Saturday, September 15, 2007

I'm Not Superstitious (or, How I Spent My Mini-Vacation)

Vacation. n. A period of leisure, sans editing, of at least 24 hours spent away from home in eating, drinking, conversation, pleasure reading, and walking and otherwise taking in the local sights.

Earlier this week I took a mini-vacation (i.e., of a half week) on Guemes Island with Tom. (Proper pronunciation: GWEE-mus.) Guemes is a five-minute ride from Anacortes on the tiniest car ferry I’ve ever sailed on. This ferry is basically a floating platform with a pilot's tower and radar, a couple of engines enclosed in metal sheds, and a narrow cabin seating at most a dozen passengers. It rides so low to the water that you know they’re not kidding about the posted weight limit. Skagit County runs it, not the Washington State Department of Transportation. It makes even the smallest of the DOT’s ferries seem large and sophisticated. Riding that low on the water, though, gave me a sense of what a duck’s view of Puget Sound might be. The smell, of course, was divine.

When we booked our reservation for a small cabin with beach access, I imagined the weather would be chilly & rainy if not overcast. But in fact, we had brilliant weather with temperatures in the 70s when we arrived and sun with slightly cooler temperatures the next day. And though the third day started out socked in with fog and clouds, every bit of the cloud cover had burned off by two in the afternoon. (On the fourth day, when we left, the fog was so thick that as we crossed on the ferry to the mainland, we didn’t see it or the dock until we were right on top of it.) I don’t mind rain when I’m on a coast of Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean, but the clear skies and pleasant temperatures gave us a rare treat, since the main feature of the cabin we stayed in is a spectacular view—of Mt. Baker straight on, of other mountains in the Northern Cascades, of mountains in British Columbia, of a lot of islands, many of them even smaller than Guemes—and a long beach that curves around the southwest tip of the island, affording even more views, including the Olympic mountains. And though we faced northeast and thus could not see the sun sinking below the horizon, the sunsets produced a rich Alpan glow on Baker and transformed the surface of the water into alternating bands of mauve and blue, a special effect I hadn’t seen before.

Beaches on Puget Sound vary dramatically. Walking a couple or three miles on this one, I found it the cleanest I’d ever had the pleasure of visiting. It had no bits of plastic or Styrofoam washed up from the sea, no cigarette butts left by beach-walkers. We spotted one pair of expensive child’s running shoes, full of sand, sitting on a driftwood log, a square piece of plywood balanced on the branches of a driftwood tree that was exposed only at low tide, and the ropes binding a half dozen driftwood logs together into what once must have been a raft. Tom and I made up stories about the children’s shoes, but the remains of the raft must have struck me as too prosaic even to think about, since I never gave it more than a half a minute’s notice. Although there were lots of clam shells and a couple of dead crabs, we saw little marine life beyond a lot of barnacles, a modest amount of seaweed, and numerous starfish, pink and purple. Oh, and there were birds, of course. Besides the usual, a blue heron, fishing, and a sandpiper. It was an unusually quiet beach.

We weren’t content, of course, merely walking the beach and looking out at the view and sipping wine: we had to drive around the island, scoping it out. Guemes has a few hundred year-round residents, even more summer-only residents (who have second [or who knows, given the many multi-millionaires in the US today, third or fourth] homes on the island), one “general store” (also the only place on the island that serves food, pumps gas, and rents out DVDs) but no real grocery stores and, unlike some of the other islands in this area of Puget Sound, no commercial district whatsoever. We observed a church, a fire department, a community center (with a small library), an “emergency helipad,” and the occasional sign advertising various crafts for sale—pottery, soap, “magic compost water” teas—and a sign announcing a “produce exchange” at 5 p.m. on Sundays. The island clearly doesn’t get enough tourists to even try to cater to. We spotted several working farms and a few small orchards, but little sign of how most of the people living year-round on this island support themselves. They can’t all be retired or working on the island’s many construction sites. Do most live off investment income? Hard to believe. Do many of them travel to the mainland every morning to work? (By private boat, one would assume, since it looks like a fair number of people on Guemes have boats tied up on their waterfront.) Do they telecommute?

When we ate lunch at the general store, Tom spotted on the small placard advertising Happy Hour and their menu of wines by the glass “Writer’s Block Zinfandel.” (It was the most expensive glass on the wine-by-the-glass menu.) At first I thought it must be a joke. I jotted it down on my notepad so that I could Google it when I got home. But when we were looking through the grocery part of the general store, looking for seltzer water (which they didn’t have), we found that the store stocked Writer’s Block wines—zinfandel, cabernet franc, and syrah. Tom offered to take a photo of the label, but I said, oh no, I want to buy a bottle. Timmi! he said. Since when have you become a target for clever marketing? (Is it a coincidence that he was in the middle of reading Jennifer Government at the time?) “I need to prove I’m not superstitious,” I said. Although I didn’t take any editing with me, I did take the manuscript of STRETTO to work on. So later that afternoon, after our walk on the beach, when I was working for a bit on the manuscript, Tom opened the bottle and gave me a glass. Very fruity, it was. But that’s zinfandel for you.

1 comment:

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Maybe Writer's Block wine is intended as a way to cure the condition. I don't think I could resist buying a bottle, either.