Music gurgled softly through the walls of the bakery, all plucky in the strings and plinky on the keys. From my perch on the patio, I was the centerpiece of a summer tourism themed baby mobile, cars circling the building, looking for parking on the choked and narrow roads of this coastal inlet. Between the bookstore and the boutique across the street, I saw the water sparkling in the late July sunlight, islands of green pine floating between the sea glass water and the periwinkle sky. My dog was a loose, drooling pile at my feet. Loose because he’s not a fan of boats, changes in his daily routine, long car rides or unfamiliar places and he was exhausted from weathering all of the above and being a dick about it. Drooling, because the smell of freshly baked salmon quiche was in the air and even a long, dark night of boating and driving to an unfamiliar place isn’t enough to dim the warm allure of soft flaky crust and meaty-like-mama-makes-it texture of the breakfast in front of me. Pair that with a hot mug of liquid bang-bang and the Orcas Island Magic sparkling in the water and goddammit you’ve got yourself a morning.
My wife and I first found Brown Bear Baking in the winter of last year. Her brother, a Wall Street trading, mountain climbing, finer things appreciating, renaissance man, got us a gift card for a farm cottage stay at a place called Pebble Cove Farm, on the west side of the island. We were, at the time, dealing with some heavy life issues and desperately in need of a little escape. Someplace quiet where are phones wouldn’t work and therefore couldn’t chirp at us from our pockets, drag new stress onto our already full plates. We needed the sound of deep water moving and the rush of wind through the trees. We needed to pull some miles beneath our car and some rain through our hair. Put a little silence in our lives.
We weren’t disappointed. We pulled our car off the ferry and followed our email directions through the front gate of the farm in the misty morning light. Moments later we were standing amidst a crowd of curious pigs and goats in a meadow that tumbled down to the water, wind blowing cold and bracing up off the sound, scented with sea salt and pine.
We spent the next few days frollicking (yeah I fuckin’ frollick) through the town of Eastsound, tasting local treats and enjoying some solitude. That time of year is the off season, so it’s a ghost town. We had candlelit dinner in a nearly deserted italian place and rummaged through knick knacks in boutique shops. We poked around some of the historic hotels and took in some views and we ate, and we ate, and we ate. Amongst all of our frenzied feeding, one place in particular stuck out for us. A bakery just off the water in Eastsound, where we popped in more than once for pastries or the occasional cup of coffee. Warm and comforting against the wind driven gloom, full of friendly, knowledgeable bakers in their element. We left happy every time.
So, when the time came to redeem the final day of our gift card before it expired, I was elated. I thought, I could use some solitude. I could use some frollicking. I could use some food. We loaded the dog into back of the station wagon and pointed the nose of it north.
That plan then proceeded to shit the bed like it had Taco Bell for dinner.
First, my wife waited until we were plowing over open water in an overcrowded ferryboat to realize that she couldn’t remember getting a confirmation letter from the bed and breakfast we were staying at and that she wasn’t sure if they would even have a room for us. Then, when we’d deboarded into the groping darkness of the island night, she realized that she didn’t know exactly where the B&B even was, and that her phone didn’t have any service with which to look up such information. That left the three of us driving desperately into the inky blackness on a two lane road that she was “pretty sure” was the right one, trying to find the turn off for the cabin that might or might not being expecting us. “Maybe they don’t even exist anymore.” She said as we crawled past, yet another, wrong turn, elm trees hanging ghoulishly in the glow of our headlights, dust drifting off behind us into the night. When we finally found the place, I had a kink in my neck and cramp in my gun hand. I smelled different. They were ready for us of course and the place was cozy and economical. We woke to hot buttery sunshine, Pale blue, cloudless skies and birds chirping in the trees. There, in the field, we found our same animal friends, drier and warmer, but just as curious and enterprising.
We checked out of the room, feeling encouraged by the pleasant morning, shaking off the tension from the night before, and drove out to the East Sound for a peaceful day of wandering.
The three of us found quickly that Orcas in the summer, is quite different from Orcas in the winter. The ghost town we’d experienced with it’s cloudy skies and frothy seas had given way to bright sparkly sunshine and tourism. So. Much. Tourism. Now, before you go thinking I’m some jerk who doesn’t understand how places like Orcas Island survive, please remember that I grew up in a coastal town in Southern California. I get it. Tourism is life for places like that. It’s money in pockets and food in bellies. Also, I realize that my wife and our dog are members of that same tourist crowd, so we don’t really get to complain, which is why I’m not. It wasn’t bad, just different. A little more hectic, but still more than made up for by the weather and the wonderful people everywhere we turned.
A major miscalculation that we made, however, was bringing our dog on this particular adventure. With the temperatures in the mid to high 80’s leaving him in the car was a no-go, which meant he was out with us everywhere, and our dog, for lack of a better term, can be kind of an asshole when it comes to large crowds of people. He’s an old man, and a rescue dog, so we’re working on retraining him, but it’s slow going. He barks incessantly when one of us goes into a shop, even though the other one is outside with him. He gets in snarling matches with passing dogs and although he never appears to start the fights, it is getting harder and harder to believe that EVERY dog he’s EVER walked past is a douche bag.
Anyway, an hour into our day, sweaty and crowded, towing a lawsuit on a leash, we were feeling less than relaxed. Then we passed by the doorway of Brown Bear Baking, our favorite bakery from the last trip.
Hope in our hearts, we scrambled into it. My wife and the dog posted up on the sun kissed patio and I waded into the throng of happy people cradling steamy coffees and chewing on flaky buttery goodness, to the counter where they keep the magic. I put in for some beverages, and I smashed my stupid nose against the glass of the pastry case like the kid in The Christmas Story, and the lady behind the counter said, “ what can I get you?” and I said “Gimme that quiche”. And she did.
Holy shit this quiche. Buttery and flaky in the crust, with guts like a dream, all creamy and velvety. The fish was hearty and fresh, but not fishy, which could really put the brakes on a breakfast treat. It was exactly what we needed. Sitting there on that island patio, cramming it into our face one forkful at a time, sneaking little bits to the dog beneath the table, we were finally alone again. Alone on our little island of goodness.