Peregrine flight

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Isla de Santa Catherina

Leslie and I have just returned from a rather epic voyage to Catalina courtesy of our buddies R & D. Accompanied by accent aigu´ and friend Kent, we left early Friday morning on a four day trip to the neighboring island where I spent so much time in my misspent youth. Thankfully the statute of limitations and all known warrants have expired and I was allowed to travel around the atoll freely and unmolested.

This was the best trip to Santa Catalina that I have ever had, for a variety of reasons, including good friends, copious quantities of liquid refreshment, fin whales, huge boiling pods of dolphins, my sweetheart, an orgy of food and last but not least, a good book.

If I had any complaints at all it is merely the mild discomfort of the disease known in sailor's circles as landsickness, my legs and equilibrium still swaying at present to the gentle rocking of a now nonexistent sea.

The trip started out with a bang, a large rogue wave slamming the boat just outside of Oceanside Harbor, spilling the contents of the refrigerator and giving us all a good shake, with me starting to whistle the "three hour tour" song. We all personally regrouped, then set our course and sped through a mild chop at about 12 knots for the four hour boat ride.

It was a bit overcast but after a pretty non eventful ride, spied land ahead and saw the famed casino come into view as we motored into Avalon. The casino is the perfect marriage of art deco and spanish revival. Built by Wrigley on a spot known as Sugarloaf Point, the casino was once a dance floor and high school. The original casino was razed and this current, splendid building was built in 1929, designed by architects Sumner A. Spaulding and Walter Weber.

I love the graceful line of the corbels with the top ellipse so playfully squashed.

´'s brother and his boyfriend were by chance on the island on their own yacht and he came over to say hello, a wonderful fellow.

Leslie made a lovely beef, barley and mushroom soup and we were replenished. We lined up and staged the wine bottles for the trip, pinot's on the left, cabs on the right, stolid meritage's proudly making up the rear. A flotilla of wine, no way we could drink all that. (guess again? ed.)

After a brief rest we took the tender to shore and decided to rent a golf car and take a quick tour of the Island and give the legs a stretch. We headed up to the Wrigley Memorial, one of my favorite native gardens and places to walk.

Here is a picture of a frieze of an interlocking cackle of rooks at the memorial that has always enchanted me. We were walking back to the gardens when we got a real treat. Leslie spied a Santa Catalina Island fox. She motioned to the lovely, diminutive creature and it seemed tame and froze in its tracks. Unfortunately my camera is acting up, something that continued to bedevil me throughout the trip and I never got the shot that I desired, but I am sure that you get the general idea. It fled into the bushes after a moment. A charming little critter indeed. We felt blessed to have caught a glimpse.

Besides the imported bison, sheep, goats and russian boars, Catalina has a small host of native or endemic inhabitants including the Beechey's ground squirrel, Santa Catalina Island deer mouse, Santa Catalina Island shrew, Beurick's wren, Hutton's vireo and California quail, all only extant in this one special locale.

Native plants include the Catalina Bedstraw, Catalina Ironwood, Catalina Live forever (great name), Catalina Mahogany, Catalina Manzanita and St. Catherine's Lace. By the way, the island was named for St. Catherine, it being her saint's day the day Vizcaino sailed to her shores and proclaimed her a new possession of Spain.

After our walk we stopped off at the old Bird Park and I took a few shots of the classic catalina tile murals.

We went out to dinner. I can hear the cries already. Anytime I speak of food, the cries and protestations about my sybaritic excesses rise up from the din and into the peanut gallery. Patrician swine, glutton, dionysion fatso, I can hear it now. "You are always broke and yet you eat like a king." If I may, we have no children, no expensive college tuition, orthodontics or ritalin bills, can't you leave me to my few vices in peace? Diet starts next week...

In any case, the meal at the Avalon Grill was marginal at best anyway, impossible to get a decent meal on the island past pancakes so I won't bore you with the particulars, a too sweet tomato ragu, an over salted pot roast, pretty much as expected. And the last and only meal we had off the boat, my shipmates all being exceedingly great cooks who kept us in a constant eating regimen; oatmeal, then breakfast, morning snack, pre lunch, lunch, well you get the idea.


We all were tired and sacked in early. The Catalina Fim Festival was in full swing, the guest of honor Marvel's Stan Lee. There was an eleven o'clock p.m. showing af the Avengers in 3D with Lee moderating but we just couldn't suck it up and all quickly crashed. Leslie and I had the stateroom near the bow. It had a nice window aloft and we had nice salt air the whole trip and an occasional big fat moon. We were very comfortable and I slept like an innocent baby.


