Friday island photos: an evening ferry ride

ferry rail

You have to be at least a little weird to live on an island.

You do. You’re going to be there, surrounded by water, cast away from the mainland, deliberately. You’ll know your neighbors better than you ever did in the city. Sometimes that means a trip to the grocery store is like a coffee klatsch, especially in the produce section. This means that the old hippie with the silver braid down his back, the Vietnam vet in combat fatigues who walks up and down the main highway with a machete (but he’s harmless), the librarian with a passion for marine biology who leads free low-tide walks, the lithe performance artist who dresses as a chicken for the apple festival, the older man with only one working eye who sits in the coffee shop all afternoon, by the door, greeting people as they walk in — they all become part of your life. When you live in a city, you might pass a character on every block, but you may also never see them again. On an island, everyone is a character.

It takes a character to live in a place that requires a long line of cars, a lumbering ferry boat, and a 20-minute crossing before your feet touch the mainland.

We live here by choice. I love that feeling of distance. And I love ferry rides, even in the rain.

leaving the land

When Danny and I have been in the city with Little Bean, visiting friends, eating at great restaurants, shopping in stores where groceries cost 1/2 of what they do on the island, we feel enlivened. After all, we lived in a city together for three years, and separately for many more. We were city people.

But when the ferry kicks away from the shore, and the lights on the dock start to recede into the blue night sky, we both sigh. We’re going home.

from the upper deck

You can sit in your car. Many people do. Especially if you are in the first row of cars, facing the water like Moses with his staff, commanding the sea to part. From that space, you can see everything, plus have the heat of your car. When we’re the first car on the boat, we stay in.

ferry in the evening

But almost every other time, we walk upstairs. We don’t want to miss this.

Even when it’s raining.

open water

These are Puget Sound colors, that twilight blue, the light grey, the light that gleams beneath them both. My heart adores these colors. They feel right to me.

The expanse of open water opens me too.

I take my deepest breaths on ferry rides.

Seattle in the distance

And in this blue light, the crepuscular hour after sunset, before the pitch black, the lights of the city are dazzling and pretty from a distance. There’s so much life going on there.

And it’s so quiet on the top deck of the ferry.

do not sit or place children on the railings

This sign always makes me laugh. “Please do not sit or place children on vessel’s railing.” Really? Does anyone have to be reminded?

Then I stop laughing, thinking that there must be someone who needs the reminder. I gulp in salty air and hold Little Bean closer.

(I can’t help it. I’m still an English teacher at heart. It still bothers me there is no apostrophe in there.)

the end of the island

Then we glide through these dark waters, silently, the engines thrumming down. We’ve reached the tip of the island, our home.

I love those trees on the edge of the water.

light on the land

The light on in that house, the first one I see on land, that home glimmering in the distance. There’s such a feeling of coziness, of the evening settling on the shoulders of us all, of gathering in and warmth.

Feels like home to me.

(Danny and I always wonder what it would be like to live right on the water like that, in the midst of a giant storm.)

ferry dock

Then the lights grow brighter, and more clustered. We listen to the swish of the water under the churning engines slowing down. There’s the dock.

We’re home.

As we drive off the boat, Little Bean asleep in her car seat, we talk about the day’s stories, our favorite moments, and what to have for dinner the next day.

This is where we live.

This is part of a series of photo stories we’ll be sharing, every other Friday, on this site. Great food has such a sense of place. We’d like to share some of the place that makes our food what it is.

62 comments on “Friday island photos: an evening ferry ride

  1. Chelsey

    When I was little I used to live on Salt Spring Island (Now I live in the prairies). I like to go back and visit every couple of years. There is something about riding the ferry that is so comforting. The lull of the engine, the smell of the air, watching the islands pass with there story book homes.

    I’ve always missed being on the island especially in the winter (bring me green!). Reading this brings back memories…

  2. Juanita

    How beautifully descriptive. And how blessed…the “I wish” part of my stomach did little, excited flip-flops while reading this. :-)

  3. jenn

    ah, i have such a soft spot in my heart for your home… in my half dozen or so trips to seattle, i always require a trip across the sound, no matter the weather. in fact, better with a bit of rain! california is too sunny for me. that purple-y sky with the warm lights of home… home, indeed! thanks for sharing.

  4. Kate

    Oh my, that is so-o beautiful.

    I found your blog researching recipes. My family eat mostly low-carb for health reasons. Coeliac (spelling?) is not a disease, everyone’s health improves when they stop eating sugar and wheat flour. Some folks (like my DH) are more tolerant, is all. End of mini-rant.
    And yes, you do have a very nice kitchen/blog!

