Vashon Island: One Day I Drifted Ashore…

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A Washington State ferry plying the protected waters of Puget Sound on its way to Vashon Island.

Discovering Vashon Island

Journeys rarely make sense and mine is no exception. Lucky for me, I drifted ashore on Vashon Island, a sweet spot moored in the middle of Puget Sound, home to the quirky, the kind, and the unabashedly laid back. A stunning ferry ride from West Seattle or Tacoma, Vashon Island is just inconvenient enough to deter the impatient and cultivate the eccentric.

Washington state ferry sunset
A February sunset takes its final bow over Vashon Island.

The Vashon Island chapter of my story began many years ago. As a first time visitor, I dug my toes into the sand of a west-side shore on a fine summer day in the company of good friends. My drink chilled by an incoming tide, my heart warmed by an outpouring of island charm, I was smitten. Our tall tales and laughter echoed down the beach and followed the sun’s descent to the farthest reaches of the Olympic range. The onset of dusk could not quell the hospitality of the day, so a starry night sky took over the next watch. Chill, darkness and decorum were no match for the fun we were having; the revelry continued until the last ferry called.

Dockton Harbor on a sunny summer day.

Surrounded by the beauty of nature, embraced by the richness of friendship and pampered by the gift of abundance, I succumbed to Vashon’s spell that day, setting in motion years of incurable daydreams about my future island life. I was to return again and again, knowing one day I would reverse the direction of my ferry route and call this special place home.

As a local fixture (actually everyone’s a local fixture here), I love Vashon for what it is not: an island impressed with pretense. Dressed-up is a shirt with a collar and no coffee stains. A flat tire is just another way to make friends. A puzzled look in the produce aisle will get you five recipes and a dinner invitation. Hip is a term we reserve for other ferry routes.

Porsche Tractor Vashon Island
Friendliness never goes out of style.

Vashon is an island where no bumper is safe from an sticky quip, where unicorn decals and dream catchers festoon cars with greater frequency than smashed bugs, where power outages fuel friendships and Scrabble games by candlelight, where a nice ride is any vehicle with a muffler and a seat belt, and where the potluck is a time-honored tradition and high art form.

Living on an island does have its challenges, but it also has its rewards, revealing special moments that speak to the kinship of isolation and the camaraderie of everyone being in and on the same boat, so to speak.

While commuting by ferry creates bottlenecks and travel headaches, it also fosters a bond, an unspoken appreciation that someone else shares your round-trip seagoing odyssey, relative isolation and desire to enjoy this seaside Arcadia. Smiles and nods to strangers one day yield the like from those you now called friends.

At times when I’ve returned to Vashon after a long day in a less-welcoming place, I stand on the bow of the car deck for a wake-up call from the sea and sky, a salt spray slap that refreshes me better than any bracing aftershave. The ferry continues to clip along, occasionally stuttering below deck with chugs, rumbles and vibrations unique to the vessel. I savor the simple joy of nearing the island and watching the Olympic Mountains grow before my eyes, seizing the horizon and my imagination each time.

A 1919 journal entry found in my old farmhouse reveals an earlier resident was hooked as well, stating, “As a home place, there is no more pleasant or satisfactory location on Puget Sound.” I couldn’t agree more and extend my appreciation to the hand and heart who shared those words and these walls close to 100 years ago and no doubt pondered his or her own homecoming.

Vashon Island farmhouse with bunting for the fourth of july
Home sweet home, gussied up for the Fourth of July

Vashon has been called The Heart of Puget Sound, a moniker as much about disposition as location. And not surprisingly as an island and a community, we wear our hearts right on our sleeves, sleeves that are well-worn and well worn, fashioned from threads that may dapple in tie-dye or be spun into pinstripe; be covered by a motorcycle jacket or trimmed in lace. The Heart of Puget Sound may follow its own beat, but the pulse is always one of welcome and delight for those lucky enough to drift ashore here.

Thank you for visiting Tall Clover Farm, from Tom

Bulldogs in the hammockAnd big love from Gracie and Boz, too!

 

This post was originally written for Destination Vashon, 2011

46 COMMENTS

  1. Well, there you go!! Now you have done it! I have been to Vancouver and the Island and loved every minute. I have been to Seattle and loved it. By your description, I might have “missed the boat” by not going to Vashon Island. Now, I really, really want to visit!!

