So the ski season had come to a close and we had to decide what to do next. It had been an exciting year building trails, skiing and living out of a van for a while. I was so content even though we had little money. I had the option of the Safeway job that looked pretty good and Summer at Lake Tahoe sounded wonderful. I was in love with skiing, the sunshine and the way of life there. My wife wanted very much to go back to Washington, at least for a while. My students from White River High School wanted me to come to their graduation ceremony, so I told my wife that we should go to Seattle, go to the commencement and see what happens. We packed our van with all of our belongings. When we got to Seattle, we picked up my wife’s windsurfer and put it on the van. We were staying at my parents and told them goodbye as we headed South to Buckley for the commencement ceremony.
We were going to return to Lake Tahoe after the ceremony. I was excited. Right before I went to the graduation ceremony, my wife said, “I really want to stay in Washington.” I told her if she could figure out jobs for us by the end of the ceremony we would stay. She went to a nearby shopping market to use the phone while I was gone. After seeing my students graduate, she told me she had talked to my sister in the San Juan Islands and had found us both jobs. Crazy! So I called my parents and sheepishly told them we would be staying there that night and leaving to the islands the next morning. Talk about whimsical and impulsive decision making! Back to the North we drove. This was fun! What freedom!
We drove to Anacortes, Washington the next day and boarded the ferry to go to Lopez Island where my family had been visiting since around 1969. We had a small cabin that we could live in. My father had purchased 10 acres on the waterfront in the late 60s and still owns it today. It is a special place on the planet. Crab hunting, clam digging, canoeing, bald eagles, seas, otters and more. I started out serving as an assistant on a small private island. I was mainly doing groundwork like mowing, trimming plants, making trails and other physical work. It was a beautiful island around 35 acres in size. I would ride my bike from the cabin the 5 miles or so each day and get picked up by a boat to go out to the island and work and then bike home. I loved the exercise. My wife worked at the marina and boatshop on Fisherman’s Bay. She was very happy. She loved nature, she loved boating and enjoyed living on the water at our cabin.
Unfortunately, a life changing event happened around that time. I had been working on the island for a couple months when it happened. There were many trees that had fallen on the island in a severe windstorm in a prior year. The trees had been cut up, but the logs remained in place. The owners of the island were having a party the next day and wanted the logs out of sight. No problem…I would physically roll them out of sight. I was so fit and strong at the time that it did not seem impossible. I think of that moment a lot because the decision to do that changed my life radically and affects me every day and will continue to do so. When I watch other people trying to do things physically now, I always want to warn them as I can now barely move a light chair due to this event. Moving the logs was very difficult and I remember straining as I tried to push them up a hill and out of sight. At the time I had no idea that I was damaging myself for the rest of my life. The day ended shortly after moving the logs. I took the boat back to Lopez Island and rode my bike home to Lopez Sound where our cabin was. I awoke in the middle of the night to excruciating pain and nausea. It is hard to describe, but it felt like somebody was drilling through my belly button. It hurt so bad! I was dry heaving and had no idea what was going on. The next morning, I stupidly mounted my bike to ride the five miles to work. I had trouble pedaling as my left leg was not functioning well. I figured I could just work through the pain somehow. On the island where I was working, I was having a tremendously difficult time. While driving the tractor, I could not lift my left leg to push the clutch in to shift gears, so I had to lift my leg with my hands. I was starting to realize I was badly hurt.
My boss on the island told me to go home early. This was late August 1991. I went to many medical specialists in the following months and tried everything I could possibly think of. I had xrays, mri scans, CT scans, blood tests, urine tests and had gone to massage therapists, chiropractors and even a psychologist as I was hoping it was all my imagination. For a while I could still walk and swim a little. Then I could not walk much and then I couldnt swim. I could barely lift a plate for dinner. Nobody could tell me what was wrong. I dry heaved almost daily from the pain. If I would move suddenly or pick something up, I would experience tremendous pain on my front side and down my left leg. This created nausea. I worked with an occupational specialist and she told me that I would never be able to continue my job on the island, that I needed to do something different.
I think it was November when I officially quit working and moved to Seattle at my parent´s house. I quickly decided to become a financial planner. To do this I had get insurance and securities licenses. This normally took people quite a while to study for, take the test and pass. I knew I was an outstandnig student, so I started studying at least 12 hours per day. Most of this was in the basement of my parents´ house. I remember being in a class for insurance and hearing during lunch that Magic Johnson had been diagnosed HIV positive. At that time, HIV/AIDS was essentially a death sentence. He is still alive today as I type. I passed all of the tests on my first attempts and then interviewed with a few different companies to become a financial planner. I chose what was then IDS Financial Services. They are now Ameriprise I believe. Once working there in Edmonds, Washington, I realized that it was more about sales than it was about providing good financial advice for clients. They made us remember a sales script verbatim. To me it was very unethical. You had agents that knew nothing convincing people to trust them with their life savings. I had a very idealistic view of life and I simply could not be part of that. I was very good at explaining things to clients and they trusted me, but after three months, I quit. I believe it was April 1992 by this time. My wife was working at the sailboat and swimwear shop in Kirkland again.
Suddenly I got a call from the owners of Charles Island where I worked as an assistant before. They had fired the caretaker of the island and wondered if I wanted to work on the island again. I felt like I had somewhat recovered physically and loved it up there, so I went ahead and said I would come up and help. After working there for a month, they asked me to dinner in their house with the marveloous view of the Olympic Mountains overlooking the sea and asked me if I would like to be the new caretaker. They told me how impressed they were with my work. At the same time I had just been offered a teaching job in Othello, Washington as a biology teacher, so I quickly decided to accept the job on the island. To me it was paradise. I will write a lot about this island in my next entries.