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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Likness

17,541 Days

The island is tucked away off the northwest coast of Washington state, close enough to the Canadian border to swim there. A small bookstore and coffee shop that has delighted locals and tourists alike for 35 years is nestled along a surprisingly busy main street for such a quiet, relaxed town. It was in Darvil's bookstore that a random fantasy novel I hadn't heard of before caught my eye. An hour later, I was sitting in a chair, sipping dark coffee and reading the book when it struck me.

I felt normal.

It's not just the Parkinson's

To be clear, feeling normal for me isn't about how I think people perceive or treat me. It's more about my personal struggle accepting how fleeting time seems to be while adapting to symptoms. The medication I take impacts my mental state and can trigger depression or anxiety, but more often it manifests as the feeling something's not right and that I'm not myself. One effective way to combat the sensation is to keep my mind engaged. This is not a challenge between my career at Microsoft, hiking, astrophotography, and the wonderful projects and (many) mini vacations my wife and I share.

The problem is allowing my mind to rest and my body to relax.

Case in point: in the past year I haven't finished a book cover-to-cover and I think my wife and I made it through just one movie at a single sitting. When I try to relax, I feel like I'm dropping the ball or being lazy and need to do something productive. Although it's not always a bad thing, I do need some time to just "be." I have memories of being still and content, so I know it's possible.

I've prayed about it, dedicated time to it, and finally had a breakthrough during my birthday trip to Orcas, WA.

48th Birthday

My wife and I give each other gifts throughout the year, so for our birthdays and Christmas we often have already shared our "big present" and focus on fun, small things or experiences. This year, my birthday coincided with an invitation to visit friends on an island only accessible by ferry (Orcas, WA). Doreen's birthday coming in October also coincides with an invitation from another set of very close friends to join them on an island... the Cayman Islands, to be precise! I was delighted to receive this thoughtful birthday gift from them.

Four bottles of hot sauce
Spicing up my birthday

I love hot sauce and these "farm-to-bottle-to-my-table" flavors from Hawaii are awesome!

I also used part of my bonus to gift myself some birthday gifts. I picked up a used SamYang 50mm f/1.4 lens specifically to photograph constellations like Orion and Cassiopeia. This was my first picture (annotated to the right).

Our trip to the island started with a frantic scramble to secure ferry reservations. We were going to stay through Sunday, but the lack of available reservations pushed us up to Saturday. We grabbed one of just a few spots remaining. When we arrived, the woman in the toll booth informed us that several ferries weren't running due to lack of staff. While we queued in line, we received an e-mail with the subject "Cancellation." We may have panicked a bit before going to the website to get a status update, where we discovered that all of the scheduled ferry trips have been cancelled... except our own. So here you have it: proof that procrastination can work in your favor!

This is one of the many islands we passed on the way in.

An island with a sign on the shore that reads "Cable crossing."
"Cable crossing"

We landed without further drama and got settled at our friends' beautiful home. After a wonderful lunch on a deck facing the water featuring fresh vegetables from their expansive garden, we set out to explore the island. One stop was the summit of Mt. Constitution.

A view of ocean and islands from a summit.
Mt. Constitution

The next day we explored town. That's when I visited Darvill's Bookstore and picked up The City of Brass to start reading. (That is an affiliate link that I may earn enough commission on to buy a gumball, but I admit I prefer the experience of holding it my hand and picking it up in the actual store). My wife surprised me with an impromptu birthday gift when she picked up a little statuette of two rabbits kissing under an umbrella. The weather was perfect to breeze past a cast-iron octopus, a miniature hedge maze and a beautiful bay.

I brought my telescope and the first night we viewed Jupiter and Saturn through the scope. The next day, I attached a new camera I picked up and practiced on some seals across the harbor. I hope they don't harbor any ill feelings, but their fate is sealed.

The results were promising, but my opportunity to test it in dark skies was squashed by clouds. The next night, from our home in Monroe, I took this.


The island was quiet and sleepy. I slept better than I have in a long time during our stay. I sleep just fine, but this felt like a more rejuvenating rest than I'm used to. More importantly, I had my breakthrough. I was able to just relax. I spent plenty of time simply resting, reading my book and enjoying conversations with our hosts and their other guests. The trip reinforced that I can make space to relax and just, "be" and I'm holding onto that as firmly as my tremors will allow.

It makes me optimistic about the future home we plan to have on the Oregon coast in a quiet town with beautiful dark skies.

Astrophotography Wrap-up

To end on a positive note, it feels like I'm starting to get a handle on planning, imaging, and processing astrophotography images. In fact, the last four images in a row are also my four favorite images to date. I leave you with the Elephant's Trunk nebula, the Pleiades, the Helix Nebula (aka "Eye of God") and the Heart Nebula.

Thanks for being a part of this journey!

Jeremy Likness

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