After following several switch-backs up a steep incline surrounded by trees, I turned a corner to find that I was driving along the edge of a drop-off, with softly rolling waves hitting the rocks far below me. Unable to resist, I pulled over to the first look-out point I could find and got out to see the view. I grabbed my camera to snap a few pictures.
It was spectacular. The stretch of blue water went on for miles and sparkled in the bright noon-day sun. I could just make out the small forms of cargo ships making their slow progress across the blue expanse, and the hazy formation of British Columbia in the distance framed the horizon. Below me the cliff was made up of sharp volcanic rock, discouraging my idea of any beach combing in this location.
I could tell that this island was going to be a photographer’s dream.
One of my favorite hobbies was photography. I loved telling stories through images, which is probably one reason why the graphic world of advertisement appealed to me so much. I had gone head-long into a career which demanded creativity on the spot, thinking that it would be a source of satisfaction and enjoyment, but after three solid years of it I felt more drained than fulfilled. This was why a San Juan Island retreat was just what I needed. Time to rejuvenate and refresh, to relax and release.
I continued down the winding road following the cliff edge, my window open, letting in all the crisp salty air. Soon I was back in the trees and almost to the Inn. I found the turnoff easily and smiled in delight when I saw the large Victorian style house nestled in the bottom of a green valley, grouped with a fading red barn and some other out buildings. There was a crisp white fence surrounding the estate, with a large hand painted sign posted by the gate entrance which read “Welcome to Sunny Acres Inn.”
It was perfect.
I pulled into the drive and followed its gentle swoop to the front of the house. There were flower gardens surrounding the front porch, with rusted antiques placed decoratively in the yard. As I climbed the front steps I noticed a wide porch swing positioned to look out at the fields behind the house. What a magnificent view! I wanted to stop right then and nestle down into the bright blue and yellow pillows lining the swing and enjoy the quiet beauty of the fields and peek-a-boo views of the ocean.
There was a cute wooden sign hanging on a hook by the front door which read, “Come in, we’re open.” The front door opened with a subtle chime onto a large foyer, with an antiqued green-painted desk and beautiful fresh cut flowers. Rich woodwork detailing filled the house, with a prominent staircase in the center of the foyer. To the side, in what evidently used to be the large house’s sitting room, there was a little gift shop. I wandered around the shop, looking at the skeins of brightly colored wool and hand-knitted scarves and hats, covered in intricate and delicate patterns. A few minutes later I heard footsteps coming down the hall.
“Hello!” said a voice behind me, and I turned to see a smiling woman wiping her hands on an apron. She was wearing a stunning indigo colored sweater, her sleeves pushed up, her delicate arms revealing a row of tinkling silver bracelets, and her hair was cut in a chick asymmetrical bob, the glistening grey color unexplainably making her face look young and fresh. “You must be Annie! Welcome!”
I reached my hand out to shake her offered, freshly dried hand.
“Yes, I am Annie,” I said, surprised that she would know my name.
“We’ve been expecting you. We knew the ferry docked about thirty minutes ago, so I figured it wouldn’t be long for you to get here,” she said warmly.
“I know that I am a little early for check-in, so it’s okay if you’re not ready for me yet,” I quickly offered. “I was just so excited to come and see the Inn.”
“That’s not a problem,” the woman said, “Your room is all ready for you. My name is Grace. Please let me know if you have any questions during your stay. I will be happy to help you in any way to make your stay more comfortable.”
I thanked her and followed her to the green desk for check-in. Grace had an old-fashioned appointment book which she slid over to me to sign with a vintage ink fountain pen. It felt luxurious to sign my name on the thick creamy paper. I couldn’t resist adding a little flourish at the end of my name, the fluid pen just seemed to beg for it.
After checking in I followed Grace up the grand staircase. I could tell it was old, as the wide wooden steps creaked a little at my footsteps. At the top there was a landing which overlooked the foyer below. Grace led me to the right and took me a few doors down. She unlocked a door which had a hand painted green number two with flowers and vines scrolled around it. When I stepped inside it was like I had stepped back in time. The room was small but inviting, with a white painted iron bed and an antique roll-top desk. The walls were covered with ornate picture frames holding colorful prints of floral motifs, and the bed was covered in a pale blue quilted coverlet and piles of fluffy pillows. Next to the window was an overstuffed chair and ottoman, perfect for sitting and relaxing. A stack of vintage books were piled on a side table next to the chair. Grace led me through the room and opened a door to a surprisingly modern bathroom. It had a beautifully tiled shower and a marble top sink, which was set into a cabinet with pretty curved feet.
“Do you think it will do?” Grace asked.
“It’s perfect!” I cried, thankful that I was going to be staying in a room that was so comfortable.
“Meals will be served in the dining room, which is just down the hall from the front foyer. I have included this week’s menu and times on the desk. If you wish to take your meals with you for the day, feel free to use the house phone and call into the kitchen. You can leave a message with the internal message service. Lunch will be served in about thirty minutes.”
