Well before I was born—before I was even a thought—I went to Orcas Island. Even my parents, when they were children, took frequent trips to this island where their respective families would camp and fish, crab and hike, play games and swim. Once they met and married, they continued to bring us to the Island—by boat or ferry—and we would stay in a cabin, beach-comb and play board games. We have carried the tradition forward, taking our boys to Orcas year upon year, where they first crawled and now run.
Now with a few decades under my belt, Orcas Island is woven into the fabric of my life. This Island off the shore of Washington State is a special place and owns the category in my soul marked ‘family vacation’. How many hours did I sit curled up in my father’s boat, bobbing up and down on salt water—watching the end of my pole—waiting for a fish to bite? Countless afternoons were spent at the ocean’s edge, where I would peer for crabs and lichen, hop between rocks and inevitably scrape my knees on barnacles. The smell of salt, my skin soaked in sun, come and go, come and go.
The years and visits and memories have blurred. I remember snippets like sitting around a table picking crab meat, melting rubber on the bottom of my shoe from sitting too close to the fire, hauling in a 10 LB salmon at age 7, and watching my father deftly fillet just-caught salmon right on the dock (always with bees dive-bombing the entire operation). There were slow afternoons in the little island town where grandma would visit the clothes shop and buy fancy scarves; we clocked more hours playing card games than I care to count. Today visiting Orcas means undefined time, a space away from work and a place to decompress: pull up a deck chair and lets have some wine.
Perhaps because I grew up knowing this as holiday, or perhaps because I have had busy vacations of scheduled site-seeing, or life is far too busy: this unscheduled place is increasingly special. No doubt a few decades from now I will close my eyes in this same Orcas sun and remember moments strewn across time. Perhaps I will remember moments of our most recent visit?
A week or two ago we scooped the boys, plus a friend and our French exchange student (Louis) early from school and headed to Orcas Island via ferry (count them: four teenage boys). It was a sunny weekend in May—a bit of an anomaly in the Pacific Northwest. We arrived and let our whims lead us through the weekend. Our unplanned time turned into a hike around Cascade Lake, slurping oysters at the Farmers’ Market, breaking in a new bocci ball set, smores and wine by the fire and casual rounds of tennis. Highlights: running into my friend Karista, meeting new friend Wendy who owns Chez Chloe, and running into restauranteur and cookbook author Christina (who belongs in the same cohort as Alice Waters).
Christina was selling her preserves and offering cooking demos at Saturday’s Farmer Market. When I realized who she was I said what any normal person would say: Oh it’s you! I’ve made the ketchup and mustard from your book—they were great! Ha. I love her book, mostly for the story of her beginnings. She owned Christina’s for more than 25 years on the Island, and still today they host Sunday night Farm Dinners at Red Rabbit Farm. I aim to go one day soon.
For more years than I can remember, we have stayed at Smugglers Villa, a humble gathering of condos half a mile—and a lovely trail—north of the little town Eastsound. Staying there, treading that same familiar walking path, walking to our favorite bakery (Teezers), drinking espresso in the back of the bookstore and turning rocks to find crab: part of the fabric of my life. I like that.