After a recent trip to Seattle, I sat on the ferry feeling as though I had visited the moons of Jupiter, or at least been witness to the Northwest equivalent of the bar scene in Star Wars. I didn’t recognize Seattle and she didn’t recognize me. My favorite city had become an alien place, one where my beloved personal landmarks were disappearing, where my old neighborhood was unrecognizable and where folks on the street and in their cars found me too slow and in the way. And for the first time while in downtown Seattle, I felt underdressed. Island attire had no place in Pacific Place.
I made the mistake of trying to chat with someone in line for coffee, and based on her response, I feared horns had sprouted from my head, or perhaps I had forgotten to remove my fright wig and fangs. No, Dorothy, I was not in Kansas anymore.
Have I mentioned I live on an island? Make no mistake, this little marker in the middle of Puget Sound is very special to me, and I feel the journey to make it here has been half the gift. Sometimes I gush enthusiastically about Vashon; other times I quietly reflect upon island moments with a reverence usually reserved for love letters.
Sure, not everyone swoons over living on “The Rock.” This place can be a prison for some and a sanctuary for others. Peering over the fence as a will-be geezer, I embrace the latter perspective. Seattle was a fine fling in my 20s, 30s and even 40s; the city lavished me with the indulgences of youth, but now I can’t keep up (and I tend to get lost). And besides, Seattle’s just not that into me anymore. The city’s moved on, and I wish her well.
Vashon is truly home, and while “Keep Vashon Weird” is a funny bumper sticker, the island is much more than that. Rest assured, our well for the weird will never go dry, so my bumper sticker choice would be “Keep Vashon Neighborly.” I’d add “and Welcoming,” but that (like me) would be too verbose.
We live in a place where the natural beauty is blinding, and you’d think that would be enough. But what makes “the heart of Puget Sound” special is the heart of its people. I live on an island where a local business took their entire staff to Europe because they could, where you can’t toss a harmonica without hitting a musician, where a nod on the street gets a friendly, “hello,” where farmers share their bounty roadside, where generous donors support island needs, where orca sightings turn us all into giddy children and where the potluck is a time-honored tradition and high art form.
I like where I live. I like the folks I call my friends and neighbors. I enjoy the kindness of strangers, the tellers of old stories, the smiles on familiar faces and the willingness of Vashon folks to welcome those who come to our shores.
May Vashon never become a place of “us” and “them,” but remain a destination where the question of, “Where are you from?” elicits a conversation, not a distance.
For each day we all face challenges, quietly carrying the burdens of worry, sadness, loss or letdown with us like spare change in our pockets. While some pockets are more laden than others, rattling and jingling with each step, I venture to say we all share empathy and kinship in wanting to make things better, not only for ourselves, but for others. That is what I love about Vashon Island and that to me is what makes it a special. We are an island family. Some of us may have more seniority and bragging rights, but we all have a place around the table.
I penned the following piece for The Vashon Beachcomber, as my Op-Ed regarding keeping Vashon Island neighborly and welcoming even in the midst of growth and change. No place is perfect, but we all seek a measure of where we can feel whole, loved and at home. May we each find such a place in our hearts and minds, and if fortunate enough, also down the block, around the corner, and in the everyday. Thanks for visiting my friends.