Island's Modern Pilgrims
by Herb Chase
County is in the northwest area of Washington where the majestic Cascade
Mountains appear to the east overlooking the fertile valley and a variety
of crops. World famous tulip fields blanket the valley and in the Spring
when flocks of Canadian geese and trumpeter swans can be seen. Bald
eagles soar overhead year round and blue herons stand proudly on the
Samish Island beaches.
Samish Island is not really an island because the swamps
between the Washington mainland and this beautiful island have been
filled in and make it more of a peninsula.
Current population: 438 people who thrive and love their
community. Most of them know and support each other. The lineage of
some date back to the early days when whites first came to the island.
Sue and Fred Miller are the authors of "Samish Island
History from the Beginning to 1970," a new book which is considered
the best researched record of the area, the geology of Puget Sound which
surrounds Samish Island, and the "pre-history of the Samish Indians
who occupied much of the "archipelago" before the white settlers arrived.
In 1821, the British Parliament amended the charter
of the old Hudson Bay Company to allow it to absorb the Northwest Company
which led the expanded company to establish the "Oregon Country," which
included what became known as Samish Island. Chief facilitator John
McLoughlin was instructed by the Brits to discourage Americans from
settling in the territory but he was overrun by mountain men and lost
the land he had appropriated from the Indians.
The only serious commercial activity on Samish Island
today is the very popular Blau Oyster Company which grows and sells
locally caught oysters to individuals and restaurants all over the West.
2009 marked the 30th year a diverse group of modern
day "pilgrims" from throughout the West gathered for a unique Thanksgivings
Day celebration on the farm of Anne Stapleton, a popular school teacher
and mother of two college age daughters.
Anne's feast, which attracted 30 people this Thanksgiving,
featured barbecued Blau oysters as a noon starter along with copious
amounts of beer and wine. Course after course followed until the appearance
at 6 p.m. of more cocktails and the traditional turkey combined with
special wild salmon.
Like the old time spirit of Samish Island, all of the
guests pitched in to move furniture, set the table which stretched from
the front door to the fireplace at the back, pass the wine, help with
the cooking, wash the dishes and clean up after the feast just like
the settlers must have done several centuries ago. Some of the modem
day Pilgrims over indulged and quickly found couches and rocking chairs
to sleep it off and get some rest before the party adjourned.
During the three decade history of Anne's Samish Island
feast, the main food attraction included a variety of entrees such as
a huge pig which once took 18 hours to cook, lamb, steak, hams and other
main courses which sometimes replaced the traditional turkey.
The Thanksgiving guests come from home turf as well
as the rest of the nation. Regulars include a railroad engineer, a Boeing
labor representative, a naval architect, a publisher, a University of
California professor, college students, a British telephone company
executive, a choreographer, a dance instructor, an author and countless
offspring ranging from 3 to 35.
For visitors there are a few Samish bed and breakfast
opportunities with more elaborate lodgings just off the only road which
leaves the island.