Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands




Without personal context, you may look upon this image as a bit blah. Photographically it has no clear subject. Without an explanatory caption you would likely pass over this shot for something more exciting, impressive or artistic.

Like all of us, I’ve taken pictures that have personal significance to me, tied to a memory that I alone have squirreled away. You have photos in boxes or on your computer in the same vein associated with an event, either in solitude or shared with others. Were you to show that photo to one of those others, they’d say,”Oh, yeah, I remember that day…” and off you two would go on a jaunt down memory lane.

To me it’s amazing how our brains store these bits and pieces (avoiding the scientific terminology.) And it’s sad how Alzheimer’s disease can rob us of those bits and if we’re lucky, leave a few pieces.

So, with this scene, I recall when I first moved to San Juan Island 41 years ago. I had brought my first real boat, a 24 foot converted lifeboat cruiser, up from Oregon. The plan had been to motor down the Columbia and perhaps up the coast with the dream of emulating Vancouver’s path as he and his crew, aboard the Discovery and Chatham, sailed past our islands on his way towards discovering Puget Sound. (Of course I mean ‘discovered’ in a European context, as the Native Americans had ‘discovered’ the area eons before Vancouver or the first arrivals, the Spanish, who named the San Juans.)

I and my brother got as far as Rainier, Oregon which is about half way to the mouth of the great ‘River of the West’ from Portland. It was a fun, if short, trip for we’d had a bit of engine trouble and decided to rent a trailer in Rainier and pull the vessel up I-5 instead.

While I missed out on a dream, at least I survived the experience (later finding numerous bugs with the engine,) and ultimately made it to Friday Harbor with the boat, which I called Klahowya, a Chinook jargon term for hello. My first local cruise after my arrival was at high tide one sunny afternoon where I took my trusty vessel and circumnavigated that islet in the lower right of the photo. This is at the head of Beaverton Bay next to the UofW labs, and at low tide there is no water there and the islet turns into a bump on the shore.

I was young and silly enough to call that a circumnavigation, but still I recall a thrill, an accomplishment as I, new to tidal waters and the magic of changes they create, in solitude and alone with my exuberance, putted ever so slowly through that gap as if I were Lt. Broughton in 1792 as he rode the flood tide in Discovery’s long boat, threading the narrows at the south end of San Juan, entering the enchanted islands for the first time.

Since then I have replicated the adventure, however tiny it was, in kayaks and dinghies, always reflecting upon that sunny, calm day I first ventured that way. We all do that as we pass through this mortal coil, reminiscing on days gone by as, at yet another moment in time, we duplicate a path with memories attached.


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