This is the fourth or fifth time that Judy and I have served as holiday season caretakers on Santa Barbara Island. All the other stays have lasted one week. We’ve loved them, but have always felt we were just getting settled in when it came time to leave. This year we were offered a two week stay, which we happily accepted. The day we got here we found out that a third week was available if we wanted it. We had to think it over, but we both ended up saying yes. The isolation has not been any strain at all. Besides being husband and wife, Judy and I are best friends.
This time I’ve been able to establish a routine: cooking, meditating, writing, working (we’ve been planting native plants), and hiking. One of my favorite parts of the day is right after breakfast when I hike up to a favorite spot in a meadow above the ranger’s house and just sit. The small ranger’s compound is completely out of view. Except for a trail marker, everything I see and hear there is natural. I wrote it all down one day.
What I saw: a broad field of grass with blades around six inches tall, the wooden trail marker, various shrubs (mostly sage and giant coreopsis), Santa Catalina Island (25 miles away), the sun, the marine layer along the horizon, a few distant clouds, the Pacific Ocean, one marsh hawk chasing another marsh hawk out of its territory, a white-crowned sparrow, a hovering kestrel—and on the distant horizon, two container ships.
What I heard: the cry of the marsh hawk being chased, a light wind in my ears, a flock of seagulls, waves hitting the shore, the barking of sea lions, a meadowlark, the grass moving in the wind, the song of the sparrow.
On my way back to the house a barn owl flew quite near and I saw the spouting of a whale.
As I said about my last trip, one of the things I value most about being on the island is having the opportunity to relax my nervous system. I always lose sight of just how much living in a city jacks me up until I get to a place like this. There is a natural rhythm that we are supposed to live by and that modern life constantly exceeds. One of the great delusions of our time is that by living fast and bold we create dynamic lives that are superior to the ways that preceded us. But all we end up doing is losing our clarity, losing our way. Because of the lack of distractions, I’ve gotten a very good handle on what it is I need to do to make my book, Street Song, work. I wish I could stay here for months and months and not do anything but write. I could finish the book within a year. But that’s not to be.
One final note: During my sits up in the meadow I’ve been dipping into the Stephen Addiss/Stanley Lombardo translation of the Tao Te Ching. While I’ve been reading and liking this particular translation for around a year, I’m in love with it now. Most translations of the Tao Te Ching read either like a cryptic and dry philosophical tract or some New Age pamphlet. With this version I can feel the presence of the mind that wrote it. It’s put out by Shambhala Publications.