Jessica Hunt: The Eagle Tree Symphony

The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra commissioned me to write a symphony in honor of their 90th season. I wanted to honor the memories of my grandparents and the spirit of the island community, so my latest symphony, "The Eagle Tree," is both inspired by and in honor of Guemes Island.

Listen To The Eagle Tree

The San Juan Islands are tucked away in the very northwestern-most corner of the Pacific Northwest, with Guemes Island as the first, and the smallest, in the archipelago. It has its own tiny ferry to shuttle a few cars at a time back and forth from Anacortes, Washtington. Tourists mostly pass over the unassuming island in favor of other, larger islands’ offering, leaving Guemes’ beautiful craggy cliffs and timbered hills mostly to its peaceful residents. There’s a part of me that grew up on this island, spending slow, quiet childhood summers with my grandparents.

Many years later, in the summer of 2017, I visited their old yellow house overlooking the Guemes Channel and Deadman’s Cove, overwhelmed by the juxtaposition of my childhood memories with the present. The wood of the deck, once brightly painted, was now peeling. My grandfather’s rocking chair from which he once surveyed the passing sailboats was gone, my grandmother’s lushly verdant garden on the edge of the cliff now overgrown and wild.

Yet the way the salt-spray crashed over the ferry deck as it rushed across the channel in the early morning light; the way the proud bald eagle surveyed the water from his gnarled, wind-scrabbled tree; and the way the gentle light would change at sunset in the crisp, cool air when the water grew still and the world turned orange and lavender, these living images beyond the Eagle Tree were the same, and always will be.

My grandparents’ old home has now been sold, and a new child has taken my place in the yellow house with its eagle tree on the cliff. I can never go back, but I will always remember.

The Eagle Tree is sectioned into three parts, opening with a joyful fanfare and flourish, followed by a hymn of remembrance and yearning, and then a juxtaposition of the island’s playful charm and the symbolic, bittersweet twilight-beauty it now inhabits in my memories. The Eagle Tree is a companion piece to my string quartet Images of Guemes and is dedicated to the memories of Verdon and Opal Spurlock, and to the spirit of the island.

I'm so grateful to the Guemes community for being such a wonderful home for my grandparents and for being so welcoming to me, both in my childhood and also last year when I was visiting to help my mom Susan Spurlock and my uncle Don Spurlock get the house ready for sale. Guemes will always have a piece of my heart--and now it also has a budding fan club amongst the concert-goers of Southeastern Michigan!

- Jessica Hunt