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channel islands

Off The Map Side-Stories #1: Double-Dipping

I aim to keep writing throughout the year... stories that I can dash off without too much editing... stories of adventure between the summer seasons. If you can think of a catchy title for this series, let me know! Here's the first:

Off The Map Side-Stories #1: Double-Dipping

Dolphins followed us to Santa Barbara Island, and dolphins followed us home, two days later.  In between, we paid for our ferry passage by getting our hands dirty, planting native seedlings to help restore a landscape devastated by a century of overgrazing by sheep, goats and rabbits.  It’s an economical way to see the island, and a satisfying experience to be part of the recovery process.

Santa Barbara is the smallest of the eight Channel Islands of the coast of Southern California.  The rainwater that soaks into the ground there isn’t sufficient to make streams or springs flow, so human habitation has never been a productive enterprise.  The National Park Service runs a campground, but you must bring all your own food and water supplies and hike them up a steep trail from the docks to the upper plateau.  Kitty and I were among the dozen volunteers contributing our time, planting coreopsis, silverleaf and cactus and feeding them precious water to tide them over until the rainy season.

On the second afternoon, we used our lunch break to hike down to the docks and investigate the potential for a midday swim.  Unfortunately, the waves at high tide were crashing violently against the rocks and wooden beams; we climbed down the metal ladder until we were waist-deep in the water, but we didn’t dare let go.  Around us, sea lions traced the shoreline and effortlessly spun their sleek bodies through the heavy surf.  We feared a rogue wave would smash us against the cliffs if we swam away and tried to return.  So instead, we played a vertical game of tag with the ocean, stepping to the lowest rung we had the nerve to reach, then clawing our way back up the ladder whenever a set of waves threatened to catch us and sweep us away.

Somehow, I kept my head dry until the final round of our game.  In truth, I thought the game was over, but as we were starting to climb to safety, one last wave ricocheted off the cliff beneath the dock and completely drenched me.  Sneaky ocean.  I needed to remember; the island may have appreciated our temporary presence, but the ocean owed us no favors.