The next day was truly wonderful, one of the best days in recent memory. Firstly, I forgot to tell you that I swore off phones, newspapers, computers and any other communication devices or electronic instruments for the entire trip. Total disconnect. Wrote with an actual pen. Loved it, never even tempted to reach out, cut off from letters and emails and blogs and bills and phone calls. It was frankly heaven. Didn't want to know.

Secondly my hostess R gave me an incredible book, as a gift. The book was James Lipton's 1968 tour de force, An Exaltation of Larks, fairly recently revised. This book plumbs the deep and rewarding expanse of the literary convention known as terms of venery. These terms are words for nouns in common and spring from ancient english manuscripts like the Book of St. Albans pub. 1486 by the schoolmaster printer.

Venereal terms, if I may quote a few of the more pedestrian usages from the book for illustrative purposes only, are phrases like a skulk of foxes, a baptism of fire, a hand of bananas. Some of my favorites from the book include; a tissue of lies, a thrave of threshers, neverthriving of jugglers, siege of herons, illusion of painters, gam of whales, cry of players. Gam of whales, we are informed was originally a term for the infrequent gathering of whalers, who might be at sea for years before seeing an old comrade but was eventually used to describe the whales themselves. This book was a master work and would be an incredible gift for anyone who appreciates the beauty of language. I even came up with one of my own, a fauntelroying of yachts, what do you think?

Somebody asked me if I was a wordsmith this weekend and I had to reluctantly admit that maybe I was. A junior league wordsmith. Make up for lack of quality with sheer volume.  Can't hide from it. I believe that I have nearly earned the sobriquet although that is hard to proclaim for oneself without sounding like an arrogant and conceited bore. Whatever. Collector magazine calls me in this month's edition "a ferocious blogger with a wicked sense of style." I kind of like that. I'm no William Safire but I do believe that I can almost see his house from here.


I saw the novelist Ann Patchett speak last night. She was very bright and a great speaker, fresh from her stint on the Colbert Report. She like I, does not watch television, me going on 20 years. She talked about how she sketches out an outline for a story and fights the urge to deviate halfway for a sexier idea. Never profane or too ribald. She says that she writes the kind of books that she would want to read, one of the best pointers for a writer I could ever imagine.


Others came and went but Leslie and I stayed on the boat in bliss, reading and talking. She had purchased some vanilla scented blood orange hybrid at the Friday Farmer's Market and I discovered that it made a beautiful marriage with Sky pineapple vodka and a dash of tangelo juice. Extremely complex and fantastic. I ate and drank so much that day and me a teetoller. I kept thinking of that great Hemingway quote. "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." I really let it go in both departments. At one point the hostess looked at me and cocked her head, asking me if I was eating again?


Living in tight quarters with five other individuals can be tricky. Bathrooms must be shared, privacy must be respected, space must be allocated, things must be cleaned, cleared and organized. Showers squeegeed. Hot water must by preserved. I took the spartan route, in keeping with my new ascetic mold and limited myself to cold showers, a process made easier by visualizing past showers under the Kalalau waterfall in Kauai from many moons ago. Chores must be shared (a department my wife said that I sadly came up short in.) I think that we all did a very good job and got along well. The most important thing is being comfortable with each other and I think that we all are.


Saturday was the celebration of Buddha's birth, death and lifetime among his devotees. In asia the large, full moon that we enjoyed is known as the Full Flower Moon. We took the tender out after our delicious steak dinner, replete with Kent's fantastic hand rub of cinnamon and various other spices and nosed our way out of the harbor towards Jewfish Point. My camera was fighting the low light, even at the highest ISO but I got a few tolerable shots, which I hope to process soon.


I could go on and on and will mostly spare you after just a bit more. Our neighbor was a rather large man who liked to stride upon his scowl sporting nothing much more than a red codpiece. Meals were simply superb, salmon from Alaska, pesto pasta and scampi, fresh eggs from home, yoghurt and fruit for  breakfast, could not have been better. We knocked down frame after frame of wine bottles stacked like tenpins on the shelf. Got to kind of loving and never reached sloppy drunk.


Avalon is such a small portion of Catalina. There are so many interesting spots on the vast island that can only be reached by off road vehicle or hard work. The next morning we motored around past the isthmus to the other side of the Isle and docked at Little Harbor. It was difficult to find a suitable mooring for the large craft, the first buoy's stern line hopelessly entangled. A man putted out on his boat, said that he had just retired after 14 years as the harbor master's boat. Just when I try to leave, they pull me back in... He was a nice guy and told us to go have a cocktail while he cut and unravelled, dragged the lines and put things back in order. We did.


