It happened on a Sunday night, just before midnight on Orcas Island. I was watching TV and about to fall asleep when I heard Sachi say, “Lee???” from the bedroom.
I replied, nonchalantly, “Yeah?”
Sachi then said words I didn’t expect to hear, “Someone’s backing up the driveway.”
At first, I was incredulous. Maybe she heard a tree branch fall or the door to the garage blowing in the wind. It didn’t make any sense that someone would be at the Yurt so late on a Sunday. I peered through the blinds in the bathroom to get a better look at the driveway and sure enough, a pickup truck was backing up to the garage. What the hell?
This wasn’t just any night. It was our first winter at the Yurt and on this night, the wind was howling as we’d never seen. It was like a movie scene where people are huddled in a cabin during a storm and when the door opens, the roar of the wind outside drowns out all other sounds until it is closed again. It was the kind of sound that overwhelms the senses.
My mind raced and my heart felt like it would beat out of my chest as I realized my neighbor to the north was out of town and that no one else should be on our driveway. We are one of a small group of homes on a gravel road with a clear “No Trespassing” sign.
I quickly ran through a few scenarios, none of them good. This person was surely backing the truck to make a quick getaway. What did they want? Would they steal something from the garage? Were they going to rob us? Why else would they be outside so late in such bad weather?
Not knowing what else to do, I made up my mind to venture outside to investigate. I would be the first line of defense and try to mitigate whatever they were planning. Before reaching for the door, the thought occurred to me that I might need to protect myself. Earlier that night, I had used a little hatchet to split wood to make kindling for a fire and the hatchet was beside the wood burning stove. I grabbed it, took a deep breath and stepped into the gale.
As I approached the driveway with the hatchet in my hand, I saw the truck door open from the driver’s side. This was the moment of truth. Who was this intruder? Was I about to go into combat?
The first thing that appeared was a long white beard and the wave of a hand. This was an older guy who was saying something I couldn’t hear enough to understand. Seeing him making friendly motions, I quickly stuck the hatchet in the small of my back so he wouldn’t see it and walked closer. We met at our deer fence and had a short conversation in the form of yelling short proclamations over the roar of the wind and rain.
It turned out that he was Arthur, someone we’ve come to know as a friend and fellow potlucker
on the island. He was on our road to check on our neighbor’s house while they were out of town. He saw our light on and was coming to check on us, too. He wanted to be sure we had a chainsaw in case a tree fell on the road or our house, and wood for the fire if the power went out. I told him we had everything covered and that I appreciated him checking in.
Relieved, I went back inside and sheepishly put the hatchet back by the stove. Sachi and I laughed at what was clearly an overreaction.
I recently recounted this story to our friend, Boris, who grew up on Bowen Island near Vancouver, BC. Bowen has a lot in common with Orcas and he couldn’t help but give us a hard time. He said that on islands like Bowen and Orcas, the only reason someone would come to your house during a storm is to check on you. This is especially true for people known to be new to the island. It’s how the world works in small, more rural places.
Looking back, it’s obvious to me that we were, and still are, shaking off city life. We were on guard and prepared to assume the worst in a questionable situation. Though I’ve never had a problem or used a weapon of any sort in Seattle, we know people who have had incidents. Anything can happen in the city. You learn to expect the unexpected and think about security every day. After 20 years, I didn’t know any other way to react. So, I went outside with a weapon that now looks a little ridiculous in hindsight.
One day, I will muster the courage to ask Arthur if he saw the hatchet before I stealthily hid it that night. I’m sure he and everyone else on the island would get a big laugh out of that scene. Me assuming the worst, only to find it was Arthur, checking on us with the best possible intentions.
What can I say? We’re learning.