Saturday, December 5, 2009

Portrait of an island

The climate and terrain of the Pacific Northwest was quite different from northern Minnesota. In my family there were no stories of any difficulty with the change in geography. Probably it was simply that the move had been made because Grandpa made the decision and in a typical patriarchal Scandinavian family, no one would have dared complain.

Until WWII changed life forever, Bainbridge Island was a rural, isolated, hideaway for people who valued their privacy and disconnection with larger comunities. The small shipyard, once a world-class sailing ship producer, even before December 7, 1941, had Navy contracts. Mainly they had been for repairs but as soon as the war needs surfaced, the yard won contracts to build Navy mine sweepers. If not for that, the Island may have remained invisible for many more decades. But as soon as WWII impacted employment across the country, the Island's population exploded with newcomers, probably all of them arived to work at the Island's shipyard. The war in fact was the driving force that caused the state of Washington to become a new pioneering destination. Locations such as the Bremerton Naval Shipyard, war factories and shipyards in Seattle, military installations around the Sound and on the eastern boundaries of the state, all needed civilian workers. On the Island, people commuted to and from by ferry boat.

The primary ferry route between the Island and Seattle then and now, takes about thirty five to forty five minutes. Until 1951 when a bridge was completed connecting the Island to the Olympic Peninsula, the only way to get off or on was by ferry - not the political, state-run system of today; instead it was the privately-owned Black Ball Ferry Line headed by the infamous, Captain Peabody. Infamous because in the Island's newspaper, the Captain was the target of Islander's frustration at being his captives - he was, after all, the keeper of the keys, the troll at the toll booth.

The Island measures nearly three miles wide by twelve miles long. It is lacey with roads, lanes, and paths. The weather is wet with rain, occasional heavy snow, and unpredictable sunshine. The skies are more often than not, silvery grey. When the sun shines, a depth-defying blue canopy envelopes the landscape. Mild temperatures and abundant water create perfect growing conditions for lush forests and spectacular gardens. The Island is a deep green jewel set in the sapphire-blue salt water of Puget Sound. Bounding the Sound to the east the sparkling city of Seattle hovers at the shore. To the west, south, and north, the Sound winds around more islands and touches forested land on all sides. The entrance to the Sound from the Pacific Ocean marks the boundary of northwestern Canada including Canada's magnificent Vancouver Island. The snow-frosted Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges guard to the east and west. It is among the world's lovliest locations.

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