully. The weather was perfect, the drone stayed in my control and the dogs… they had no choice. Despite the effort, stress, and awkwardness, I loved every minute of making that video and I’m really proud of how it turned out.

Watch it:

Share the trailer via YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

What We’re Watching

With so much going on between the book and house, Sachi and I often relax in front of the TV in the evenings. Lately a few shows have been keeping us entertained and I’m now realizing that these are all kind of dark and on Amazon. I guess that’s our style right now.

Here are my quick reviews of each:

Patriot (Amazon) – It sounds like a Tom Clancy novel and it has some elements of espionage, but it’s not your average spy thriller. It’s stylish, dark, unexpectedly funny, and has musical interludes, sung by the main character, that advance the story. We loved both seasons. This video captures an enduring part of the show that cracks me up.

Counterpart (Amazon) – I love the science fiction premise of this show, starring J.K. Simmons. It takes place decades after scientists discover a portal to an identical world, or parallel universe, where everyone has an “other”. The show is mostly about interactions and schemes between the two worlds. Complex, dark, and well-made.

Homecoming (Amazon) – A secretive company is working with soldiers returning home with symptoms of PTSD. Over time, you learn the company’s true intentions and the scale of their efforts. The first season stars Julia Roberts and the second, which I liked even more, stars Janelle Monáe.

A Return to Herb’s ???

A Return to Herb’s ???

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


The Tillikum Arrives at Orcas Island
The Tillikum Arrives at Orcas Island

I suppose it’s possible to never leave Orcas Island. With good health and tolerance for mild isolation, one could live on the island indefinitely. For most, however, leaving is required from time to time, and that means boarding a ferry for an hour-long trip to the mainland where family, Costco and other forms of abundance await.

Along with trips to the mainland, there is another popular ferry route that is limited to the San Juan Islands; an “inter-island” route. This route is serviced by a sixty-year-old ferry named Tillikum, or affectionately “Tilly”, that runs all-day-everyday among four of the most populated islands. She is the closest we have to a road that links the islands, both socially and commercially.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Jesse, on a neighboring island asked if I could help him with a house project and I jumped at the chance to see him and ride the ferry on a nice autumn day. Jesse’s house is on San Juan Island, which is home to Friday Harbor, the county’s seaside commercial center and tourist trap.

When the morning arrived, I carefully packed a backpack with snacks, sunglasses and my drone so that I could take overhead photos of his house. As I packed, I thought the backpack would be easy to forget and that I had to be careful; it had precious cargo. Maybe that was on my mind when I left the house without two things that I looked forward to using on the 45-minute ferry ride: a full flask of coffee and my headphones.

I drove to the Orcas ferry terminal, parked the car at its free parking lot and walked down the hill to the terminal to catch the 10:30 ferry. Riding the inter-island ferry is always free to walk-on passengers and that was my plan. I’d walk-on and disembark at Friday Harbor where Jesse would pick me up and drive to his house.

By the terminal, there is a petite, but mighty, grocery store that makes espresso and delicious homemade pastries and I never miss a chance to grab a scone before boarding. Usually, the store is a hive of activity and a place where locals cross paths. When we first started coming to the island, I wanted to be someone who knew other locals in the store. It seemed like a rite of passage. On this trip, I got to be that person when I saw Allie, one of our first island friends. She and her partner, RJ, hosted the party that eventually connected us with Drew, our builder. Allie and I ended up sharing a ferry booth on the ride to Friday Harbor and both delighted in seeing harbor seals frolic along the way. The thought of missing headphones never crossed my mind. 

After we docked at 11:15, I disembarked and met Jesse for the short drive to his house. He’s currently renovating it and we spent the day cutting holes in walls, installing appliances and assembling furniture. As the day drew to a close, we planned to get a beer and early dinner in town before my 5:30 ferry and never made time to fly the drone, which sat safely in my backpack.

