The first weekend in March I toiled as a volunteer over a hot grill, cooking and selling “prairie dogs” at the annual Coupeville MusselFest to raise money for the Island County Historical Museum. I admit that selling polish sausage at a shellfish event would seem the antithesis of carrying coals to Newcastle. But despite that irony, it was an amazing opportunity to watch how a horde of locals and visitors set aside their differences (and they are many) to mingle, drink, eat and enjoy a beautiful moment together on our Rock.
Visitors came from Vancouver, Bellingham, Seattle, Portland, the Navy and all over the entire world. Parking’s always a bitch in Coupeville and it’s much worse during MusselFest. That’s why a good many locals, including me, hiked into town or parked in a neighbor’s driveway, thus giving our visitors the chance to slow down (and circle around) before chowing down.
That slow pace also gave me the chance to file away some great snapshots in my mind’s eye. Snapshot one: A busload of Korean tourists took hundreds of selfies while seemingly engaged in spirited debate over how Penn Cove mussels compare with their equally famous Korean mussels. Nobody translated so I don’t know what they said; that actually may have prevented an international dust-up. They also bought no polish sausages; too big a cultural leap, I suppose.
Snapshot two: Three young Millennial women from Seattle, bundled in North Face and REI gear, stuffed a half dozen prairie dogs in their purses and backpacks to enjoy later. They were spending the night in sleeping bags at Fort Ebey, they told me, and the hot dogs would be their dinner. Ah, these Millennials, how I admire their bravery and search for new experiences!
Snapshot three: A tall Bellevue woman, well coiffed, impeccably dressed and carrying a designer handbag, stood out amid the Rock’s sea of fleece, flannel, denim and unruly hair. She became quite perturbed at 2 p.m. when told she had arrived much too late to buy tickets for the chowder-tasting tour, which were gone before noon. People from America sometimes can be like that when disappointed. But, after enjoying a plate of mussels and something to drink in the beer and wine tent, I saw her smiling, chatting and counting shells just like everyone else.
Of course, the biggest thing anyone notices at Musselfest is the enormous number of children who come to town to celebrate our famous mollusk. I bet the median age of Coupeville dropped by at least 30 years during the weekend. Of course, by Sunday evening when the kids were gone, it went right back where it belongs — to the median age of the glucosamine generation. What a pleasure to see so many parents having a good time with all their kids, not to mention showing off all the very expensive strollers and elaborate papoose backpacks they bring them in.
It was also wonderful to see kids smiling and happy as clams eating prairie dogs after resolutely refusing their parents’ request to try “just one” mussel. It’s an acquired taste, kids.
The other big thing we all notice and love is the number of beautiful dogs who bring their owners with them to Musselfest. It’s become almost an Easter Parade for canines. My buddy Mark Bantz, the master griller who cooks hundreds of prairie dogs every year to support the museum, also sets aside a sausage or two, cut in bite-sized pieces, as treats. Dogs for dogs.
Canines, kids, wealthy ladies from Bellevue, Koreans, Millennials, Canadians, Oregonians, sailors and so many more. They swallowed their differences and created a moment of peace as honorary Rock dwellers during MusselFest.