Does is count as travel if you’re going to your own place? After some deliberation, I decided that yes, it does, for a few reasons. One: we’re not sleeping in our beds (patently not, I say, particularly when we’re camping). Two: I generally feel a disjointedness upon arrival back in Seattle disproportionate to the amount of time we’ve actually been gone. That is, it takes me some time for reentry. Three: Any excuse to write an entry in my travel blog. I won’t post about every trip to Orcas, but the density of experience in this trip warranted a description.
The thing is this: several months ago, in the interests of preparing for our future lives together (and not trusting the stock market to increase in value as quickly as finite property on an island increased in cost and decreased in availability), we purchased a piece of vacant land on Orcas Island. This land will allow us in the future to have (most importantly) horses, sheep (for wool), a big garden (surrounded by 12-foot fencing and 24-hour armed guards to keep the deer away), and an oil crop so Ian can fiddle around with making his own Biodiesel. As I said, it is vacant, except for the composting toilet that Ian designed and we and our friends built. We also have water to the property, so with bathroom facilities (albeit separated from one another by at least a 3-minute walk), a fire pit, a camp stove and a picnic table, what more do you need? Aside, of course, from a bed and a house to put around it . . .
In some ways, we are already much more a part of our small hamlet on Orcas than we are of our neighborhood in Wallingford where we’ve lived for five years. For example, we know the names of our neighbors (and not just the names of their dogs), and we see them and recognize them on different parts of the island—i.e. out of context. We’ve had meals and drinks at their houses; we’ve even met some of their out-of-town guests.
And we’ve attended our first community event: The annual Water Users Association meeting.
I had been looking forward to meeting a cr0wd of neighbors all together, watching the interactions, getting a sense of the social make-up of the community (to go with our clear sense of the beautiful natural setting). From small social events previously, the sense of family—of amused, indulgent irritation between one neighbor and another, as well as genuine respect for individual strengths—was clear. Not every member of the community is also a member of the water association; several have their own wells. But nevertheless, I was not disappointed by the inner workings of this group.
To give you an idea of the general flavor of the evening, picture about 30 people from Waiting for Guffman. They may vary a little in detail, but the overall picture is much the same (kudos to Christopher Guest’s brilliance). There was the sophisticated French gentleman of a certain age, clean-shaven, tan, white hair combed back from his forehead with studied nonchalance, scarf knotted around his neck under the collar of his open button-up shirt, calculated use of his native tongue (“Monsieur le President, I move that we adjourn”), for emphasis (the officialness of the meeting had disintegrated by this point), as well as his own pleasure. There were the older gentlemen, some of whom had lived in the community their whole lives. One, an irascible silver-haired member (age 75) who had been a co-founder of the water association, showed off for his new wife (also 75) by challenging the current association president in a very personal and passive-aggressive way (“You know, B, when the store first opened, J was using only 100 gallons a day.” “What’s your point, Z?” “Well, these days, you’ve used up to 16oo gallons in one day.” “And, Z, what does that have to do with the topic at hand?” “I’m just saying. It’s interesting, is all. 1600 gallons.” “Z, we’re not going to discuss my personal water usage at this meeting. If there’s something you need to talk about, you can come to the next board meeting.” “Okay, B. Sure thing!”). There was the gaggle of little old ladies, one of whom sat next to me throughout the meeting and patted my leg when Z went off on his tirade tangents, as if to say “we’re not all this troublesome, dear.” Then there were the working stiffs, maybe a half-dozen folks in their late forties/early fifties who run restaurants on the island (as well as a Slow Food Convivium—we are so excited!) and, it seems, serve on the board. There were the hosts of the evening—a board member (and his wife) who had volunteered to have a meeting at his house and assumed it was a board meeting of 5 folks—until the general announcement of the annual association meeting came in the mail directing all 40-some members to his house; and then there was us, the new kids on the block in many ways (and not only because we are, on average, 30+ years younger than our neighbors). We were impressed by the general level of understanding about every aspect of water management from how and why to drill new wells to monthly accounting, but then water is a potentially finite resource on an island. We were slightly taken aback to find that part of our handout was a month-by-month spreadsheet of the water use of every member. Talk about accountability.
After the meeting, we stayed behind to chat up neighbors (all fascinated by the new blood . . . and particularly when the new blood is going to build on the 30 acres of pristine pasture and just where, in fact, the house will go), then we retreated to our lovely dog-friendly hotel (and skinny-dipped in our private hot tub). The next morning, our future-across-the-street neighbors cooked us a gourmet breakfast, and we were on the ferry home—or rather back to Seattle—by 10:15.