It’s February again, and the world, including Lummi Island, is waiting for spring. Here in the Pacific Northwest the green never goes away completely. The grass is a brilliant true green, the roof moss is a shiny yellow green, almost chartreuse. The leafless trees are gray and black against the blue sky (when it’s blue) but their trunks have a greenish tinge. There are some yellow crocuses blooming in the debris of the garden, and there is promise of daffodils and tulips.
The Heritage Trust had its annual meeting. I skipped Mah Jongg to go, and I forced Jerry to go with me because I was told a wonderful speaker would talk on ecology. We were a bit late, so we managed to sit in the back and miss a lot of the business meeting, and we came in to hear Becca thanking us all for supporting the Trust’s purchase and maintenance of precious undeveloped farm and forest land on the island. Our financial contributions would keep Lummi Island a beautiful, wild place for unborn generations to enjoy.
Then Becca introduced the speaker. A philosopher – I glanced nervously at Jerry, the down to earth engineer. But she had academic credentials and had written a book on the ethics of ecology and had articles in some good places. Kathleen Dean Moore as a pleasant looking middle aged blond lady, a bit plump and apt to giggle. Her message was a lot like Becca’s, only more elegant and poetic. She read long excerpts from her book. They were supposed to be inspiring and funny. Jerry looked at the floor and squirmed in his seat. He whispered that his bottom was sore from the seat. He wanted to go. I said just a little longer; it would look rude to leave before she had finished. After a little more reading she said she was sure everyone was sore from sitting in hard seats and she would be happy to sign copies of her book.
It’ll be a while before I get him to another meeting.
The ferry chugs back and forth across Hales Passage, but it carries fewer and fewer cars and passengers. When Jerry and I walk we are less bothered by cars flying past us to catch it, and in general the island is oddly quiet. The fares have gone up so much that islanders are avoiding going to the mainland whenever possible.
Sometime last year I wrote about the dispute Whatcom County is having with the Lummi Indian tribe about payment for the lease of Lummi owned tidelands that the ferry crosses to get to the mainland dock. The ferry dock is on the Lummi Indian reservation, but Lummi Island is not part of the reservation. The county pays almost $17,000 a month in rents for the lease. The independently assessed value of the lease is about $65,000 a year, so the Lummis are getting a pretty good deal. But apparently they don’t think so, since now, for the third time in 15 months they have threatened to shut down the ferry service in 2 months if the county doesn’t come up with sums of money it simply doesn’t have.
For us islanders the problem is now complicated by the fact that the county council is hostile to Lummi Island. In the recent country wide sweep by conservatives the council became dominated by conservatives, and Lummi Island is known as a liberal bastion (though this, too, is changing). The council would like to wash its hands of the Lummi Island ferry.
The people who suffer the most from this are those who work in Bellingham and have to cross the water every day to earn a living. They have lived for 2 years with the stress of wondering whether they will be able to get to work, and this is made worse by the county’s policy of constantly raising the ferry fares. A month ago the council imposed a $3.00 surcharge on every vehicle and passenger riding the ferry. When I first moved here 11 years ago the ferry fare for a passenger was $1.00. Now it’s $7.00. When Jerry and I go to town together it costs us $21.00 for the car and both of us. No wonder we try not to go often.
Although the issue could be quickly solved by action from the Federal Government, since the tribe is regulated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, our representative and our senators have steadfastly declined to interest themselves in our plight.
Other things here are changing as well as the ferry. We have a small inn and restaurant on the island, The Willows. When I first moved here it was closed and for sale. The owners of a nearby organic chicken farm bought it and for a long time it limped along, serving overpriced tough chicken and buffalo and overcooked salmon. It got a bit of a boost when it introduced prawns served on the deck, which has a magnificent view of the sound and islands and sunset. Recently it acquired a new chef and a couple of consultants. Suddenly it was written up in the New York Times as one of the 10 best places in the world to eat. I hear it is booked up for a year – no chance for us islanders to stop by for dinner.
This island will change. It used to be a haven for hippies, then a haven for aging hippies. There is still housing here for middle income families, but the logistics of travel, together with uncertainties about funding for the school are making it a place not friendly to families. I think it will become a haven for the rich, especially for those rich who have yachts. There used to be an airstrip here, but it is only a cow pasture now. But who knows, perhaps someone will revive the airstrip. That will be the coup de grace.