This side of the island is more to my personal taste, untouched and free from the mediterranean hustle and bustle of Avalon. A map gives clues to some wonderful areas in which to explore; Valley of the Moon, Sheep Chute, Valley of Ollas, Rancho Escondido (hidden ranch). We took the tender to the dock, ´and Kent went on a strenuous hike up a mountain and we walked to the isthmus to pay our mooring fee. The place was filled with hikers and backpackers, looked a bit like a parking lot at a Phish concert.


Speaking of ollas, I read that the native inhabitants travelled back and forth to the mainland to bring back the giant steatite jars that they used. The Gabrielinos were said to have created a native religious order that drew followers amongst natives throughout Southern California.


I noticed that a specimen of my favorite palm was growing in a meadow to our left. Jubaea Chilensis, the chilean wine palm. The one stood about 42' high, with its fat trunk. I didn't bring a camera but here is a picture of some of the jubaeas in Mission Bay near the Bahia.

Palm fanciers like yours truly can tell you where most of these palms reside in San Diego county. The true king of palms, cut down for wine in its native country. One of the few palms that is reported to grow in the snow. Fat trunk, shaving brush frond head. Rare. Planted extensively in San Francisco and Fresno area in the 1920's if I can remember correctly. Shawn in Thailand got my palm books.

Oddly enough, I took a wrong turn in Burlingame last week and ran into another great specimen in a residential neighborhood. We have a small one growing but it is a notoriously slow grower.

We were some of the very few inhabitants of the harbor and it was pretty epic. Clear sky and great music, we were banging out Quicksilver Messenger Service at a volume probably rarely heard in the vicinity.


Yesterday we had a quick breakfast and got under way. Faster now, the ocean was flat as a pancake and we were making good time. First a small pod of dolphins, then a larger species, and then a new venereal term, a boil of dolphins, dolphins everywhere, bow riding, surfing our wake, jumping all over the place. Hundreds of them.

Soon after our get together with our dolphin buddies we had an even more extraordinary experience. Three enormous whales popped up and circled our boat, herding us into the middle of the pen. We were not harassing them and left them to their peace as soon as we were able. Consulting our reference books, they were either Sei, Bryde of Fin whales. I estimate their length at 60 to 80 feet. We never saw their tail section as is typical for this type of whale. Their spouting was loud and powerful.

After about a half hour the gentle giants submerged and sailed into the ether. So incredible.

I want to thank both our hosts, my wife and both of our other friends for helping make a very memorable weekend! Cheers. One week from today is our eighteenth wedding anniversary. We wish to let all of our friends know how much we love them and how important all of you out there are to me and Leslie. Peace/ love and all the other anachronisms.


Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

These photos are wonderful- really beautiful light. The moonlight on the water is mesmerizing and the tile photos are great. The trip sounds memorable in every respect.

I'll get the book.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Nice story my friend, seems to have been an epic adventure. Glad you got away to relax and recharge. Congrats and early happy aniversary to you kids.
I'm at Main on Monday stop and say hi.
Carry your light ship mood for a few weeks it fits you well.
Deli Guy.

Anonymous said...

Nice photos. New Camera? Time to step it up--CANON.

Anonymous said...

Robert, you sounded so relaxed on you last blog post I just know that the weekend was good for you. So it takes a boat trip to relax you! Sweet. Glad you had a wonderful time. Amor, l

Sanoguy said...

Great trip... thanks for the report!!! I have spent a great deal of time in Catalina but not for years. I so want to go back!! I especially enjoyed the parts about the whales!!!

Anonymous said...

the title of this post confuses me. did you not mean to say "Isla de Santa Catalina"? cheers.

Blue Heron said...

No, I took liberties because it was named in honor of St. Catherina.

MC. said...

The landscape photography is classic.

Karen said...

Do you remember exactly where you took the photos of the heron & flowers and crane tile murals? My mother-in-law apparently visited Catalina Island sometime in the mid-1930s and she and her companions used these murals as backdrops for some snapshots. My husband didn't even know she had ever visited Catalina, and he doesn't recognize any of the other people, so this is a bit of a fun mystery for us. Thanks!

Blue Heron said...

The Bird Farm - smack down in the middle of Avalon on the way to the Wrigley Memorial...send a pic!