Vashon Island, Washington
THE UBIQUITOUS “Keep Vashon Weird” bumper stickers on the S. S. Katsip seem like a marketing campaign to attract only colorful personalities. The island is indeed home to many artists, has its share of characters (like any community) and its curiosities, including a tree that’s grown with a bike embedded in its trunk, and a phalanx of abandoned exercise bicycles along part of its 45-mile shore. Yet it isn’t the degree of oddity that establishes street cred- ibility here, but rather the depth of roots.
At the top of the prestige pyramid are the twenty or so fourth-generation folks; the clout declines with fewer ancestors and fewer years on the island. According to some, without at least a fifteen-year residence “Vashonian” status cannot be attained. Rank is established overtly, as when people quickly work into conversation that they graduated from the local high school, or more covertly, as when locals knowingly give directions referencing buildings that were torn down decades before. If they’ve been here long enough, they might refer to the IGA supermarket by its previous name, Beck’s. If they’re a true old timer, they’ll call it Kimmel’s—which was its midcentury identity.
While this pecking order exists as a matter of pride, anyone who lives here is part of Vashon’s fabric. There are no gated communities, and there’s no atmosphere of exclusion. As 21-year resident (and artisanal cheesemaker) Kurt Timmermeister says, “As with many smaller islands, there’s a clear cultural motif here. There are no blurred lines of zip codes, or neighborhoods that blend into one another. It’s a finite geography—you either live here, and are part of it, or you don’t, and you’re not.”
It’s the kind of place where a neighbor might be a female blacksmith, a twelve-year-old boy who’s been knitting for five years, a taco shop owner who can only seat four inside—but has a portrait of himself with Martha Stewart, or a musician who invents instruments based on childhood experiments and what his physics professor taught him. It’s an eclectic if not exotic group, and a friendly one that bids visitors adieu with schoolchildren’s “Highway Haiku” along the ferry’s waiting line.
Anyone who craves solitude can find their bliss on Vashon Island. There’s very little hustle and almost no bustle, other than when the sheepdogs are chasing the lambs at the annual National Trials, or cyclists are dominating the punishing hills for the Passport 2 Pain charity event that supports the local rowing club. But if the winter wind blows down the power lines and hibernation without internet becomes too much to bear, The Hardware Store’s generator will be going strong, and the neighbors will be there plugging in and catching up over coffee. And if all the quiet and quirkiness begin to stifle, the ferry heads toward the twinkling lights of Seattle a few times a day. It’s only twenty minutes away, on a good day with no fog. Or long lines. Or mechanical failures. But what a wonderful place to be delayed.