  5. Linda from Wales, UK

    Wow. Such lovely colours. Your island sounds wonderful, I’m quite jealous every time you mention it — but please keep on mentioning it!

  6. Anonymous

    I once read an article by a man who had spent a year living on an island off the coast of Maine. He said that he had expected it to feel isolating. Instead, he found it to be rather insulating. I have never spent another island day without that thought.
    If you can find it, Caskie Skinnett, wrote several books, but one is a must read for anyone who lives on an island called One Man’s Island. It is charming and funny and so well written. I would send you my copy but it has been long lent away. Do try to find a used copy. No island library should be without it.
    I love reading your blogs. Thank you for pointing out the gifts all around us.
    Winnie

  7. beyond

    i love ferries too and often take the staten island ferry from manhattan to staten island and back just for fun. i always feel like a new person afterward.

  8. Emily Glaser

    Thank you so much for this, Shauna. Since I visited a couple of years ago, I’ve been dreaming of moving to the Seattle area after grad school and those colors, those trees, and that water are why. Beautiful!

  9. Trish

    Oh my…I so relate. That WILL be me someday. I am doing everything in my power to have that be my reality when I retire. Only 7 short years. Meanwhile…I visit Vancouver Island every chance I get.…over and over and over again…paying for little cabin rentals when that money could be stashed for the ‘b and b house’ of the future. But I am ‘called’ to the island.…that is where I belong. Weird…does one need to be weird? Perhaps.…I like to think I am just going home! Not that I am ‘from the sea’ in anyway. In fact, I am from the Prairies.…but the ocean caught my heart when we moved to the mainland over twenty years ago. … and I am only really at rest when I stand on the open shoreline of the Pacific! How wonderful that you share these gorgeous photos with us! I will look forward to future ‘shots’. Love it! (Gosh, an English teacher? Please don’t check my grammar! smile)

  10. LaurieA-B

    Crepuscular! Iris and I just looked up that word during a recent reading of The Trumpet of the Swan. Love it.

    Among my special memories of 2009 (which was packed with many) is visiting your island for the first time.

  11. Dana

    Beautiful Shauna. I have been on probably a thousand Washington state ferry rides in my life — mostly to Lopez, Whidbey, and Bainbridge — and I never tire of those big beautiful boats. We ALWAYS go upstairs even for the shortest rides. I just can’t miss the beauty.

  12. Sho

    Shauna,

    Beautiful post describing the calm beauty of an island. I have never been to Seattle, and my only exposure to one of your islands is the movie, The Last Mimzy, with Timothy Hutton and Joeley Richardson.

    The Last Mimzy is a children’s movie about a little girl and her brother who have a summer home on Whidbey. There they find a stuffed rabbit from the future. This rabbit was sent back to the past to find a child pure at heart to save the future. Now I know why an island in Puget sound was chosen for the summer/vacation home.

    My daughter and I watch that movie over and over together. It never gets old.

    Take care,

    Shoshannah

  13. Dave -nibbleanibble

    Living on an island is a very special lifestyle. If you can handle being away from civilization, good. If not, its going to be a pretty bumpy ride.

  14. Birdie

    Shauna, look at those beautiful shades of blue … wow!! I’m always interested in learning more of cooking from you and the chef but this post has brought warmth to my heart without the food ;-) … lots of happy moments on the island and on the ferry ;-)

  15. Courtney

    I love seeing pictures of other islands and other ferries! I live on North Haven island, in the Penobscot Bay in Maine…we have a 1 hour, 15 minute ferry ride! I’m jealous of your 20 minute trip. It’s amazing to me how similar island communities are — and how unique, too. We know everybody here, and every grocery store trip is indeed like a coffee klatch :?) but we don’t have a highway at all (or lines down the middle of the road, or traffic lights!) and the coffee shop is in the community center. I love our isolated, beautiful, community life!

  16. sweetpea

    It’s all a bit surreal, especially the blue. I would have to pinch myself constantly to see if it were real!

  17. Nantucket Mermaid

    Hi Shauna…I found your blog through “Tartlette”…My partner and I are gluten free eaters, we live on Nantucket Island (2 1/4 hour ferry ride if you take the car) My nickname is Bean(as in Jean the Bean) and the fellow I used to work with at the local bookstore used to be an English teacher, and the apostrophe thing made me laugh out loud…that would bother him too! The Husband of Woman that I used to work for at the local bookstore is a gluten free eater and I emailed her your blog.…I bet she’ll carry your book in the store.…So…glad to meet you.You describe island living so well.…right down to the crazy people who live there! :)

  18. islandlass

    Living on an island in Puget Sound, I can relate to this post. Riding the ferry at night heading homeward, lights sparkling in the distance, the variety of colors in sea and sky, and the small flutter I feel as we pull into the dock… it’s home at last. What a special place to live. Hope I never get used to it.

