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Unmarked Crossings: a poet and her journeys

Orcas Island Residency: Spring 2011

I’m not sure how it happens, but it seems that I often find myself away from home at this time of year. Last spring I was in North Carolina as the inaugural writer-in-residence at Connemara, the North Carolina estate of my fellow Illinois poet, Carl Sandburg. I lived in the Farm Manager’s Cottage, visiting the goats daily and enjoying the spirit of Sandburg to inspire me. Today I am sitting at a large window in the library of Kangaroo House on Orcas Island in Puget Sound, Washington, awaiting whatever delicious-smelling baked goods will be served momentarily and sipping a cup of excellent coffee (it is Washington State, after all!).

Now, Charles has just brought out a platter of Ambrosia muffins from the kitchen for the residents to enjoy: think coconut, nuts, and two kinds of fruit, with real butter dripping off. They are perfect muffins—crisp on the outside, but tender inside. A tangerine and a glass of juice and I’m good to go. I believe I may have now fully recovered from my lengthy travels to be here for a week of my own version of the Three R’s: writing, rest, and rejuvenation.

It took me two full days to arrive here. Halfway to Louisville before dawn on Thursday morning, I was beginning to regret my decision to save a couple of hundred bucks by flying from there (a two-hour drive), rather than from Lexington (an hour’s drive at most). Not only did I have to get up before dawn, by around 4:30 a.m., I had not been able to go to bed until after midnight Wednesday evening and kept waking up because I was afraid of oversleeping. By the time I was on the plane to my layover in Atlanta, I was sure I would fall asleep right away. Wrong. I was just dozing off as we bumped to a landing in Atlanta. A three-hour layover is enough to have a leisurely lunch, find my departure gate, and chill.

The five and a half hour flight from Atlanta to Seattle would surely provide me ample time to get caught up on some sleep. Wrong again. Here’s something that my friends know about me: I am very competitive. When I learned that, rather than watching old episodes of TV sit-coms, I could play in-flight trivia against other passengers, it was on! So, as soon as we were above the clouds (and for the next five hours), I played game after game of twenty-question trivia. Sometimes I would win; a few times I was trounced. But my name was listed as second in the top-ten players for the flight by the time we landed. But no sleep.

My friend from Vermont Studio Center, Carole d’Inverno, picked me up at the airport and drove me to the Ballard district north of downtown Seattle, where she lives with her husband Bill and daughter Monica. Ballard seemed a charming little village with century-old brick buildings reminiscent of the little towns in Western movies. When I learned that a four-square house on a tiny lot down the street from Carole’s Craftsman-style home was listed for sale at around $700,000, I realized that sometimes charm comes at a price. A high price.

Carole, Monica, and I had a wonderful dinner (FRESH swordfish!) with lively conversation at a small but elegant restaurant in downtown Ballard. Pretty cool to have the waiter ask Carole if she wanted “her table.” Although I loved looking at all the artwork and Carole's quirky collections of puppets and retro items, by the time we returned to her home I had been up for nearly twenty-four hours (on a little more than three and a half hours sleep). I crashed and fell asleep almost immediately.

In the morning Carole made almond-flour, blueberry pancakes with honey and homemade pluot jam. Heaven! I made arrangements to meet Bibi and Bob, who had offered to give me a ride to the ferry terminal in Anacortes, a couple of hours north of Seattle. Bibi is a memoirist who will be sharing the residency here at Kangaroo House. This residency allows husbands, wives, or other significant others, to accompany the residents, so Bob had come along to do some photography and birding on the island while Bibi writes.

By the time we arrived at the ferry terminal, there was time to get the car in the line for Orcas Island, purchase sandwiches and drinks for lunch, and then get back into the car a few minutes before the loading began. Bob and Bibi chose to go up to the passenger area of the ferry. I stayed in the car, opting for a nap instead. I covered up with the windbreaker I had bought at the ferry terminal (I feared the jackets I had brought with me would not be warm enough), and drifted off to dreamland, as the ferry made its way through the San Juan islands to our destination of Orcas Island.

A short drive (about ten miles) brought us to Kangaroo House, just about a mile from the village of East Sound. Kangaroo House got its name when a former owner brought a young kangaroo (a joey) home from his worldwide travels. Children in the area began calling the home, that “kangaroo house.” The name stuck and when the spacious Craftsman residence became a B & B, keeping the casual moniker as the name of the inn, seemed a perfect way to remember a time when the house was someone’s home.

Now Charles and Jill, the proprietors, have opened the house and grounds to artists and writers for a few weeks each spring in what they call The Garden Party Residencies. A delicious continental breakfast of fruit, baked goods, juice, and tea or coffee is provided each morning, but residents are responsible for their own meals the rest of the day. Each resident is required to provide eight hours of work in the B&B’s garden over the course of his or her week’s stay, preparing the garden for summer’s tourist activities. Of course, after an hour or two of pruning, raking, digging, or other gardening activities, residents are welcome to walk to the bottom of the garden and slip into the outdoor hot tub, where the temperature is always a simmering 102 degrees.

Today, everyone is just getting acclimated to the island, to time changes, and to living in a strange, but wonderful, new surroundings. I’ve staked my claim to this table by the window in the library. I have a comfortable chair, a view of a corner of the garden and a massive conifer laden with pine cones, and my laptop. I’m just a few steps from the coffee and tea service area (and I think there are a couple of muffins left in the breakfast room, too).

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