Waldron Island is one of the outer primitive islands that is a bit “off the grid” and its full-time and seasonal residents like their independent, self-sufficient lifestyle. 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 K-8 grade students 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 public education.
Several years ago, my sister-in-law traveled on the thrice-weekly mail boat serving Waldron Island to visit a friend when passengers were permitted aboard. 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, I’d missed an extraordinary opportunity when our schedules didn’t mesh and the weather prevented us from anchoring off their white pebble beach. While the islanders enjoy inviting guests, they protect their quiet lifestyle with regard to strangers.
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. The same goes for commercial recreational opportunities like sea kayaking.
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.
After homesteading nearby Sentinel Island in 1919 (the final island to be settled in the San Juan Island archipelago), Farrar and June Burn taught Eskimos on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska, traveled the United States by donkey cart, lived for a short time with their two young sons on Johns Island, and built two log cabins on Western Washington University’s future campus before establishing Sundown Farm on Fishery Point. To learn more about this well-known Waldron family who owns property on the island today, I invite you to read Living High: An Unconventional Autobiography by June Burn. This 7th edition was produced by Skye Burn, the couple’s granddaughter, and published by the J & F Project LLC with assistance from Village Books. She has written a wonderful epilogue and included additional photographs to complement June Burn’s original 1941 fascinating tale of adventure. Released on March 28, 2023, you can obtain a copy from Village Books (Bellingham and Lynden)…and, if you’re fortunate, they might send you a signed copy.
Living on Waldron Island might feel like stepping back in time, but in recent years, the community permitted access to the internet. Cell service has also expanded to many of the outer islands but watch for roaming charges when close to the Canadian border. As a former live-aboard sailor, I can relate to Waldron’s simple and adventurous lifestyle…can you?
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!