A Thing for Ferries

lady4I have a thing for ferries. Since 1994, I’ve relied on them for transportation to and from my home. First, it was The Lady of the Lake, the passenger-only ferry that took me the 55-mile length of Lake Chelan when I lived at its head in Stehekin, WA. You can read about many of those sailings and life on the lake in my memoir, Hiking Naked.

After two years in Stehekin, my family and I moved to Lopez Island, WA. This summer we’ll celebrate twenty-two years of sailing on the Salish Sea to and from the mainland with the Washington State Ferries. WSF.jpgA division of the Washington State Department of Transportation in operation since the early 1950s,WSF is the largest ferry system in the U.S. Its 21 vessels transport 24 million passengers every year through some of the most picturesque scenery in the world. Unlike The Lady of the Lake, ferries that serve Lopez carry 100 or more vehicles in addition to passengers (including livestock and delivery trucks of all sizes).

This mode of transportation is one of the most relaxing, inspiring, and tranquil I’ve ever experienced. Most days, the gentle rocking of the vessel slows my heart rate (except at those times winds are roaring, tossing the 380-foot vessel side-to-side). Announcements of whale sightings send passengers dashing to starboard or port to catch a glimpse. And for a writer, the ferry is one of the best people-watching and eavesdropping places around.

It’s no surprise, then, that I didn’t hesitate when I had a chance to take a ferry across Lake Windermere in Great Britain while traveling among Friends. The fifteen-minute crossing travels the narrowest part of the lake in Cumbria every day except Christmas and Boxing Day, just as it’s done for more than 500 years. Although the current vessel, Mallard, can carry 18 vehicles and 100 passengers, there were only a dozen cars on the gray, blustery, weekday when I travelled.


Still, I was charmed.

I’m taking my fascination with ferries a new direction this summer. On August 1, I’ll become the first Writer-in-Residence on the WSF Interisland Ferry. tilikumThe Tillikum (Chinook jargon for “friends,” “relatives”) is the vessel that usually makes this run, sailing only between Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan islands. Details are still in the works, with an official announcement coming in July, but I’ve already done some trial runs. The Tillikum (or its substitute if it’s in the shop for repairs) will become my floating office. My assignment: to observe, study, and write about, well, ferries, as well as the Salish Sea and threats to its well being.

I’ll keep you posted about my new project. And if you see me on the Interisland, don’t expect me to disembark until I’ve made one or more complete loops. Welcome aboard!




*Afterthought #76—Sound Advice

Last month’s Afterthought offered my reflections on road sign guidance I received while traveling in the UK. I’m still reviewing and sorting my photos from that trip, and I’m delighted by all the sound advice I found posted on buildings, walls, streets, shelves, and T-shirts.

So. To end this month, I offer you a few images of wisdom from England and Wales. I think they speak for themselves, but I welcome your interpretations.

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*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

Among Visitors


In my previous post, Among Friends, I wrote about recent travels to England and Wales. I had gone to the UK for a Quaker (Society of Friends) writing conference. I added on touring in Cumbria (the “cradle of Quakerism”) plus a stop in London to attend Britain Yearly Meeting. Throughout those two weeks, I felt that I was not only among Friends, but also “friends,” as I was warmly greeted on buses, trains, and walking trails; in restaurants, coffee shops and pubs; and at inns, bookshops, museums, and galleries.

As always, I was happy to return to my home on Lopez Island. I carried a few souvenirs, many photos, and a journal filled with reflections—and a potent reminder of the importance of hospitality. I experienced the generosity of being welcomed by local residents everywhere I went, and I resolved to be a better host as the tourist season ramps up here at home.

I’ll have many opportunities to shake out the welcome mat; last summer, over 90,000 visitors stopped here. This year, I feel more prepared, thanks to my recent experience as the “visitor” and to the inspiration and wisdom of five Lopez Island women.

Last week, an email arrived announcing a Go Fund Me campaign to support a “Lopez Welcome Card.” Created by Nancy Bingham, Joyce Brinar, Callie North, Sorrel North, and Pat Torpie, the 6” x 9” card is, as they describe it, “…a folksy welcome card from the locals, with interesting facts and some suggestions of how to tread lightly on the land.” welcome card

Nancy’s gorgeous depiction of local flora and fauna serves as a frame to informative facts about the island’s natural and fragile environment and how visitors can help steward it.

card side 2The women set the initial goal at $1,000 to cover printing for approximately 12,000 cards. Supporters responded to the team’s suggestion that “… if we treat them as our guests rather than tourists, we believe they will respond in kind. We have all been visitors somewhere, and it’s nice to feel welcome.” Within 24 hours, the request was fulfilled!

