I have never been to Vashon Island. When I was younger, I used to look at it every day. My grandmother had a house in the southern suburbs of Seattle, and I used to look across the arm of the Puget Sound towards Vashon Island, three miles distant. I used to watch the ferries, little white rectangles, come and go towards the pier on Vashon Island. But despite my proximity, I have never been there.

Vashon Island, like several islands in the Puget Sound, is only reachable by ferry, (or, in rare cases, by airplane). Vashon Island is about 50% larger than Manhattan, and has a population of around 10,000 people. While 10,000 people is relatively small compared to the population of the Puget Sound area, Vashon Island's population of 10,000 makes it one of the top 5 most populous unbridged islands in the United States outside of Hawaii, with only Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Kodiak Island having larger populations.

Most of the non-bridge accessible islands in the United States fall into one of three categories. They are either areas that are economically productive because they are islands (Kodiak Island), islands that are mostly recreation or retirement communities (The San Juan Islands or Martha's Vineyard) or islands that once fell into one of the two categories, but are now inhabited by traditionalists (many of the islands off of Maine or in the Great Lakes). Vashon Island is different because, while it is an upper income area, and has a reputation as a culturally active place, it is not purely a resort community. Vashon Island is a suburban area where people can still commute, via ferry, to jobs in the city. Although it is hard to exactly qualify this, Vashon Island is probably the only large island community in a metro area. This is (as far as I can guess), the only place in the United States where a city bus crosses by ferry to an island.

Unique communities, whether that comes from geographic or other factors, often must face a decision: they have to build bridges outwards, which leads to them losing their identity. Or they stay isolated, leading to social and economic hardship. But sometimes, as in the case of Vashon Island, a community can manage to preserve its local identity but stay connected to the larger world.