Editorial Column: Ferries, Friends and Music are the Bounty of the Islands

By Margie Doyle

Last week, Lonely Planet travel magazine named the San Juan Islands the #3 travel destination, and singled out its restaurants for praise.  In the following article, Editor Margie Doyle talks about “local tourism” as experienced by the Island A Cappella singers’ interisland tour to present “Tidings of Joy.”

Last weekend, the Islands a Cappella singing group, which has performed in Spain, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic as well as the San Juan Islands, made its bi-annual inter-island tour (this year to Orcas, Lopez and San Juan Islands) in performing “a festival of songs for the holidays: Tidings of Joy!”

We sang to Orcas audiences in the Music Room at Rosario Resort (with the balconies packed), to an always-warm Lopez audience at the Lopez Center, and to a full house at St. David’s Church on San Juan Island on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6 p.m.

Due to the ferry travel required of this inter-island group, this schedule meant that we 25 singers from all three islands were hosts and guests to each other on two of the three nights.

When I first heard of this plan, I resisted, thinking, “Oh no, I want to sleep in my own home.” Islands A Cappella regularly rehearses on Sundays, usually on San Juan Island (again, the ferry schedule dictates), and at first it seemed like too much to ask that we spend the whole weekend traveling, eating and sleeping as well as singing.

But after acceptance came a spirit of adventure and we entered into planning our tour itinerary with gusto.

Our first performance at Rosario, was distinguished by the appearance of the Orcas Boys Choir with us. The seven young boys were dear beyond words, and tears came to many an eye as Islands A Cappella Choir Director Angel Michaels gently led them in “Pie Jesu.”

Dinner in the Rosario Dining Room followed, and visiting the Christmas tree displays in the lobby. We marveled at the character and variety of the trees decorated by island non-profits and voted for our favorites. Islands A Cappella and Rosario Resort have mutually benefited from their relationship, as the choir brings audiences to the venue Rosario provides, and in turn, many who’ve attended the event stay for dinner.

Lopez soprano Ann Palmer (also Orcas Issues’  webmaster), came home with me that night and slept in our guest room. In the morning, we made coffee and chatted briefly before I drove her to the 9:15 ferry. We got there early, so she had time to catch the interisland ferry and was a half-hour ahead of the game. I treated myself to driving back to Eastsound on the “other” route,” past Grindstone Harbor and White Beach.

Saturday afternoon, we Orcasians boarded the 3:10 ferry for Lopez. We talked of the passage of the marijuana and gay marriage bills and how that will affect us. We tossed around ideas about how the county’s islands could collaborate on education and waste management. As an advocate of “keeping it local” in most things, I resist the concept of economies of scale — to me it’s not worth the price that is paid in distance and regulation.

And yet, here we were “branching out” to Lopez and San Juan, taking on the logistics of ferry rides, venue bookings, publicity and overnight accommodations so that we could bring a festive gift to ourselves and our audiences.

We 15,000 islanders like to do things our own way. We like our individual island homes. We’re not only a county far out in the northwest corner of our state, and our country, we are island-provincial in that we LIKE the idiosyncratic characters and lifestyles of our island homes. We have plenty — or enough — to involve us on our individual islands — Lopez, Orcas and San Juan (okay, and Crane, Obstruction, Shaw and Waldron too); and so, much as we’ll fight for our rights to keep our interisland ferry routes running, it takes a LOT to discipline ourselves to meet ferry timelines.

Yes, our “neighborhoods” are separated by water, but we share so much; health, environment, government and transportation just for beginners. And we’re a microcosm, a splendid laboratory, for the greater world. We figure out solutions that can be transplanted to the larger-scale communities.

We arrived on Lopez with time for a cup of tea. As I took the last packet of Earl Grey tea at Isabel’s, another customer asked me, “Have you tried the double bergamot?” and I asked if I could put the regular Earl Grey (single bergamot)  back. She said, “As long as you haven’t licked it.”

At the Lopez Center with its big hall and high ceilings, the audience filled extra chairs and we choristers luxuriated in the warm acoustics and wide stage platforms (as opposed to the little stands half of the choir mounts when we sing at Rosario).

We had dinner at the Galley Restaurant and did some table-hopping before our meals arrived. With 20 people seated at the table, including friends and spouses, it was a party!

On Saturday night I stayed at George and Kay Keeler’s home in “South Lopez.” Well, it was South Lopez for me — I’ve never been past Lopez Village in the 12 years I’ve lived in San Juan County. I was a little shy, because  I’d just met George three weeks before, and I’d never met his wife. She hadn’t come to the Lopez concert because she was hosting the annual holiday party for the Lopez Community Land Trust.

When we arrived at their home by the airport, the guests were leaving, and my hosts offered me wine and refreshments from their party and then asked if I wanted to join them as they watched a Danish television series they were following. I declined and retired to the bedroom where I fell asleep, hearing the wind whip around outdoors as I read my book under a sage green quilt, warmed just enough by the fire from their wood stove.

The next morning, I had coffee and my host offered me breakfast, but I just wanted my morning jolt. While he readied himself to drive me to the ferry, I perused their hallway bookshelves, admiring the variety of old and new books on a variety of topics. I loved that on a display in the hallway my hostess had posters of her political causes — the re-election of President Obama, the No-GMO initiative.

