Even after a decade, the Island holds surprises

It’s a loaded question, and one all newcomers to Vashon learn to dread — “How long have you lived on the Island?”

It’s a loaded question, and one all newcomers to Vashon learn to dread — “How long have you lived on the Island?”

I’ve been asked that question a few times, and it always popped up when I least expected it, usually right after I thought I’d said something profound and insightful about this community.

At those moments, I always imagined the follow-up would be, “And when do you think you’ll be leaving?”

For years, I dodged the “longevity” question.

“Not so long,” I’d say, and then I’d slyly gesture to the tiny children who were forever by my side in those early years. “But my kids are lifers. They were born here.”

It’s sad, leaning on your babies to get a little small-town street cred, but that’s what I did, and it usually seemed to work.

But now, I answer the question directly, with my head up.

“Twelve years,” I say, knowing that’s a time span that may still not be impressive but that at least proves I’m not terribly easy to get rid of.

Still, I’m only beginning to learn the ways of this place. It’s a big job, getting to know a small town, and it takes a long time.

I came here like so many other people, from a faraway place, awestruck by the magnificent beauty I saw all around me — the temperate climate, the gentle rain, the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the towering trees and sparkling water on all sides.

But love at first sight doesn’t last, and wide-eyed wonder at physical beauty fades. Look at something long enough — even a majestic mountain rising up out of the mists of Puget Sound — and it just doesn’t thrill and surprise you like it used to.

What’s kept me here are relationships, the people I’ve met, the Islanders who have never once stopped surprising me with something new.

The biggest surprise of all is that Islanders are such a diverse group, and that for all our differences, we get along as well as we do.

Imagine our town’s population mapped out as a Venn diagram, and think of all the intersecting circles you’d find.

There’s a circle for families who have lived on Vashon for generations and another for families who just moved here.

There are circles for activists, artsy types, laid-back hippies, Drama Dockers, the music crowd, civic watchdogs, church-goers, minivan moms, stay-at-home dads, home schoolers, sports nuts, real estate agents, business owners, commuters, gardeners, growers, people who live to hunt and fish and even the summer people. There are the filthy rich, the working poor and plenty of people right in between. People here are gay and straight, young and old. They are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party members, anarchists, conspiracy theorists and people who just don’t give a darn about such things.

And that’s not all. During Strawberry Festival, I found out there’s even a circle of folks on Vashon who love cage fights. Who knew? (Evidently, hundreds of people, but I wasn’t one of them. After all, I’ve only been here 12 years.)

See what I mean about surprises?

Because we live in such a small place, on a rock surrounded by a lot of ice-cold water, we have the privilege of bumping into each other all the time, of sharing space in the same Venn diagram and having to learn to enjoy each others’ company.

Sure, it can be a chore at times. No wonder old-timers like to ask, “How long have you lived on the Island?”

Still, I like the fact that this small Island is big enough for all of us. And that’s why I hope to live here a whole lot longer.

— Elizabeth Shepherd is The Beachcomber’s arts editor.