|SAN JUAN II |
on her rounds with passengers, mail and freight
in the San Juan Islands.
Courtesy of Charles Torgerson family.
Fancy going into the galley of a big boat––even of the SOLDUC––and preparing one's own breakfast! Every time I travel on a small island-boat I teeter between delight at the friendly, informal, unbusinesslike atmosphere on it and fear that it won't last. If ever the islands become so populous that big, important, immaculate, impersonal boats fill their waters I shall join that throng of people who bewail the passing of the good old days. When I begin to sigh and whine that the golden island days are over and travel on the boats no longer any fun, you'll know I've grown old, too. For, of course, the golden days of every person is when he is most keenly aware of the romance and adventure and delights about him.
I think John Burroughs began at 20 to live with zest; he lived all his life long as if things were all right in his world. I know a woman who used to live in the San Juan Islands. She is 72, now. White her hair is and not very robust her body. But 'Cousin Polly' Butterworth enjoys every single day of her life nor has ever been heard to speak with a shade of criticism of the maligned younger generation. She loves codfish now as if it were a special thrilling adventure to catch and cook and eat one. Still enjoys the boats and the leisurely ways of the islands.
She is gone now from the gray farmhouse like a seagull perched in its little bay, and lonely the farm looks without her and her white-headed fat little 'Fayther,' as she called her husband in quaint Lancashire dialect, both of them full of fun and vitality. We used to row over there two or three times a week, partly for the cheer of their friendship, partly for the delicious canned veal and fresh vegetables and homemade bread and butter we had there, for our homesteading days were lean days of real hunger. It isn't so nice to come back home and find great holes where friends used to fit so warmly!
Down, and down, and down the passes, the world of islands flowing off toward the horizon all around. Nowhere else, surely, is there so magnificent a sea freckled with such beautiful verdant islands! Nowhere else in America. Where, then?
Mr. Gamwell, reminiscing one day, said that in 'the good old days' of sailing boats they used to go all the way around Shaw Island without wind. The tide would take them half around and the backwash around the corners would carry them the rest of the way around, though one wonders what they wanted to go all the way around for, anyhow!
There are very few deciduous trees in the islands. Here all is green. Great soft madronas in masses, their red bark glistening, their brittle limbs heavy with orange and tan berries. Firs six feet through and an occasional ancient cedar, tall and straight and beautiful. A world of alder and willow and on some of the islands a great many hoary old oaks with twisted moss-hung limbs.
Such a swarm of islands as there are! On the chart they look few enough with wide waters between. But when one is among them, they crowd in close, the channels 'scrunching'' up to give them room. Through Pole Pass between Crane and Orcas islands. Charlie Hammond, an old friend, lived on Crane in our homesteading days. He is gone now and his old crony, Mr. Crafts, gone too. Mr. Crafts lived on Orcas on his own little place that he sold before his death to Mr. Brehms. Now it is well groomed and fair. But I miss the old log house at whose fireplace I've sat and talked of 'far things and philosophies.' Over that fireplace the old fellow had nailed aluminum letters fashioning the phrase: 'Oh what fools these mortals be,' that of course placed him in the ranks of the aged. A cantankerous, lovable, learned old man was Mr. Crafts. We loved him well and mourn his passing. For he was the first friend we made in the islands.
On up into Deer Harbor with Turtleback rising behind. Mrs. Norton's flock of cottages on the hill grows every season. How I'd love to stop and have dinner with her today! Hard-working, brave, cheery Mrs. Norton, the leader and backbone of her tribe.
Up the channel between Jones Island and Orcas to the steep walls of Waldron. George says that every man on the island comes to meet all the boats and that if one is missing they know he is sick. Then across the wide level acres to Prevost on Stewart Island. I cooked dinner of spuds, corn on the cob, canned beans, steak and gravy. How good things taste from a high narrow shelf-like table in a tiny galley on a little boat, the marvelous fresh sea winds whetting the appetite even as you appease it––we are at Prevost––almost home!
See you tomorrow. June."
Text from Puget Soundings by June Burn 1929.