We parked in Friday Harbor and I decided to take my bag with me, knowing that I’d probably go straight to the ferry and that if someone stole it from the car, I’d never live it down. We ended up at a dive bar called Herb’s Tavern. And as we sat down, I put the bag in the seat next to me and noted that it was easy for me to see and remember to grab when leaving.

Over a beer and a Reuben sandwich, Jesse and I reviewed the day’s work and talked about Seattle life versus island life. We used to be neighbors and I enjoyed having time to reconnect. In fact, I was probably so engaged that time got away from me. With the ferry departure time approaching quickly, we paid the bill and just before leaving the table, I looked back and said words that I hear consistently from Sachi, “Do you have everything… phone, wallet, keys?” Everything seemed in order as we rushed out the door.

In minutes, I was alone on the Tillikum wishing I had my headphones when I realized that I’d made a huge mistake. My backpack, with my drone, was still sitting in the chair at Herb’s Tavern. Shit. It was the one thing I needed to remember. As the ferry pulled away from the dock, I could only think about Sachi rolling her eyes. Sadly, this is not out of character for me. I called Herb’s and had them store the backpack until I could return. The bartender said he’d place it in the locked “liquor room” and asked if I’d be back that night. Heh. No, I would not be back that night. I was was on the last ferry to Orcas Island.

Most people have left something at a bar or restaurant that required retrieval. Usually it involves a u-turn or a short drive. But this was different. I left something on another island. I’d have to spend hours taking a ferry to retrieve it. What a mess. I arrived home that night with a sheepish grin and a plan. The next morning, I would repeat the entire ferry process, with one exception. I would attempt to disembark in Friday Harbor, grab my backpack and board the same ferry, bound for Orcas. 

The next morning I left home with nothing but headphones, a full flask of coffee and a bit of stress that I could get off and back onto the ferry in time. Like the day before, I went to the store for a scone, but they were out. But I did see Ezra, someone I knew from the island. I told him about my plan and he shrugged as he said: “Well, there are worse ways to spend the day than on a boat.” I had to agree.

Once again, I was on the 10:30 ferry to Friday Harbor. In our region this time of year, the sun never gets very high and it seemed to follow me around the ferry as it wound its way through the islands. I switched from one side of the boat to the other to escape the glare as walkers circled the deck to get in a bit of exercise. I recognized a few people but talked to no one. I was on a mission.

As Tilly approached the terminal at Friday Harbor I called Herb’s to ask them to have the bag ready and they were happy to oblige. Perhaps I was not the first person to attempt the ferry gambit. I waited with a few dozen walk-on passengers for the gate to open and rushed to Herb’s to get the backpack. Thanks to my call, the bartender had my bag ready and handed it off like a relay as I rushed back to the boat. If I missed it, I’d have to wait three hours for the next one.

The waiting area at the terminal was empty when I arrived because the other passengers had already boarded. Would they still let me on? As I made my way down the loading dock with the vehicles, a ferry worker motioned me on and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Once I made it to the passenger deck, I accounted for everything. I had my backpack, my coffee flask and my headphones for my fourth ferry voyage in two days. I sat listening to music and watched as the islands passed by my window like a movie. This trip was a result of a careless error and was a waste of time, but I didn’t mind. There are worse ways to spend a day than on a boat.

the passenger deck

If you’d like to read about another ferry ride, check out Aboard the Elwha.

The View from the Yurt on Orcas Island ???⛵️

The View from the Yurt on Orcas Island ???⛵️

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


The View from the Yurt

Like so many Seattleites, we’ve always aspired to have a house with a view. But it never happened, despite views being relatively common in hilly Seattle. Views of the city, Elliott Bay, or Lake Washington came at a premium that always felt out of reach.

We assumed the same premium would apply on Orcas Island. Surely, a house with a view was out of our price range and we’d be limited to vacant land. Our first visit to the Yurt changed that thinking and now explains why we bought the first and only house we visited.

