My Thanks, Saint Catherine - My Family Travels
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As too often happens between a mother and son, my mom and I were drifting. Between her juggling act of jobs and my schooling, we had gravitated towards living two very different lives. Rarely did we share time together; never mind taking a vacation together. With this nigh unspoken of separation between ourselves, it was almost surreal when my mom came home one night with two boarding tickets to Santa Catalina, an island off of southern California. This was our chance to escape, together.

Catalina was no far flung destination, but as our ship drifted towards the fog-bathed island I felt just like the Spaniards of old approaching the dreamlike New World. And in a way, this was a completely new world to me.

 My adventure to Santa Catalina was more than a reprieve of school, and more than a reconnected bond with my mother—it was a breath of vibrancy into a life dulled by quiet, suburban existence. Here, I had expected surfboards and sandcastles. Imagine my shock when I stood before a frontier of mountains and sweeping brush valleys; meditative Descanso Beach, Two Harbors campground, Lover’s Cove, and immense orange schools of garibaldi fish. This was a world I had never experienced before and suddenly I desired to submerse myself completely into it.

 Languidly lilting through the air was the smell of eucalyptus and fennel. The bluest of blue water lapped at my feet and the sun caressed my bare shoulders. I turned to my mother many times and she, too, was basking in the joy of virginal nature. What a truly happy sight it was to see her face, so often kneaded by worries, now smoothed by the misty breath of the sea. Days passed by; we hiked and swam and kayaked and shared more laughs than we ever had before. For this, Catalina has my deep thanks a million times over. But even greater thanks are due for the mission this island awoke deep within me.

There was an unforgettable moment for me during a midday hike when I took rest at an old shack in the hills. A curious squirrel scampered up to me. He scurried up my benchseat and began nosing around my backpack, almost playfully, and shockingly negligent of the rules of boundary the other squirrels followed with humans. I’d seen a thousand squirrels in my life but never so intimately, and never so innocently.

 During this small interaction with the squirrel, I realized why Santa Catalina is the dreamlike oasis that it is. From the groves of cacti in the roaming hills to Indian Head cliff facing the westerly waves. It is still, after years of attempted development, a portal into the vibrant past of California—a past life of natives, flora, and fauna. In my native San Diego I have seen rivers run dry, woodlands cut for condos, and ancient hills wiped and molded into estates. In the hills of Catalina I glimpsed upon nature herself in all of the sublimity that we urbanites have driven away. I have felt empowered ever since to bring the beauty of the earth to the hearts of my friends.

After we returned, I saw a change in my mother and in myself. My mom immediately stopped devoting as many endless hours of herself to her previous god of computers and offices. She lives now. And within me Santa Catalina awoke my calling as a conservationist. My thanks is my promise to guard these sacred places which have touched me, so that others may also escape to them—as I did with my mom.

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