A visit to Vashon Island to mark the beginning of summer
How is it possible to resist celebrating the summer solstice on an island that the New York Times described as “Mayberry Meets Burning Man”? A place where sheep dog trials compete with opera productions, and art galleries thrive alongside the annual Strawberry Festival parade with the grocery cart drill team and the samba ladies?
The ferry from West Seattle to Vashon Island was full of island types in their pickups and 4x4s and holiday makers with kayaks strapped to the roofs, cyclists and people like my husband and I wanting to enjoy a change of atmosphere on the first weekend of summer, miraculously sunny and warm.
The first stop after driving off the ferry was the Vashon farmer’s market, full of good things from the land and the creative minds of the many artists and artisans living on the island, only a fifteen minute ride from Seattle but a world away. We sampled truffles and caramels, bought fruit and veggies, inspected the pasture-raised local meat from the Mid-Life Crisis Farms, and talked with the lady who sold raffle tickets for a charming quilt depicting island businesses. But what really drew our eyes were the flowers – who can resist delphiniums with their bright blue spikes? The market flowers reminded us that it was the Vashon Allied Arts Garden Tour weekend, complete with a fair, our next stop.
Eye-catching as most of the displays at the fair were, the most creative works were the plants and flowers made by Mike Urban, who told us he was the originator of the sparkling glass flowers made of dishes and bowls catching the sun’s rays. To our amusement he also had a selection of potted plants made of old spark plugs and other discards. One of the “plants,” made with egg beaters and spoons was titled “Mixed Media.”
With no time to visit any of the gardens on this year’s tour but wanting more color, we traipsed off to the VALISE gallery to admire Carol Schwennesen’s 50-year retrospective entitled “Hunting in the Bends of Time.” Carol described how the paintings illustrated her journey from figurative works to those with mythological connotations and the underlying tensions and forces in the earth.
By now our senses were overloaded. Taking a break, we flopped on the chairs and sofas decorating the porch at the Vashon Coffee Roasterie where the locals meet to sip in a down-home atmosphere and old-fashioned jars of medicinal herbs and teas along with coffee await inside the store. Energy revived, it was time to visit the more rural parts of the island, not that the little town itself isn’t rural – in keeping with the rest of the island there are no traffic lights.
Making our way through quiet fields, B&Bs, and fragrant lavender farms to the most westerly part of the island, we came to the Point Robinson lighthouse that has guided freighters and ferries since 1885. The light is now automated, but the lighthouse keeper’s quarters and those of his assistant are available for rent to those looking for a quiet weekend or week on the beach. What a perfect place to write or paint.
We climbed the steep spiral staircase of the lighthouse to look at the Fresnel light and watch the ships glide by. After a walk along the sandy shore, we moved on to Quartermaster Harbor with its anchored yachts and then to the hamlet of Dockton nearby. Narrow lanes bordered by homes and flower-filled gardens overlook the water and a few fishing boats. Madrona trees with their red and chartreuse peeling bark bordered the scene.
The sun was declining as were we. It was time to head to our friends’ home for a taste of locally made bread and cheese, and Washington wines while watching the cruise ships leaving Seattle for Alaska. Dinner was at May’s Kitchen & Bar, filled with diners sampling their delicious Thai food. Attracting our attention was the Garuda’s Perch cocktail with fresh basil and lemon muddle, and citron vodka poured in a glass with a sugared rim. One dinner dish to savor was gaeng khiao waan, green curry, Thai green chiles, galangal, lemongrass, Thai eggplant, coconut cream with chicken.
The huge meal called for a stroll in the lingering twilight before giving up for the night, the shortest of the year. Before catching the ferry the following morning, there was time for brunch at The Hardware Store, a thriving eatery occupying the oldest commercial building on the island, opened as a hardware store121 years ago. The food is hearty with standards like eggs benedict and specialties such as an omelet made with house-smoked trout, chevre, chives and arugula.
The ferry was just loading when we reached the dock and all too soon we left life in the slow lane for reality.