  19. jlp_seattle

    Shauna, I feel the same way about the ferry system here in Washington. I love to ride across the sound, get a cup of coffee and ride back to Seattle. And you put it so beautifully to words and pictures!

  20. Lisa

    I’m new to your blog. I’m local to you and grew up here, too. What you said about the ferries put into words all the feelings I ever had about them from a young age. Thank you for the photos and for sharing that. You were dead on.

  21. Ms Teach

    Thanks so much for your evocative post. You would love ferry trips on Sydney Harbour here in Australia. Different light but magical nevertheless. I am new to your blog and having recently devoured your book I am keen to purchase the cookbook companion. After years of illness and food ‘issues’ (gluten/dairy/sulfate free) I have read many cookbooks and heard from countless experts. I have rarely, if ever, heard from someone like you. You make me want to live in the possibilities of food that makes me healthy and whole not dwell in the pit of “can’t eat thats”. Thanks for making eating gluten free so joyfully possible, and so delightfully human. I like how you make and share your mistakes so honestly inviting us all to experiment with passion. You and your family have blessed me and so many others with your generous spirit. Thanks from Sydney Australia. Melissa

  22. molly

    Just flippin’ stunning. Gah. Gives me chills, and I’ve only been gone a week. Those lovely, lovely Puget Sound ferries. Heart-stoppers, breath-takers, every single run.

  23. Tamiko

    Gorgeous. Funny, though: I thought I was reading one of Tea’s “Stalking Wonder” posts for a bit! Coincidence? I think not.

  24. Anonymous

    I grew up looking out on Commencement Bay, then moved to the Arizona desert.

    I missed The Mountain and the sound of the tide on Owens Beach and finally decided to come home to the blues and greys of Puget Sound. I’ll take the lights of the Tideflats over the sunshine over the golfcourses any day.

  25. La Niña

    It must feel nice to know they won’t pull the ferry out from under you. We are sitting here on our little island and at this cosmic moment in time, we are not sure that we’ll have ferry service after Valentine’s Day.

    Whoever thought that a Sovereign Nation and a county government could hold one thousand souls (with plenty of great characters) hostage?

    We may no longer be able to make our one mile passage. Many islanders may have to bail like rats jumping off a sinking ship. Our hope is that the federal government will step in and get this situation corrected, and soon.

    –Treading water on the edge of the San Juan’s…

  26. Dr. Jean Layton

    Now I just have to make that trip again, finally I have the words to go with that portal to island time.
    Lovely, just lovely pictures and words both.
    Thanks for letting us ride along.

  27. Julie

    What a wonderful post; thanks for bringing me back to the coast and the ferry — I adore it too. We spend a lot of time (although not quite enough) in Tofino and getting on that ferry feels like going home to me too, although we live in the middle of the prairies.

  28. Julie

    Sorry — prematurely hit send and can’t remember where I left off! Love this post. Love all of them, of course, but this one gave me goosebumps.

  29. evil cake lady

    what a lovely post. all those blues and purples–i’m just drinking them in. you spoke to the island girl in me; portland have never felt so landlocked!

  30. Jenn Sutherland

    Beautiful. You’ve just made me miss living in WA more than I have in 10 years. That ferry ride is magical. I make do with living on Lake Michigan now, but I miss the lush mountain green of Seattle and WA state. *sigh* Must be time for a visit.

  31. binnie

    Beautifully written. Your mention of the colours and light feeling so perfectly right struck a chord with me. I feel equally at home with the colours and light of another coastline. How lucky we are to live where we do.

  32. lolliejean

    I’m a fan of Betty MacDonald’s books so when I realized you lived on Vashon Island I got excited. It’s like I’ve been there to visit in the past and now I’m visiting again via your words and pictures. Nice!

  33. Maria

    Gorgeous description! and beautiful pics. you are lucky to live in such a place, and thanks for showing us around :o)

  34. Krys72599

    Oh, I’m so glad you’re doing this! I’ve been wanting to “see” the island since you moved there!
    You’re a wonderful writer and I am looking forward to your Friday photo stories!!!

  35. Sam

    I love taking the ferry. At one time, before children, we lived in Bremerton and worked in Seattle. That hour ferry ride allowed me to wake up and feel refreshed on the way there, and calm down and feel centered on the way home. A lovely ride.

