Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands


Hand-made Retirement

Hand-made Retirement

At night the moon is a string of gentle pearls on the water, the windows a golden warm glow from this cabin made from driftwood and cement. Built as a retirement home by Lew and Elizabeth Dodd, but not in what we’ve come to think of as the typical retirement story.

Lew Dodd, whose grandfather had been a member of the first class that graduated from Princeton University, actually retired from a small farm on Grindstone Bay on Orcas Island, the farmhouse having small dark rooms and no bathroom, with largely hand-made furniture. In the same DIY method, Lew scrounged building materials from the currents and beaches and fashioned one of those handful of cabins in the islands that meet my stringent qualifications of “cool” as mentioned in my last post. He bought the island in the mid ’40s when a humble farmer from Orcas Island could afford one of the seemingly useless outer islands, especially in the maze of rocks making up the Wasp Island group somewhat in the center of the San Juans.

I was once offered the position as caretaker out there on Yellow just after The Nature Conservancy bought it, likely because of my experience at the Seattle Yacht Clubs Henry Island Outstation by Roche Harbor. I wasn’t in a position to accept the offer at that time, one of the regrets of my life, for the memories would have been priceless. I have a personal standing order to venture to Yellow Island on my birthday because that is when the spring wildflowers are rampant. I’ve made it once in the last dozen years, usually due to weather constraints. I thought I was actually going to accomplish it this year (2013) but the weatherman lied and the wind and clouds came instead of calm, clear skies.

Eleven acre Yellow Island was purchased from the Dodd family by The Nature Conservancy, a conservation group that buys special bits of the world to keep them special forever. The public may visit this private island, but groups of more than six must get written permission. Open year round, from 10am to 4pm. Here is the link for further information:


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