The Rise of New America: Life in Rural Washington State

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A new life making beds, breakfasts and useful trades. Proprietors of Olympic Lights, the Andrades now enjoy a slower pace.

Land economist Jack Lessinger predicts that the dominant lifestyle and economy of the 21st Century will spring from certain rural counties. This Rise of New America profile follows Christian and Lea Andrade and their life in rural Washington State.

The New America: Life in Rural Washington State

Every morning around 8:30, after feeding the chickens–Brahmas, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks–and human guests of assorted plumage, Christian Andrade drives his battered pickup five and a half miles to the ferry dock at Friday Harbor on sparsely populated San Juan Island off the northwest coast of rural Washington State to get the newspapers. Bundles of them, for he is the local distributor, dropping them off at a few key points around town, at the same time collecting those that went unsold the day before. He’ll be back near 10:00, ready for housekeeping chores and phone calls at the Olympic Lights, a bed and breakfast overlooking the sea and the Olympic mountain range to the southwest.

Less than three years ago, Andrade and his wife, Lea, found themselves deeply engrossed in their jobs in San Francisco. She worked as graphic design director for a major bank, while he ran his own booking agency, setting up meetings and conferences around the country for corporate and institutional clients.

“It was as though we were obsessed,” he recalls. “Wound up.”

A vacation trip to the San Juans changed all that. Because along with another San Francisco couple–Bob and Sylvia Carrieri, textile representatives–the Andrades decided to leave, quitting their jobs to move to the San Juans to start a new life. Carrieri even went so far as to present his brother-in-law a parting gift: his prized collection of 150 neckties. “Take them,” he urged. “I don’t want them. I’ll never use them again.”

Together the foursome bought a rambling old Victorian on five acres of gently rolling meadow. After a year of renovation and repair–upgrading the well, redoing the kitchen and baths–they were finally able to hang out their shingle. Paying guests soon appeared, though not in droves, since San Juan Island is still off the beaten track. Lodging included a full breakfast–mostly wholegrain cereals, fruit and homemade yogurt–and a “guided morning stretch,” during which it is sometimes possible to see, offshore, the exhalations of migrating whales.

“The Carrieris pulled out of the house a year back,” admitted Christian not long ago. “But that’s because it didn’t really take four people. There was no ill will. They live in Friday Harbor now, working here and there, happy, bent on staying on the island.

“As for Olympic Lights,” he went on, “it’s beginning to pay its way, though Lea still tackles the odd freelance graphic assignment–for some reason she absolutely loves designing checks!–and I still peddle papers. Besides the modest income, it involves me in the community. It even lets me practice a little bartering. I trade the unsold papers, which I’m entitled to keep, for firewood from an artisan nearby who uses them to wrap the dried flowers he sells by mail order. He has plenty of wood. Oak, madrona. Douglas fir. I have plenty of old newspaper and no wood. Voila! Exchanges like that happen all the time around here. People can make do without a whole lot of cash if they’re careful and have something to offer.”

“We would never go back,” added Lea while pruning the flower garden. “Look about: the hills, the water, feel the air. Why would we? Look at Christian. He’s a happy guy. He loves tending his exotic chickens, something that would never have entered our lives back in the city. I mean, they’ve almost become our substitute children.”

She paused, loosening more soil.

“Plus, our guests bring us all the company and outside stimulation we need. Don’t get me wrong, however. We liked San Francisco. It’s a beautiful city. Or used to be before all the high-rises went up. But it was the pace, the pressure, that finally got to us. That and the freeways and fast-food chains and all the craziness about making as much money as possible. God, I would be happy never to encounter any of that again.”

She plunged her trowel into the soil at the edge of a stand of marigolds while Christian reached down and picked up Louie, his favorite chicken. Considerable cooing ensued. Between man and hen, that is.