As I rounded the corner leading into Eastsound, the sight of the tide rolling up against the U-shaped shoreline of the largest town on Orcas Island was so moving that it compelled me to stop the car and get out to soak in the view. The residual tension from the workweek had already begun to subside when I departed the ferry about 15 minutes earlier, but a sense of relaxed contentment was now washing over me like a wave as I walked across a manicured lawn overlooking the water. It would still be nearly 24 hours before I would learn that I had unwittingly stumbled upon what is believed by some to be one of the Pacific Northwest’s most powerful vortexes, those mysterious spiraling fields of spiritual energy said to possess rejuvenating powers. Until then, I was forced to believe that my growing sense of calm was the product of such terrestrial factors as the island’s stunning natural features and its eclectic arts and artisan-foods scenes.It didn’t take long to adapt to the pace of island time on the slow, scenic drive out to the Doe Bay Café, and not just because the speed limit topped out at 35 mph. Shortly after grabbing a seat in the rustic dining room, part of a 38-acre wellness-oriented resort set on a waterfront bluff, I was welcomed with an amuse-bouche consisting of pureed rhubarb, ginger and fennel-all picked straight from the resort’s garden. This shot of herbal energy was followed by an asparagus vichyssoise that offered tastes of spring freshness by the spoonful. But it was the white cheddar cheese flan, topped by locally caught Dungeness crab and organic greens and a drizzle of citrus gastrique, that really reminded my taste buds what it means to be alive.
The next morning, a trip to the observation tower at the 2,400-foot summit of Mount Constitution in Moran State Park reminded me that I was not the only person to have felt the healing powers of Orcas Island. (The peak is accessible by a hiking trail and a paved road; I cheated and drove up in my car). Robert Moran, a shipbuilding tycoon and former Seattle mayor, described the San Juan Islands as a “delightful place in which to regain health-physical, mental, and spiritual,” and he seemed to have loved Orcas Island most of all. He moved here from Seattle in 1904, after doctors told him that he needed to reduce his stress levels. (Moran later donated land to create the state park that bears his name, and his story is part of the interpretive exhibit found inside the summit’s observation tower.) A few minutes on the deck atop the tower gave me a chance to admire the layout of the islands and other landmarks, with the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier peeking through the clouds from afar.
Back in Eastsound, the Saturday farmers market let me soak in more island flavor, literally and otherwise. In between sampling grilled salmon tacos, handmade papusas, island roasted coffee and confections crafted by a local chocolatier, I had a chance to meet Panda, the 3-year-old Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix running for honorary mayor against four other canine candidates in a quirky fundraiser for the Orcas Island Children’s House (voters include a donation for the island’s early learning center with each “ballot”; you can learn about the campaign, which continues through July 6, at oich.org). After perusing the market’s craft stands, I walked over to the Orcas Island Historical Museum. Though I initially intended to only stay for a few minutes, I couldn’t tear myself away from the exhibit of reassembled homes from six of the island’s original homesteads, each containing the implements of daily life from about a century ago.
In separate conversations with locals during subsequent stops in an art gallery, antiques store and a café in the pedestrian-friendly town, I learned about the reputed energy vortex believed to exist on the tiny rock island just offshore from the Outlook Inn, where I happened to be staying for the weekend. The locals who told me about the vortex seemed skeptical about it themselves. I, on the other hand, had become so comforted by feelings that were at once relaxed and energized that the existence of such a mysterious spiritual force didn’t seem far-fetched at all.