  2. It does sound like heaven on earth; and after perusing the Destination Vashon clip, you have got a coffee roastery with Italian beans and a massage parlor on the island: it IS heaven on earth!

  3. There are many who spend their entire lives looking for “Utopia” and you’ve found yours. Honestly Tom…how lucky are you! As important, how lucky are we that you’re willing to share it with us.

  4. SOLD!!! I am oringinally from Port Orchard, WA and currently reside in San Diego, CA. My husabnd and I have been throwing around the idea of possibly moving to the NW or Northern Cali. I think you just swayed us with your lovely article. We are coming up next week and now I can’t wait to get on a ferry, always a nostalgic highlight for me. Thanks for another great post, I always look forward to the next one.

  5. Pure poetry, Tom. You do have a way with words. The last time I was on Vashon Island, I was 19 years old…needless to say, that was a while ago. I think I must return to see it again, through wiser eyes now.

  6. What a wonderful tribute to island life, my sentiments exactly. Our dress codes are much the same! We just had our Salmon Days yesterday, you must attend it some year!
    Sandi on neighboring Anderson Is.

  7. My family moved to Vashon in Dockton in the summer of 1954 and I have not been off much since- I must say you description is like a lifer- you really REALLY get it! Love your writing you said exactly what I think, thanks!!!

  8. Tom,

    Wow! Vashon Island life reminds me how great it
    was growing up here 50 yrs ago. The people were
    great and caring,helpful neighbors,you could actually leave your keys in your car and toys and bikes could be left in the front of your house and
    would be there the next day! Alas those days are
    gone and the good people move on… You have the “Mayberry” I loved so! I love your house it
    looks like it could be in a movie! And the decorations look great! Happy Fourth of July!!!

  9. Sounds like my kind of place…you’re giving me dreams of what may someday be!

    BTW…love the holiday decorations…your house looks so festive and welcoming!

  10. This is a gorgeous story. It sounds like your heart and mind are really open to and engaged with Vashion Island. I don’t think that’s very common for most people in most places. You’re very lucky.

  11. How fortunate you are to call Vashon Island home. I think we’re all looking for a place like that in our hearts — you were able to realize your dream.

  12. no – i did not…classy. I’m pining for my own farm equipment. Pop has an old international with a bucket and Uncle Billy has a new Holland (Ford). I designed the barn…that’s somethin’

  13. Oh, Tom. You’re going to get people showing up on your door step any day now. I love the new “recently posted” feature. Brilliant. It makes me want to post.

  14. I’ll trade you Islands. I live on Gabriola. Great read. Thank-you for that. I stumbled onto your strawberry-rhubarb jam recipe and was interested to find I do it much the same way. I used 6 cups rhubarb to 2 cups strawberries cook with 3/4 c. each of white/brown sugar, 1/4 cup agave, and ten springs of mint blended in 1/3 cup maple syrup. It’s more like a preserve I guess. I love to cook. Blessings, Lee.

  15. Lee that sounds pretty wonderful, like the idea of the mint leaves. I’ve used rosemary once or twice with fine results. I hear Gabriola is a little slice of heaven in the Gulf Islands. Here’s to your paradise!

  16. dont know what I can say that other haven’t. OMGosh, I’am so ready to have that life style. I’am a midwest girl but my dreams of Alaska and now ur beautiful Island make me want to chuck it all and move on. but alas,the people I love are here, so I will live thru ur wonderful writing..please keep posting, u are a awsome writer…HAPPY AUTUMN..

    • Sheri, so glad to make your acquaintance and thanks for your kind words. I used to live in Alaska, and it’s a magical place from the misty fjords of SE Alaska to the stark interior. Here’s to your dream, you’ll make it to Alaska, and the beauty and power of our 49th will captivate you. Here’s to the best of both worlds, living with those you love and escaping to a new adventure every once in while.

  17. Tom–Thanks for a lovely reflection. While I love my farm in Maine, I was feeling a bit homesick for the island, and your post was just the sweet tidbit I needed to nourish my nostalgia.

    My grandfather was born on the island and I grew up there as well. My parents still live there–my mother and her best friend run Calico Gardens and sell their bouquets by the side of the road. I could never afford island land myself, but I settled in a town with a similar balance of art, farms, and quirkiness. Say hello to the island for me!

