January 17, 2008
Early morning waters.
On Monday I ventured off-island as it’s called here, and went over to the mainland for a mundane dentist appointment in Bellingham. The ferry ride takes just short of two hours to reach Anacortes, with stops at other islands along the way, and the crossing is followed by a 40 minute drive east and then north. Throw in the mandatory ferry line wait time at both ends of the day, and it’s about a seven hour round trip. Normally, my first comment would be “good incentive to floss more.” However as you can see from my photos, the commute is nothing short of magical. Rather than being a deterrent, it’s something to look forward to.
On the occasions when the boat traveling from Friday Harbor to Anacortes originates just over the border in British Columbia, all passengers must clear U.S. Customs. As a U.S. citizen leaving the U.S. and arriving in the U.S., the first time I had to do this felt quite bizarre, and I immediately understood why locals call leaving the San Juans, “going to America.” It’s sometimes a little bit like no-man’s land here: not quite Canada, despite sharing their archipelago, and still not feeling entirely attached to the United States, despite our passports, license plates, voter registrations and love of Netflix subscriptions.
In contrast to this geography of independence, since moving here I’ve met more true American patriots and activists than I had in a long time in Los Angeles. An unusually large percentage of our small full-time population (hovering somewhere around 6,000 on this island) deeply care about the planet, about this country, and about their neighbors, and best of all, they get involved. The amount of philanthropic and community supporting activities in Friday Harbor is heartwarming, and someone without a busy career can make quite a busy one just from local participation. There must be a hundred organizations and groups one could join, serving every concern imaginable except, from what I’ve seen, the desperate need for a good Indian restaurant (someone, please help! I need my fix).
San Juan County, like the majority of Washington State, is Democratic (although many Democrats here also label themselves in part anywhere from Libertarian to Socialist to Progressive), and the last Democratic Caucus had a turnout of over 500 people. Even more are expected at the upcoming Caucus on February 9. This is an astounding percentage, considering that not everyone on this island is a Democrat, or of voting age. Voter turnout is equally impressive; I’m told it’s about the highest in the whole state. Small island, big voice! Proportionately, at least.
Do more intimate environments such as this one naturally attract people who care enough to get involved? Is the relative lack of anonymity a trigger for speaking out and trying to effect change? Does being detached from the mainland give islanders a sharper perch perspective? Will fish tikka and palak paneer every make it to Friday Harbor? Next ferry ride, these questions will give me something to chew on.