“The tides are perfect if we leave tomorrow,” says my husband as I sip my coffee, my day taking shape deep inside my slowly waking brain.

“What?” I ask, looking up from my precious cup of golden wonderfulness. “Tomorrow? Leave? Where?”

In the “for-better-or-for-worse” part of our marriage agreement, it sometimes takes a bit of prodding to get the man I married to catch me up to his thought processes. He is talking about untying our boat (also our home) and taking a spontaneous vacation in the San Juan Islands.

“We can’t be ready to go in a day!” I declare.

“Why not?” he taunts, eyebrows raising, mustache betraying the smile beneath. Rather than erect my usual brick wall against an idea that doesn’t initially make sense, I think about it. The last couple of months have been challenging, and we could do with a break.

Since we live on our boat, we don’t have to pack. Dan has the boat ready to go — always.

His to-do list would be intense but short. We need to get groceries. Oh, and do laundry. Oh yeah, and return the library book, refill my prescription, notify our mail service, do a little banking, finish up an article…  

It’s a lot, and my list grows as I think seriously about it. But it begins to seem possible, if I get my rear in gear.

“Ok! Let’s give it a shot!” 

Two days after hatching the plan, we are sitting at anchor in Port Townsend Bay. The next day we are swinging on the hook in Blind Bay on Shaw Island. Thus begins one of the most relaxing boat vacations we have ever experienced.

I think it has to do with spontaneity; with not having a plan; with just going with the flow of not only the tides and currents — essential considerations any time on the water — but also the flow of our day, fatigue levels, desire to explore on land (or not) and friends we happen to encounter.

To be able to sit on the bow of my boat and not only watch the water ebb and flow, but also to feel it underneath me, is to be intimately connected to nature.

Seals pop their heads up and stare at me as I brush my hair on deck. Raptors soar overhead, scanning with their incredible eyesight the motion of fish just below the surface of the water. The sun powers our solar panels, providing us with enough energy to live comfortably on our floating home. The stars pop out brightly at night and the moon waxes and wanes. Nowhere else in my life do I feel this connection with the natural world around me. Especially now, when we have no itinerary, no deadline, no expectations.

Lucky us.

We stay for three days.

On Stuart Island we hike to the lighthouse at Turn Point. There are reminders all along the way of the early settlers who had to contend with nature far more than we do in this modern day.

A one-room schoolhouse, now a museum and library for passersby, includes photos of the people who settled here in the 1800s. A deer pops out of the woods on the path, sees us, and, startled, bounds back into the woods. Remarkably, I run into a woman on the path I knew from when she worked at Queen Anne Books years back. A long chat ensues.

An old car rolled down a hill many years ago, and is now rusted and gaping where doors and windows once were.

We reach the lighthouse at last, and we read about the succession of lighthouse keepers who lived in this remote spot with their families.

Four days later, we putter over to Garrison Bay on San Juan Island. We dinghy ashore to walk the former grounds of English Camp, where the British were stationed during the infamous Pig War of 1859.

I sit under a 300-year-old maple tree on the beautiful grounds. My eyes mist over as I remember my father, some 20-plus years ago, sitting under this tree with my baby daughter on his lap. The photo I have – somewhere – captures the moment when they have locked eyes, both smiling, clearly intrigued by one another.


We walk the grounds, dutifully reading the signage, and climb up the hill to the site of the officers’ quarters.  Two days later, we are back in Reid Harbor visiting friends who have arrived on their 1932 Canadian ex-Forestry Boat, formerly owned by yours truly. The night air brings a chilly wind in our face, and as we ride back to our boat I feel my cells freezing solid. The next day finds me in bed, sleeping it off and hoping I don’t have food poisoning from the oysters we ate. I don’t.

Now the wind is blowing quite fiercely from the south, limiting our anchoring choices. We end up on the north side of Spencer Spit on Lopez Island, happily anchored, with a beach inviting us to walk and feel the sand between our bare toes.

And whoops!

My column is due today.

So I start writing, and this is what comes out.

During all the years of working and raising children, we did not have the luxury of such spontaneity and ease. But we did take trips north, and took our children deep into the rainforest to find the sense of presence and beauty and natural flow that we have grown to cherish; even more so now, with our ever-busier city, our constant connection to devices and schedules.

Time to check the tides to see what our options are for today. And hope I have a strong-enough signal to send this article.

Enjoy the rest of the summer.

Get out in nature when you can. It’s what we are meant to do.

Irene Panke Hopkins is a writer and essayist based in Seattle. More at irenehopkins.com.