I am watching at least 100 Common Dolphins frolic in the ocean off the coast of California.
I am on a cruise to the Santa Cruz Island, which is part of the Channel Island group run by the by now infamous National Park Service. We’ve been in the middle of the pod for at least 10 minutes, and it’s clear these playful mammals are enjoying the attention, because they speed just a few feet in front of our bow and leap in the air just feet below both sides of our boat. In fact, the whole ocean around us is alive with these animals, and everyone on board is enjoying the show, especially the thirty or so middle schoolers on a field trip.
We left this morning from the Rex Motel and had my latte’ fix at McDaonalds along with their idea of a healthy breakfast, which was a watery oatmeal concoction that I can’t recommend (but the coffee was good). We arrive at the Island Packers office at 8:30 and pony up $107 for the round trip tour, which leaves at 9 and returns at 5. Jonathan had us set up for an overnight stay, but our plans changed and that was impossible now.
The boat leaves on time, and immediately we spy sea lions on the harbor light floating within eyesight of Ventura Harbor, and apparently that’s their home, because they’re all fighting for very limited space on it, at least a dozen of them, and some are losing. Just goes to show that not everything man does is bad for the environment. Sometimes we help out by accident!
We pass by some of the 19 offshore oil rigs, and I’m glad to see they are operational and hope Obama doesn’t have some kind of knee jerk reaction again if there’s another disaster, unless he’s willing to give up his limo and airplane for a year.
These waters are known for blue whale migration, but we’re a few weeks late for that, unfortunately, so we just enjoy the view of all of these big islands looming brown on a deep blue sea on a bright day. Even though the waves aren’t too bad, I spend most of my time in the exact center of the boat, knowing that at any moment I could become sick if I move. My travel companions are the ten year olds that are playing cards and spilling liquids on the table, because Jonathan is on the top deck snapping pictures and enjoying the day.
I become bold and venture out just before we dock and inadvertently strike up a conversation with a zombie. We are paying him to study an invasion of Argentine ants on the islands, and I can’t help but wonder why it takes this guy several years to “study” this phenomenon, and why he just didn’t pull out a huge can of Raid to get the job done, especially when he tells me darkly that “ultimately we’ll need chemicals”, but then if I were drawing a salary to study insects and spent my time on an island paradise at taxpayer’s expense “studying” it I wouldn’t be in any hurry either. I’d become a zombie just like this guy. But just like in the movies, where the zombies used to be nice people and then they change and have to be killed, this guy, who seems pretty nice, has to be fired. We just can’t afford this deadwood bullshit anymore, especially when I’m pretty sure someone with his qualifications could easily find work at Orkin, in which case he could come back to the island and eradicate the killer ants and actually do something for once in his life instead of studying the idea of doing something, and then we, the American people, wouldn’t need to pick up the check for his skinny ass to remain on a remote island, where we have to ship in food and supplies by ship and helicopter and eventually pay for his retirement, and somehow I’ll be able to sleep at night even though maybe the Attack of the Killer Ants is imminent, and by the way who really gives a shit which ants are in charge of the island to start with?
When we land, Jonathan and I eschew a kayak tour and instead hike on the high bluffs that encompass the island’s 77 miles of coast, and soon we become pretty hot, because there isn’t a tree on the island save for in the creek beds, and we are on the arid desert highlands, and it makes me wonder how those sheep farmers made it work so many years ago. But then I remember this Italian guy actually did this until the 1980’s before the NPS took it over, and I guess he and his family had been there for generations, and they must have been some tough and independent bastards to live out here on the edge of the world with nary a cell phone, cable TV, or entomologist in sight, but I can tell from the farming artifacts at the Visitor’s Center that they had a pretty good sized operation here and probably enjoyed it.
I say this because, although I’m a fan of preserving some lands, I think there are some properties like this one that really could use some improvements, and I note that these cliffs are very similar to what I saw in the Aegean Sea, where the Greeks have turned such jewels as Santorini into perfect little enclaves by inadvertently following a strict policy of whitewashed walls and domed structures in what are effectively condominiums, and why couldn’t we do that here? And I wonder how bad it was just to have a sheep ranch here, especially when I remember the charming farms and shepherds of the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland. I guess what I’m saying is I think there can be a balance struck between man and nature…it doesn’t have to be a choice between raping the land and total wilderness, and God knows we could use the money that we got from selling some of these parks for responsible development to pay down the debt, and we could dismiss a whole lot of zombies as an additional bonus.
Anyway, Jonathan and I make our way out to Potato Point, and the view is spectacular, because you’re looking out over a small cove where the waves roll in and the color changes from a deep blue to a sea-foam green, and you’re about 300 feet over the water. You can see gulls and even pelicans skimming the surface, and we note the barking of sea lions, though we can’t see them. There are kayakers exploring the sea caves and arch rocks at the base of the cliffs. Your view east from here is the horizon, and in this case that is the Coastal Range on the mainland, and west behind you is the barren peak of the island’s land mass. It’s a good spot for lunch, so we sit down to our jerky and trail mix before hiking back along the bluff. We lie down on warm rocks and nap for a few minutes, drifting off to the sound of the gentle surf.
When we awake, we head back toward the dock and spend a little time in the Visitor’s Center, which is manned (womanned?) by another zombie, who grudgingly gets up when we arrive, and, without offering a whit of information, watches us as we peruse the displays, and I’m glad she’s on the job, because who knows how many fake snakes, 200 pound anvils, or even old farm tractors would be missing if she weren’t on the job, since it’s so easy to smuggle those onto the one boat that serves this island every day?
As we depart the center, we note a Channel Island Fox, which is unique to this chain, and is like a real fox only in miniature, eating some berries near a fence line, and it allows us within just a few feet to take his picture.
Our boat trip back is smooth and calm, and includes another view of a dolphin pod, which includes a number of babies.
We eat at Urbane Café’, and I highly recommend it. For $17, two people can enjoy a great sandwich with salad. Jonathan swears his southwest chicken was awesome, but I wouldn’t know, since he refused to share even one bite with me, and I loved my BLAT, which had a whole lot of savory seasoned bacon and avocado, though it could have used an extra tomato or two.
Tomorrow, we head to Vegas…I will try not to lose the nest egg!