A few months ago, some good friends of ours decided to pack up their farm in Wisconsin and move back to the Northwest for a taste of life in the San Juan Islands of Washington. Looking for a place where they could have a simple and sustainable lifestyle, they discovered Waldron Island, a small island north of Orcas Island. Waldron isn't accessable by ferry and the community living on the island has eschewed opening the island to the type of tourism rife on the larger San Juan Islands. Our friends visited Waldron mid-winter of this year and by April were living in a small cabin with no running water or electricity. They people they had met on the island (some with young kids similar in age to their girls) were living the way they had envisioned, so they decided to give Waldron a try for a year. Personally, we were excited to have them living back on the West coast and to get to visit them in their new home.
We were fortunate enough to get a ride out to Waldron from the Orcas Island ferry dock from a neighbor of theirs who was making a run on his boat to Orcas to deliver some freshly pressed apple cider. Soon after we delivered the cargo (and tangled with the marina owner who was unhappy about deliveries being made on his dock without permission) we were stepping out onto a sandy beach and being greeted by our friends. This was the beach and house of the neighbor and we took a short trip down the dirt road to our friend's home.
On the way, we dropped our things at our lodging -- a one room cabin that our friend Eric was the caretaker of.
The cabin was filled with light and looked out on the water and was a magical place to spend our evenings. The owner of the cabin had been a woman named Bitte Baer who was a longtime resident of Waldron. The families that inherited the cabin don't live on the island so we were lucky enough to inhabit it for our visit.
We spent most of our time at the other cabin our friends were renting. Jamie cooked all of our meals on a wood burning stove, occasionally lamenting how difficult it was to cook certain items like rice. I gained a serious appreciation for our electric stove at home, especially when craving a cup of tea. The cabin was airy and cozy and you didn't really miss the electricity so much until the dark rolled in at night and it felt easier just to go to bed than to stay up and read by candlelight.
Our first full day on the island was spent helping another neighbor press apples into cider on his farm. Many people on the island grow apples, some for export to other islands and famer's markets, others just for their own use. The family we were helping used their orchard for their own use and canned the cider to drink all year long. They were growing dozens of varieties of apples and pears and had some stories to tell about certain ones that grew well and others that didn't. The kids enjoyed washing the fruit before the pressing and getting to have mugs of cider fresh off of the press.
As for getting around on the island, we all biked and carried the kids in bike trailers. This allowed us to navigate the island pretty well. Waldron is about 4 miles across and has about 500 feet elevation gain on the Mountain road, so bikes are ideal modes of travel. The roads are all dirt and not frequented by very many vehicles. After the cider pressing we hopped on bikes and had a picnic at the schoolhouse. The school on Waldron runs through 8th grade then graduates either move to a more populated island or to the mainland. One of the familes we met was preparing to leave with their kids and move to Seattle so the girls could start high school. I could only imagine the culture shock of starting high school in Seattle when one is accustomed to a small, island school.
We quietly passed the rest of our visit exploring the beaches and meeting residents of Waldron. We were invited to dinner at the beach with Jamie and Eric's neighbor and their family. Jonas and the other kids played "otter family" with some of the friends while we enjoyed visiting with locals and hearing about their experiences on Waldron and what brought them out to live on the island. The weather was perfect and I could see the draw of wanting to live in a beautiful and remote place.
The day before we left, we biked up to a Nature Conservancy trail that runs out to the bluff at Point Disney. The bluff offers a great view of the islands and a chance to look down a very steep cliff.
Our time on Waldron seemed special since we watched Jonas change into a more social and interactive kid during our visit. He enjoyed creative play with the girls and talking with the adults. He also overcame his adversity to beach sand and walked all morning barefoot on a rocky and sandy beach. He climbed, biked, ran and hiked with joy and enthusiasm. It is exciting to watch this area of his development.
Whether our friends will settle on Waldron remains to be seen. We have a feeling that the first winter on the island will be a test of sorts. They are moving into a more modern house, with a propane stove and solar power, which will be nice in the dark winter. Nick and I agree that we are not island people ourselves and like the ability to roam and explore a greater geographic area. Still, we were charmed by the beauty of Waldron and the simple pace of life that exisits there. If Jamie and Eric do stay, we will certainly be back to visit. Maybe this time with our Kayak in tow.