this wacko place

In the last week, we visited a school Lu could attend next year. It’s set on 8 acres, has 2 goats, a flock of chickens bopping around the grass, a vegetable garden the kids grow themselves, duck eggs to help hatch, a forest to explore, and coyote knowledge to learn.

All the inside learning happens in a yurt.

I don’t know that it’s the right place for our kid. (She was a little disconcerted there wasn’t a wall of books in the classroom.) But it sure is the right school for some kids. And there are more options here: an all-outdoor school, focused on wilderness training; a French immersion preschool, as well as a Spanish immersion preschool; Waldorf and Montessori schools galore; the little one-room schoolhouse she attends now, with books to read and hear (they’re listening to Little House on the Prairie right now), clay and a play kitchen, and a swingset in the apple orchard, with beach walks and weeks in the pottery studio; and the school we’re looking at this week, with some studious time inside, but mostly a lot of performing of plays in the woods.

Or some combination of them. Whatever is right for her.

But on Sunday, when we visited the farm school, we stood in a circle of adults and children eager to find the bullfrog croaking in the pond. We each said our name and then struck a balancing pose (triangle pose, anyone? how about tree pose?) and held it until everyone in the circle took a turn. And then we gathered around the earth egg the teacher had prepared, and scattered red clover seed, planting our intentions for the year along with the seeds.

In the last week, we attended the performance of Lelavision, a performing arts duo unlike any other we have seen. (Except that they are clearly inspired by another island group, UMO, with whom they are friends.) The married couple, whose daughter is in Lu’s creative movement class, builds enormous instruments out of found objects and plays with sound. For more than 2 hours, they performed odd and moving moments, like the time they wore enormous metal balls that swallowed them whole and made music by pinging on the inside with sticks. There was the Pandemonium: “A rocking buoyancy device with mechanical construct of garden hose spray nozzles, toilet plungers, rubber seeds, and honking pipes.” Ela and Leah took turns swinging on the 25-foot-tall swing, with copper bicycle wheels on top, working together finally to build up so much momentum that they twirled upside down and around on the swing. All the while, two women peformed aeraelist tricks on the metal structures of the swings. At the end of the show, a friend joined them on bungee cords, and they flew through the air, banging the line of drums hanging down from the ceiling, and then spun backwards in the air.

Pretty much everyone we know on the island was there, applauding thunderously.

In the last week, we have driven past the row of stationery bikes that sit on top of the bluff overlooking Tramp Harbor. (They appear in the middle of the night, every once in awhile.) We have spent time at our natural foods store, buying kombucha and looking for raw cacao powder. We have attended church, where the guitar player belted out a great version of the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” someone showed a Katy Perry video to demonstrate the light we all have inside, Walt Whitman Wallace Stevens and Billy Collins were quoted, and the reverend used the word g-damned in the middle of a sermon to emphasize a point about how obtuse mainstream culture can be in the face of people with different customs. We have fed pygmy goats and driven by llama farms. We have purchased kale from farmers by stuffing dollar bills in the slot cut into the top of a coffee can, in a tiny lean-to shelter built as a farmstand. We have stood at the coffee stand with the Adirondack chairs circled around it, talking about gluten-free recipes for bahn mi and the cuisine of Vietnam with neighbors while drinking soy lattes.

And today, we’re gathering with a bunch of women friends to cook a six-course meal for the homeless on the island. This happens once a month — every church on the island takes turns doing a dinner so there is one substantial meal nearly every day of the week. Together, we’re making salmon with pistachio parsley pesto, peas with mint, kale lentil stew, pumpkin rice soup, cabbage parsnip slaw, and sweet corn cakes with blackberry sauce, made with stone-ground corn grown on the island and ground by the farmer. (All of it happens to be gluten-free. We didn’t plan the menu. Our friend Rebecca does an extraordinary job of that. We’re simply there to help.) All of the produce was donated by Vashon farms. They do this regularly.

