There is time to think when you camp alone, arguably too much.
On my third day on the island, I was worried about a medical procedure my little one was scheduled to undergo that day. The thought of her, scared and possibly terrified or hurt, kept butting into my thoughts. My wife told me to go ahead and go on my scheduled paddle trip because, given the hospital’s Covid protocol, only one parent would be allowed inside with our child anyway.
She said, “You could go paddling and worry about it there, or you could sit in the car and worry in the hospital parking lot. Just go.” So I decided to go with her blessing, but now I sat worrying about them both, while I watched a fox peeing on a tree.
I got out of my chair, nestled in the Eucalyptus grove at camp, and moved to the picnic bench with my notebook. I wanted to start putting down some goals for the year to come, but instead, I started perusing my written musings from prior years. I saw what I written down the year before, and then paged back to the year before that, and then the year before that.
There were family goals, financial goals, artistic goals, intellectual goals, physical goals, and things I wanted to accomplish with work and play in the upcoming year. One of the goals, for example, I had written down was to paddle the entire length of Catalina Island, from the mainland side to open ocean side, to cover every inch of that shore on my SUP. I had nailed that one. Check. As I looked over these goals of the past, I felt a rising wave of gratitude. I had met many of the goals I had previously set for myself, some of which had felt impossible at one point. But not all of them. There was still work to do.
I grinned to myself as the little fox, sniffing stealthily near the table, searched for scraps only a few feet from me. I got up to move the trash bag which was full of goodies that were attracting him, and put it inside the fox-proof metal box that every campsite has. He scampered out of harm’s way when I stood up. Then he bent his ear toward an unknown sound, and then darted into a bush. I looked up, wondering if the foxes had any predators here, or anything to worry about at all. No eagles or hawks that I could see.
I wondered whether the fox had any goals. Perhaps only to find food and not be eaten. But no, foxes have no thoughts for the future, no concerns beyond the immediacy of now. They sniff around for food when hungry, they hide when scared, they sleep when tired. But, then again, arguing with myself, squirrels bury nuts or hide them in trees before winter. Is this something squirrels do knowing the food will be scarce later, or is this stashing behavior a mechanical impulse, an evolutionary instinct devoid of intelligent planning? I’m not sure my little friend the fox does anything like that though. We should all be a little more foxy, I decided, and giggled to myself. As I said, plenty of time to think.
The day was a little brighter. I could see patches of blue through the enormous eucalyptus. It looked like I would get some sun on the water today, but I hoped the wind would stay away. I got up and got ready to paddle.
My load would be lighter today. I had left my board, still inflated, on the shore the night before, so I did not have to carry it down from the campground to the beach again, a 1/2 mile walk or so. My paddle was there too. So it was a light and easy walk to the shore with only my water filled backpack and some snacks. The plan was to paddle the opposite direction from the day before, west down the coastline this time, and do the same thing – – explore with no particular goal in mind other than to see what I could see. Maybe I’d encounter something completely new.
I shot into the water, immediately stood up on the board, and paddled over a small breaking wave. I turned left this time and headed out of Scorpion harbor. Once again, I was immediately confronted with the most amazing sea caves as I traveled down the cliffy coast, one after another. As I had done the day before, I paddled into the ones that were large enough for me, exploring slowly, seeing what I might find. With the sun out, the light penetrated the water, and provided me with a clear view into the water, now turning green in the shallow water near the caves.
As I paddled on, I thought some about what might be happening at home. My daughter was supposed to be anesthetized, right at that moment I realized as I looked at my watch. I turned a corner around a point of the island that jutted out and blocked my view of the rest of the island, and as I did, I gasped as my eyes took in a beautiful green bay filled with patches of kelp and scattered outcroppings of rock filled with pelicans. I paddled through the maze of weed and stopped, planting my paddle on the board and leaning on it.
The ocean heaved underneath me, as if the ocean was slowly breathing, a liquid diaphragm to rest upon.
I thought about my family, how thankful I was for them, and how I wished they could take in this beautiful place.
Just then, a splash ten yards away. I looked to see a sea lion, its entire head out of the water and mouth open, grasping a large octopus. It’s victim’s tentacles were wrapped tightly around the sea lion’s head. A calf was with the sea lion and appeared to be playfully trying to get a piece of the octopus. The larger sea lion whipped its head around forcefully, the tentacles lost their grip on the sea lion’s head, and the tentacles slapped on the water, whipping like a wet towel in a high school locker room. The octopus slapping made a surprisingly loud sound which echoed off the cliffside just behind me. Enjoyig their game, the two sea lions leapt from the water almost entirely, splashed and turned in repeated whirls, and eventually chased each other under the water and out of my sight.
I pulled out my phone and checked to see if I had any cell service out there in this quiet peaceful paradise. Against all odds, a slender single bar appeared. I texted my wife. All was well she said. Kate was out now, awake, and doing fine. But she said the doctors had to do some extra procedures. The unexpected procedures were going to be insanely expensive, far more than we expected. The anxiety oozed through the text.
The ocean continued to breathe underneath me. I sat down cross legged on the board. I read the text over again. I looked at the island, in the direction the sea lions were last seen. Just to my right was a large spearhead of rock piercing the water, and pointing at the sky. A colony of mussels coated the bottom third of the rock. Higher, the rock was white with the excrement of various kinds of birds. Many of the local residents sat there, looking at me, warily.
Behind the rock, a hundred separate kelp patches appeared and faded in the distance. The coast of the island, a consistent cliff as far as I could see, was spread before me for miles. Not another human being in sight, not even circumstantial evidence of their presence. No boats. No jet noise. The sky was bright and blue and clouds visibly moved high above me. Behind me, the sea caves swallowed the waves with a frump. Another splash, just there; a large fish of some kind.
I took a deep breath and felt the ocean matching my breath, lifting me up, and setting me down again. I laid down, flat on my back, and focused on the undulating swells. I smiled and called my wife.
Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it. Don’t worry about a thing. I love you.