A Friday ritual. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
The ad went something like this:
One-room, K-8 school on scenic, remote Stuart Island needs students. Low student/teacher ratio. Excellent educational opportunity. No power, phone lines, ferry service, paved roads, pollution or crime. Nearest store 3 miles by boat. Cellular phones and generator power possible. Planes and water taxis carry people, UPS, mail. Yacht tourists in summer, very quiet in winter. Positive environment for families. For more information, write Stuart Island School, Star Route, Friday Harbor, WA 98250.
The ad ran sixteen years ago, in Northwest Writer, The Crafts Report and Washington Homeschool Organization Newsletter, and it’s a beautiful thing that nothing has changed.
Ancient forests thick in giant Cedar and Pacific Madrone are home to wild sheep and deer while greeting tide line at Stuart’s rocky shore.
There is no store on the island, only a wooden chest that Betty, four years ago, called Stuart’s Treasure. A local family prints t-shirts and postcards, and if you’re lucky enough to kayak or boat your way to these goods without cash or coin, you can pay by honor with their accompanying envelope. A glow-in-the-dark Pirates of The San Juans t-shirt is a cult favorite, and is always greeted with smiles, ahhhh, you’ve had the pleasure of being there when recognized around the country.
There are two airstrips, one with a grass and the other a dirt runway. A well-maintained harbor landing welcomed us with access and is a frequent site for sea deliveries.
Luke and Lucy reading outside Stuart Island Library, 2008
A self-service library and museum will easily hold a mind captive in narrative and island history, and a walk around the historic cemetery is an astounding read, an incredible experience.
Stuart Cemetery, 2008
I can tell you I really fell in love with Stuart Island in 2008 when we sailed there with good friends.
Good Catch, Lucy and Betty 2008
Lucy with Stuart Totems, 2008
Turn Point Lighthouse, peering out into the busy, chilly waters of Boundary Pass, is a worthy hike and a worthy subject. While researching for my first play Light at Limekiln which poetically explored life at San Juan Island’s Limekiln Light, I was often sidelined with interest in Stuart’s fascinating lighthouse keeping stories. Such history, such importance in these stories.
I last heard through post office’s waiting line conversation that twenty-two residents call Stuart’s 2.881 sq. miles home. One phenomenally creative and kind teacher takes roll as the only full-time island employee. I’m sure the island has its share of retirees, fishermen, telecommuters who have given up the accessibility of mainland or ferry-serviced island life. In present day, it’s no secret communication with the world is easily defined by satellites, so people can choose to be as connected as they want to be.
Stuart Island School closed in 2007, reopened in 2008 with two students. For now, two students remain. Halfway up the rocky, steep County road that extends up from Reid Harbor is an old growth tree and the most beautiful, simple swing beside a moss-frosted forest.
Betty in 2008, Stuart Island Swing
The finale of a ten-minute walk is the school, adjacent to a pristine meadow, a perfect athletic field. Decades ago, the school won architectural awards and this remains clear through simplicity, charm and function.
The second schoolhouse built mid-century and operational until 1981 rests about fifty feet from the current one-room schoolhouse and serves as the coolest self-service library.
As a School Board member, I was invited to attend the school’s well-reputed winter program. As a teacher, a parent, I’ve longed to see the school in session and was thrilled to have my family’s company for the two student performance.
My experience today was incredible. I was in a public school. The audience was made up of island residents and off-island grandparents and family members like most elementary productions.
Our girls didn’t know what to think of the 42 degree commute.
After remembering a few favorite knock-knock jokes and how to search for Orca whales they became less worried, more giggly.
Ever since working for the NEA‘s Poets on the Prairie program as a poet in rural schools throughout Montana and Wyoming, I’ve had a crush on one-room school houses. But my past work as an educator did not hold me as a mom, yet. There is something so profoundly different when you witness an education you dream for within your own children’s lives.
I was in a public school today, but it felt so much more than that. I was welcomed into a home, into the intricate and poetically simple and abundantly beautiful way of life. To report on every detail feels as though I am telling secrets, and somehow making their incredible story my own.
I can tell you the two students are beautiful, deeply thoughtful and articulate siblings. Their learning, aligned as all stellar Washington State public education should, encompassed their own essential questions and interests. Using the scientific method, they studied NW birds, assembled variant feeders and reported through charts and graphs. They were passionate about the research, their new knowledge. The audience took part in a Jeopardy-style game of semester facts from research and hands-on experience. I learned so, so much. We listened to two amazing concerts: one piano, one ukulele.
I’m pretty sure I cried. I looked at their parents’ faces, and my heart did the rest. It was that incredible. Then, there was a musical, written and starred in by the two students.
I made each of the students and the teacher a loaf of bread. As it was time to pack up, the mother of the two children came to me and said, You better not forget your butter. Luke had suggested I get some fancy, organic whipped butter in a tub to bring over. You know, it’s hard to get and it’s hard to make and it’s really a luxury and, it’s expensive. I explained how it was Luke’s great idea and she was so thankful to have fancy butter. It made me realize how simple and beautiful life can be. How our days are really about the little things that make a difference, and how easy it can be to receive a smile.
Aside from not wanting to leave, I was reminded of that one Mary Oliver quote I’ve loved for a while that’s gone justly viral this past year,
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
It became really clear in the frozen peaks of wave, the leaping pod of Dall’s porpoises, the smiles
and giggles on my family members while zipping past islands en route to our own island –
I plan to have us do something like today for a while, for a short year or two or five
in our wild and precious life…
in our wild and precious life…