August On Whidbey Island

A thunderstorm came and went yesterday, quite literally in a flash. Neighbors met in the street as they stepped out of their homes to feel the few drops of rain and to smell the iron in the air. It’s a rare treat here in the summer. You can see the storm brewing in the sky over Dalwhinnie in this photo. Dalwhinnie is the name of our house, a large shingled affair that we painted teal with a white trim. Very happy colors when paired with any kind of flowers, especially red geraniums. Dalwhinnie, besides being the town in the Scottish Highlands in which a delicious whisky is distilled, means “The Gathering Place.” That’s because the sheep farmers used to drive their sheep down the mountains to buy stock, sell their flocks and wool, and socialize a few times a year over some really fine whisky. Our house has come to be the gathering place for friends and neighbors and family, and we relish that, hosting lots of dinners and parties here throughout the year, much like Althea and Grace in the Blanchard House Series. Summer is usually the time for friends from all over the country to come and stay for a week at a time in our guest suite. It’s a great way to reconnect with dear ones we’ve missed because of time and distance, and to just settle in over meals, beach walks, and cruising the Victorian villages of Langley and Coupeville here on Whidbey, and Port Townsend, which is only a beautiful ferry ride away.

Of course, we’ve endured a year and a half of the Covid pandemic, so we didn’t see anyone socially but our bubble, consisting of the (Thank Heavens) lovely couple across the street and a single friend, all of that time. Not indoors, anyway. Whidbey Island Orchestra, which I conduct, was able to have our string section rehearals every weekend last summer under our trees, well-spaced and masked, naturally. We actually gave a Mozart Concert in March performing triple string quartets, three on a part., which was beautiful and sold out. We couldn’t rehearse or perform with brass or woodwinds all of that time, because they blow germs at an astonishing rate and for quite a distance! It’s been so sad.

The last Sunday in July this year we had 125 people here in our yard, which covers two acres, for an orchestra picnic, though, with live music (strings playing Mozart Quartets, then a six piece jazz band), a Scotch Whisky Tasting, a wine tasting, liqueurs, and a catered buffet of International Street Food. All outdoors, everyone vaccinated, a happy and enthusiastic crowd, and a perfect event, “Da Capo With A Twist.” But things have changed yet again.

The orchestra letter went out this week requiring masks, vaccinations, and covering for all brass and woodwind bells at the end of the instrument. Our rehearsals begin September 9th, and we had to allow time for players to purchase these instrument masks online. It’s the only way we can include the full orchestra, and we have no idea if anyone will be willing to comply, but what choice do we have? Our strings, percussion, and one flute are performing on August 27th at the Whidbey Island Center For The Arts (WICA), a really foot-stompin’ great program, “Fiddles to Fiesta: Music of the Americas,” featuring everything from Earl Scruggs to Astor Piazzola. The orchestra sounds fantastic, but will we have an audience? WICA has removed seating and done a 50% bistro seating instead of the usual rows. They’ve invested in a state-of-the-art air purification system. Will it be enough? We sold out in March, but that was then, and the Delta variant was still unknown.

So far we have kept everyone in our organization safe, and our little community has been very compliant. Gary and I are hoping to host a small potluck in the middle of August here on our deck and in our yard. Will we still be safe? Will people come to Dalwhinnie if we can all be outside, or will regrets come trickling in as the Delta variant and news of breakthrough infections and increased contagion fill our news feeds? Who knows? That’s where we are right now, surrounded by beauty, perfect weather, and the return of “Covid With A Twist.”

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