Archive for December, 2012

Island Report

December 24, 2012
Planting Native Plants

Planting Silver Lace on Santa Barbara Island

Judy and I left San Francisco on Monday the 17th, driving down Highway 101 to Ventura, our point of departure for Santa Barbara Island. We left a day early so that I could spend Tuesday looking into two final research questions I’ve had for Street Song, questions that could only be answered by making a trip to Los Angeles. While neither question has been important enough to justify the expense of going there, they’ve been tugging at my mind for years. It was only recently that I figured out where the keys were. Since we were going to be in the area anyway, we drove to L. A., and I got my answers. Always very satisfying.

On Wednesday, the sea was too rough for a boat landing, so they sent us out in a helicopter. (Many thanks to our pilot Charlie and all the folks at Aspen Helicopters.) We are scheduled to be here in absolute solitude for two weeks. It’s not exactly hardship duty. We’re in a small house that’s powered by the sun and propane. We have lights, a kitchen with refrigerator and stove, a shower (military showers only) and internet access. There’s also a television with a satellite dish—although we don’t watch it. I’m working on my book, Judy has her film notes and another project, and we read. (Judy is reading Robinson Crusoe and I’m reading Allen Ginsberg’s Planet News and the Tao Te Ching.)

We have three daily duties: radioing in the morning report (the weather and the condition of the ocean); turning on a pump if the rainwater collection tank gets too full (it requires getting up in the middle of the night if there’s a downpour); and helping with the restoration of the island through the planting of native plants (see photo). The rest of our time is devoted to writing, reading, hiking, cooking—and sleeping. For some reason island life makes us drowsy. Every time we come out here, we tend to get in bed around 7:30. Some nights we sleep ten or eleven hours.

One anecdote: Two nights ago, there was a sudden squall. The rain was pounding hard on the roof, and we had to jump out of bed to check the water collection tank. It was filling up fast, so we had to pull out the instructions on how to turn on the pump, something we’d never done before. No sooner did we get the pump running, than the rain began to subside. Then it stopped entirely. Once we were certain that everything was okay, we got back in bed. Just before turning out the light I opened up the Tao Te Ching to a random page. My eyes fell on these lines:

Violent winds do not blow all morning.
Sudden rain cannot pour all day.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz

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Off Again to Santa Barbara Island

December 13, 2012
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.

Voting in Republicans

December 7, 2012

I’m fed up with voting for Democrats and getting Republicans. I read that the Obama administration has been having meetings to decide what to do about the states of Washington and Colorado and their legalization of marijuana. I haven’t smoked any pot in around fifteen years, but I think it’s a fine, fine plant. I’ve had some good insights while high that, decades later, I still draw upon. It may seem like a small thing, but I’m at a kind of personal tipping point here. Given that they could choose to simply leave it alone, if they do anything at all, any kind of federal enforcement, then I’m going down to city hall and changing my voter registration away from “Democrat.” Not a big thing, I know, but what else can I do? How much of this bullshit do we have to take?