Last year, my husband and I took a trip to Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. It was our first trip away from home—and from the kids—since the birth of our second child. I was nervous about leaving the kids, but knew it was important for my marriage.
We try our best to travel when we can, and to practice switching between trips for the entire family, trips for the couple, and trips for the individual. With two toddlers, our trips are heavy in the entire family category. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
But our trip to Orcas Island was to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, and the children would be safe at home with Grammie. The Salish Sea was calling and we were ready to go.
We had an amazing time in the “Hippie Hamptons”—a phrase we coined to describe the combination of outdoorsy sensibility and organic gourmet living that we experienced in what shipbuilder-turned-philanthropist Robert Moran called the “land of eternal spring.” The remarkable Orcas Island ecosystem left an impression on me. When I returned home, I rededicated myself to my creativity and my health. Here are seven life lessons I learned that turned out to be the best souvenirs of my trip.
1. Get outside and seize each sunny day.
My husband and I hiked each day we were on Orcas (even in the rain), and were rewarded with enchanting evergreen forests and cascading waterfalls that we had all to ourselves. At home, we are typically creatures of the office, and it was a good reminder that even just taking a little outdoor break in your day can lift your spirits and your mental outlook.
2. Slow down.
There are no traffic lights on the entire island. The relaxation I felt while spending my days meandering around this sleepy artsy island was sublime. I try to remember it when I’m rushing out the door to get my daughter to preschool. I breathe, I relax, I become more patient with myself and with others.
3. Make friends with your neighbors.
Orcas Island has a tiny population (about 5,000 residents). And it’s even smaller in the off-season. With few people on the island, it means people tend to talk to their neighbors to engage in society. My husband and I went to the same bakery three days in a row, and got to know the owner because he remembered us after our second visit. Building relationships with the people in your own community is the antidote to city or suburban living that can often feel lonely and isolating.
4. Eat locally.
Orcas Island can only be reached by boat, ferry or seaplane. Everything has to be delivered from the mainland, which is 20 miles away. So many residents of Orcas Island do the most logical thing—they grow their own food and raise their own livestock. The result is a locavore’s paradise and a foodie’s playground. Most restaurants and markets offer fresh eggs, fresh bread, fresh vegetables, and fresh meat, not to mention the fresh seafood available in the surrounding Salish Sea. I came home and immediately started researching nearby farmbox delivery co-ops to make my own kitchen more local.
5. Be good to your environment.
Residents of the island also reduce, reuse, and recycle everything they can since any waste has to be shipped off the island all the way to northeast Oregon. Give the packaging of the products you consume second lives: Chobani containers can become paint cups or seed planters, and your child could make a birthday card for a friend out of that cereal box or 2013 calendar.
6. Make something out of driftwood.
A community of artists lives and works on Orcas Island, and many of them look to the sea and the land for inspiration. I was inspired by their process and their creations and it reminded me to do something creative each day. Even if it’s just writing a few pages of my journal, or drawing with my daughter, I’ll feel better if I’ve made something.
7. Follow the strange.
We kept passing this little roadside home/kayak rental place on the edge of a quiet shore. It was eclectic and offbeat, vividly painted but welcoming, and on our final day we pulled over to check it out. In the garden where she kept the kayaks, an artist had created dazzling found object statues that looked like folksy ritual objects of angels and deities. They were breathtaking in their beauty and oddity.
It was a good reminder that when you finally stop to check out that place you’ve been curious about in your own neighborhood, and welcome something new, your senses become more heightened. You may even see your path more clearly once you step out of your comfort zone. Following the strange can lead you to the sublime.
I’ll always have Orcas Island in my heart. It’s one of those places that seems like my dream of how to live. I’m thankful that my husband and I were able to experience it, appreciate it, and take its lessons home with us to share with you.