Submitted by by Brandon Cadwell and Erin Wygant
When we’re faced with uncertainty, we seek a sense of rootedness. How do we ground ourselves? We might ask, “What is it that gives me a sense of place?”
For some, it’s the sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains beyond a driftwood-strewn South Beach or the reassuring presence of an old-growth tree in Moran Park. For others, it’s familiar faces in a favorite coffee shop or the joy of watching or participating in a local theater production.
A sense of place is a sense of belonging. It’s where we feel connected, supported, and at peace. Now more than ever, we are invited to recognize what a sense of place means to us – as locals and stewards of the islands, and as visitors who are missing their getaway.
The factors that create our sense of place are currently impacted by COVID-19 and the precautions we take to protect ourselves and those we love. Quarantine restricts us from enjoying the expanse of nature across state lands, social distancing keeps us from gathering in person, and dark storefronts limit us from supporting our economy. At a glance, our sense of place is being tested.
But upon looking closer, we can see great resilience in our community. Our sense of place is so much more than familiar hikes and stunning views. It’s the people that create a sense of place. There’s a communion of the physical environment with a strong community of islanders that roots us here.
Locals are using less-traveled trails as a backyard refuge. Businesses are creatively serving our community with take-out options and virtual happy hours, tours, and lessons. Local churches are congregating on Facebook, book clubs and Dungeons and Dragons games are meeting online, and grandparents are reading stories to their grandchildren over Zoom.
While we’re asked to be distant, we’re finding new ways to stay close and connected.
Even those who don’t call the San Juans home, but feel a sense of place here, are sharing their memories of these special islands. The San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau has started the #SanJuanIslandsTime challenge on social media to encourage locals and visitors to share how they are “living on island time” no matter where they are. Posts include memories of “unforgettable sunsets,” “meeting new friends,” and time spent in “my happy place.”
To those of us who call the islands home, these comments are unsurprising. In fact, these are likely some of the same reasons we chose to settle here. We’ve chosen to root ourselves and our families in this magnificent location for the same reasons that bring visitors back year after year.
During this time when our sense of place is tested, it is also a gentle reminder that we have an opportunity to rediscover what builds our sense of place. Islanders are a special embodiment of strength and resiliency. Rooted in the place we love, we’re all in this together.
Cadwell is the chief of visitor and youth engagement San Juan Island National Historical Park and Wygant is the content marketing and outreach coordinator for San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.