Friday Harbor and Jones Island, San Juan Islands

Oct 10, 2017 - National Geographic Quest

As night edged its way toward morning, half a moon peeked between a curtain of clouds that obscured the sky. Tiny lights twinkling from the shoreline substituted for stars and told of terrestrial early risers. As we slipped around the northeast corner of San Juan Island, Victoria’s radiant glow disappeared and the city of Vancouver cast a pinkish arch mimicking the rising of the sun. Finally, the brightening sky painted the black waters steely blue then silver gray. Gulls, not yet ready to face the day, drifted by riding platters of kelp. Every moment was distinct from the one before as was every moment to come in our exploration of the day.

Friday Harbor was a bustling place. Row upon row of masts jutted from a myriad of vessels like porcupine quills. All docks converged leading us upwards towards a building that, in our eyes, dominated the town. It is possible that to others the Whale Museum appeared to be just another structure but the image of a killer whale painted on its seaward side certainly attracted our attention. Within its welcoming walls we were able to compare our bodies to that of mammals that live in the sea. We perused the family portraits of the area’s resident pods of Orcinus orca and were educated as to the risks they face. Outside, the rain came down and many found refuge in one coffee shop or another sharing the space with the occupants of a lengthy line of cars awaiting transport on the ferry. As the hands of the clock proceeded towards noon, we headed back to our home-away-from-home in brilliant sunshine.

Not far to the north and east, tiny Jones Island proved to be a treasure trove of diversity. Far from the maddening crowds of cities and towns, it offered welcome silence and solitude. From its northern shores we strolled beneath golden-tinged leaves of bigleaf maples into a world of giant trees guarding carpets of moss. Barely half a mile further on, sloping towards its southern edges, the land became a grassy savanna where rare Garry oak trees still reigned. Seduced by meandering trails, we wove along the shoreline where the water gently lapped against its rocky edges and cacti snuggled into warm and protected notches. Interwoven with the oak and Douglas fir, red-barked madrone sprawled in sinuous curves. Beauty surrounded us, each step differing from the other.  

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About the Author

Karen Copeland

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Born and raised in Canada, Karen received her B.Sc. in biology from the University of Waterloo, her M.D. from the University of Western Ontario and interned at McMaster University in Hamilton. Detouring from hospital hallways, Karen soon became a whitewater guide and published photographer, fulfilling a passion for knowledge that began with botany and led to geology and ornithology.

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