Phoenix 2 Jess—Klaudia Keller
Phoenix 2 Jess
I answered an ad on Craigslist. It was a sheep herders position on Jess Island in the San Juan Islands in northern Washington. After 16 years of school I was ready to escape from Phoenix and breathe cooler air and do something out of the ordinary before starting with Goldman in the fall.
I was to take the ferry from Anacortes WA. to Friday Harbor on Lopez Island, I arrived to find The Puffin, under the Esso Gas sign as specified in the email, a small boat that would ferry me to Jess. David Lloyde was the captain and I guess I was relieved to see there really was someone waiting for me. As I stepped aboard, we immediately set off, not a word spoken, I was his only fare on this lag trip north.
David was the epitome of a sage old captain, his grey hair showing from underneath his wool billed hat. He had on hardy rubber boots, and Bermuda shorts, a tattered flannel shirt that looked like he’d worn it all winter, dirt and all. One could just tell from looking at him he was a man of few words. I had so many questions about the area, the ins and outs of living the island life. The only inhabitants of Jess Island, were Angora sheep. They grazed all summer long and I was hired to keep the well water on either end of the wrench shaped island in fine shape for the sheep as they went from the south water well, grazing and then to the north well.
I had studied the San Juans on the internet before coming north, and now as traversed through the channels and wide open sea I needed a chart to see exactly where we were, but David didn’t, he navigated through various channels north, we buzzed by various buoy’s that were to keep you from hitting bottom when the tide was out or crab pots that were spattered about. It was an amazing maze of islands, I needed a chart, the sea was unfolding in front of me with islands dotted everywhere, now on the water vs. an overview, I had no idea of where we were or where Jess Island was in this myriad of islands, too many to name, too many to count.
I was lost, dumbstruck, they seemed closer on Google earth, like you would have friends that would row over with dinner, and maybe play Parcheesi. but David wasn’t, he’d traveled these waters, oh too many times, knew them like the backs of his sea worn hands.
There were islands on the either side of us, Orcas a huge island in comparison to Jess Island, with million dollar houses that hung over cliffs with docks below. We traveled north, I could see little lumps of islands come into view, John’s Island, Sautaurna, which was in Canada and Vancouver beyond. The noise from the engine was comforting in a way, in transit, not there yet and not from anywhere either. As David slowed the Puffin in front of an isolated beach I realized this was Jess Island, I began to gather my gear, camping stuff really from Boy Scouts, what could be more simple and more complicated at the same time. I had my large pack and a couple of duffel bags all on the back deck ready to begin my adventure in the most pristine place I had ever been. We pulled up on the beach, the outboard in neutral, and as I stepped off the Puffin, David handed me my bags as the salt water seeped into my keen sandals.
David finally spoke, and although it was the only 5 words out of his mouth that day, he asked “Do you have a tide table?” Really,? that was all he wanted to know, “No” I answered, wondering why this was at all relevant, it’s the tide, ebb and flow, easy enough to figure out with the moon, right?
On the north end beach where he dropped me there was a path that lead to an old rock cabin, the one room was just a kitchen, wood stove, a table, (no chairs) and a small alcove for sleeping. I was settling in feeling pretty put away and ready to get out and explore. I headed along the bluff from the cabin down to the skinny part of the island, the middle of the wrench. I could see the sheep up on the hillside on the south side, all fluffy and white. Man, was I the luckiest guy alive or what? This felt like paradise, and all I had to do was maintain the water flow.
I found myself down on the beach again, and walking up toward the south end of this 9 acre island up to the second bluff that looked southward. There I sat in a group of rocks that protected me from the wind, took in the sunset, rested in peace, thinking of the scorching sun I left behind in Phoenix and felt the dampness of the evening upon me. It was June here, and the weather was not summary as of yet. I was hungry and the cabin was a ways away, oh well, the island life, what would it
entail? I was off to my little shelter on the north bluff.
Holy shit…..I got to the beach where the skinny part was and the middle of the island was no more. There were now two islands, no handle in the middle of the wrench,
I was trapped on the south side, no cover, no food, no God damned tide table, how long would this last? Jeez, was the moon different with the tides as we approached the longest day of the year? I was not prepared, I didn’t know who or how anyone would row here, if there was anyone that would bring me provisions when mine ran out or if anyone had even ever heard of Parcheesi in these parts.