A Father and Son’s Discovery of a Secret Garden with Giant Bivalves on San Juan Island

As Thanksgiving approaches, bringing darker and colder days, I find myself reflecting with gratitude on a remarkable summer adventure I shared with our son, Viggo.

Our journey began spontaneously, inspired by David, our trusted and gifted chiropractor, who suggested a visit to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Initially, Viggo wanted to bring his bike and other gear, but I persuaded him to travel light, enhancing our sense of adventure. We checked the ferry schedule the day before, ensuring we knew when to catch the ferry and where to park. Upon exploring the ferry terminal, a pleasant surprise awaited us — San Juan Ice Cream! We indulged in delicious cones, the perfect treat to kickstart our adventure.

The next day, fully prepared for our somewhat spontaneous adventure, we boarded the ferry, settled in comfortably, and enjoyed some treats on board as we embarked on our journey. The ferry ride itself was magical, offering views of the little islands emerging out of the water as we glided along.

Our first destination was Friday Harbor. Viggo, filled with youthful enthusiasm, was keen to swim amidst the boats in the marina. However, swimming wasn’t permitted there. After some negotiation, we agreed to search for a beach instead. This quest, though challenging under the hot sun and with limited help from my smartphone, led us to a kind local who directed us in the complete opposite direction from where we were heading. Viggo and I didn’t despair too much under the summer sun’s heat. I kept reminding him that the journey would make the water even more refreshing once we arrived.

The beach was a revelation — on one side, the vast ocean; on the other, a lake, separated from the sea by a narrow spit of land. We explored this unique landscape, discovering a narrow inlet that connected the lake to the sea. At high tide, ocean water flowed into the lake, and at low tide, it drained back into the sea.

Our exploration of the inlet was an adventure in itself. The shallow, warm waters were teeming with life — a bivalve buffet for filter feeders. Viggo and I lay in these warm waters, delighting in the gentle pinches of tiny crabs hidden in the gravel bed. Other creatures that surrounded us were chitins, ancient mollusks, in various varieties and colors. They seemed like bronze coins cast by the hands of dreamers, making wishes from long-forgotten times, adding to this mystical experience.

Further exploration led us to encounter other incredible marine life. This unique estuary, with its constant flow of nutrients to, and fro from the sea to the lake, made this the land of the giant bivalves. We found the largest mussel and oyster I’ve ever seen, along with black-as-coal sand dollars with tiny wriggling feet, sea slugs munching on kelp, and mysterious lurking creatures that even frighten me at first with bizarre appendages, that turned out to be geoducks. It was like wandering through a secret underwater garden.

Our adventure was full of surprises. While flipping a large rock, we startled a bright orange scallop, which reacted by snapping and shooting water right at Viggo, who was initially absolutely terrified. However, his fear soon turned to amazement as we observed the scallop’s unique method of movement. Its attempt to snap its shell open and close, a means to shoot water and propel itself, was hindered by the fact that it had cemented itself to the rock many moons ago.

As we left this natural wonder, we stumbled upon a whale bone on the beach, adding to the sense of discovery. Our day concluded with a feast of fish and chips and Viggo’s first-ever turtle sundae at a local ice cream parlor.

This impromptu trip to Friday Harbor, filled with unexpected discoveries and shared moments of awe, will forever be etched in my heart and memories. I want to instill in Viggo a sense of appreciation, wonder, and joy, along with an understanding that life is a miracle to be cherished, relished, and celebrated.