Vashon: A Claustrophiac’s Best Friend
by Jeff Hoyt
I first felt it during Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1982. My wife and I were immobilized within a crush of people on Bourbon Street. Crowds had never bothered us before, but on that day, the feeling of finally breaking free into the open felt like receiving pure oxygen.
Later I noticed that whenever we went to Bumbershoot at Seattle Center, I’d spend more and more of our time simply seeking out open space in the crowds. Whenever I’d spot an area not occupied by other people, I’d make a break for it, step inside, spread my arms wide and breathe. That’s when I first realized that the crush of humanity that seems to be steadily swallowing Seattle was finally beginning to have its way with me. I’m just someone who really needs open space around me, a trait which played a huge role in inspiring our decision to move to Vashon Island a few years ago.
If Vashon and Maury Islands could be sold over the counter, they’d be packaged as “Instant Country (just add water).” A mere fifteen minutes by ferry from the Fauntleroy dock in West Seattle, the islands are laced with quiet country roads which amble along open meadows, meander past farms and gardens, dip into the darkness of thick tree canopies, and climb back out again, bursting into the light for views of Puget Sound and the mountains.
There’s room to spread your arms wide and breathe here. Lots of room. In fact, to fully appreciate the size of Vashon, I recently cut the island out of a map and superimposed it over Seattle. I placed the center of the island over the Space Needle. When I did this, the ferry dock at the north end of the island wound up in the northern reaches of the Greenwood neighborhood. Meanwhile, the ferry dock at the SOUTH end of the island fell well south of Alki Beach in West Seattle. Point Robinson Lighthouse at the eastern tip of Maury Island sat way out on I-90 where the interstate first touches the shores of Mercer Island. Vashon town was perched on top of Queen Anne, while the narrow portage that separates Vashon and Maury Islands fell right at the edge of Pioneer Square. That’s a lot of room to roam on open country roads.
I remember all too well how difficult it was to get from Seattle to ANY place that gave me a sense of ‘country’ when I so badly needed it. A Sunday drive out of the city meant first running a gauntlet of stop lights and traffic for at least thirty minutes in any direction in order to get to ANY place that felt really removed from the city. Here on Vashon, the only gauntlet you might face will be the ferry line bringing you over or taking you home. If you bring a book and a little patience, though, you’ll find yourself able to chill out quite nicely here on any given Sunday. Better yet, do Vashon on a weekday. You’ll reach full chill-out status even quicker.
As a year-round resident of Vashon, I’ll admit to being a little reluctant endorsing my home as a place to come for a pleasure drive. We already have a rather nasty problem with drivers confusing our roads with those featured on the NASCAR circuit.
I’ll say it this way: If you want to come to Vashon so you can drive fast, don’t bother. You’ll just be missing the point. Come to Vashon when the city starts closing in around you and you need to feel open space. If it’s a nice day, roll down the windows and just drive. Leave the main road when it feels right, take it slow, and breathe it all in. When you get to a stretch of road that’s begging to be taken at an even slower pace, pull over and take a walk. Better yet, bring your bike. You’ll get a workout, but it’s a workout you’ll feel good getting.
Lose yourself on Vashon. If you can’t find your way back to the main road, ask someone. And when you get hungry, head into town and take your pick. We have real restaurants here now. Just be prepared to search for up to forty-five seconds for a place to park. It’ll be hell, but you’ll get through it somehow.
When asked to describe living on Vashon, I like to quote Captain James T. Kirk: “Space…the final frontier.” Vashon really IS the final frontier of open space in these parts. There’s no other expanse of open terrain so close to the city. At times, we even feel the squeeze that comes from being that final frontier. Every several years the subject of a bridge linking Vashon to the mainland and peninsula pops up, and islanders summarily stare it down. We’re currently faced with the threat of an international mining company which wants to remove ten percent of Maury Island’s land mass. Debates rage about clear-cutting, commercial-building, water rights, and all things related to the quality of our island life. Despite all the obstacles which literally surround us, the island’s basic personality of open space, rolling terrain, and friendly folks has survived intact.
There’s room to spread out and breathe here.