The San Juan Islands have called to me for more than 25 years. So much so, that here in the last third of my life, I have migrated to the Pacific Northwest. My favorite spots on the mainland are always where I can see the water and the islands.
Two months ago, my naturalist friend invited me to go with her and her daughter to visit an island I had not seen. I said yes. As the time to visit approached, I began to second think myself. I was very busy preparing for a choral concert. Many of my clients had requested my time. I was tired. I had too much to do. I wasn’t feeling well. I almost cancelled. Why would I tell you this? Because the decision to go was important. I almost overrode myself, and easily could have, because I have a huge internal responsibility carrier.
In the end, I was miffed at some things, and I just said to myself. “I have never had this opportunity to go. I want to go. I am going.” That decision changed my life.
Travel in the San Juans requires using ferries. When I walked onto the ferry, it was raining in Anacortes. When I walked off on Orcas, it was sunny and blue skies. For the hour or so on the ferry, you watch the seagulls, the seascape reflecting a huge sky, and are charmed by sailboats, and kayaks, and possibly a whale. It is one of my most loved activities, standing forward in the salt air, watching this pristine world go by. It just soothes my soul.
Orcas the island has mountains and forests, and lots of coast, as three fjord-like bays push themselves up from the bottom of the island. The Pacific Northwest has some of the cleanest water and air that can be found in the US. Waters come barreling down from the glaciers and snow covered Cascade Mountains, through the salmon filled rivers into the Salish Sea. The peoples of this area want to protect their beautiful habitats.
Yes, I love this area. I love the people here who love their wildlife and spawning grounds. In the islands, people grow huge organic gardens surrounded by 8 feet fences so not to provide a continuing brunch to the native deer. When I ride by the farms or the forests or beaches clogged with driftwood, my heart just brims with fulfillment.
And so it was that I woke the next morning, went for a walk with my jasmine tea, and looked west over the marina and tiny island outside of Deer Harbor. My friend worked on a watercolor painting before we headed to our afternoon adventure of driving to the top of Mount Constitution, the highest lookout in the San Juan Islands. As we stepped into the car, she handed me a brand new mug asking “Can you use this?” Scribed on a pink bank of color were the words from Emily Dickinson “Dwell in Possibility.”
A shiver went through me. “Absolutely I can use this,” I answered. And I did. For the next two days, I contemplated the notion of dwelling in possibilities. “What would it be like to live in an environment like this? How did I feel when I contemplated such a possibility? What would it be like to have my children visit me in such a setting? What kind of views would I enjoy with my morning tea? What would it be like to live where cell phone coverage is spotty? Which did I prefer, a water view, or a valley view?”
As I drifted through the bliss of the next two days, we went to Lopez Island where the best Ice Cream in the world is made, and you can sit in the ferry line and buy a pint from the truck ahead of you at island prices.
In my imagination, I tried on many places to live; farms, resorts at the coastal edge, forest cabins, single storied charmers in the village of Eastsound, and a fifty feet sailing yacht at Rosario Resort. It was like going clothes shopping, but much more satisfying. I didn’t engage the part of my mind that says, ‘you don’t have the money for a fifty foot sailboat, or traveling regularly by float plane.’
The days were full of my just enjoying where I was, and saying many ‘what ifs?’ It helped that I wasn’t the driver, I just sat back and enjoyed wherever our car meandered. Around every turn was another unexpected treat.
I sent my inner censor on vacation, while I smelled the colors of sea and sky, and sipped forest paths, drank sunsets and savored the taste of ‘dwelling in possibilities.’ The power of such a feast for the senses, was that I was surrounded by the ‘what is’ of island sights and smells. I haven’t felt that much joy and serenity in a long while. Curiously, I never asked the question as I considered possibilities ‘what would it be like to live here?’ That was just further than my imagination could stretch.
So I pondered and poked and stayed with the pure bliss of the experience of standing on various islands, enjoying flights of fancy inspired by a young woman whose writings did not become famous until after her death. Another of her quotes has always been a favorite.
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words—and never stops at all.”
Perhaps affected by the transcendalists of her time, she lets the spirit of nature soar through her words.
As I reflect on my experience those three days in the islands, I remember how affected I was by the philosophies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Trine, Henry David Thoreau; transcendentalists, who believed that there is more than what we know that transcends our senses. We come to this knowing through our imagination and intuition and therefore can trust ourselves to be our own authority about what is right for us. Perhaps that is what Thoreau meant about our following a different drummer.
Dwelling in possibilites for three days, set the stage for a whole new adventure.