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.

 

Sequim by the Sea

I traveled to this small town by the sea more times than I could count in the last two decades. It was my grandfather’s home, and it required traversing a mountain pass, navigating a city and setting sail on a ferry just to get there. But in this place between the Olympic Mountains and the Straight of Juan de Fuca he was at home, and he loved it.

A view across Sequim Bay to Mt. Baker

My last trip to Sequim, WA was quite different. This time, Gramps came with us in a small plastic box as we traveled out to sea. With few words and a swirl of milky-white water, our family carried out his final wishes on a cloudless, perfect day.

It takes more time to grieve a loss than I imagined after his quiet death, no matter how expected or relieving that death may be. But this little town will always be there to remind me of the life he lived, how much he mattered to me and what we shared in spirit. And so I wrote:

Sequim By the Sea

A gentle breeze

A silent rocking

That thin strip of land that

juts out to sea.

It was here he made his home,

where mountains meet water

and rain turns to sunshine.

The light is cast in lavender

and time makes its way

slowly down the horizon

to the rhythm of the ticking clock.

The place that knew him best,

and now a place to rest.