Ah, island living and all that goes along with it. There are the obvious idealized benefits: a sense of community, leaving your doors unlocked, waving to passersby, and living a more relaxed lifestyle. But working at The San Juan Island Inn Collection and living 15 miles out to sea has afforded me some wonderful personal benefits as well. Benefits I count as blessings and reap the rewards from because I live in the town of Friday Harbor — population 2,400. Here are 10 reasons that living on an island is right for me:
1. Crowds and Excess Noise Can Overwhelm Me
One thing I’m reminded of the second I step off the ferry onto the mainland, is that I live in a relatively quiet place. Not much time has to pass before more noise and lots of people produce a nervous hum in my body. I used to find the hubbub exhilarating — fast walking and fast traffic were like a rush of adrenaline coursing through my veins, like Red Bull spiked with Mountain Dew. Island life – at least mine – is all about walking two blocks to work, watching the sun rise over Warbass Way Marina, and blissful nights of clear skies filled with stars. This solitude sets my soul right and keeps me balanced.
2. I Am an Advanced Planner by Nature
While I’ve had my impetuous moments over the years (moving to places far from friends and family being one of them). In general, I like to organize my life for future success. This bodes well for living on a rock in the middle of the Salish Sea because I simply can’t get anything here in a hurry. Planning ahead has become a necessity if I don’t want to find myself stuck without toilet paper or olive oil. During the winter months, this is even more pronounced as our main grocery store closes early and isn’t open on Sundays. Hoarding. Hoarding is now my sport of choice. Please don’t tell anyone.
3. I’ve Always Been a Gypsy and a Rebel
I love that I meet all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, both in my work and just around town. As a landlubber, I was more self-conscience about my carefree lifestyle. I often felt the need to explain my out-of-the-box ideas about what The American Dream meant to me. Island life is different. Rich and not-so-rich live side by side, share counter space at the local restaurants, and find that it’s okay to can peaches, keep chickens, and let your weeds grow. It’s not quite “anything goes” here on San Juan Island — but it’s pretty close.
4. I Don’t Like Feeling Anonymous
There are certain types who like to blend into the crowd. I am not one of them. I like being recognized as a local at my bank or brought a new wine to try at the restaurant down the street. I want to go where everybody knows my name (and my dog Iggy’s name too)! Being an innkeeper also helps with this as I get to be on a first name basis with guests — some of whom become friends for life. Having a Friday Harbor profile is okay with me!
5. I am Most Happy in Nature
Water and wind. Sun and rain. Deer and fox. Eagles and whales. Pine and Madrona trees. Nothing beats being surrounded by nature on all sides. A five minute drive from my house leads to a driftwood beach. A 10 minute drive gets me to the Roche Harbor trail system. Fifteen minutes — South Beach and Mount Finlayson. In 20 minutes, I can stand on the rocky coast of Lime Kiln State Park watching the sunset while looking for otters and Orcas. Nothing clears brain clutter like a brisk breeze or the smell of brine — and I get these in abundance on San Juan Island.
6. Pervasive Technology Irks Me
Call me crazy, but watching 12-year-olds mindlessly staring at cell phones gets under my skin. Of course they do that here too, but it does seem less so. Who needs screen time when you have crabbing and hiking at your doorstep? So, it doesn’t bother me that cell coverage just isn’t as good (welcome to Canada!), or that cable television is intermittent. Who cares about the last Game of Thrones episode when I can sit in my backyard hammock until 10pm at night? Who needs Google Home when I don’t need to lock my doors? It’s a bit like stepping back in time. You just learn to take a breath and take it slow.
7. I Like That I am the Biggest Land Predator
I’m someone who likes to get out on a trail and be alone with myself (with trusty Iggy by my side, of course). But hiking in the forests on the mainland always comes with the slight fear of having to fend off a cougar attack. Not so here on predator-free San Juan Island! Our biggest worries are shy foxes, tame deer that eat our gardens, and large birds of prey like bald eagles and owls that circle overhead or sit in trees. This makes solo outings to Young Hill or other destinations a joy and worry-free. Living here has allowed me to trade in my bear spray for binoculars and a camera!
8. I Am an Overbuying Shopaholic Who Needs Limits
I’m weak. When I do cross to the big landmass to the east every three or four months, it’s easy to feel like I need, NEED every cookie at Trader Joes and every pair of shoes at REI. New Merrell hikers? Why not! An umbrella with penguins? So cute! Fondue pot? Duh? I mean, if I don’t buy these things when I get the chance, they might not be there when I come back. Living in a place where the majority of my shopping takes place online takes away the fun that someone like me has when I can touch the merchandise. But, luckily, it also curbs my enthusiasm for shopping … and I guess that’s a good thing?
9. I Don’t Like to Drive
For most of my adult life, I have not owned a car. Yes, my name is on the registration of our current vehicle and I do sometimes get behind the wheel. But living on an island where I can walk to almost everything I do is amazing. There are periods when our Mountaineer literally collects pollen and I only start it up to haul over-sized objects or head to a beach or trail head. It forces me to “get my exercise” whether it’s a trip to the salon or dinner in town. Plus, there’s another blessing that going mostly car-free offers:
10. I Get to Help the Environment
From saving on gas to emitting less exhaust, there are residual benefits that help my planet and my neighbors by driving less and walking more.
This isn’t the first time I have opted to live in a remote location. In my early 20s, I moved to a little chalet on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe for a ski season. A few years later I worked on a fishing boat in the Bering Sea. The year after we were married, Patrick and I lived out of a 23- foot renovated RV and camped on mountain tops and deserts. Now I live on a rock that protrudes from the Salish Sea in the upper left corner of the United States. These periods have been punctuated with time spent in major cities: Seattle, New York, Santa Fe. But with each metropolitan experience comes the pull of the quiet life. A life where I can take deep breaths of fresh air — far from the drudgery of a long commute or 9-to-5 work life.
They say…”Wherever you go, there you are.” I am here now, in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington. And I am blessed.