by George Lawson
Departing daily at 7 a.m. from the Quackenbush dock in the 1940s Bellingham mailboat Osage, loaded with mail, passengers, groceries, chicken feed, building materials and various animals, plied its way through the San Juans, stopping at Sinclair, Doe Bay, Olga, East Sound, Orcas, Shaw, West Sound, Deer Harbor and Friday Harbor. Charles Countryman, our neighbor across the street and the owner-operator of the vessel, often invited me to ride along with his children and my friends, Keith and Sidne.
So, as a child, thanks to the Osage, my being was imprinted with the breathless and enrapturing images of turquoise-blue water, enervating salt air, rushing tides and, most memorably, bull kelp beds with ribbons that danced in the sunlight. Later in life, drawn back again, I fished commercially for nine seasons in the islands, especially the Salmon Banks of San Juan Island, and the richness, beauty and seemingly inexhaustible marine life permanently captured my imagination like no other place on the globe that I lived or visited.
Yet, we have lost a lot of nature in the islands in recent decades, and rather than just blaming lack of information or thoughtlessness of the past, there are ways of preserving and even restoring the fragile, magical and nourishing environmental arms that still enfold us.
In the midst of the climate crisis, rapid population growth and an emerging spike in oil tanker traffic, how does one care for the San Juans and the Salish Sea? One can begin by regarding the land, water and beaches that we visit and enjoy as precious gifts, worth our efforts to keep them in our hearts, to wish for them health, and to translate our wishes into practical stewardship, however that presents itself to us.
We can also join an organization that focuses, lazer-like, on the task of saving the wellness and resiliency of the San Juans. The Friends of the San Juans, of which I was a board member for several years, holds an experienced, dedicated and engaging staff, which includes a marine biologist, an environmental attorney, as well as other specialists, and a diverse and committed board of directors. Alongside the tribes it works toward salmon recovery, my personal passion.
Friends continues, after 40 years, to be the “go to” group that deals comprehensively with the protection of the San Juans, whether with habitat conservation, shipping and oil spill protection, Southern resident killer whale recovery, the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee, Pacific sand lance research during winter spawning, boater education programs, sustainability guidance and a host of other strategies that point to the hope that those who follow us will still experience wide-eyed wonder that the Osage provided 70 years ago.