Friday Harbor, Carrie Brownstein and three shedding dogs.

A week ago Lorri and I departed for Friday Harbor.  For those who don’t know, this is a small town located on San Juan Island. It’s the largest of the group of islands located in north Puget Sound/Strait of Juan de Fuca that lie between the Washington coast and British Columbia.  Vancouver Island is easily visible from the west shore of the Island.

For those not in the know, San Juan Island is the site of one of the great military stand-offs in American history, the Pig War. Great Britain and the United States claimed the island and the shooting of a farmer’s pig nearly brought the two nations to war in 1859.  It was jointly occupied by military encampments until a settlement was reached in 1874. Any visit to San Juan Island should include the National Historical parks of English Camp on the north end of the island overlooking Griffin Bay, and American camp at the south end of the island.  They are separated by about ten miles or twenty minutes of driving. Each has a visitor’s center, occupy gorgeous real estate, and are a pleasant walk on a nice day.

Views of English Camp.  The blockhouse frowns out over the bay. Lower right is the view of the garden and blockhouse that border the parade ground from the site of the officers quarters on the hill. The large structure lower left is the visitor center. 

We took the hour ferry ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on a spectacular, warm but not oppressively hot day.  It was a sparkling 70 degree day.  Missed any whale sightings that are common this time of year. The ferry dock is in the middle of the Friday Harbor commercial area of about five square blocks.  It is bustling with tourists during the summer months.  If you’re thinking about visiting, be sure to make ferry reservations or you may have a long wait on the ferry dock for an opening.

The two and a half hour trip to Anacortes and ensuing ferry ride was made more interesting, for a lack of a better word, by our decision to take our three Australian shepherds with us. Just to be clear, none of the three-Rusy 8, Amos 6, and Lola, 4-has ever liked riding in the car. They all pant with anxiety and can’t wait to exit.  And they shed. A lot. They all really need grooming and are still losing their winter undercoats. You know what they say about Aussies.  They shed twice a year–for six months. Riding in the car, they simply seemed to spew fur.  The luggage was covered with it.  Lorri was covered with it, the car was covered with it.

From upper left. No Amos is not driving, he is projectile shedding. Dad and kids at English camp.  Yes they rode in the car like this everywhere. Pops and Lola trying to get the sand out of my shoe. King Amos, lord over all he surveys 

But the puppies did well once we were settled at our Air B n B site. It is at a 15 acre farm called Yankee Creek a couple of miles out of town. The owners are dog lovers and have four friendly cocker spaniels our pooches came to like. Lola and Amos were good campers who enjoyed exploring and begging the neighbors for treats. Rusty took a little longer to get used to his new surroundings, but as he enters senior citizenship, changes to his routine are harder for him to accept. We took them for a ride every day, tried to give them an opportunity to run in the surf-which they refused-and of, course more chances to coat my car with fur.

Lorri and I made daily trips into Friday Harbor.  There are delightful shops and restaurant/bars all over the place. We discovered our favorite ever bad food–crab tots at Downriggers on the waterfront. Crab rolled in mashed potatoes and Panko crumbs and deep fried.  They are terrible for you, but are melt-in-your-mouth awesome.  We accompanied ours with cold sparkling rose, but I can imagine them going well with a pitcher of margaritas too. We’re getting ready for a remodel of our bedroom later in the summer and as always we shopped for a piece of art from our trip for the space.  It was fun, and we settled on an original water color that is being framed and will be shipped to us.

Outdoors at the Downrigger, Friday Harbor on Wednesday night.  Indoors Tuesday for lunch. Tots and fish tacos as we made a mad dash to the Downrigger to say good-bye to our new favorite vacation spot. 

We relaxed as much as we could, though our nightly sleeps in a queen sized bed decorated with three medium sized dogs was challenging. Both of us spent a lot of time reading during the delightful days that seemed to pass quickly.

The only snag was the drive home.  Six hours in the car with the anxious Aussies, slowly plodding our way through Puget Sound traffic.  When we turned into our development and our cul-de-sac, an excited Rusty somehow managed to step on the rear window control, opened it and jumped out.  We were only 100 feet from home, but it still scared the shit out of us.  He’s fine, but not anxious for another car trip. (News for you buddy–groomers on Tuesday.)

* * * * *

One activity I planned for relaxation was reading.  I dragged along a couple of books, as well as my iPad which is loaded with books. The first night I finished reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  It was interesting and enjoyable, but didn’t quite meet the expectations I have for anointed classics of American culture.

While we were in town the next day, I popped into the little bookstore on Spring Street, Griffin Bay Books.  Definitely worth the visit, and could have easily left with five or six books by Al Franken, Michael Eric Dyson, or Mark Bowden.  But I passed.  I was ready to escape unscathed when my eyes settled on Carrie Brownstein’s 2015 memoir,  Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl. 

Sleater-Kinney left to right–drummer Janet Weiss, guitarist Carrie Brownstein, guitarist/lead vocalist Corin Tucker

Who is Carrie Brownstein?  Most of you will know her as Fred Armisen’s partner on Portlandia, the slightly goofy, indie look at Portland life. She’s great and Portlandia is funny, but the show gets exactly one mention near the end of the book. Before the show was conceived, Brownstein was the lead guitarist in Sleater-Kinney, a punk band rock critic Greil Marcus called the greatest rock band in the world in 2000

The book is a chronicle of Sleater-Kinney, the riot grrrl trio Brownstein shared with Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, but it is really so much more. It’s a look inside Brownstein’s soul, a born performer, whose addiction to music, urge to express her radical feminism, and innate musical nerdiness masked an inability to access her own feelings.

Brownstein grew up in beautiful Redmond, WA in the days before the Microsoft invasion.  Her childhood was marred by an increasing dysfunction in her parents’ marriage, with mom hospitalized for an eating disorder and leaving the home when Brownstein was 15.  Dad, a successful attorney, experienced his own challenges, coming out as a gay man when he was 57.  For Brownstein, music was a way for her to express her energy, creativity and anger without confronting the feelings she developed as she matured.

It’s a fascinating read about the riot grrl era as it blossomed in Olympia.  Brownstein’s own story is likewise interesting as she relates the challenges of being in a band, the personal struggles she faced as Sleater-Kinney’s chemistry steadily changed, and staying sane through time in the studio, touring, and the intervals in between and ultimately the reasons this very important band went on hiatus from 2007-13.

But more than anything this is Brownstein’s story, and it is remarkable.  She is a gifted storyteller and I found it difficult to put it the book down. It has moments of deep truth in which she observes what it’s like to be a fan, how it is to be a performer, and ultimately the challenges of finding beauty in her life.  Relatively short, it moves right along and sucked me right in.


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