Our first stop was a tiny town called Roche Harbor, one of the oldest settlements on the island. The town was set into the side of a steep embankment, with a row of historic homes and shops lining the brick-paved road and wrapping around a picturesque marina full of modern boats and yachts. We parked the truck and got out to explore. I was immediately drawn to the water. We followed the wooden dock out to where all the boats were moored.
The day could not have been more gorgeous. The sky was such an intense blue, without a cloud to be seen. I felt transported to another world as I looked up at the sky, soaking in the sun, and my legs tried to get accustomed to the moving dock. Looking down into the water I was stunned with how crystal clear it was. I could see the rocks which were nestled in the sand far below my feet, and even a few fish. The color of the water was incredible, a hue that I had never seen before. It wasn’t exactly turquoise, it had more green in it, but it reminded me of a brilliant gem stone.
We wandered around the marina for a while, admiring the elegant white yachts and sail boats tied up next to some bedraggled old fishing boats, their painted exteriors sun-bleached and pealing from many years out at sea.
Standing at the end of the pier I looked again at the water and took in a deep breath.
“I can never get enough of the water,” I sighed. “There’s just something about it. It is so soothing and calming. Just smelling it makes me feel like a different person.”
“I know what you mean,” Rusty replied. “It can be therapeutic for sure. It can also be cold and violent. That’s something I’ve learned from growing up here. You think it is your friend one minute, and then the next it is a rolling powerful force to reckon with. I love it anyways, though. Maybe for the fact that it can change so much. You never know what you’re going to get.”
I looked at him curiously.
“Actually, it’s like that in the desert as well,” I said softly. “Most people don’t see it as a morphing, changing landscape, but it is. It is different every day. It is also very beautiful. Some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen were in the desert hills. You think of it as only hot, but the evening rolls in and everything changes color and turns cold. The creatures all come out once the sun is gone and it is a whole new world.”
“I would love to see it for myself one day,” Rusty said, looking back out at the water.
Just then a peel of bells rang out over the water, echoing around the sunken marina. We turned toward the hill on the edge of the water and saw a tiny white church and steeple nestled into the trees. After ringing out twelve gongs the bells continued to play, starting in on a hymn, “Amazing Grace.” The beautiful chiming reverberated off the water and boats around us, making it feel like we were standing in a sacred place. I was mesmerized.
“Do the church bells ring like that every hour?” I asked Rusty.
“They ring on every hour, but only play music at noon. They usually play three or four hymns.”
“It’s magical,” I said softly, absorbing the music into me as I looked back out onto the water.
Our next stop was a sculpture park with a variety of large-scale pieces of art scattered around a field and pond. We enjoyed the delicate beauty of some, the abstract bizarreness of others, and the overall embracing of different forms of expression. I took a few pictures of Rusty mimicking a statue that looked like a free-form illustration of modern dance and movement. I was laughing so hard I could hardly hold my camera steady.
“You’re a natural!” I called out to him, as he posed again by a larger than life portrayal of a red horse, saluting like an army captain but leaning lazily on the horse’s rump.
I then had to take my turn by sitting on top of a bronze alligator and taking a bite from a spoon that was as large as my futon at home.
“Come see this one,” Rusty said, pulling me by my hand around the far side of the pond. There was a figure of a woman made in white granite, the flowing lines of the piece subtle and graceful. You could only just make out her form, as though she was draped in a sweeping veil, but her softly chiseled face was clearly visible. She was looking down with a demure expression, her hands clutched together at her chest.
“This one has been here for a while,” Rusty said. “I have always liked it. My mom is friends with the artist. She has lived on this island for years.”
I stepped up to the plaque nestled in the grass and read the title of the piece, “Patience.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said. “Are most of the artists local?”
“Yes, most of them live somewhere in the Puget Sound, and there are a number who live out here in the San Juans. The park is always changing because the pieces that are displayed get sold periodically, and they bring new ones in. Of course, they are pretty pricey, so some of them are here for a long time.”
I marveled at the thought of an ever-changing and evolving park.
“I’m glad that this one is still here,” I said. “It seems like something that needs to be shared, rather than secreted in someone’s back yard.”
“I agree,” Rusty said.
I noticed that he was still holding my hand, from when he led me over to this corner of the park. I gave his hand a little squeeze to tell him that I approved and my stomach did a squishy turn when he playfully squeezed it back.
Next we visited the separate English Camp, nestled in a picturesque lush bay, and the American Camp, situated on the southwest tip of the island. Both were relics from the 1800’s when English and American troops were disputing over water boundaries. The American camp was built on one of the last natural prairies of the Puget Sound, with long flowing grasses and a fierce wind. We also saw a number of wildlife there, including foxes and rabbits. I squealed out loud when I saw two little black eyes peering at me from the long yellow fronds of grass. A small black fox emerged looking at me curiously, and then slipped back into the cover of the field.
Our final stop was at the same high lookout point which I had stopped at on my way to the inn on that first day. The view was incredible, with a fierce wind blowing the salty air into my face and hair. We watched the water for a while, hoping to catch sight of a whale.
Looking down at the volcanic rocks piled up at the water’s edge, Rusty pointed out a huge brown sea lion sunbathing on the rocks.
“Want to get a closer look?” he asked, and I nodded my head eagerly.
Rusty took my hand to help me down the jagged rocks. I wasn’t as nimble as he was, but his hand in mine gave me the extra support I needed to jump from rock to rock and maneuver down a few steep inclines.
Finally we got close enough that I could clearly see the sea lion’s whiskers twitching as he snorted every few minutes. Rusty stood behind me, his hands bracing me on my hips, supposedly for some extra support in our precarious location, but I probably could have managed fine without it. I did not complain, however. Feeling him so near was exhilarating. It was also distracting, as I couldn’t get my attention to focus clearly enough on my camera and its settings. I took a few token shots of the seal but I knew they wouldn’t be that great. It didn’t matter.
The sea lion opened his eyes lazily and turned in our direction, his big brown eyes taking in his curious visitors. In a movement that was just as unconcerned he let out a loud snort and turned his head away from us, repositioning himself on the rock to continue to soak in the sun. We laughed at his complete lack of concern.
The way back up the rocks was easier than the way down. Rusty kept a tight hold of my hand and carried my camera for me so that it wouldn’t bang against the rocks as I scaled the steeper areas. When we reached the top I turned around to see where we had just been and I was amazed at how far down we had climbed. I never would have been brave or secure enough to do that on my own.
“That was incredible!” I said as Rusty handed my camera back to me. “I’ve never seen a sea lion so close before. That guy was huge!”
“I don’t usually get that close to them, but you made me feel more brave than usual. I had to save face, after all.”
“Yeah! But you had me in front of you like a shield! Nice bravery there!” I gave him a light-hearted shove.
“Hey, I could have taken him in a second!” Rusty said, flexing his bicep in an impressive display of male macho-ism.
“I think it’s time to go,” I dead-panned in response, heading for the truck, but I added over my shoulder, in what I hoped was a somewhat flirtatious manner, “You coming, Rambo?”