An Island Mentality: Day 3

Once again, early to bed and early to rise. We were out of the hotel Monday morning by 7:30 to pick up the rental car and head to Anacortes. We made good time up I-5 and got to the ferry terminal about an hour and half before the 11:05 sailing. I banged up my knee trying to cut through the traffic unloading from the ship, but Mat nursed me back to health as he always does and we munched on our faux McMuffins until it was time to board.

An hour later, we drove off the boat and on to the streets of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. This place is incredible. You can stand in one spot and at once see tiers of pastures peppered with red-roofed farmhouses, dropping off as the sea begins, and hazy snowy mountains as the backdrop. I can’t imagine a better scene. How amazing would it be to wake up every day to the clear blue water crashing at the cliffs below you and acres of rolling hillside behind you?

San Juan Island has a population of around 6800 and seems to have one of everything. One hardware store. One movie theatre. One guy who cleans the gutters. I haven’t seen a single McDonald’s. It rarely snows and they average about 25″ of rain annually, though I understand the winters can be fairly blustery and gray.

We originally booked a room at Juniper Lane B&B back in May, which looked like a funky place for a good price, but the propietor mysteriously decided a few weeks ago to close on the 11th and we held the only reservation so too bad for us. We ended up booking a cabin at Mar Vista Resort instead.

The term “resort” is used very loosely and should not be misconstrued to imply the existence of any of the usual luxuries such as shampoo, housekeeping or the absence of odd pervasive smells. The flimsiness of our cabin reminds me of a trailer home. I can’t believe it’s lasted on these windswept cliffs all these years, though it obviously has since it can easily be dated by the decor. It takes effort and selective purchasing to get “shabby chic”. Not so much required for just shabby.

Every window is framed in a hunter green valance that hides beneath it either a partially functioning venetian blind or a half-unraveled roller shade. The kitchen cabinets (two) are of plywood painted beige with faded stick-on decals in a strawberry motif. The sitting area consists of an office chair, a blue velour loveseat and a recliner with hunter green velour upholstery worn through at the edges and pocked with cigarette burns. The bed includes a bare box-spring and a mattress so soft and springy I woke up every time Mat rolled over.

Tucked around the bed are a thin poly-blend peach floral comforter and one of those synthetic fiber blankets that looks like it should squeak when you touch it. A green plaid curtain covers the bedroom closet/hot water heater area. And while the kitchen comes stocked with a pot, a pan, utensils and a measuring cup, the only amenity in the bathroom is soap and a towel (we are advised fresh ones can be exchanged for at the office).

And finally… the smell. It overwhelms you as soon as you walk in the door. It’s as if my grandmother has been frying onions in lard on the two-burner stove every night for the last forty years and then moved out yesterday.

Ladies and gentlemen… Mar Vista Resort. Where vacation homes come to wither up and die.

That said, the view is amazing and the silence is overwhelming. We are literally the last cabin before the cliff drops off in to the ocean. Across the strait is the Olympic Peninsula to the south and Vancouver Island to the north. (I see Canadian people!) Beyond that is the Pacific and then Russia. A fog rolled in Tuesday morning that completely veiled the mountains in the distance, though the sun was shining and the sky was clear above us. We walked down to the beach on a path bordered with blackberry brambles and ended up picking our way across the most incredible driftwood graveyard I’ve ever seen. Draped across the bleached water-worn castaways were the snakey limbs of bull kelp. It was an eery scene in the morning light.

[I have to backtrack here. I have nothing against trailer homes. I have no idea why people occupy them in tornado zones, especially when they’re mobile, but to each their own. My great aunt and uncle lived in a double-wide on bricks in Pennsylvania. I have fond memories of visiting them for reunions when I would be treated to tractor rides and my cousin and I could be occupied for hours hammering a jarful of nails into an old bench. I mean, really, who needs a Froggie Learning Center or whatever they’re called when you have a hundred rusty nails, a splintered old bench with peeling paint and two hammers? My kids are totally getting their own jar of nails.]

Anyhow, back to Monday. After checking in to our plywood home, we set out to explore the island. We went to the Pelindaba Lavender Farm where they grow some 60 varieties of lavender on 20 acres and sell everything from lavender sachets to lavender tea and lavender vinegar. Good place to pick up tschotschkes for the moms (and Barry). Then we knocked back a few (ounces) in the tasting room of San Juan Vineyards. We dropped in on the Oyster Farm as they were closing. Then drove past an alpaca farm and stopped to say hi. We had dinner at a pub on the harbor that brews it’s own Hefeweizen, IPA and a chile pepper stout. I had fried oysters and chips. Totally the best oysters ever. They had some kind of smokey flavor. So good. It’s amazing how much you can get done when the furthest you can possibly travel is 20 miles.

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