Three-Dot Friday Harbor

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??

Well, Friday Harbor is green. And she got an ocean into the bargain. Quilly seems to be enjoying both. Is content, even…

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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 …?

* * *

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.


  1. […] jacket for a short hike down the hill and out to the point. Once at the point, I sit on the edge of an old foundation left over from the days when the island was a fort. As I sit, I gaze across the water, watch the […]

  2. Loved hearing the History of the Area. I am always facinated on how a place get’s it name. Loved the humor in the story as well, escpecially the “not that Joe Friday… “ comment. Glad you left the link for those who don’t know who “Joe Friday” of Dragnet fame is.

    A wonderful day is wished for you both

  3. My hibernating includes making and cleaning up after three meals a day, and cleaning house. It also includes assorted walks, trips to town and refilling OC’s tea glass. Plus — and this is a remarkably curious thing — the man never fails to put down the toilet seat, but he cannot close a closet door.

    (Btw, that is not complaining, and I am remarkably not busy.)

  4. Dear Quilly and O.C………..Months ago I put you in as a twosome under “favourites”. That took me to all the posts in which you talked about each other (so sweetly) and did readings together. And now here you are IRL together at last. (and there’s a picture to prove it…..but I don’t think that pic will hold up in a court of law. You’re looking a little pale, Quilly:-)

    Quilly, your guy leaves closet doors open? My guy leaves dirty socks for me to pick up. I hate dirty socks. Now which is worse? My guys family had a daily maid to clean up after them and now forty years later he still thinks she is going to show up and pick up those socks.(haaa-haaa)

    Happy Harbor Days………..Love, Judy

  5. It is an awesome place to be sure.

    It’s nice to have an editor but you had better feed poor Quilly a she is at ninety percent opaque up there. Quite see through.

    I have always enjoyed what you write and I’m glad to see you are somewhere – again.

    Enjoy the time in that lovely place. I envy you.

  6. OC: Nice review of the area. Wonderful writing as ever.

    Quilly: If my husband ever opened a closet door, I’m sure he would close it. He can open a closet door, but thank god he doesn’t have to! Why did he marry if not for someone to tend to all things closet?

  7. Bill, I thought Jack Webb would be immortal – even if it was for a line his Joe Friday character never said (cf. “Elementary, my dear Watson”). But I take solace in the thought that the twentysomethings of this world will get to be our age and have Britney Spears for a memory.

    Put another log on the fire, Q. And watch me run … 🙂

    Glad you liked it, polona.

    I leave dirty socks around, J.D., I’m likely to end up wearing them. And this started long before there was a Quilldancer …

    Cooper, I do my best. She is something of a whiter shade of pale in that photo, isn’t she? Besides, she’s my moderator. I need her – for that and lots more besides.

    The San Juans are indeed lovely – in the summer. Winter’s rather tougher. I hope you get to spend some time out here when the weather’s nice. And when you’re next in Hawai’i …

    TLP (thank you), between us we have nearly twenty years of solitary living. There are bound to be some negotiations about closet doors. I’m sure Niks is counting his blessings. If he isn’t, tell him he doesn’t want to make me come over there … 😉

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