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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Planning San Juan Islands trip brings back many fond memories

As I write these words, I am a few days away from leaving for Seattle and the San Juan Islands for a short vacation.

I’m so looking forward to this because … well, who wouldn’t? But in fact, it’s our first real trip anywhere, except for some work-related forays into Idaho, since COVID-19 was visited upon us. And, as I look at our outdoor thermometer at this very moment, it’s reading 106 degrees.

It’s supposed to be 70 degrees in the San Juans the weekend we’ll be there. That is reason enough for the little happy dance going on in my heart.

There is something about looking forward to an event like a short getaway that really gives you a new mindset, a lift in spirit – even while you’re working up a good sweat in the garden and hauling the garden waste bin to the curb, watching your flowers and tomatoes wilt in the sun and trying to figure out the $37.68 discrepancy in your checkbook. Yes, some of us still balance, to the penny, every month.

My thoughts turn inward. The Anacortes Ferry to Friday Harbor is just beyond my finger tips, but inching closer to my reality every day. Ferry reservations made, as are hotel reservations in Seattle and Friday Harbor. A bit of an itinerary is set, with some flex time for whatever comes up. Dinner reservations made for the one fancy schmancy restaurant we’ll be going to. Visions of crab and other meals of sea-dwelling treats are dancing in my head.

Apparently, there’s a lot of internal dancing involved with my trip planning and savoring.

I am also revisiting in my mind, and reminiscing with my husband, about past excursions to Roche Harbor, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, Spencer Spit, Sucia Island, the first time our young sons ate steamed clams, Mt. Constitution, our little 22-foot sailboat getting caught in an eddy back in the 1980s and us struggling to make forward motion, and all the adventures, discoveries and misadventures we’ve had in those wonderful islands over the years.

While we are no longer active sailors, I can close my eyes and still feel it, the heeling over, the spray, the harbor seals with their cute spotted noses popping up beside the mooring buoys we tied up to for the night, and the damn scary moment when a ferry came way too close to us and we had to skedaddle as fast as our little six-horsepower motor could maneuver us out of the way.

Fun times.

The adventures will be more sedate now, but the place is still magical, partially because of memory and mostly because of the magnificent, though fragile, environment that it is. I love the smell of blue water, even at low tide. And especially in the San Juans, though I do have as many good memories of the Oregon coast that I cherish as well.

But this trip is about latitude 48.5343° N, 123.0171° W.

When you play that game – choosing between the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges, the Beatles or Elvis, or, relevant here, seashore or mountain, it’s always seashore for me. Love the mountains, but give me a big body of water, preferably briny, and I’m as happy as can be.

My husband, who grew up in Alaska, would choose mountain, which to him are what cathedrals are all about and where his soul is full. Happily for me, he loves the ocean, too, so our mixed marriage has worked out just fine.

As wonderful as the place is where we’re going – or where anyone goes for a little pleasant away time – it’s the looking forward to the thing, the planning for it and the seeing of it just out in front of you that lifts you up, way up, before you ever get there.

Hopefully, the experience is as good as the anticipation of it, but even if it isn’t, you can’t be denied the joy that thinking about it and getting ready for what it brings to you.

As I write these words, I don’t know how it all will turn out. For all I know, it could be blustery and rainy the whole time – which, considering how hot and dry it’s been in our neck of the woods, would be just fine with me.

I’m not too old to dance out in the rain. Maybe even barefoot.


Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at

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