What Brought Me to the Island
Arrival Stories

What Brought Me to the Island

By Michael Shook

The most obvious method whereby I arrived here is “by boat,” which is, I admit, a dreadful and dreadfully weak attempt at humor, for which I blame a certain recalcitrant eight year-old in my head, who refuses to grow up, and who will not go away, either. I could also blame my father, who, like many fathers, was inordinately fond of the most awful jokes (mostly bad puns), and who would no doubt approve of my answer, juvenile though it be. 

Still, boats have figured prominently in the movement of my family, and myself. This was no doubt caused by the lack of air travel in centuries past. My paternal ancestor, Hermanos Shook, arrived about 1769, coming by boat from the Netherlands, and making land in Virginia. I’ve wondered about that Spanish-sounding first name. Was he part of the Jewish diaspora that escaped the Inquisition? And would that partly explain my love of nearly all things Jewish, despite my being a cradle Episcopalian? This is why I lie awake at night. 

On the maternal side, my great-grandparents were among the many Irish fleeing the famine who landed in Canada, made their way to New York, and settled in Brooklyn. My maternal grandfather, Frank, then latched onto a boat (again!) in 1884, as a 14 year old cabin boy who jumped ship in West Seattle later that year. He went back to sea, though, and eventually became a Captain in the Merchant Marine. Needless to say, he spent a lot of time on the water, in boats, although he was shipwrecked when he was 16, and narrowly escaped spending eternity in the water, rather than on it. In a boat. 

Myself, I’ve not spent that much time in boats, even counting ferry rides. I have spent a fair bit of time in the water, though. You’d never know it, since I pretty much have no use for water, unless I’m putting it on my plants, taking a bath in it, or drinking it – if we were meant to swim, we’d have gills – but there was a creek not far from our house in Enumclaw that I wandered about a lot, and from whence I even caught a few fish. And the Green River was a favorite place to hang out, freezing to death with my friends on all but the hottest summer days, while riding inner-tubes down it. 

Perhaps that’s how I got here. I started out near one of the far edges of the greater Puget Sound basin, snugged up against the foothills, clambering around in the mountains, exploring the watersheds of the Greenwater, the White, the Puyallup, and the Green Rivers, and the creeks that fed into them. As the years went by, I sort of meandered down to the Sound proper, not unlike a slow-moving stream, or maybe a salmon stuck in reverse. 

That got me to Tacoma, a return to the city of my destiny, where I was born – a gritty Tacoman, and native Washingtonian, honestly come by. And that’s where I was living when I started looking around for a Zen Buddhist Sangha to try on. Lo and behold, there was the Puget Sound Zen Center, right across the water. So, I started coming to Vashon on Wednesdays, attending the evening sits. 

Which got me to a Saturday event, where I met a lovely woman who was already residing on the Island. Things progressed along the lines such things sometimes progress along, and pretty soon it was time to decide – was she going to move off-Island, or was I going to move on? On-Island, that is. Here I am, so obviously I moved on, though not to Vashon. No, Maury island is the place for me, and they can take me off of it in a pine box, as far as I’m concerned. If it was a properly built box, it could even serve as a boat. Which is how I got here in the first place.

November 29, 2022

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