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San Juan Islands, Washington

by Carol Wright
June 1997

[Editor note: this article was in response to someone in New York considering moving to Florida but looking into other options.]

Where I live is not too bad...actually a paradise. I live in the San Juan islands in Washington, right at the border of Canada/US...the other corner of the US from Florida.

You would have to choose a micro climate here to make it work, probably. Most here use wood for heat (on this island, the other alternative is electric heat, and the electric is rather expensive), but unless they are in a pocket valley, the wood smoke usually dissipates. There is almost always a breeze to move the air.

Zoning is typically very large lots/acreage.

Winter...molds might be a problem, especially in the older homes. On the plus side, you will seldom have problems with dust like you would in the desert. The San Juans also do not have the noxious pests (ie, rattlesnakes) or weeds like poison oak (these are both on the mainland.) The only weird plant is stinging nettles, which just happens to be one of the best medicinal herbs in the world. No black flies, very few mosquitoes (might be more if you live near a pond), wasps can be a problem at picnics but are generally not too aggressive. No stinging ants or Lyme ticks.

Pollens. A lot of people are allergic to the Scotch broom (yellow flowing bush of the pea family). In June, the grass fields cast a lot of pollen. One can, however, choose to live right on the water ($$$!!), and that would help. What the heck, I just use Similasan Hayfever Drops. NO. 1, a Swiss homeopathic remedy...stops a hayfever attack almost immediately.

Weather...the San Juan islands generally have less rain than Seattle. Actually, I rarely even carry an umbrella...who ever has to walk more than a few car lengths to get into a building for cover? (ie...plenty of parking right next to wherever you want to go). It does get cold--this year we had a storm with 3' of powdery snow--and the wise person will not live where they have a nice view (unless you like iceskating in a car down the mountain). Usually, however, we'll get a few inches of snow here and there and perhaps one storm worth writing home about. There are no tornadoes, no hurricanes and no flooding (build your house upon the rock, as the old hymn goes). Sure you can't have a barbeque in November...but give me a break...

Pesticides...very little agriculture here...many small organic farmers. Both the supermarket and the health store sell organic produce all year long. And there is a farmer's market for locally-grown in the summer.

The water barrier helps keep mainland pesticides away. Except for the hardware store, I have never smelled pesticides on this island. There are some residential areas where people try to develop lawns and control those awful dandelions (another wonderful medicinal herb and salad green). At my house, I could fall over on my face and start chewing, there are so many medicinal herbs here--plaintain, dandelions, shepherd's purse, chickweed, lambs quarter, Oregeon grape...and edible seaweed that is relatively clean.

Up on Mt. Constitution is Moran state park with mostly spring fed lakes. There are lakes almost all the way to the top of the mountain. Trout fishing in the lakes is EXCELLENT. People don't think to go fishing here...who would think on this little island?

On Orcas Island, there is a woman who has severe mcs and her husband is a contractor who can build mcs housing. She is the "canary" for all his building products.

And let's say they moved not to the islands but chose Bellingham, about 20 miles across the water on the mainland. That is a lumber town with all sorts of tannin stinks. It is also an agricultural area. You have to chose your microclimate very carefully.

The residents of Orcas generally do not use fragrances. There is no heavy industry to generate toxic fumes. That doesn't mean that the beauty shops don't stink, that the pharmacy doesn't reek from their scented candle line.

And here is another thought...my friend in Belize, Peter "Snakeman" Singer, just wrote me a panicked email about the rat population explosion there from the recent rains. He is scared to death of an epidemic of Hantavirus, which is spread through inhaling rat dropping dust. He also sent excerpt from a medical article that cited a series of cases where the disease is spread through being in contact with infected patients (lots of doctors and nurses dying from it). So...in the desert of the US is the hantavirus, Mohave flu. In the tropical areas are dangers from dengue fever spread by mosquitoes that have a particular affinity for human areas and smell (like your clothes closet). In the northeast and midwest, there are concerns about Lyme disease...very few cases in the whole state of WA...and none in this county. If you have any kind of "epidemic" worry, this might be a good to be safe. As for crime...I don't lock my car and have never locked my house. Florida is a cocaine corridor...ugh!

And...there is toll-free internet connection...Rockisland is the best (called Rock Island because when the last ferry leaves for the night, you are "stuck on the rock"...I have not been off the island--except once to another of the islands--in over 7 months.)

Each of the islands here has a different personality. San Juan Island has the largest "town," Friday Harbor, which is right at the ferry landing. Some people feel more secure there. They have a WONDERFUL convalescent center there, but do not know how mcs it is. Helicopter ambulance insurance is available...our EMT teams are wonderfully trained and very devoted.

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