Herron Island: The Calm in the Storm

Owning a place on an island in Puget Sound is a wonderful fantasy.  The reality is even better.  The usual Pacific Northwest island fantasy involves the fabled San Juan Islands. I could tell you I sailed through the San Juans several times. The truth is I motored through under bare poles hoping to find decent moorage, or anchorage, before 1:00 pm.  Once moored the allure of restaurants, and a decent Bloody Mary, took precedence.  The San Juans are beautiful, and crowded.

Down near the bottom of Puget Sound the restaurants and amenities are few.  Good anchorage is abundant.  The wind picks up every afternoon, and the waters surrounding Herron Island provide good sailing.  Restaurants, stores, shopping??? On holiday weekends the locals gather at North Beach and have a sale they call “Junk in the Trunk”. Herron Island is a throwback to the times when island living was simple.  A time before overdevelopment and the crowds took over.  If your idea of island living involves shopping in a quaint overpriced boutique, or quaffing a microbrew in a trendy bar, Herron Island is not for you.

Herron Island is a calm in the storm.  It involves hanging out in a hammock looking out at the East Channel.  It involves deer so tame they eat out of your hand.  They also join you at the table when the wine is poured.  From the dock you can catch squid and rock crab.  You might pull in a dogfish. The best clamming beaches are openly shared secrets.  Although, you almost never see the person who shared the secret heading their boat towards the spot they told you about.

At night it’s a seafood bounty around a campfire.  It’s homemade ice cream and brownies.  It’s your sister’s best dessert. It’s your brother’s Chilean wine.  In the morning it’s fresh coffee and blueberry pancakes. The kids are in the ravine, or up in the loft.  If it’s midweek you feel like you have the whole island to yourself.  If you are lucky a pod of Orca swims by in the East Channel.  If you are energetic, you put the kayaks in and head north to the float where the Harbor Seals congregate.

Let me tell you a story.  It was late August. When we got up it was still dark outside.  We were heading to what clam lovers call the Honey Hole.  It’s a spot where you can scoop up five clams at a time using fingers as rakes.  Low tide was at 6:30 am.  We set out in darkness. Green flashes of iridescence burst from our paddles and surrounded our kayaks.  Every drop of water was part of an aquatic light show.  As we got further from the island the sun began to rise. The sky shifted colors from deep midnight blue to purple, and then to violet, red, and a dusty pink.  In the quiet we reached the float where the Harbor Seals hang out.  The float was empty.  Then big eyed seals started popping up all around us.  Donna was so struck by the beauty she had tears in her eyes.  I paddled up and said, “I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to miss low tide. Let’s go get some clams!” 

The thing is we didn’t see a single person out there. We didn’t see the first boat racing by until we were heading back to Herron Island. We were immersed in island living. You could hear the waves lapping against the shore.  It was just the two of us. Our kayaks were full of freshly gathered clams.

Our Herron Island adventure has never been a one season experience.  Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring all reveal new textures and beauty.  What could be better than being curled up on the couch with rain beating on the metal roof, or watching snow drift down as the fire dances in the fireplace. All the storms that life tosses your way lift as soon as the Herron Island Ferry leaves the  mainland.  It’s always worth the visit.

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