It was like seven months ago now when Quilldancer, initially in a mood of pure fantasy, started asking me about places to live. Places other than dry, dusty, deserty, fabulous Las Vegas. I was telling her about Maine, with its bugs and its seventeen seasons (one of which is actually habitable) and its people who label anyone not in town for at least three generations as “from away”, she was interested in only one thing. “Is it green??”
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This is Quilly’s first visit to Friday Harbor. Me? I’ve been coming here, off and on, for twenty-two years now. I first arrived in 1975, in a rickety old Ford Econoline van that I purchased from a high school classmate whom I had never trusted before in my life – and shouldn’t have that time, either. Which I drove from Boston clear across the country. In three and a half days. The last one without an alternator.
My feat was trumped by a fellow, name of Paul, who came out to Friday Harbor from North Carolina. On his motorcycle. Each of us thought the other was nuts. We’re now team-teaching a class on seaweeds to twelve graduate students. Students who are taking the same class that we took back in 1975.
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By the time we got there, the Friday Harbor Laboratories had already been one of the happening places for students of marine biology for nearly eight decades. The current laboratory grounds, all 484 acres of them, had once been a military reserve (there are still a few fragments of foundations that might have been things like blockhouses and gun emplacements). The reserve was deeded to the University of Washington, specifically for a marine biology field station, in 1921. On the wall of the main laboratory building, near the main entrance, there is a plaque consisting of the letter granting the property to the University, signed by President Warren G. Harding, and the pen with which the letter was signed. Just goes to show that there’s some good in everyone, even the President in a corrupt Administration, George.
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Friday Harbor sits in the middle of the San Juan Archipelago, a chain of islands at the entrance to Puget Sound. To the east, the Skagit Valley region of Washington State, USA. To the west, Vancouver Island, Canada. And thereby hangs a tale. Two of them, in fact.
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Tale the first. Vancouver Island serves as a giant baffle. Surf rolling in from the Pacific Ocean strikes either the island or the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State to the south. Between these two land masses is a narrow strait, the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And no ocean wave has a snowball’s chance of making it all the way through the strait and into Puget Sound. So the salty water of the San Juan Islands is as placid as a lake. Friday Harbor has no surfer dudes. Unless the kelp flies have set up a shack.
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Tale the second. When the Oregon Treaty of 1846 settled the long-standing boundary dispute between the US Oregon Country (now the states of Oregon and Washington) and the British Rupert’s Land (now the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta), it drew a line down the middle of the channel separating the US mainland and Vancouver Island (the southern tip of which lies south of the 49th parallel, North latitude, along which the rest of the boundary was drawn). Half of the channel would belong to the US, half to Great Britain.
Trouble was, the San Juan Islands, which were not marked on the maps the treaty writers used to set the boundaries, lie smack in the middle of that channel. The resulting argument led to one of the last, if not the last, armed confrontations between the United States and Great Britain. It featured, among others, Captain George Pickett (of Gettysburg fame) in early command of the American forces, and General Winfield Scott (the Mexican War hero and first General-in-Chief of Union forces during the Civil War), sent to negotiate a truce between the USA and Britain. The San Juan Island National Historical Park commemorates the event – of which the only casualty was a pig.
That was not quite the end of the matter … but I’ll tell the story of Point Roberts another time.
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How did the place get the name Friday Harbor anyway? Quilly asked me that question the other day, and I didn’t know the answer. I didn’t think the place had been discovered on a Friday, and I didn’t think that Robinson Crusoe had had anything to do with Washington State.
Turns out, ironically, that the town was in fact named after a Man Friday. Joseph Poalima Friday, to be precise. No, not that Joe Friday… Friday, once an employee of a Hudson’s Bay Company farm in what is now part of Washington State, moved to the site of the town of Friday Harbor, right around the time of the Pig War, and raised sheep.
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“Poalima? Is that an Indian name?” Nope. It’s Polynesian. Joseph Poalima Friday landed in western North America from Hawai’i. How weird is that …?
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Quilly and I are here in Friday Harbor for another six weeks or so, and then (assuming all goes as planned) we’ll be on our way to Honolulu. In the meantime, I expect you’ll be hearing more from Quilly than from me on this blog.
For one thing, I’m working, while she’s hibernating.
For another, I’ve asked her to do me a favor. Anything I write, I give to her, and she has the right to post it, trash it, or set it aside for some other purpose. Has she ever bothered to tell you that she had a major role in editing Magic Bites, the well-received debut novel of fantasy writer Ilona Andrews – and got a juicy acknowledgment for her work in the front of the book?
Of course, with me, she’s got tougher material to work with. But, you never know …
– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.