When you've traveled to islands all over the world, the one where you settle down has to be special.

By William G. Scheller
February 28, 2006

Joanne and Dewey Schurman
Whidbey Island, Washington

Dewey Schurman, a freelance writer andeditor, saw plenty of options when he worked for the travelmagazine Islands. But he and his wife, Joanne, found their match inWhidbey Island, Washington. They built their home on Whidbey fouryears ago, after moving from the Santa Barbara area in California."It's hard to find a spot on the coast like this, where big forestsgo right down to the water," says Dewey.

He sees 45-mile-long Whidbey as "almost like two islands. Thenorthern end has the bulk of the population, and it's connected bya bridge to the mainland. Where we live, it's a lot more rural. Wecan only see one other house, and we take the ferry." The locals,he adds, "joke that it takes a day to recover from the traffic on atrip to the other side." Of course, having a city such as Seattlejust an hour away has its advantages, Starbucks coffee and Seahawksfootball among them.

The Schurmans, whose children are grown, cleared part of an8-acre parcel to build what Dewey describes as "a good Northwesthouse." The cedar-clad, single-story home displays Asian andPacific Northwest influences, and has lots of windows thatcapitalize on the southern exposure and westerly views of water andmountains. "One of the things I love here is the play of light,even in winter," says Joanne. "It's especially beautiful when thesun breaks through the clouds and you can see the snow on theOlympic Mountains."

The sea provides more than just lovely scenery. Joannefrequently paddles its waters in the afternoon. "It's a place whereyou can leave a kayak on the beach, and it will still be there whenyou come back," she says. She and Dewey often spot eagles and loonsduring walks along the shore.

Selecting an island home might seem like a straightforwarddecision, but the Schurmans recommend a systematic approach toanyone contemplating a leap from the mainland. "An island is asmaller world all to itself," says Dewey. "You should spend a lotof time on any island you're considering before you make the move.That means going there in all seasons, especially in a place likethe Pacific Northwest. Things like light and wind conditions changefrom season to season, and microclimates can vary from one locationto another, even on small islands."

Also consider transportation. The Schurmans' ferry connectionsare conveniently frequent―but, Dewey points out, "there areislands up here where you can wait six or eight hours for the nextboat."

Dewey and Joanne enjoy their solitude but appreciate Whidbey'sneighborly spirit. "Before we built here, we made a point ofmeeting every one of our neighbors within walking distance," Deweyrecalls. "Because people on islands tend to be a little bitdifferent, it's important to get to know your prospectiveneighbors. We liked them all." Fellow islanders helped theSchurmans clear their land and cut firewood, and welcomed them withbaskets of oysters and mussels.

Dewey and Joanne have planted vegetable gardens, plus a sizablefruit orchard. The semi-dwarf apple, apricot, peach, and plum treeshelp define what Dewey likes to think of as "a saltwater farm."

"That's a Maine term, and I always envied that life. But Ididn't want four months of snow," he explains. "Here, of course,you have to like rain, but the storms blow over fast. Often we'llhave rain at night, then a cloudy morning followed by a sunnyafternoon. It's not a true rain forest. But the brush grows likethe jungles of Borneo."

Despite the weather, things always run on "island time." "Youtend to think of that as a tropical concept," says Dewey, "but it'sjust as true up here. Everything is a little slower. It's just adifferent way of life."

Island Options

Washington state's San Juan Islands are strewn among the waters where thestraits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca meet, north of Puget Sound.Some 40 of the forested, often mist-shrouded islands are inhabited,but ferries out of Anacortes serve only four: Lopez, Orcas, SanJuan, and Shaw.

Among New England islands, many of the most famous lie just offthe coast of Maine. Some of the most practical for year-roundliving are within Casco Bay, where the lights of Portland glow justto the west. There are supposedly 365 of these Calendar Islands. The big ones―Peaks, Chebeague,Cliff, and Little and Great Diamond―connect to Portland byferry, although Peaks has the best service. If you work late in thecity, or stick around for dinner or a show, you may need to book ahotel room. Boats stop running early, especially in theoff-season.

New Jerseyans love going "down the shore." The lucky ones livethere all year. Long Beach Island, a sandy barrier that divides Barnegat Bayfrom the Atlantic, has some of the Garden State's best beaches.Communities on both the bay and ocean sides (they're seldom morethan a half-mile apart) stay quiet in the off-season and get livelyin summer, but without the honky-tonk of Seaside Heights or theglitz of Atlantic City. A plus: A causeway connects to themainland, putting New York City and Philadelphia within two hours'reach.

The Florida Keys trail like a string of pearls along theOverseas Highway, the southern terminus of U.S. 1. Key Largofeatures more development than when Humphrey Bogart and Edward G.Robinson mixed it up in the 1948 movie Key Largo. Farther south, Islamorada is a sportfishingmecca, while Marathon and Big Pine keys offer the most extensivehousing stock. At the end of the line, Key West brandishes avariety of charms.