Monday, June 8, 2015

Island Life

We recently spent several days at anchor in Reid Harbor on Stuart Island.  Stuart is the westernmost of the San Juan Islands, with the Canadian border in the water just a little ways outside the Turn Point lighthouse.  Although there are several large and expensive-looking houses scattered about, there are only about 15 year-long Stuart Island residents.

Stuart Island

While there, we hiked to the schoolhouse, and more importantly the Treasure Chest!  "The treasure chest," you say? Yes, the Treasure Chest.  In very typical island fashion, this is filled with goodies (shirts, tees, hats, etc - some examples are hanging on the line behind it).  And it is completely on the honor system.  Yes, that's right - in an era when in the city everyone has his hand on his wallet to prevent it from being lifted, the unattended treasure chest is unattended.  Each item is packaged with an IOU and an envelope for you to mail them back a check when you reach civilization again.

The Treasure Chest
This got me to thinking about island life in general.  As it turned out, the lady that runs the treasure chest (and provides the cooler of cold water for those who have managed to trudge up the hill to the treasure chest) happened to be there as we arrived.  We had a conversation that was interesting, to say the least.

The conversation started out about the school - a wonderful open-plan building constructed in 1983 - the third schoolhouse I think (its the building on the left, with the red roof).  It is heated with a wood furnace, and looking in the windows showed a lot of creativity and love in there.  But, sadly, it is closed.  Tho the last time we visited Stuart Island there were 6 school kids, today there is only one school-aged child in residence on the island.  Not enough to justify keeping the school open.  Our conversation then turned to, how to get more young folks with children to settle on the island. 

This is not an easy task, because island life requires a level of self-sufficiency not seen for a long time elsewhere in the USA.  Such as:
  • There are no public utilities on the island.  That means that there is no electricity - each homeowner must make their own - solar, wind, or gas generator.
  • There is no public water system.  Each homeowner must drill a well and pump their water from it (see electricity, above).
  • There is no ferry service to the island.  If you live there, you're going to have a boat.
  • There is no store on the island.  For the necessities of everyday life, you must get in your boat and travel to either Roche Harbor (5 miles of open water) or Friday Harbor (14 miles).  And you must do this, not just on idyllic summer days when it is warm and the sun is hot on your shoulders, but in the winter too.
  • The nearest hospital is in Friday Harbor (see boat, above)
  • There is no telephone service unless your house happens to be in one of the few places where cell service can be obtained.
  • There is no internet (except see above)
  • There is no gas station.  Or propane delivery.  Or fuel oil delivery.  If you want or need these things, see boat, above.
  • There is no cable.
  • There is no TV, except for poor (now digital, with pixelation) sporadic reception.
  • Everything, and I mean EVERYthing must come to the island by boat.  You want that well drilled?  Or lumber for house construction?  Or concrete?  Then you'll have to hire one of those expensive LSTs to haul things to the island.
  • You want a car?  Why would you want a car?
As you can see, island life is not for everyone.  And in fact, apparently not for enough folks to support even a one-room school.  But I know that there are people out there who would absolutely jump at the chance to leave the crowded, noisy, dangerous urban environment for the peace of island life.  The compensations are tremendous. In fact, several of the items I listed above could be considered as advantages.
County Road
Yup, that's one lane, gravel.
So, here's to those young urban couples with children:  Are you self-sufficient enough to live the island life?  (We are not, but we admire it.)

Then what's keeping you from it?


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