I fled the Rock this month for a week. I flew on an airplane for the first time in 18 months. I mingled (carefully distanced, of course) with people from such strange and faraway places as Texas and Santa Barbara. I ate Southwestern food with lots of green chiles and drank strong coffee roasted by artists near beautiful Taos in New Mexico, where I was staying.
I slept in a less comfortable bed than the one I have at home. I drove in a rental car that made weird noises. I drank several tequilas I had never heard of. I visited countless art galleries. I chatted with old and new friends for hours.
Then I flew, drove and ferried until at last the Rock appeared before me, and I breathed its luxuriant fresh air once again.
I admit it. The day I left I was happy to escape the crowds that have descended on Whidbey this summer. Tourism has skyrocketed here. Traffic is dense, parking is scarce, trails are congested and restaurants that can seat you immediately don’t exist.
When I checked the ferry cameras for the Clinton dock that Sunday afternoon, there was at least a four-boat backup as our visitors waited to go back home. As a typical Rock dweller unused to and impatient with such things, I drove around over the Deception Pass Bridge, and then I cruised the I-5 to SeaTac in a little over three hours.
My need to get away from the Rock – coupled with the thousands “not from around here” who feel compelled to visit it – is part of a post-Covid phenomenon occurring all over. I call it the urge to emerge – to come out of our pandemic cocoon, set aside all devices capable of transmitting and receiving social media, turn off the television and go someplace. It might be a half hour hike at Double Bluff or it might be a three-hour plane ride to New Mexico. I think the urge to emerge has become as strong a human impulse as sex and hunger.
One of the benefits of this urge for me was the chance to recall what I miss about our Rock while far from it.
And, indeed, while sampling spicy food, drinking expensive tequila and admiring the impressive work of new artists in Taos, I did think a lot about why I love living on the Rock, even while visitors overrun it during the post-Covid urge to emerge.
The view from my living room window of Penn Cove with Mount Baker shimmering in the distance never disappoints. Picking Gravenstein apples from two ancient trees in my yard couldn’t happen when I lived in California and Texas, and they don’t grow in New Mexico.
Strolling out to the bluff at Ebey’s Prairie with its extraordinary view from Mount Rainier to Vancouver Island is a treasure beyond any riches I possess.
Seeing a first-run film at The Clyde in Langley, a perfectly maintained 1930s movie palace, beats the heck out of the cramped multiplexes in America — and it costs less, has real popcorn and doesn’t charge to park.
Then there’s walking around Fort Casey State Park, admiring the massive gun emplacements amazingly built in just few months at the beginning of World War II.
And hiking over to the old Admiralty Head lighthouse and crawling up the ladder to see where the light once sat.
I love strolling down the scenic Bayshore waterfront trail in Oak Harbor, watching boats go by. I’m even grateful for the big box stores and fast food joints in the Rock’s “big city;” their products come in handy when needed and their urban presence is quickly forgotten once you head into glorious rural scenery north and south of the city.
Hanging out at the antique Coupeville Wharf and hoping to spot an orca pod taking a sightseeing trip through Penn Cove can’t be duplicated anywhere.
And it’s great to eat world-class cuisine at Whidbey’s wonderful foodie restaurants from the Inn at Langley to Orchard Kitchen to Oystercatcher to Frasier’s.
Then buying local-grown organic vegetables at the Bayview Farmer’s Market.
Yes, indeed. I love living on the Rock.
As I boarded the Alaska Airlines jet for my flight home from New Mexico, the flight attendant proudly assured all us anxious passengers that the jet’s new air filtration system was constantly exchanging all the air in the plane, every two to three minutes.
That really diminishes the threat of virus transmission while sitting in a steel cylinder with 150 or so other people.
I could really feel the air being exchanged as I buckled my seatbelt and adjusted my mask. But Mother Nature’s air filtration system on Whidbey is a thousand times better. It makes you happy to inhale and it doesn’t charge a fare.
• Harry Anderson is a retired journalist for the Los Angeles Times who lives in Central Whidbey.