BY HARRY ANDERSON
April 6, 2016
My seventh anniversary of living on Whidbey Island is coming up soon. I remember it all as if it were yesterday.
My spouse Terry, our two Bassett hounds and I were bedraggled and sick of fast food after driving four days and three nights from Dallas in order to beat the gigantic moving van before it rumbled across the Deception Pass bridge. The seemingly endless remodel of the “retirement” home we purchased on Penn Cove was seemingly finished. Well, almost. The contractor still had “a few things” to complete.
The next chapter of our lives was finally about to begin, here on this gorgeous, friendly, quirky Rock, and we were more than ready for it. We spent a couple of anxious nights in an Oak Harbor motel waiting for our worldly goods, but then we were Rock dwellers at last! I will never forget sighing with delight and marveling to myself, breathing the fresh air as I sipped a glass of Chardonnay in our yard. But I was lying on a poolside chaise lounge chair we had hauled from Dallas that even then seemed out of place on Whidbey. It went to the thrift store within a month.
It is amazing how fast we alien creatures adapt to life on Whidbey. I had spent my adult life both urban and urbane, accustomed to making reservations for dinner, not cooking. Whiling away the hours with smart conversation and reading, not weed-whacking. Rushing to the next meeting, not volunteering to save whales and trees.
The Rock quickly changed our habits and perceptions. Within a week of our arrival in June 2009, we were confronted by a huge yard that needed mowing. The John Deere riding mower was soon delivered, and JD and I quickly formed a bromance that abides to this day. I can almost feel my testosterone level rise as JD and I mow our acreage.
I was amazed one rainy morning to see how beautiful Bartlett pears look while still growing on a tree. Previously, I only saw them stacked in perfect rows in the produce department at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. I began to understand how much work it is to pick the fruit, pack it carefully, ship it, store it and merchandise it.
Next came the apple harvest, bucket after bucket of big and juicy Gravensteins from just two ancient trees that appeared to have been planted by Captain Vancouver. I, who thought applesauce came from a jar and apple pie from Sara Lee, learned to make both from scratch. I even learned how to can things in Mason jars; just make sure the boiling water bath lasts at least 10 minutes.
The piece de resistance of that first summer was, without question, the crabapple harvest from a tree even older than the Gravenstein trees. Plump little red crabapples by the hundreds filled our sink. But what on earth to do you do with them? Fortunately, one modern convenience we were not forced to live without on the Rock was a good Internet connection. A quick Google search provided a spectacular recipe for crabapple jelly, which—when held up to sunlight—has a remarkable rose hue. Google also gave us a recipe for crabapple liqueur, but we’re still acquiring a taste for that.
Of course, with all this food growing up right beside us, we became concerned about adding some pounds, and a riding lawnmower isn’t an urban gym’s elliptical machine. So from our very first days on the Rock we set out on hikes and beach walks to explore and work off locally grown calories.
One of my favorite spots on the island is Libbey Beach, hidden away off the highway at the end of Libbey Road. A favorite photo of me is standing, arms folded on Libbey Beach, with the Straits of Juan de Fuca behind me. Beaches here don’t have beautiful white sand to run between your toes. Instead, they have big rocks, razor sharp barnacles and slippery seaweed designed to impede your gait. But that, I have learned, is the whole point of living here.
As I prepare to celebrate seven wonderful years on the Rock, I am proud that my gait has been impeded. Moving slower gives me more time to revel in things that matter more— apples, pears, crabapples and John Deere among them.
Photos by Harry Anderson
Once upon a time, Harry Anderson made an honest living as a reporter, editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in central Whidbey, where he spends his time gardening and ruminating on things that interest him.
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