An Ecologic Place
Finding Simple Sanctuary on Marrowstone Island
Twenty years ago, new to Vancouver and burned out from jump-starting a coaching business there, I heard a radio guy ask, "Are you enjoying your long-weekend?" Shocked, I realized I had not taken a weekend off in over ten months. So I grabbed my journal and a map and headed south, searching for a simple, cheap and nearby place to get away from it all.
A wrong turn on Whidbey Island landed me in Port Townsend, Washington. I liked Port Townsend. Still do. It has excellent dining, movies, jazz, art, books and bakeries. And it’s great for romantic getaways. But, I was alone. My nerves were frazzled. I wanted to relax, soothe my soul and recharge. So I kept looking.
South on Route 20 just east of Port Hadlock, I found a sign reading, "Beach Cottages on Marrowstone—An Ecologic Place.” Intrigued by the subtitle I turned in. Although not much to look at back then, this rustic cluster of cottages nestled between a beach, a fir forest and a salt marsh, and had panoramic views of the snow-clad Olympic Range.
Jessica, the part-time manager, who looked more Haight-Ashbury than hotel school, showed me around the ten weathered cottages (now modernized without any loss of charm). Before I’d seen their insides, I felt at home. I wasn’t sure why. The view? Birdsong? Gently whispering sea grass? Jessica put words to my feelings when she said, "This is more a get-into-it place than, you know, a getaway. There’s so much nature here."
I agreed, booked myself in for a week, and have gone back every year since.
Saved from development by a University of Washington biology professor, the property is a haven for wildlife. The naturally landscaped ten acres adjoin a 50-acre salt marsh, providing access to miles of beach, tidal flats and woodland trails. Such overlapping ecosystems make it a perfect place to explore the biological richness Buddhists call "the 10,000 delights."
Salmon and ocean-run Cutthroat trout migrate 100 feet from your deck. Deer graze in Madrona-ringed meadows. Herons stalk the tidal pools. Thrushes, songbird sparrows and finches sprinkle poetry into the air. With luck, you’ll spot a family of river otters dart from the forest, scoot across grassy dunes, scuttle across the beach and slip into the bay. On my last trip, a hummingbird hovered at my bathroom window, inches from my face, pecking at something and peering suspiciously at me. I could hardly breathe.
By booking six nights, I get a seventh free. That’s eight days to decompress. I start by burning the restlessness out of my muscles. I hike the beaches and trails. I cycle the mid-island loop, stopping at the Nordland General Store for a muffin and latte. If I’m ambitious I cycle to Fort Flagler at the other end of the island, to explore beaches, sandy cliffs and remnant World War II fortifications.
Other visitors to Marrowstone will kayak, fish, dig clams, hike in the Olympics, take in the Marrowstone Music Festival, or visit the island’s artist studios and gardens. Families love Beach Cottages so much it often fills with multi-generational reunions. Playing in the sand and building elaborate driftwood forts and huts, kids discover a media-free world and rediscover active imaginations.
You can’t watch TV, talk on a landline, or connect to email because the Cottages don’t have those links. They do have Tempur-Pedic mattresses, cozy quilts and modern kitchens. Wood stoves deliver delicious heat, and polite notes from the owners stress water shortages and suggest short showers.
I like to write on Marrowstone. I wrote my book, "Simplicity and Success” in Cottage 11 and drafts of my two eBooks in Cottage 5. Almost every time I visit, there’s another writer there. I’ve been visiting so long I sometimes get invited to babysit the place while the owners close and go on vacation. Now, that’s a frugal vacation!
Mostly I go to Marrowstone to retreat, relax and recharge my soul. After a few active days, I slow down. I putter on the beach and sit in the grass listening to the birds. I read. I reflect in my journal. I let the spirit of the place ease into me. It’s an easy place to just "be."
As the week progresses, I’m content to do nothing but feel the tide ease in, out, then in again. Often, I’ll sit all day, watching the sun rise over the treetops, working its way across the sky, then dropping, spectacularly, behind the northern tip of the Olympics. Then, I’ll dine on wild salmon, local veggies and sip rich Washington Cabernet, while I watch the stars flood the night sky and listen for a distant coyote’s wail.
I’m always sad to leave Marrowstone. It’s become my sanctuary – the well to which I return to remind myself that I am nature. Drawing from that well never fails to calm my soul, revitalize my spirit and ground me in the processes of life that sustain me – and all life on the planet. It truly is "an ecologic place."