  36. laurata

    Lovely. I have the hardest time with the rain up here. I frequently struggle with melancholy related to the drizzle and lack of light. It helps to step back and remember why I moved to the Puget Sound area.

  37. Palmer Public Library

    Oh I miss the Washington State Ferries. Though we lived in Seattle, ferries were our go-to for something to do on a weekend. Let’s take a ferry ride. Sometimes we took the car and spent the weekend, sometimes we just rode over and back. :) BC Ferries are just as wonderful, and as we have friends on Pender Island, we took them a lot as well. Now we live in Alaska, and while we have ferries — and they are wonderful — they’re totally different. Those in SE Alaska have short trips, but here in Southcentral the rides are longer, and take more planning.

    Thanks for the visit — I loved it.

  38. Kent

    I am from Vancouver BC but am currently living on the small Caribbean Island of St. Maarten. Your words make me really miss home, but also make me realize how we all have our crazy island people.

    Do you know what I love to do when I go home to vancouver … I love to go the to public market and smell all the food.

  39. Erin

    That was just lovely, thank you. I’ve been following your site for a long time and I recently found my own “Chef” so to speak (although mine is a sports reporter). We were just talking this weekend about the apartment we want when I move from San Francisco to Denver and the life we’ll have and the things we want to share together. I think we’ll have similar quiet moments, full of love and gratitude. So thank you for stirring my imagination this evening and making me even more grateful for my own little piece of unexpected happiness.

  40. katie g

    Im a northwesterner currently in Northern France. When I look out over the water here, all I see is…water. I miss seeing those little, fuzzy tree colored islands. Thank you so much for this!

  41. Gemma

    So beautiful — another to add to my ever growing list of reasons to visit Seattle as soon as I possibly can.

  42. Julie

    What beautiful photographs and commentary! This post has made me miss living in the Seattle area like nothing else in a long time! I sure loved the ferry rides. Thank you for sharing.

  43. Swiss

    This Island is magical to me. My family moved here when I was in the second grade and I am over 60.
    I have been away for short periods-but only short periods– a couple years out of high school as a Nanny but I was on another Island out here and then California for a few months and once when I was going to the UW, raising two kids and working I thought it would be easier in Seattle– but I wanted my kids to go back and have what I had as a kid so it did not last long either.

    I wrote the following on one of your other beautiful photos of Vashon but it is worth repeating– since I repeat it all the time when I come home from the city–

    I just love the view down there. AND always on the way home, the moment you hit the fauntleroy dock, the world’s problems just roll off your shoulders.

    Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  44. Looking For Freedom...

    Thanks for this great blog! About a month ago, I finally — after years of headaches, stomachaches, and inexplicable chest pain — discovered that I am gluten intolerant. I’ve been enjoying your entries, especially the recipes.

  45. Erin

    I miss Puget Sound every single day and this post showing the approach to the island ( a trip I have made more than a few times) has brightened my day exponentially. I enjoy where I live right now, but for me nothing is like Puget Sound. I actually wear piece of a vintage map of it in a pendant around my neck every day. Thanks.

  46. Jessamyn

    Ever since my grandparents took me to Orcas Island every summer as a child, getting on a ferry is like a trip back in time. The gulls, the tar smell of the pier, the foghorn — it’s pure nostalgia for me, despite the fact that I currently live half an hour from the nearest ferry dock. And I love watching the sparkling lights of the city across the water.

  47. Bruce

    Thanks for a little touch of the Rhodie and Tahlequah — i am in Australia for a bit and just loved the photos of my daily commute — I love being here downunder, but always miss the thought of that daily ferry ride home!

  48. Janel

    Simply gorgeous photos and text that pulls you in, making you want to have a cup of hot tea just so you can find a moment to sit & sight.

    My favorite images of living in Holland are the windmills, especially in twilight. I’m going to take the Nikon with me on my work commutes to see if I can capture a few before we move stateside.

  49. Alison

    The summer before my senior year in college, a close friend and I rented an apartment together in our hometown. A clause in the lease warned that we would lose our security deposit if caught sitting on the windowsills. We laughed at that, thinking it was an odd stipulation — the apartment was on the second floor with unforgiving concrete below, so who would try to balance on a little slice of wood? Well…our town was small and the apartment was right on Main Street, and within a week we were both sitting on the windowsills people-watching! You just never know what you might do…

    Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing them.

  50. faehre

    Wow, gorgeous scenery and photos. Great sky shots and scenery. I bet your ferry trips are awesome.