The Magic of the San Juan Islands

It’s 5:30pm when we land on Lopez Island. The sun feels generous, so we stash our bags and hop on a bike. The warmed scent of grass mingles with the humid breath of salt air. Carefree multitudes of  brown bunnies munch on grass as we peddle past lolling pastures.  I wonder:  is this the realm where the Velveteen Rabbit hung up his stitching to become real?

Lopez Island rolling hills make it ideal for biking (Photo Credit: Kristi Slotemaker)

The pace is slow, easy and ripe for discovery. We ride up the trail to a sandy beach (important distinction on the Puget Sound) and shed our shoes. Over confident about the magic of the island, we dip our toes in. Yup, still so cold your lungs catch as you involuntarily retreat from the waves.  Yet, every few feet there’s something new to discover: tumble over a rock to expose baby crabs, a jellyfish caught on the sand, a eagle dipping unconcerned as it’s chased by a bandy of scolding crows, seagulls and song birds. It is at this moment, when you can finally breathe deeply… a real, slow deep breath…that you realize the island has helped breathe life in to you.

Treasure (Photo Credit: Kristi Slotemaker)

The dappled sunlight winks through the evergreens as we coast through the hills back to Edenwild. Edenwild is a Victorian-Style Inn with a rich history of owners ranging from actor Tom Skerritt (who reportedly carried your luggage to your room) to the current owners, Anthony and Crystal.

Living on a sheep farm in upstate New York, Anthony and Crystal embarked on an adventure. Armed with Google Earth as their virtual match-maker, it was love at first sight. 18 days later their new life as a part of the Lopez Island community began.

Soon after arriving on the island, fate played its hand and Edenwild, with its nine cozy rooms, was listed for sale. Racing against time and rallying resources, Anthony and Crystal recall doing every side job they could muster from roofing to selling the kids’ toys; every penny dedicated to the purchase of their dream.

Edenwild Boutique Inn on Lopez Island (Photo Credit: Rovente Family)

Now, they balance full time jobs while caring for the Inn. Anthony, as a Social Studies teacher and Crystal, the director of the only medical facility on the island. Their 4 boys (11, 9, 6, 5) participate from bussing tables to bringing up the laundry. As a family, they feel so grateful to belong in the life of the island and write a new chapter in the history of Edenwild.

Edenwild Family of Caretakers (Photo Credit: Rovente Family)

In the Hamlet of Lopez, you are granted permission to go slow. Poke around the bookstore. Linger in the coffee shop. Tarry over lunch.  Take your cue from the rabbits, sprawled and warming in the rays.

It’s time. We say good bye, drive past the old wooden fishing boat, time has faded to a baby blue and board the ferry destined for Friday Harbor.  I am clued into the unique nature of this ferry as the tables beckon with unfinished puzzles. Before we get a chance to plunk in a piece, a man with a cello appears, heading to the covered deck. We follow our Pied Piper.  Mournful music reverberates off the windows, surges through our bodies and slides out on the wind. We revel in our private concert. I do not think he even knows we are there. He just plays.

The Truckin’ Cellist (Photo Credit: Kristi Slotemaker)

On the Islands, it is said that everyone has no less than two jobs. This man is no exception. I had stumbled upon the Truckin’ Cellist, Sasha von Dassow.

Several times a week, Sasha fills his truck with food and shuttles the bounty. The ferry route connects the mainland (Anacortes) to 4 of the 172 islands: Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw.  During the downtime between islands, he practices on the ferry. Check out Friday Harbor Chamber Music Festival  and book a trip to be the benefactor of all Sasha’s interisland rehearsing.

Where Lopez Island is languid, Friday Harbor feels like a discotheque. Restaurants call out their specialties. Tourist companies entice with colorful kayaks and whale watching tours. I see an ice cream sign and tuck that in for later. I have a penchant for Rocky Road.

Dinner that night is spent with a perfunctory, yet cheerful bar tend named Chandler. He hustles. Our drinks stay full. He is everywhere at once. Herbs Tavern provides a schmecken of Friday Harbor’s past, with the addition of exceptionally good sweet potato fries.

The San Juan Islands are as rich with history as they are with natural resources.  One of the world’s best spots to catch a glimpse of Orcas, Lime Kiln Park, sports a lighthouse and the restored namesake, Lime Kiln. We trek through the trails and watch the waves roil with bull kelp as they smash against the sea cliffs until we reach the Lime Kiln. In the late 19th century, lime was mined and fired, turning it into calcium oxide (quicklime), a key ingredient in cement. Calcium oxide proved a precarious cargo to transport by ship as it’s combustible when it comes in contact with water. KaBoom.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse (Photo Credit: Kristi Slotemaker)

On the way back, we stumbled upon False Bay, a terrific place for all things mud, from bath to pies. At low tide, this mud flat converts into a pungent seaside buffet hosting the circle of life from plankton to sea birds. As we drive away, we spy one of the biggest predators on the island: a fox.

Red Fox near False Bay (Photo Credit: Kristi Slotemaker)

We load onto the ferry, Rocky Road in hand. In one hour, we will be back on the mainland. Cars. Netflix. Reliable cell phone service. My mind hang glides with the seagull, swirling and dipping as the ferry pushes off. For 72 hours, I leapt into the mind of an adventurer, expectant and open for what magic may came my way.  You never know what you’ll encounter…the San Juan Islands await…

San Juan Island (Photo Credit: Kristi Slotemaker)

 

 

 

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