Friday, April 27, 2007

Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me

I first traveled to Catalina Island (a small island located about 22 miles off the coast of California Google Map) as a Boy Scout in the early 1980s (back when it wasn't problematic to be a Scout). The Los Angeles Scouts had a summer camp at Emerald Bay. To us, as suburban kids, it was a natural landscape we were unaccustomed to, a paradise. The water was cold, but clear. Could this be the same Pacific waters? No sludge? No bacteria? I remember my first hours there in camp. Myself and a few others from Troop 961 hiked over a ridge at the edge of our campground, and we were surprised to be met by a herd of bison! Our encounter with nature was more than we bargained for. We were kept awake all night by packs of wild boar who roamed camp in search of candy, toothpaste, anything sweet. Woe to the kid who neglected to eat all of his Skittles or put his shampoo up in a tree and out of snout range.

These two species were not native to the island. The fact is that the beasts were brought over to the island for a film production and (according to rumor) left due to a shortage of funds to pay for their return. On a recent trip, I learned that the boar had been all but eliminated from the island (they were a threat to the ecosystem), but the bison still thrive. The Catalina Island Conservancy devised a plan to export a portion of the bison herd to repopulate Plain State Indian reservations.

My introduction to the island was important, not only because it was a fun place to go (being a pre-litigious era, we were allowed to go jump off of a 30+ foot cliff into the sea). It was a way to connect to California history, to wonder at a marvel close to home but never dreamed of, and to experience nature in an elemental way that was not easy for a kid of my background and setting.

For the next few Fridays, I'll tell you a little more about Catalina Island, its history, my connection to it, and how you can plan a trip. For now, I'll leave you with a link to the hit song, "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)" (iTunes) by the Four Preps.

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