Off Again to Santa Barbara Island

Santa Barbara Island

Santa Barbara Island

The last few years, Judy and I have spent every Christmas to New Year’s Day as the sole occupants of Santa Barbara Island, a mile-long island 38 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. The island is part of Channel Islands National Park, and the park service relies on a regular staff of volunteer caretakers to watch over the place. Few people ever go there, except in summer, and even then it’s generally vacant. It’s difficult to get to. A boat goes out only once a week. Since there’s no water, unless you have your own boat, you’re saddled with the need to bring out a week’s worth of water and food. There isn’t a single beach on the island. It’s all cliffs. The landing is a dock built into one of those cliffs. Sometimes the ocean is too rough to permit a landing. It can be that way for days. And even when you can dock, to get to the campground you have to carry your gear up a long path with switchbacks.

The situation is different for volunteers, who get to live in the island’s only building, the ranger’s house, which has a gas stove, solar power, and a regular supply of water brought in by the weekly boat. This year, Judy and I are spending two uninterrupted weeks there. They needed volunteers for the week prior to Christmas as well the Christmas to New Year’s week, and we decided to take it. I’ll be using the time for focused work on my book. The island is incredibly peaceful and free of distractions. There are few sounds other than those that nature makes—wind, waves, sea lions, sea gulls, meadowlarks, insects buzzing in the grass. (Last year, though, we were awakened in the middle of the night by a helicopter that was searching for a boat that had crashed into the island in the darkness. They radioed and asked us to search for the wreckage and to take photographs, which turned out to be quite an adventure.)

Besides the radio, the ranger’s house has a modem connected to a satellite dish, so we won’t be completely cut off from what many people call civilization. I’ll try to write at least once while I’m out there.

Happy Holidays to you all.

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10 Responses to “Off Again to Santa Barbara Island”

  1. tz Says:

    sounds like my kind of christmas get away! enjoy!

  2. Tim Mueller Says:

    Jealous! There’s a fire tower in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that has a panoramic view, and the only sound is the wind blowing through the trees. You’re a mile up, and a million miles away from the rest of the world. Not quite as isolated, but…

  3. Patricia. Says:

    I remember the last post you did on this adventure. I’m glad someone can do it. I need people and activity myself, but I’m so glad you can do it…

  4. Sarah Says:

    I found the following to be the most memorable excerpt of your previous posts re Santa Barbara Island:

    “After sitting for a while I became aware of another sound, a high hum in the background, which I believed was my nervous system, all jacked-up from city living. I was curious if the sound would lessen after being on the island for a week. On the next-to-last-day of our stay, I went back to my spot to check it out, and the humming had indeed subsided—considerably.” (Posted February 12, 2012)

    The excerpt fascinated me. I’ve never been aware of a body hum (in myself or others) until I read your post for the first time. How many city dwellers and suburbanites experience this kind of humming without realizing it? I’ll be curious to know if you notice the humming once you return to the island.

    I hope both of you have a wonderful time! Happy holidays and pelicans to you and yours. :-D

    • markbittner Says:

      I’d experienced that before. It was a little bit disingenuous to report it as if I were noticing it for the first time. But that’s the constraint of writing, and of writing to people you don’t know. In any case, I will check it out again. Two weeks could make an even bigger difference. It’s the hum of an overactive nervous system, I would guess.

  5. Laloofah Says:

    This sounds absolutely idyllic! And what a perfect way to experience Winter Solstice, especially – surrounded by all that peace and nature and simplicity and solitude. Perfect! Such a contrast from the stressful bedlam most Americans will be subjecting themselves to during those two weeks. Enjoy, enjoy! (I can only imagine how great the stargazing must be out there!)

    • markbittner Says:

      I was really looking forward to stargazing the first time I went out there. Perfect darkness! Or so I imagined. It is very, very good. But even 43 miles out at sea the lights of Los Angeles are visible along the horizon. Not greatly, but you can’t miss them. (I’ll try to take a photo.) There is a north/south ridge running up the middle of the island, and I intend to go up there one night and then go far enough down the other side to block out the light and see what that’s like.

    • Laloofah Says:

      Wow, light pollution on the scale of LA is even more intrusive than I’d imagined! I hope your plan using the ridge to block the lights will work, and look forward to seeing your photos!

  6. JB Says:

    take your guitar!

  7. Linda Says:

    You lucky man, you, sounds like my kind of Christmas. No shopping, no noise and no traffic. Yes, by all means if you still got a guitar take it, my husband would never be without his. Merry Christmas or Happy Yuletide, whichever ever you prefer.

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