We had just spent 10 days ferrying around Alaska’s Inside Passage and, to be honest, we were plenty ready to do something new. Unfortunately the very next thing on our agenda, ferrying around Washington’s Whidbey and San Juan Islands, didn’t sound like something new. It sounded an awful lot like what we had just done, only on a seemingly smaller scale. After all, how could Washington’s lesser-known archipelago compete with the grandeur and beauty of Alaska? Surprisingly easily, it turned out.
What we found on Whidbey, and really throughout the San Juans, were small towns with their own distinct centers of gravity. These weren’t places that sprang into existence solely for the benefit of tourists. We got the feeling that if tourists stopped coming, they’d continue on pretty much the way they are – perhaps a bit poorer and a little less polished, but more or less the same.
That’s because behind the down-home facades and overflowing wildflowers were real businesses serving real communities and selling real things. We don’t recall seeing any t-shirt stands. The shops weren’t stuffed with cookie-cutter items produced by the world’s cheapest labor. Much of what we saw on store shelves was produced locally by members of “Puget Sound’s largest artist colony.” Even the stores themselves were often owned by local artists, displaying their own and others’ work.
And then, of course, there were the flowers that seemed to spring from nearly every inch of earth. Manicured, wild, and agriculturally grown. It was July when we were there, and the flowers bloomed everywhere as if stuck in eternal spring.
The flowers and the wonderful people welcomed us onto an island that was so much more than just a ferry stop. Whidbey was just what we needed.