They may be buffered by salt water from some of the pressures of the mainland, but the islands are not immune to change. San Juan County's population grew 40 percent in a decade, from 10,035 in 1990 to 14,077 in 2000 ― more, apparently, than nature had designed for. Water, of all things, is becoming an issue. "Fifty percent of the wells on Lopez Island are in danger of saltwater intrusion," says Rhea Miller, who spends a good chunk of her time as county commissioner dealing with environmental issues.

The island beater people view the Lincoln Navigator people with ambivalence. On one hand, they welcome the newcomer who builds a trophy home on 4 acres because they'd rather see that than a warren of 60 condos on the same land. On the other, the flaunting of wealth is grossly at odds with island tradition. Suzanne Lyons, owner of a small gift shop on Orcas Island, tells me about a captain of industry who moved onto the island and began tooling about in his $50,000 BMW. "Finally I saw him in the grocery store, and I just told him, 'C'mon, sell it and buy an old pickup.' And you know what? He did."

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