Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Travel? What’s that?

Here it is, May 3rd, and the world is wondering if I really haven’t been anywhere since March 19th and my last post. After all, what kind of dilettante stays home? But, the truth is that four foreign countries on three continents in three months was a lot even for me. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed it. But it is, alas, an unsustainable lifestyle.

All this to say that I did go somewhere in April, to Orcas Island again, for two nights with several friends, and Ian and I attended our second West Sound community meeting—this one the monthly potluck (living off-island, I brought cookies).

We stayed, six of us with two dogs, at the North Beach Inn, which is really a fantastic place. The Inn is actually made up of several snug cabins, each with private beach access to the no-bank, sand-and-drift-wood beach. I’m sure some of the cabins are quite posh (although I wouldn’t know because I didn’t see them), because some of them don’t allow dogs. The dog-friendly one we stayed in was merely clean and functional, but it did have a comfortable living room set and fireplace, and there was absolutely no fear that a sandy, salty wet dog fresh off the beach was going to ruin anything in the house. Anything.

The weather was more or less clear while we were there, so we took long walks along the beach both during the day, looking out to Sucia and Matia islands and wishing we could paddle over to them, and during the night, looking north to the lights of Vancouver brightening the distant clouds.

On Saturday evening, Ian and I left the other four (two of whom were heading back to the mainland), parked our car and dog at our property, and proceeded to meet another subset of the disproportionately elderly population of this world we’re planning to move into.

The West Sound Community Potluck is an ancient tradition, as ancient as just about anything on the island and, indeed, in the state. It’s been going on now for 100 years, second Saturday of every month minus June, July and August, and most attendees looked like they were probably charter members. Not everyone who lives in the community comes every week, and some people never come. But this particular week, we were going to be treated to a presentation about local disaster readiness (“NEITHER WASHINGTON STATE NOR FEMA NOR THE NATIONAL GUARD WILL BE COMING TO HELP US. THE RED CROSS, THE WORLD BANK, THE FBI AND THE CIA HAVE NO EMERGENCY PLANS FOR WEST SOUND”) and the evacuation plan (which, after 30 minutes, came to “In case of wildfire, run toward the water. In case of tsunami, run toward the hills.” No discussion of what would happen to us in the case of a conjunction of the two.), so the attendance was perhaps a bit better than usual.

The potluck fare was not disappointing. Traditional dishes such as turkey casserole, Mexican hot dish, and macaroni salad were readily available, but so was octopus, caught earlier that day by one of the attendees and served steamed, cut into three-cup (that’s suction) chunks, with a dipping sauce.

As people licked the last drips of pie and ice cream and/or gingersnap cookies off their spoons, the presentation began. It seems that the evacuation plan was designed the previous year, by the presenter (the elderly French gentleman from the earlier meeting) and one of our neighbors, who used to fly a forest fire-fighting plane (until the fleet was grounded because too many planes—WWII era—were going down in flames, kind of defeating the purpose) and so presumably has some training in evacuation. A phone tree had been drawn up to make sure everyone was notified of last year’s practice evacuation (which sent everyone to the Community Hall, a 100-year-old wood building on the waterfront that would be, in fact, the worst of all worlds in an actual emergency, but there are glasses and plates there for serving the champagne and dessert purchased to reward people for participating.). The phone tree had not worked, however, and here is where “presentation” degenerated into “free-for-all”, everyone shouting suggestions of how to make the phone tree work better, since leaving messages for people didn’t seem to be the answer.

Now, I don’t know about you all, but my understanding of a phone tree was that you call the next person on the list and you’re done—unless the next person is gone, in which case you call the person he or she was supposed to call. In other words, you talk to an actual person and don’t trust that Joe, as the tsunami approaches, is going to be checking his messages, and then making some calls. I mean, maybe Joe saw the wave and hightailed it out of there.

This practice is not, however, as self-evident as it would appear. No, to make sure everyone gets a call, the community is going to have not one, but two phone trees in differing shapes. Sure, some people might get two calls, but that’s better than one, no? In an emergency? And, well, if two’s better than one, three would be even better. So yeah, as we left the phone-tree part of the conversation and moved on to the Warning Whistle, plans were being made to draw up three varying phone trees, all calling the same people but in different orders, to guarantee that everyone’s stuck at home while waves wash around their ankles or their houses incinerate around them.

The Warning Whistle hadn’t worked last year, either, because it turned out people couldn’t hear it from home (even people who lived fairly close to the Community Center and weren’t, necessarily, that hard of hearing). After a great deal of discussion about what, in fact, it sounded like and plans to blow it later in the month at the next scheduled evacuation practice, a member jumped up from his table and said “Well, can’t we just blow it now?”

French Man dithered a bit, but couldn’t, ultimately, see why not. It was only about 7:30, so not that late at night (and, Ian and I secretly thought, how loud can a whistle be that no one can hear?). Whistle Blower ran outside with an evacuation team woman, and after a minute or two, a lovely two-note hoot, like the harmonica sound from the Chantal tea kettle, sounded through the wooden walls. Ian and I burst into suppressed laughter as a new storm of suggestions, this time all for a new, louder warning signal, burst forth from the crowd.

Soon after, the evening ended and Whistle Blower played some rousing numbers on the out of tune spinet as volunteers broke down the tables and stacked the chairs.

And we went off to town, to play pool and drink Jack and Sevens at Vern’s Bayside Café with our friends, and marvel at our incredible good fortune, that this is where we’re going to get to live out our lives.

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