Outside, dawn was breaking clear and calm. At the side of the fallow garden were a small array of solar panels. As we drove to the ferry (Lopez’ speed limit of 25 mph seemed like a crawl compared to the fast pace of Orcas’ near-universal 40 mph limits), I heard of their former lives in Washington DC and Australia, of their family’s ownership of the Lopez property where their children and grandchildren have come and gone over the years, and of their two years’ in lively downtown Seattle, where, for all its attractions, there was no sense of community and they felt isolated. So they renovated the family cabin on Lopez, complete with three king-sized trundle beds in the loft, where the grandchildren have slept four-to-a-bed on occasion.

Home again on Orcas I showered and changed my overnight bag, before heading once again on the ferry for San Juan. Just as I pulled into the Orcas Landing parking lot, the radio began playing the Chanticleer version of our closing piece, “Ave Maria” by Biebl — no, not Justin. Perennially last minute, I told myself I would lock the car at five minutes before ferry departure time, and just as the choir launched into the soaring conclusion, I had to turn the radio off. As I trotted to the boat, so glad I wasn’t wearing heels, I saw my choir mate racing onboard ahead of me, her arms full of freshly-printed programs.

On board the boat, after “putting on my face,” as my mother would say, in the restroom, I joined my Orcas choir mates and reveled in the memories of the previous two nights’ concerts.

We arrived on San Juan with hours before our concert at St. David’s. It was sheer luxury to have unscheduled time to browse the shops, linger over a cup of tea and walk past downtown to the church. We sang to a “full house” and another appreciative  audience, complete with the composer of one of our spiritual favorites, “O Magnum Mysterium” (“O greatest mystery that animals should be the first to see the Lord lying in a humble manger”).

Then, our rehearsals and concert season over until next year, we scattered. The Lopezians raced for the ferry that left 10 minutes after the concert ended. It was too late for Orcasians to ferry back, and so some of us had dinner at our hosts’ homes, while others went to the Downrigger for dinner, joined by a few members of the audience. It was fun to revisit the performance from the audience’s perspective.

I was spending the night with my hostesses, Ellen Roberts and Judy Lingerfelt in the Foxhall neighborhood. On the way, I asked Ellen if she was a member of St. David’s Church. No, she said, she was Jewish, but she especially loved to sing the centuries-old Latin songs.

Once home, Ellen took a phone call from her daughter, miles away, and they made arrangements for a family reunion next summer. Their home was decorated with winter scenes of snow, villages and candlelight. As I commented on one “Christmas scene,” Judy gently corrected me, “Winter scene,”  and I appreciated more broadly the beauties of the season — love, friendship, weather, warmth and most of all — music. For while we may not say out loud, “A shining light is over us called Peace” or “What can I give, poor as I am?” or “Strike the harp and join the chorus,” we can sure sing them, reverently, humbly or lustily as the spirit moves us.

And we can sing them all together, whether we recycle a lot, a little or not at all, whether we fault public education or work to improve it, whether we smoke pot or see it as a hazardous choice, or all the other differences that we churn about.

Life is a gift, and song celebrates that. What appears at first glance to be a huge hassle is a small effort compared to the rewards of knowing we share a common fate and  common blessings.

George Keeler said it beautifully, “We open our voices, open our homes, open our hearts.”

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Editorial Column: Ferries, Friends and Music are the Bounty of the Islands — 13 Comments

  1. Beautifully said, Margie. Thank you for reminding us all of the spirit of the islands.

  2. Margie:

    You paint images with words as an artist paints with brushes and colors. Thanks for this Holiday uplift.

  3. This is a difficult time of year and in the midst of my stress and worry and upsets with one thing and another, I am stopped and stilled and deeply touched by what you write. Thank you, Margie, for sharing so beautifully what it is imperative to remember. That underneath all the craziness there is the true miracle, the real gift, shining brightly, always there, whether we acknowledge it or not. It is there. Happy Holy Days!

  4. Ah, Margie! A lovely piece. Such compelling reading that my other emails were ignored while I read. And I’m someone who will read my mail in the car rather than when I get home!

  5. Margie, you always write beautifully and eloquently — but this took my breath away and filled me with longing — to be in the islands to share the Christmas season there, and simply to share in community and friendship on Orcas. I miss all of you SO much! Wishing happy holidays to you and Lin and the rest of your support “crew.”

  6. Margie. You say so well what we often overlook, we have more in common with our fellow man than we have differences.

  7. All of the above, Margie…Thank you for sharing our A Cappella experience and inter-island co-operation with a larger audience. I have long thought that, by combining our print weekly newspapers into one, we could further that “no man is an island” sense.
    There is a powerful, and perhaps spiritual effect that vocal ensemble music has on the performers and audience alike.
    “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. ” Don’t you agree?

  8. Margie, I don’t know which story I enjoyed more, this one or your reminiscences about your childhood Christmas traditions. Beautiful and touching.

  9. Thank you Margie. You are inspiring. The sentiment is why we moved here and why we stay. Our island home. The pace we move the nature that surrounds us are all such a gift. It is this season we often take time to reflect and give thanks. Thanks for reminding us. Denise

  10. Thank You Margie, and don’t mind me if I say my first impressions of you, continue today you help everyone to feel more fortunate.