Editor’s note: This is an edited version of the introduction from “On Island Time: A Traveler’s Atlas,” a new book by Chandler O’Leary, published by Sasquatch Books. The book’s subtitle is “Illustrated Adventures on & Around the Islands of Washington & British Columbia.”

I HAVE LIVED and worked in the Pacific Northwest since 2008, after many years of wandering around the United States and elsewhere. Though I have, at last, found my permanent home, I can’t seem to stop behaving like a perpetual tourist. I go exploring as often as possible. I work daily to expand my “mental map.” I document in my sketchbooks what I see, hear and taste. I try not to take my surroundings for granted.

Tacoma author creates an illustrated travelers atlas for PNW islands

Applying the principles of my former nomadic life has expanded and deepened my love for the Salish Sea. Though it’s hard to play favorites in this beautiful corner of the world, my heart belongs to the islands. My small home studio in Tacoma overlooks Commencement Bay and Maury Island, and on summer nights, a pair of lighthouses flashes through my open windows, casting a faint glow onto my bedroom walls. For me, the islands represent a constant dance of home and away. I visit often enough to feel a sense of stewardship, yet my mainlander status keeps the islands just unfamiliar enough to never lose their getaway feeling. Instead of a coffee shop, the ferry is often my “third place,” where I go to clear my head or work out new ideas — there’s always a saltwater view and plenty of fresh air.

I have the good fortune to spend time on San Juan Island every year, filling sketchbooks, creating my own writing retreats or simply relaxing with my family. When my son was born in 2019, the islands seemed like the perfect place to introduce him to his home region and the joys of travel. He rode his first ferry at 2 months old, and some of his earliest outings included visiting Vashon and Fox islands to look for banana slugs or comb the beaches.

My son has not been the only audience for my island enthusiasm. My new book has been brewing in my mind for many years. Every time I played tour guide to a visitor, or jotted down a note in my sketchbook, or recounted a story to a friend, I was unconsciously planning the pages. Once I began the formal research and drafting process for the book, it didn’t take long to realize that what I was really crafting was a love letter. Learning to see the islands with fresh eyes, revisiting old favorites and discovering new ones gave me the chance to attempt translating the experience for someone else — you.

My wish is that in some small way, my book might have succeeded on that front. If you read the book somewhere far from the Salish Sea, I hope the pages entice you to come here and discover this place for yourself. If you are a local, like me, perhaps you’ll still find something new to explore, or a perspective that hadn’t occurred to you before.

My book is only a dim reflection of reality, but if it can serve as a gateway to the real thing, I’ll be prouder than I can express. I hope it will inspire you to fall in love with the islands as I have.