Celebrating on Orcas

orcas genoa view

Early morning clouds over Cypress Island.

Was it only a week ago that we were relaxing yet again on our piece of paradise in the San Juans?

Yes, indeed.

Lori and I arrived at our Orcas Island cabin on a Friday, prelude to the Fourth of July weekend, and wound up celebrating not just the holiday but a dear friend’s milestone birthday.

It was the first time we’d been up for the Fourth, but it may not be the last. Island life was on full display with a downtown parade and mayoral election, a community potluck, a farmers market and a fireworks show on the water. Totally charming.

Here’s how it all went down:

Saturday, July 2

Drove into Eastsound for the July 4th parade, a loosely organized event that’s more Starlight than Grand Floral for those of you familiar with Portland parades. Just about every activity or group on the island was represented — American Legion, Lions, Kiwanis, Garden Club, the library and, not least, a motley crew of men of all ages playing rainbow-colored percussion instruments and calling themselves the Odd Fellows.

There were antique cars and trucks, local politicians, and the five candidates for Honorary Mayor of Eastsound — four dogs and a newt (called Sir Isaac Newt’n). The winner was Lewis, a 12-year-old Corgi who campaigned for “dog park expansion and fresh water bowls (and treats) at all Eastsound businesses,” according to the local newspaper.

More than $15,000, a record amount, was raised for the Children’s House preschool program by islanders and visitors who voted for their favorite candidate. Very cool.

After the parade, we wandered over to the Saturday Market on the Village Green. populated by the usual array of organic farms, jewelers, painters, soap and candle makers, and other artists. With Lori’s encouragement, I made my way to the pie booth for a slice of blackberry pie a la mode. Had to do my part for the fundraising, you know.

4th of July Parade 2016

View a parade slideshow here, courtesy of the Islands’ Sounder: http://www.islandssounder.com/news/385321371.html

Look closely to the right of the truck (above) and you might notice two Portlanders, seated, viewing the parade.

Sunday, July 3

On a sun-splashed morning, we found ourselves at the Doe Bay Community Association’s  45th annual Independence Day celebration.

Talk about a Norman Rockwell scene. It was total Americana with an all-ages community band, led by a conductor in a baseball cap, playing patriotic music. There were speeches, silent and oral auctions, a raffle, singalongs to “Yankee Doodle” and “America, The Beautiful,” grilled hot dogs, and a potluck overflowing with salads, side dishes and desserts.

The event was held at the volunteer fire house, across the road from a field where several black steers munched on grass, and just a short walk from Doe Bay Resort & Retreat. All proceeds from the event — including a cutlery set that we won in the silent auction — go to fund the association’s annual operations, including the potluck. We were glad to contribute.

Monday, July 4

Our longtime friends, Bob and Deb Ehlers, arrived on the actual holiday for a three-night visit that began with Lori’s signature dinner — cioppino and Caesar salad — and ended with a soundless fireworks display.

The fireworks were set off in Bellingham, near the U.S.-Canadian border, less than 20 miles from our cabin on the northeast end of the island. We were far enough away that the red, white and blue patterns reflected off the Strait of Georgia without a sound. Quite the introduction for our guests from Salem, Oregon.

Tuesday, July 5

Hiked around Eagle Lake, the placid body of water at the heart of our island community, enjoying the solitude and multiple views of the lake. Postponed plans for an afternoon sea kayaking trip because of wind and rain, and went into Eastsound instead to browse the local shops.

Came back to the cabin for dinner and a brownie-and-ice cream celebration of Bob’s birthday.

Wednesday, July 6

The sightseeing continued with a drive up to the top of Mount Constitution, the highest point on the island at 2,400 feet. From there, you have a breathtaking view of Orcas and nearby islands, all laid out like so many chess pieces on a green and blue landscape of trees and water.

You can spot Canada’s Vancouver Island to the north, as well as the Washington coastline from Bellingham to Anacortes. On a clear day, you can see as far south as Mount Rainier, 65 miles southeast of Seattle. Spectacular.

We returned to Doe Bay in the afternoon for a three-hour kayaking trip in ideal conditions — clear, warm and no wind. What a difference 24 hours makes.

Bob and Deb got a kick out of the fact that our guide, Corey, was, like them, a native of Iowa. We’d been out with Corey a couple times before and were well acquainted with his friendly personality and deep knowledge of the islands. This time, we parked ourselves in a cove directly below a tree where a bald eagle was eating a fish he’d snatched minutes before. Magnificent bird. Memorable sight.

We freshened up and came back to Doe Bay Cafe for a delicious dinner, then ended the evening gathered around our outdoor fire pit, warmed by the flames and 36 years of friendship with Bob and Deb.


We bid them goodbye the following morning, kicked back with our canine companions Otto and Charlotte, and had a relaxing, do-nothing evening to cap off our stay.

We’ve been coming to our island getaway for more than a decade now, and it never gets old.

Each visit begins with a can-you-believe-this appreciation that we are fortunate to be here.

It’s a place where we can set aside the stresses of urban life and just turn things down a notch or two. It’s a place where we can enjoy simple things: feeding the songbirds that flock to our porch; sitting outdoors with a cool drink; walking alone or together on the dirt-and-gravel roads above our cabin. It’s a place where we can just pause and enjoy the silence, the blessed silence.

In view of all that, it’s a given that each visit ends with a pledge to return as soon as we can.

3 thoughts on “Celebrating on Orcas

  1. Once again, we so appreciate George and Lori sharing this special place with us. The island pace is so slowed down and relaxing and the reminders of life in a busy city are non-existent. Watching the birds at the feeder was a daily highlight and George was attentive and generous with his supply of bird seed in his effort to keep the voracious birds from turning on us to satisfy their hunger.
    Deb and Bob

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