Of Cities and Fields

I grew up in the country and I love the quiet, the peace and the wide open spaces. But cities still thrill me with their unexpected surprises around every turn, the hum of humanity with a shared sense of purpose (to the trains! Waiting for dinner! Standing at the bus stop!). I don’t think I could ever chose between the two, nor could I deem one better than the other. I think both are necessary, not only for a progressive civilization, but for diversity of experiences and understanding.

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Rural Kittitas county

It’s a common theme to set up this false dilemma between city and country life. It doesn’t need to be a choice, nor should we argue that one surpasses the other because of some more worthy frame of reference one can build in either location. The toughness of a do-it-yourself rural citizen is equal to the gritty determination of a city-born hourly wage earner. But it is true that a city is lost without the fields of agriculture the rural life provides; and a remote region requires the technology of cities for communication and connection to the rest of the world. Neither can exist, and provide their citizens with the rich experiences of the world, without the other.

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Downtown, San Francisco

When I daydream about the places I want to see in the world, fully half are cities and the other half are remote open spaces. Madrid and the Atacama desert. Paris and the Okavango delta. Hong Kong and Tasmania. They both draw me in, for reasons beyond my own understanding. Maybe it’s because my soul is never truly content in one setting, and must always be searching for a new one. Or maybe just the idea of greener pastures elsewhere.

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Outback, Australia

No matter the reason, I’ll continue my travels to both cities and fields; metropolises teeming with life and plains with nothing on the horizon but hills; urban sprawls and rural back roads. Together, they knit together a life filled with wonder and wandering.

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Winter in Vashon

I have a love-hate relationship with Washington’s Puget Sound region. On the one hand (let’s say, summer) it’s absolutely beautiful. I can say with confidence that it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. There are few major metropolitan cities that sit alongside island-dotted waterways with a backdrop of snow-capped mountain ranges and a variety of volcanoes. On the other hand (let’s say, winter) the gray skies and buckets of rain make me want to run away to to the the middle latitudes every other minute. Seriously.

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The Olympic mountains tower over the water and provide a perfect sunset silhouette.

But even in the winter, there are always a few stretches of days with perfectly clear skies, bright sun and sparkling water. It’s on these kinds of days that I load up my camera gear and lunch and head out to explore the region. This winter I headed to the ferry terminal to checkout one of our region’s most noted attractions: The San Juan Islands. Specifically, Vashon Island.

Vashon is a large island in the southern end of Puget Sound, squarely between Tacoma and Seattle and a short 20 minute ferry ride from either. Washington state ferries are also something of a treasure. I’d hate to have to ride one daily as a commuter, but for the weekend adventurer they are the pause before the rush. A 20 minute or 1 hour road-side stopover where you have the best view of the city, the mountains, Mt. Rainier (our friendly local volcano) and the water. If you’re really lucky, some dolphins or even Orca whales will join you. And you don’t even have to get out of the car if you don’t want to. But if you do, the outdoor decks provide a refreshing (if frigid) blast of ocean air as you pass other ferries, freighters and pleasure cruisers as they crisscross the Sound.

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Ferries criss-cross each other’s paths in the waters of the Puget Sound.

I had no real goal for the day except to wind my way across the island by getting lost as much as possible. One can only get so lost on an island – eventually you end up where you started. The short winter days also meant I had a limited amount of daylight to enjoy the island.

Getting lost was the perfect antidote to an all-too-hectic year, and I was lucky enough to stumble upon one of the most picturesque lighthouses on the most crystal clear of days. The Point Robinson lighthouse serves as a beacon on the easternmost point of the island, facing the urban density of the Seattle/Tacoma corridor that’s maybe five miles away as the crow flies. That five miles may as well be 1,000 as the pace of life on little Vashon is a respite of scenic calm that thankfully only takes 20 minutes and one ferry to find.

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Point Robinson lighthouse, Vashon Island, Washington.