The car ferry, MV Guemes, was out this week for scheduled service. If you were on the island or a walk-on for the ferry, you heard nothing but moans and groans from residents for the past week. "You heard that ol' sonofabitch is out for service didn'cha? We'll be lucky if we get 'er back in a week." This left us islanders - yes, I'm calling myself that these days - with service from a passenger-only ferry from Monday to Friday. The sweet little Straight Arrow.
There was a mass exodus of cars last Sunday, a ritual that islanders snapped to mechanically. They'd been doing this since the dawn of time. Park one car on the Anacortes side, leave one car on the island. I, of course, decided, "Nah. What do I need a car for in Anacortes? LittleVirgo and I have a bike, bike trailor and our healthy legs. We're a mile from the dock on the island, and everything we do in Anacortes is in a two mile radius of the ferry." So I left my car on the island, determined to "rough it," and survive the ferry outage the old fashioned way.
Monday morning we get a hustle on and make the 8:30 a.m. ferry on the bike with trailor in tow, and arrived at the ferry dock to find smiling faces and chatting islanders at the ferry, not snarling old people bitching about the inconvenience of a walk-on only situation. A gang of gray-haired gents are milling about the pop-up coffee stand, Riff Raff Coffee, chatting up it's salty owner, Mycle Recycle.
A group of ladies at the dock are discussing the upcoming plants and pie sale over Memorial Day at the community center. Everyone remarks about the gorgeous weather we've been having and the caterpillar infestation. LittleV, friendly as always, starts up a conversation with an old man she doesn't know about his fishing pole. She knows no strangers on this island. And I take it all in. Where else in the world is this happening? This easy-going, how ya doin', know your neighbor, shoot the breeze morning scene is a page written by Garrison Keillor. It is the most quintessential tableau I've ever seen, and certainly been a part of.
The ferry arrives from Anacortes. The mechanical arm on the loading ramp lifts and the Anacortes passengers walk off the ferry as we, Guemes passengers, pass them walking on.
"Hi Nancy." "Hey there Bart." "Haven't seen you in a while, John." "Patsy! How are the goats?"
Our friend, Carson, passes us. "Hey Carson," LittleVirgo says waving. "Hi Sylvia!" Carson returns with a smile.
The sun is making the water dance and sparkle like magic. The clouds are torn pieces of cotton overhead. Tugboats toot by. I push the bike on while LittleVirgo helps as always, her little hand holding on to the handlebars with mine. Can it be like this forever please? We stand on the deck of the Straight Arrow, smiles plastered on our faces, wind gentle playing with our hair. LittleVirgo asks me to hold her so she can see down into the water.
"Mama, do you know what those swirls are?"
I look down. She's talking about the engine of the boat churning the water. I open my mouth to start explaining what's happening when she interrupts me with her own explanation.
"That's mermaids singing under water. That's what's making all the beautiful swirls, Mama."
I'm speechless. She's brilliant. That's exactly what's making those swirls, sweet girl.
We strike up a conversation with a man that we had seen on the beach digging for clams during low tide the day before. LittleVirgo had, of course, wanted to know and see everything that was happening during their dig, and he and his wife had obliged her happily. He told us he was going shrimping the next day, where the good shrimping spots were, explaining the exact location as if I was taking my own boat there too, and then asked us our story. Everyone does that mostly. LittleVirgo is nectar to older islanders, and a novelty to the younger crowd.
The crossing is short, just under five minutes, so we say good-bye to our new friend, Martin, and wish him well on his shrimping excursion. LittleVirgo waves to the ferry workers, forcing even the crankiest of the crew to crack a smile.
And this is how it is all week, only every day it gets better. We meet more people. We exchange more smiles. We learn more names. We pet more dogs. We hear more chatter.
"Linda, I've been meaning to stop by. I've got a book for you to read."
"Chantal, did you get that lettuce I left for you?"
"Bob, you're back from Alaska!"
I got advice about my ant problem, learned where to get the best honey on the island and finally got the name of the bird I love to hear - a warbler.
Today when I arrived at the ferry to return to Guemes after my workday I was sad to see the car ferry was done with its service early. Cars were parked in the ferry line. Islanders were back behind glass again. Just smiles and waves.
Once upon a time, we lived on a little island that sparkled like a green jewel, and we all felt how magical it was, because we all remembered to take a minute, say hello, enjoy our daily grind and remember how lucky we are to be residents of this incredible place. We talked to each other and enjoyed conversation and made the most of the five minutes we had together.
To long-time Guemes residents this week may have been just another ferry outage but to me and LittleV it was a fairy tale. It was an experience that we'll tell people about and they'll think we're embellishing, but it's like I've been saying about Guemes Island for almost a year now, things happen over here that just don't happen on dry land.