What we saw that day was a mismatch. The cozy, quirky, Yurt-shaped house was set with a view it didn’t seem to deserve. We thought we’d need millions of dollars, or the means to go back in time 50 years and be a first-mover when properties were first being platted, to have this view. Indeed, this is the story of the Yurt, which was built by people who had the pick of the litter, so to speak, in the seventies.

Strangely, the lower deck is inaccessible from the unfinished basement
Strangely, the lower deck is inaccessible from the unfinished basement

On that first visit, we were standing on the deck of the Yurt with our realtor, and we thought, “Could this really be ours?” It didn’t seem possible.

In a moment I’ll never forget, a bald eagle then soared right through the view at eye level causing us to chuckle. Our realtor then turned to us with a raised thumb and knowing smile, and jokingly said, “SOLD!” She was right.

bald eagle

The Yurt is positioned atop a bluff at about 270 feet above sea level. It faces west over President Channel and dozens of islands that make up the San Juan Archipelago and the Canadian Gulf Islands. We can see Canada from the Yurt and even Pender Island, where our Canadian friends, Darren and Julie, have plans to build a house. You really can’t get much more geographically northwest in the continental U.S., and it sometimes feels as if we’re reaching out to the Great White North. Or, judging from the “Welcome to Canada!” messages we get on our phones, Canada is reaching out to us.

dozens of islands

Looking from the deck, our property extends past long-felled logs, deer tracks, and stumps down to the water where a 15-foot cliff makes a dock impossible. Many have suggested a zip line or funicular, but it ain’t gonna happen.

stumps down

In my experience, a full accounting of the view requires a bit of time and observation. For example, the more prominent islands in view are either uninhabited (Spieden Island), nature preserves (Flattop Island, Cactus Islands), an off-the-grid community (Waldron Island) or islands so far away it doesn’t matter. This creates a distinct feeling of isolation. In the evenings, when the sun is setting and the boats are all docked, it feels like you’re all alone and looking out over an unspoiled wilderness. There are no lights or signs of human life. The view over the cold water is just as it’s been for hundreds or even thousands of years. I’ve rarely seen nights so dark and stars so bright.

Spieden Island

And I am continually fascinated by what’s out there. Because it’s part of the ocean, it seems virtually anything could appear. There is a never-ending supply of boats, from sailboats and fishing boats, to giant cargo ships in the Canadian shipping lanes in the distance. Barges move houses and tug boats pull log booms full of thousands of logs. At least once a day, a little green boat called The Loon travels back and forth to Waldron Island (permanent pop. ~83) with supplies that arrive in the mail at our post office in Deer Harbor on Orcas.

Deer Harbor on Orcas

The water itself has become a source of entertainment. Each day, it has a personality that’s driven by tides and winds and storms. It can be the kind of glassy that begs for water skis or a white-capped fury that keeps boats safely in the harbor.

And each of the water’s personalities has a sound that is apparent from the moment you step onto to the deck. On calmer days, it’s a low hum of white noise in the background; a gentle roar generated by a million waves lapping in unison. As the wind picks up, the roar grows and combines with the sound of wind whipping through conifers to drown out all other sounds. If I look closely, it sometimes feels like the tall trees sway to the rhythm of the waves. I love a nice calm day, but storm watching is where my heart is.

The San Juans are known for sea life, which brings tourists in droves. We often see harbor porpoises, harbor seals and sea birds aplenty from the deck. But the real stars of the show are the whales. We don’t see them often, but humpbacks and orcas have both been spotted from the deck. This is somewhat unique on the island, as the west side faces a deep channel where they feed. When island residents visit, they often ask the same question: do you see whales? It still boggles my mind that the answer is, “Sometimes, yes.”

deep channel

When we first dreamt of property on Orcas Island by the campfire, we never considered the possibility of having a property with this kind of view. We didn’t even know this kind of experience existed. Once we saw it and decided to make an offer, it set in motion of a number of events that continue to this day. The Yurt is fun and perfect for us in so many ways. But it’s just a building. The location, the view and the experience of being on the island could last a lifetime.