“Thank you so much! I’m sure it will be wonderful!” I said as Grace left me in my room.
I felt myself drawn to the window, and sunk down into the chair placed next to it. The view was both breathtaking and tranquil. Below me were partitioned fields, with animals grazing in the sectioned pieces of land. I assumed they were alpacas, but I knew little about the creatures. Beyond the fields were a row of evergreen trees with a hint of blue water peaking between the branches. I felt that there were ample places to explore here and enjoy the natural beauty.
This place felt like heaven.
After eating lunch, I spent the remainder of the day exploring the grounds of the property. Grace told me I was free to wander around the farm, but asked that I not enter the fenced in areas housing animals. I wandered around the farm, but found that I could not resist heading toward the line of trees at the back which hinted at an incredible view of the Sound. I took my camera, hoping to capture some amazing scenes.
The view did not disappoint. I caught my breath as I made my way through the trees and came up to the rocky edge, which dropped down to the water below. Looking up the beach a ways I could see a small lighthouse on a prominent point jutting out into the water. I knew that I would have to get to the lighthouse sometime this week.
That night I wandered through the house, admiring the details of the rich woodwork, the collection of antique furniture, and the assorted framed photographs which hung in prominent places of the house. I stopped to study a particularly beautiful print of a lighthouse at sunset, placed over the fireplace in the main sitting room. The sky was bathed in vibrant purple and orange hues, while the dark water below looked like it was churning with a violent rush, the spray from the waves crashing onto the black rocks. There was such an intensity in the feelings it aroused in me that it took me off guard. It was almost as though the picture portrayed the fire of passion itself. I could feel the beauty and heat from the sky juxtaposed with the breaking cold and fury of the waves, with the lone white lighthouse, standing alone and fearless in the middle of the chaos. It made me ache for something, but I did not know what.
“My son took that picture,” Grace said quietly behind me, making me jump. I hadn’t realized that anyone was there and I felt a little exposed, having just experienced an intense private moment.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, looking back toward the picture.
“It’s the lighthouse that is just up the beach from us a little ways,” she said, coming in closer. “You should go and see it. There is a pathway that leads from our property along the tree line up the beach.”
“Oh! I will have to check it out,” I said. “Thanks.”
That night I lay in bed thinking about the picture hanging over the fireplace, curious about my intense reaction to it. I was going to have to take a walk along that pathway in the morning to see the lighthouse for myself.
I arose early the next day and got dressed, pulling my hair back in a quick ponytail. I was planning on walking over to the lighthouse before breakfast was served, but was unsure when the light would be bright enough to see it, since we were on the opposite side of the island from the sunrise. Regardless of lighting, however, I wanted to see this alluring structure.
With my camera hanging around my neck and a ratty old sweatshirt on, I skipped down the stairs and out the front door. As I moved quickly around the corner of the house, I almost ran straight into a man who was carrying a large bucket and a box of tools. Both of us startled, I looked up to see the guy that I had met on the ferry.
“Rusty?” I asked in stunned disbelief. I looked down at his muddy rubber boots and torn flannel shirt, trying to take in the difference of appearance.
“Annie! Hello!” he said, looking equally as stunned.
“What are you doing here?” I asked rather stupidly.
“I live here,” he said, then laughed. “I guess I wasn’t completely honest with you on the ferry. I do wear rubber boots on the weekend….on occasion.”
I laughed back, but was embarrassed all the same. I wasn’t expecting to see this handsome guy again, especially not now in my grubby clothes and unwashed hair. I groaned to myself, wishing that I had opted to shower before making my first venture of the day outside my room.
Rusty, on the other hand, even in his dirty work clothes looked like the picture of masculine attractiveness. He was wearing a blue baseball cap over his dark hair, and I could see a smudge of dirt on his cheek. I was tempted to reach out and wipe it away, just for the sake of physical contact.
“My mom didn’t tell me that we had a guest this weekend,” Rusty said.
I was a little taken aback. “Your mom? Is Grace your mom?”
Rusty nodded. “Yup, great lady. She runs this whole place like a tight ship.”
“And wait a minute…Am I the only guest here?” I asked. I had noticed how quiet it was and although it was still early spring, not exactly the peak season for tourists, I had still figured there would be other guests at the Inn.
“Yeah, we haven’t had a guest at the Inn for about four months now. Winter is usually pretty slow, but this winter was especially bad.”
“Oh,” I said, not sure what else to say.
“Hey, I need to go and clean up and get ready for church,” Rusty said, starting to move past me toward the front of the house.
“Oh, okay,” I said. Inwardly I was rolling my eyes at my lack of conversation skills. But then he turned around, as in mid-thought, deciding whether to say something else.
“Would you like to come with us to church?” he asked.
I was pleasantly surprised. “Sure! I would love to!” I said. “I will go and get cleaned up myself.”
“Maybe after church I can take you on a tour of the farm.”
“That would be great!” I responded eagerly.
Rusty smiled and went inside the house. This day was looking brighter already.
Check back tomorrow to see how the rest of Annie's day turns out!