By Harry Anderson
Spring’s budding out everywhere, my arm’s been jabbed twice with Moderna vaccine and Island County has moved into Phase Three. So last week, I was ready for an adventure beyond lockdown – masked and at a safe distance, of course.
I decided to do something I had been dreaming up for two years: Take an Island Transit bus from Oak Harbor to the Clinton Ferry Dock, enjoy the scenery and make a few stops along way to stroll and have a snack. In other words, act like a tourist for a day on this Rock where I live.
I’ve been on Whidbey for almost 12 years but like so many Rock dwellers, I had never boarded an Island Transit bus – even though I pay taxes to support them and they don’t charge fares. At 9 a.m., I boarded the No. 1 Southbound bus at Harbor Station in Oak Harbor. I arrived at the ferry dock six hours later, having stopped in between for short visits in Coupeville, Greenbank, South Whidbey State Park, Freeland and Bayview.
Here are my brief notes on what turned out to be an insightful adventure.
Oak Harbor: I’m early at the bus stop on a dank, drizzly morning. The city has a standoffish, timid feeling. Nobody makes eye contact as they bustle past me. To pass some time, I take a quiet stroll along the beautiful Bayshore waterfront walkway and that sets a nice tone for the day. I board a bus that is well accommodated for a pandemic; masked passengers enter and exit from the rear door only and every other row is blocked. As I gaze out the window, I’m struck by how much of Oak Harbor is paved, not green.
We pass the Walmart-Safeway complex and I am reminded of that Joni Mitchell lyric: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Coupeville: After a short 25-minute ride, I jump off and walk to the wharf. I buy a coffee at Coffee on the Cove and chat with its proprietor Loretta Beaman. She tells me how surprisingly busy this historic tourist town has been lately. Lots of people are taking day trips (just as I am) to get some fresh air. As I walk back to the bus stop, I see visitors strolling Front Street even at 9:45 a.m., peeking in shop windows and hoping in vain to find something open.
Greenbank: I hop off at Smugglers Cove Road and take a 2-mile hike around what were once the lush loganberry fields of Greenbank Farm. I walk down past the buildings and notice how much the damage the pandemic has done; the iconic barn’s not in use, the art shops and some other businesses are gone.
But thankfully the cheese shop, the wine shop and café are still open. A couple new businesses are ramping up, and the ducks still swim in the pond.
South Whidbey State Park: The bus drops me right at the entrance of a park I had never visited since moving to the Rock. I had heard about its old growth trees and many hiking trails, and I was not disappointed.
Even though a number of people were there taking walks and eating, it was divinely quiet with only a choir of birds singing. Not a Navy jet could be heard.
As I stroll a forest trail, the sun breaks through the clouds and I begin to appreciate how this incredible natural beauty had greeted those Euro-Americans who arrived on the Rock in the mid-19th Century.
Freeland: The short ride from the tranquil state park quickly jolts me back to reality. Freeland has become an urban sprawl. It also has become the Wall Street of Whidbey with banks everywhere. I felt my muscles grow tense almost as much as they do when I travel to America. Too much busy-ness going on. I could hardly wait to get back on the bus.
Bayview: I jump off at the park-and-ride and stroll down to the Bayview Farm and Garden nursery. Bayview is the well-loved garden spot on our Rock and it has the best farmers market every summer.
Just walking among the plants, flowers and veggie starts refreshes my state of mind. I linger for a latte and a scone at the Flower Café next door. My heart is at rest.
Clinton: It’s easy to forget that Clinton has some of the best view homes on Whidbey, well off the highway, making it one of the best places to live on this island. But you wouldn’t know it as you ride through town to the ferry dock, with the Dairy Queen, bars and car lots. It looks like Mukilteo West. At the dock. I take some time to stroll around and enjoy the amazing, 180-degree view from Mount Baker and Camano to Edmonds. No wonder the seagulls love to sit on the fence there.
As I had home on the Northbound #1 bus, I add up a few things I learned on my adventure. Lots of new homes are being built on our Rock but for the most part they are nicely situated on large parcels surrounded by trees; they represent the dreams of new arrivals just as much as the 100-year-old farm houses and barns around them represent the dreams of those who came before.
The Rock is still mostly rural. It’s got great history and scenery everywhere, and it offers just enough big city advantages to attract great new people and tons of tourists to support the economy.
Finally, I was really impressed by Island Transit. The buses were on time, every time. The drivers were skilled and friendly; the passengers were unfailingly polite, said hello when boarding and thank you when leaving.
It made me recall a slogan that Greyhound Bus Lines used in advertising back in the 1950s: “It’s such a comfort to take the bus and leave the driving to us.” After my adventure with Island Transit, I think they ought to use it, too.