Archive for January, 2012

Taking Chances

January 25, 2012

As I’ve noted here before, in 1969, when I was 17 years old, I went to Europe on a backpacking trip. My main destination was the island of Crete in Greece. I went back a few years ago to do research for my book Street Song and while there, came upon a book called Winds of Crete by David MacNeil Doren. Doren was an American who, with his Swedish wife, spent several years living in small villages around the island. His time in Crete began in late 1960, and Crete then was very much the same as I found it nine years later.  Globalization has brought drastic changes to the place, so I was happy to find something that would help me remember the way it was when I was there.

I was looking through the book again last night and found an interesting passage. Doren was talking about how he and his wife, while in their 30s, became thoroughly fed up with the modern world. They wanted to get away to a place like Crete, which was inexpensive and not as crazed as the societies in which they grew up. They longed for peace and quiet in order to think over the direction they wanted their lives to take. The problem was that, as cheap as Crete was then, they didn’t have enough money between them to last much more than a month. But they went anyway and hoped for the best. Doren writes:

Common sense was all against our making such a move, but I remembered the words of Thoreau: “…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

This sums up for me what is lacking in our lives nowadays: We no longer take chances. Taking a chance is limited to the stock market. But the universe wants us to take chances and it supports us whenever we do—so long as the chance taken leads us toward an understanding of the heart. I don’t see this as a metaphor. It really happens.

Back from New York

January 23, 2012

I got back from New York Saturday afternoon. Judy’s in Florida visiting her mother, so I’m alone here in the house. I spent the early part of Sunday washing clothes, putting my stuff away, shopping for groceries. Judy had received an invitation to what was being called a “sneak preview” of a restaurant and bar that’s opening in the neighborhood in a few days. I decided to go in her place. The bar area was packed with people all worked up over the New York Giants-San Francisco 49ers playoff game, which was on the TV. I left the restaurant before there was any score and spent the evening relaxing—mostly in bed—reading a book. Outside it was raining, and the streets were quiet—a pleasant respite from the hustle of New York. A little before going to bed it occurred to me: Oh, they must have lost.

To repeat myself…

January 14, 2012

I saw a headline in the New York Times today that said:

Religious leaders, Seeking Unity, Back Santorum.

Below the headline was this:

More than 100 conservative Christian leaders voted to support Rick Santorum’s presidential bid.

I believe it’s important for it to be said—over and over again—that the people referred to in the article are not religious leaders. And Rick Santorum is not a religious man. None of them have any understanding whatsoever of what real religion is. Whenever they do encounter it, they denounce it.

In other news, I’m leaving for New York City in the morning. I’ll be spending a week there, working on my book much of the time (there is a short New York section) and exploring during the rest. I’m also giving a talk about the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill—the flock, book, and film—on Long Island, in Babylon, mon. When I get back I start preparing for another trip to Santa Barbara Island. From island to island and back again. An interesting and lucky time.

Another Look at Santa Barbara Island

January 9, 2012
Landing Cove

Landing Cove on Santa Barbara Island

This is a photograph of the only point of entry to the island—Landing Cove. Near the lower right hand corner is the dock, which has a crane to lift supplies off the boat. In the upper left are the bunkhouse, the solar panel battery storage house and work space, and the island plant nursery. You have to carry all your food, clothing and supplies up a steep path that goes to the right of the dock back into a canyon and then works its way back left to the bunkhouse. It’s a hard haul. The 100-foot boat that took us out to the island was able to back into the dock area without problem. Our supplies were then craned up to the dock. But the sea was rough on the day we had to leave. They couldn’t bring a big boat that close to shore. So they lowered a zodiac (a small motor-powered skiff) into the ocean, which came to pick us up. We had to hand our stuff down an eight foot ladder while the driver ran the nose of the skiff against the ladder to keep it (somewhat) stationary. It was hairy, a little scary. But the guy knew what he was doing, and we made it without incident. (Thank you, Dwight.)

It’s a funny thing to me that next weekend Judy and are going to Manhattan. We’ll be going from one island with a population of 2 to another with a population in the millions. And then in early February, we’re going back to Santa Barbara Island for a week. I’ve been doing some good work on the book there.

The Path to the Dock

The Path to Landing Cove

There is No Escape

January 8, 2012

I first had the opportunity to go to Santa Barbara Island three years ago. The island is 38 miles off the coast of Los Angeles (a four hour boat ride) and part of Channel Islands National Park. It’s about 1.8 miles long with 640 acres. There are no beaches, just steep cliffs, some of which are over 600 feet high. There are no trees, no water, no stores. Just a single bunkhouse, which uses propane and solar energy. The bunkhouse serves as shelter for the island’s caretakers and for those working to restore the island’s native habitat. When Judy and I went there three years ago as volunteer caretakers, we were completely cut off from civilization. Our sole interaction with other human beings was over the radio each morning when we had to send in the morning weather report. I loved it! Every sight and sound was natural: wind, sun, the barking of sea lions, the island grasses, flowers, pelicans, hawks, meadowlarks.

We had the opportunity to go again this year and I was looking forward to the peace and quiet. But the very first night, at 2:00 am, we were awakened by a helicopter hovering very low and shining a large spotlight. It flew over the bunkhouse three times before finally disappearing. What the hell was that? we both wondered. The helicopter returned the next morning, and it was huge. We wondered if they were searching for drug smugglers or something. It turned out that a 26-foot boat had driven into the island in the middle of the night, and the helicopter had been sent out to rescue the three fishermen on board. The next day, as the only people on the scene, the park service radioed us, asking us to look for the wreckage and to take photographs from the cliffs above. We hiked along the cliffs, picking our way through the prickly pear cactus and the cholla (another nasty cactus plant) until we found it. Taking photographs of the wreckage and radioing in reports took up three of our days there. I’m not complaining. I had a fantastic time. But it’s strange how difficult it is to escape the doings of human beings. Our machines take us everywhere now and the people running the machines are often foolish and oblivious. Foolish and oblivious enough to drive a large boat into an island in the middle of the night.

Judy on the island

Walking back from shooting the wreckage

The Wreckage

The Wreckage

From Santa Barbara Island

January 1, 2012
Sleeping Baby Sea Lion

Sleeping Baby Sea Lion

I’m still out on Santa Barbara Island. It turns out that there is Internet access—it’s rather  slow, though—so I’m sending out this photo I took of a baby sea lion sleeping against some fencing at the Landing Cove area.

I’ll be back home in five days.

Happy New Year!