    • Hi Mainecelt, so glad to make your acquaintance; I know of your Mother’s Flower stand well. Her daily roadside floral additions put a smile on my face each time I drive by. I read a Maine blog, you make be interested in. A lovely family and their daily lives, beautifully written: http://www.fourgreenacres.com/ . Take care, stay warm and perhaps our paths will cross on your next visit to Vashon.

  18. What a great read. I found that carrot salad and there was the german warm and the Waldorf, all my favourites and all in one place.

    The story of your home is sweet. And, Hammocks, oh my, a true joy.

    I have run away to the West Coast twice and end up back on the far East coast of Canada; Newfoundland. The description of that land brings back memories of loveliness and ease. Heavy sigh. Thanks

  19. Found this site while looking for ways to stake pole beans, after deciding to fence against rabbits and build raised beds and test my seaside soil. And there’s that friendly face–closer to my Seattle-based daughter than I am. Is he married? Gay? So happy in his life he never looks outward for a female friend/complement? I understand autonomy and independence and happy days. Can’t help wondering what the man dropped out from, and what life of the mind he enjoys as he does his land-husbandry life style. This is my day be bold (and cart compost). Virtual hosting is a lifestyle in itself, I suppose.

  20. Well Tom, your words brought tears to my eyes. I spent the bulk of my formative years on Vashon and have so many fond memories. Sailing. Ferry rides. Hitchhiking. Imagining myself an explorer as I played in the solitary woods, certain no feet had ever trod the earth I was discovering. Berry picking. Clam digging. Rebelling. First loves.
    My mother was friends with Blanche Caffiere, who lived on Burton beach and swam in that icy water every day. Blanche wrote a memoir about growing up friends with Betty MacDonald. What a flood of memories surround just that one relationship.
    Thanks for the trip. I have since lived in Hawaii and Alaska (where I have made my home for the past 19 years) and the sound of seagulls and smell of salt air still tug at my heartstrings and remind me of the idyllic home of my youth.

  21. Hi Bebe, what a wonderful place to grow up and your words had me wishing I could say the same. So glad you paid me a visit today. Here’s to the beauty of your home now; as a former resident of Juneau and Anchorage I can vouch for that. Well wishes and safe travels. Thank you. Tom

  22. Hello Tom and all your fans, I am new to this life style here in Mangawhai, northland New Zealand.
    we are well into spring here and my daffodils have finished their show this season and I was looking to see what i could do to encourage for next year, bingo I found you all sounds great in your part of the world, kind regards Steve

    • Hi Steve, thanks for the comments. I’ve always heard how beautiful New Zealand is. I’m sure spring time is especially pretty. Thanks for visiting! Tom

  23. This is a place I only can dream about visiting. I live in CT. My dream is to live the rest of my days in a place where time moves easy and people move slow, where tea, coffee and dinner are enjoyed everyday not just on special occasions.

    • Mayra, thanks for the comments and the visit. I’m sure you will find such a place, one that holds magic for you each day. It only took me 50 years 😉 Warm regards, Tom

  24. I found you by way of a pin of your garden fountain on Pinterest–absolute genius. I have a lot of the materials already. Vashon sounds like a utopia. Now I am going to set about exploring your site and see what other brilliance I can borrow. Thanks, peace and grace to you.

  25. Tom, have you ever visited the Betty Macdonald farm on Vashon? She’s my all-time favorite author (sorry, Shakespeare!), and this farm where she once lived looks so beautiful and peaceful. BTW, I grew up in Issaquah, but now live in Utah. I’ve been here 20 years, but still long to for my native Washington state every day.

    There are only 10 things on my stuff-to-do-before-I-kick-the-bucket list, and one of them is to stay at the B&B on Betty’s farm, sans beloved husband and kids, so I can soak up the nostalgic quiet and write to my heart’s content. You’re so blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth!

    • Amy, your words are lovely reminders of what I may sometimes take for granted (but not too often, I hope). The Betty MacDonald Farm is owned by my friend Judith and she’s wonderful. She rents out a couple cabins on the property and this wonderful barn loft appointed with comfy antiques, books and art, with a commanding view of the Sound and Mt. Rainier. Not sure if you’ve seen her link to the B&B: http://www.bettymacdonaldfarm.com Here’s to your dreams coming true, both big and small! Let me know if you’re ever on the island. Cheers, Tom

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