The kids will run at our feet while we chop and talk. And then we’ll all go together to the church to prepare and serve, then sit with folks and share a meal.

(When we told Lu this morning we were going to cook for people who needed our help with food, and in fact are homeless, she said, “Can we build them a house too?” I could hardly talk for a few moments.)

This is standard stuff here.

A few weeks ago, our book editor sent us a note about the structure of the new book we are working on. (Details soon.) He didn’t like the structure we had imagined and wanted something more streamlined. He wrote, “Look, I know you two have to do everything unconventionally, but I think this will make for a better book.”

We took his advice, of course. We trust Justin with our writing lives. But that line stayed with me: “I know you two have to do everything unconventionally….”

Me? Danny? I have been thinking for years that we’re sort of…I don’t want to say boring. I know we’re not that. Typical? Well, probably not. I think everyone is extraordinary. I really do. (Mister Rogers, thank you for teaching me that about the world.) So I don’t think of us as unconventional. Just…us.

But then I started thinking about where we live. Vashon Island is a weird place. We like it that way. Nearly everyone here has the same bumper sticker: “Keep Vashon weird.” Someone who lives here wrote a piece about the island for The New York Times. (By the way, everyone who lives here calls it “the island.” We only say Vashon to outsiders.) He found a great phrase to encapsulate this place: it’s like Mayberry meets Burning Man.

When you live in a place where you buy raw milk off farms, where one of your best friends dresses up as a voluptuous red-corset-wearing fairy with one of her best friends and performs singing telegrams, where there is a Zen center, four or five different naturopathic clinics, a homegrown distillery, and a Thai restaurant better than most I have ever visited, where another one of my friends is an accomplished writer with a small dairy farm and a cheese cave, you can start to think your wacky job and creative life is just another typical one.

I love this wacko place.

But when I step back and look at it, I realize why it is I have such a hard time thinking of myself as a blogger. Why I kind of shirk away from Pinterest and the deluge of green crafts I saw before St. Patrick’s Day, why I hate checking my traffic or trying to line up with the “big bloggers.” Everyone I know on Vashon has chosen to live on an island, accessible only by slow ferries that seem to go down frequently these days. We have a good life here, an unusual life, and we’d be happy if you came over for the day for a picnic at KVI beach and a long bike ride up a lot of hills. But really, you probably don’t want to move here unless you are as weird as the rest of us.

Are Danny and I unconventional? Damned straight. But here on Vashon, we’re just islanders.


I guess I can’t do anything the typical way, really. I went to make a simple shredded carrot salad for a first-course snack for the three of us, while we waited for dinner. I could have just grated the carrots and tapped out a little vinegar and oil. No one would have complained. The carrots were fresh and sweet. But the sweetness seized me with an idea: how about some sesame oil? A little olive oil to balance it out? Mustard. A shallot. Ooh, and the tang of feta. Plus the mellow aged taste of Parmesan.

I just meant this to be a quick snack, nothing special. But we all liked it so well I took a photograph. Next time, I might add some tiny diced olives, some fresh basil, perhaps some pistachios. These measurements, of course, are only estimates. I threw in a handful of walnuts, a few nubs of cheese. These are my best guesses. Next time, there might be less feta and more Parmesan. We’re making this salad again soon. Maybe you will too.

1 dozen fresh carrots, peeled
1/3 cup walnut pieces
2 tablespoons French feta
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 shallot, peeled and diced fine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Grate the carrots, either with a hand grater or in the bowl of a food processor. Put them in a large bowl. Top with the feta and Parmesan.

Pour the red wine vinegar, shallot, and mustard into a mason jar. Put on the lid and shake. Shake until everything is combined. Pour in the sesame oil and olive oil. Shake again. Taste. Season with salt and pepper to your own taste.

Drizzle about 1/3 of the dressing around the edges of the salad bowl. Toss the salad with tongs (or your hands). Taste. Need more dressing? Add more. (You will have some dressing left over. You’ll want more of this salad.)

Season with more salt and pepper, if necessary.


Feeds 4.

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