Whidbey Island


The stretch of beach outside the cottage was piled with driftwood logs, and strewn with narrow bands of pebbles, broken purple clam shells, and thin black strands of seaweed.

My daughter and I were lucky enough to escape to Whidbey Island on a weekend that, we heard, was a soaker further south. Facebook posts from friends in Olympia bemoaned the rain – more of it! In Portland, sheets of water pounded my mom’s house, sending enough water streaming into the basement apartment that her tenant had to evacuate.

But on the island, Saturday’s morning skies verged on bright, a single gray layer of chiffon laid flat on the cutting table. By afternoon, the expanse had morphed to mottled cotton batting, torn and exposed against a pop of blue sky.


We expected to see whales. So when my daughter saw the archetypal bulge of a Gray’s back out the window early in the morning, she assumed it was the first of many. Perhaps we spent too long lingering at the table, our breakfast sandwiches stacked on blue and white plates, tea mugs steaming. The sandwiches were comforting – English muffins warmed and soft, with cheddar tucked beneath the belly of a fried egg.

By the time we started our long walk down the beach, the whales were gone. Or maybe the woman who sold us the mermaid necklace was right. You have to be up high, she said. You have to be intentional about it, scanning the surface of the water, or else you’ll miss them.

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Movies helped make up for the lack of whale sightings. We snuggled under blankets in oversized chairs next to the wood stove and swapped chocolate squares. Earlier, my daughter helped with dinner prep by slicing the oyster and shiitake mushrooms. I broke apart the beech mushrooms and dry sautéed the lot together until they were browning and fragrant. A little salt, then butter, black pepper, onion, and shallot folded into a cream sauce.

The cabin was dotted with pretty things: vintage fishing photos, a collection of sea glass, small planters brimming with succulents, even a copy of The Art of Fermentation on a living room table. The kitchen was big enough to contemplate a preserving project with more than passing seriousness: a week here to do nothing but walk on the beach, stuff cabbage and salt into Mason jars, and make sour pickles. Maybe we need to come back during the harvest.

The place had the kind of airiness and whimsy – white paneled walls and ceilings, big beachside windows, wavy glassed-in cabinetry – that lends itself to daydreams. And, of course, to post-beach games of Connect 4, couch naps, and late-night talks.

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