Welcome to Life on Orcas, our twenty-part series on living and thriving on Orcas Island.
Section 8: The New Person
Arriving for the first time on Orcas Island is a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for the newcomer. But little do they know that a complex and hidden process begins the moment they step foot on Orcas.
Longtime residents know that dating prospects are extremely limited (see Section 17). So the arrival of a new person sets off a flurry of activity and excitement in the local community.
Thanks to an ancient communication system made up of elderly residents, naval signal flags, and messenger deer, the arrival of a new person is generally common knowledge within 30 minutes.
During this brief window, a secret fellowship known as the Matchmakers mobilizes to welcome and evaluate the newly arrived person.
Oftentimes a minor traffic mishap is arranged as the person drives into town. The resulting delay allows Matchmaker operatives to gently interrogate the new arrival, and examine the contents of their vehicle. The new arrival is unaware of this, and may only remember a friendly roadside chat with an elderly woman in rain boots.
It’s just as well the new arrival doesn’t know what’s happenings. Because the Matchmaker who makes initial, or “First Contact,” makes an extensive evaluation of the person’s personality, their business on the island, and most importantly, their relationship status.
If the new person arrives with a friend, the companion is carefully monitored to determine whether the pair is a couple, or just friends.
Couples are viewed with extreme suspicion. Who’s this guy anyway? Is he good for her? Do we like him? These are all questions that Matchmakers consider when evaluating a newly arrived couple.
If couples are tightly bonded, they are typically driven off the island in a polite but relentless manner. Islanders accomplish this by tempering their typical friendliness: Sightseeing opportunities are left unmentioned, potluck invites are rescinded. And in some cases, more direct action is necessary. Freak deer attacks are staged, or AirBnBs are burned down. The couples typically leave within 48 hours.
In other cases, the Matchmakers may determine that one member of the couple is suitable for island culture, and could be paired with one of the many desperate single people in the community. In these cases, the relationship is undermined by the Orcas Hiking Sisters, a front organization consisting mainly of retired women with backgrounds in international intelligence.
Their methods are cloaked in secrecy, but generally involve psychological operations, such as weaponized gossip, or a well-placed, extremely attractive permaculture intern. If the unwanted partner is particularly resistant or unlikable, the Hiking Sisters may invite them for a friendly hike.
The unsuspecting partner is never seen on Orcas again. Individuals occasionally materialize in far off countries like Indonesia, with wild tales of being kidnapped by gangs of grandmothers. Needless to say, these accusations are discounted by local authorities.
No matter the method, suitable singles are welcomed to the island. Matchmaker operatives, disguised as grocery clerks, retired neighbors, or delivery drivers, continue to interrogate the new arrival and build out their psychosocial profile.
A senior operative known only as “Mee Maw” then begins the arduous process of matching the new arrival with an eligible single person.
Little is known about this process. Some speculate that Mee Maw is in actuality a Cray supercomputer from the mid-90s, housed in the barn of a retired Microsoft employee. Others assert that Mee Maw is a great grandmother in Olga, who was a founding member of the Israeli Mossad, but spends her retirement years matching young people using a system of index cards and yarn.
Regardless, operatives ensure that the pair meet at a community dance, or the farmer’s market.
The couple will always claim that they met by chance, not realizing that perhaps half or more of the people in the village green, or the dance hall, are watching them out of corner of their eyes. And when the pair leaves together, signal flags appear on mailboxes, and deer with tiny envelopes tied to their antlers race through the park.