With that show of support in just one day, the team revised their goal to $2,000 in order to print enough welcome cards for the entire summer season. Once again, the community came through and met that challenge; soon the cards will be distributed to the Chamber of Commerce, ferry landing, vacation rental properties, public parks, and local businesses.

Having just traveled to new places, I’m more aware than ever of how my ignorance about local issues and needs can impact a community; and still, I received a warm welcome. I want to be that kind of host, and I believe most people want to be respectful visitors. This exquisite card will help us all.


Among Friends

ufm Meeting-House
University Friends Meeting, Seattle, WA

When people ask how my husband and I became Quakers, I sometimes reply, “We missed the bus to the Episcopal Church!” I go on to explain, “Then we realized we could take a later bus and still make it to the Quaker meeting we’d thought about visiting, and the rest…”

That missed-bus experience in Seattle took place thirty-six years ago, and ever since then, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has been our spiritual home. In the early days of attending meeting (the term Quakers use instead of church, synagogue, or mosque), I read and talked to people to understand the faith. Often I was directed to the Journal of George Fox, the Englishman most often identified as the founder of Quakerism. His journal dates back to the 1650s, and I struggled with the language and unfamiliar historical and cultural context.

One thing I’ve learned about George Fox is that he was a fervent seeker. He resisted the Church of England’s dogma and reliance on priests as intermediaries (along with many other things he objected to in the Church). A profound moment for him was when he encountered the Divine directly, out of the silence. What he came to trust was his lived experience. “This I know experimentally,” he said. Today we might use the term experientially, and Quakerism is viewed as an experiential theology.

Glenthorne.jpgQUIP agendaRecently, I experienced the Divine experientially when I visited the “cradle of Quakerism” in the county of Cumbria, Northwest England. My initial reason for planning this, my first trip to the UK, was to attend the annual conference of QUIP – Quakers Uniting in Publications. This international group of Quakers who write and/or publish meets annually, alternating between the UK and the US. The theme of “Writing at the Edge,” and the setting of Glenthorne Conference Centre in the Lake District, were irresistible—for me and the 30 or so others who came from not only the UK and the US but also Belgium, Bolivia, Sweden, Russia, and Germany.

Gil and Chris.jpgFollowing the conference, I stayed in the area for a few more days to tour “1652 Country,” led by QUIP friends, Gil and Chris Skidmore. The region’s name was given by Friends to describe the part of England, and the year, that Quakers first drew together. My knowledge of British history is shaky, but with the help of Gil and Chris and the book, The Cradle of Quakerism: Exploring Quaker Roots in North West England, I deepened my understanding of the time and its role in the emergence of Quakerism.


As I sat on hard, wooden benches in stone meeting houses, I imagined people worshipping there hundreds of years ago, never knowing if soldiers would arrive to arrest them for these illegal gatherings. I walked among tombstones in Quaker burial grounds, created because Quakers weren’t allowed to be interred in Church of England cemeteries.

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(You can learn more about Quaker Burial Grounds in this QuakerSpeak video.)

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hallAt Swarthmoor Hall, the home of early Quaker leader Margaret Fell and a meeting place for George Fox, I worshipped in the same room Friends have met in since the 1650s.



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I hiked Firbank Fell, the site now memorialized as another place Fox preached in 1652.Firbank Fell









Brigflatts interiorAnd, at Brigflatts Meeting House, built in 1677 at the height of Quaker persecution, I stood in the “preaching box” from which Fox reportedly spoke.GF preaching box




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Less than a week later, I was in London, worshipping with contemporary Quakers—1100 of them—at Friends House. The occasion was the annual gathering of Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM), the charitable organization which supports and works on behalf of all Quakers in Britain. Yearly Meeting is also an event—a time when Quakers in Britain (and around the world) come together to worship, make decisions and spend time as a community. I was one of several visitors to BYM from the US; others travelled from Australia, Bolivia, Norway, France, Africa, Russia, and Sweden.

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Throughout my travels, I had a deep sense of being among Friends­—and friends. Whether serving up porridge (oatmeal) at breakfast, looking for the car park, trying to decide on which pudding (dessert) to have, or understanding the difference between crisps (potato chips) and chips (French fries), I found much in common with others who follow this same spiritual path of Quakerism.

I remain grateful that there was a bus that dropped us at University Friends Meeting all those years ago. And I’m equally appreciative of the buses and trains that took me the places I wanted to go in the UK; I’m not yet comfortable driving on the left side of the road—and those roundabouts!

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