Resolve at Anacapa

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On 31st January, 2000, Alaskan Airlines Flight 261 from Puerto Vallarta did not land as scheduled in San Francisco and Seattle.  All 88 people aboard perished as the plane dove into the Pacific, near East Anacapa Island off Ventura, California.

On that day, my prayers for solace went to those who mourn, and with the dead. I do not know them. I do know, fondly, the place in the ocean that became their watery grave. Channel Islands, of which Anacapa is the smallest and most accessible from the mainland, make up the closest marine national park to the greater Los Angeles area, where I live.

For an islet, parts of Anacapa can be as removed from the ocean as anywhere in Kansas. It has no harbor; much of the shoreline is an imposing sea cliff, roughly 300 feet high.  The seals find cozy refuge in a naturally closed-off beach.  To set foot on the island, visitors brave a leap from the boat to a small platform, then climb several flights to the top, far away from the surf. At the top of the plateau, covered by dwarven conifers, the sea is as much of an abstraction as the sky.

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To appreciate the true wonders of Anacapa – the distinctive sea arch, the treacherous caves and the seal colony – one must remain afloat.  On one cool, sunny Saturday, alone in my kayak, I paddled along the full length of its craggy northern shore, which was less windy than the south side that faces the open sea. Mindful of the swells that quickly rose and fell, I approached the caves as close as my modest abilities would allow. Keeping me company, albeit from a respectful distance, were more seals, pelicans, gulls and dolphins.  My most indelible impression was the deep blue sea itself, its undulating waves the relentless pulse of a titan.  In my small craft, where half of my body was below the waterline, I bobbed up and down, up and down. 

Somewhere between mild seasickness and the sore of my arms that would last a full week afterwards, I had this thought:

The only way one can truly feel at ease traversing the briny expanse is to live in it, to be a part of it, as seasoned mariners everywhere know by heart. To live in the ocean, then, is to accept the possibility of dying in it. When all risks and rewards are weighed and experienced, they become but a matter of fact, and surely in such understanding there is no cause for fear.

What is the fear this perennial traveler feels when his plane takes off, leaving but air between him and the earth?  Would he not feel this fear in the waters, where his feet also find no solid ground?  Fear denies the reward of risk, and does not honor the few who risked and lost.

Photos are taken with the Minolta Vectis 4 APS camera.

Charles Weng

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