Waldron Island is one of the outer primitive islands that is a bit “off the grid” and its 70 full-time residents like it that way. Most of the families, some of them fourth generation homesteaders, retrieve their water from private wells and their power from solar panels, wind generators, and gas or diesel generators. There are no public utilities on the island, although they do maintain an ambulance and firetruck.
Wood stoves are used for heating and cooking. Many of the homes have minimal indoor plumbing and outhouses, including the two-room wooden schoolhouse with its bronze bell. Otherwise, the building looks quite modern with skylights and the 14 students in grades K-8 use computers. Waldron Island School is one of nine schools in Washington State designated as “remote and necessary” to allocate funds to provide the island’s children with a public education.
Several years ago, my sister-in-law traveled on the thrice-weekly mail boat serving Waldron Island to visit a friend. Soon afterward, a classmate I met at Western Washington University invited me to visit her in-law’s homestead located east of Sandy Point in the photo below. Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t mesh and the weather didn’t permit us to anchor off their white pebble beach. I’d missed an extraordinary opportunity. While the islanders enjoy inviting guests to their island, they have a reputation for protecting their quiet lifestyle and may not welcome strangers with open arms.
In fact, since 1976, Waldron Island has been a “limited development district.” Besides the schoolhouse, there is a cemetery, grass airstrip for small planes, and a county dock on Cowlitz Bay. The Waldron Island Post Office, a rustic log building with a covered veranda and stone chimney, perches above the pier. All other amenities like stores, gas stations, and restaurants are located in Eastsound on Orcas Island, three miles across the open water of President’s Channel.
Several families have lived a subsistence lifestyle since the late 1860s. Today, market gardens (Nootka Rose, Thousand Flower Farms, and Blue Moon Farm) sell their fresh produce at farmers’ markets on neighboring islands. Others, like classical composer and conductor, Morten Lauridsen, make their living off-island. He began employment as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter and lookout at Mt. St. Helens before becoming a professor at the University of Southern California for 40 years, winning international awards. In 2012, a documentary titled Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen depicts him at his Waldron Island retreat, showcasing his musical talents in California and Scotland.
With little or no phone service, it could’ve been said that living on Waldron Island is like stepping back in time 100 years. But in recent years, the community decided to permit access to the internet. They leapfrogged the TV era and jumped into the computer age. What else do you think they might have missed? And do you think you’d enjoy living the Waldron lifestyle?
When I think of the close-knit Waldron Island community, this verse comes to mind.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up.” (Eccles. 4:9-10, NIV)
Thank you for reading!