oh, san juans, your riches beckon
your wealth, your beauty calls
your waveless, salty waters blue
my heart since childhood draws
your waters lap at darkened rock
'round islands, bays and inlets fill
with returning salmon teeming
your breaking waters thrill
your tide, oh ever river changing
charges muddy oyster flats
your thriving pods of orca leap
o'er spray in mid-air acrobats
from seabed swift, cold and deep
the lushness of your green hills rise
your sun falls fleet like shooting star
your sparkling waters mesmerize
sailing craft from ’neath horizon
angels spread their wings of color
skirt your shoals and ply your straits
find safety anchored in your harbors
oh, san juans, your wonder waits
your treasure and your magic calls
your waveless, crystal waters blue
my heart since youth still draws
calls me to return each year
to dip my paddle deep
when life averts the journey there
in dreams you beckon while i sleep
Twice in my early childhood my family vacationed in the San Juan Islands. I say vacationed, when it was really to visit some of the dear church folk that supported my parent’s missionary work; but to me it felt like a vacation to another world!
I recall being smitten by its ruggedness and remoteness, the enchantment of each island we passed; a world where a wave-less, salty, blue ocean laps the dark rock of the many bays and inlets of green forested islands; and the novelty that a ferry was the only way we could make the trip. I remember exploring the tide pools with my brothers. I remember crabbing with our father and gathering oysters from the rocky shores of Orcas Island. I remember shucking oysters and our father frying them, something that outside this experience we rarely saw him do. I remember fishing for flounder and cooking them up on the grill back at camp. I recall a time when we landed a pregnant ocean perch instead. Were we ever surprised to see her give birth to a few dozen live babies among the floor boards of our little dinghy! We scooped up as many as we could reach and released them back to the ocean along with their mother. One catch for thirty; a catch to remember for an 12 year old and a good lesson on the cycle of life.
As I grew old enough to understand where this enchanted world was I determined to return. Once married I made it a mission to share the beauty of the San Juan Islands with Becky and our children. Our first visit back to the islands as a family was back in the late 1980's; she and I and our three sons. Today, my children remember it for many of the same things I recall thinking as a child- they remember its rugged beauty, the adventure we took as a family, and yes, the novelty of the ferry ride across a waveless, salty, blue ocean.
We’ve returned many times since then, and each time we’ve explored a little deeper and farther, and still we have yet to find an end to its richness. Nowadays it's mostly just my wife and I; our tandem kayak accompanies us on the ferry ride over and begs for the taste of blue water and the hunt for a glimpse of one of the resident pods of Orca. On one particular paddle, while enjoying what we call a sunset cruise (a kayak paddle in summer twilight) out on Haro Strait, searching for Orca we didn’t find that night, we instead were mesmerized by a rather spectacular sunset and as she set she became a star, giving us front row seats to a star show. You’ll see in black and white on my home page banner what was a stunning show.
I wonder sometimes, if we lived among the islands, would its enchantment fade? I’d like to think not. For us, like a pilgrimage back to yesteryear, the San Juan Islands of Washington’s Salish Sea, a place that never fades or grows old.