You may have heard of the “Broken Window Theory.” In case you haven’t, it’s a theory about the signaling effect that a house with a broken window and other forms of vandalism can have on inspiring crime. Kind of like the hellish twin-brother of Field of Dream’s “If you build it, they will come.” Exploring Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Park, we were walking through the house and hoping that no one would throw rocks through its windows.
Channel Islands National Park is about a 20 mile boat ride from Ventura, CA. The advertisements say, “20 miles away and a world apart!” From our perspective, that’s about right.
As if specifically trained to introduce themselves to enrich your visit; Cormorants, Pelicans, Sea Gulls, Common Dolphins, Grey Whales, and California Seals make cameo appearances during your ferry ride to the islands.
You’ll arrive to cliffs, at once titanic and brittle. Beyond, you’ll find rolling fields of low-lying brown brush, dotted with flecks of green.
As you take in this iconic vista, your education begins. We were immediately disappointed to learn that the indigenous plants are green, and in their battle for nutrient-rich real estate, are outnumbered by invasive varieties 100 to 1.
Island wildlife eats wild things but, in the haste of our 19th century version of capitalism, we plopped sheep all over the place which turned out to be the domestic animal equivalent of an Agent Orange strafing.
Nearly killed to extinction the island’s chief resident and ambassador, the Island Fox. At one point, only 15 remained. Doesn’t take a Roosevelt-like appreciation of wilderness to see the tragedy in that.
I’ve always been confused by our perspectives. We’re perfectly willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to insure and protect the “Mona Lisa”, but will also absentmindedly bear witness to the extinction of an entire species, which fought its ass off to make it this far in Evolution’s indiscriminately brutal cast.
Every now and again, there comes a voice which “speaks for the trees,” and the Island Foxes for that matter, and in doing so inspires a whole new generation of conservationists dedicated to reversing some of the work done by those who didn’t have the benefit of our hindsight. You’ll find many of them in Smokey Bear hats.
On Channel Islands, they’re out in full force. When you visit, they’re going to talk to you about “leaving only footprints” because they’ve worked damn hard to restore the island’s ecological balance. Last thing they need is ole Beau and Duke knocking everything out of kilter with a soggy cube of Milwaukee’s Best and a breadcrumb-trail of Slim-Jim wrappers.
Regrettably, the National Park Service’s Channel Islands website doesn’t delve too deeply into how you’re supposed to behave while out there. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take long to figure out.
The island is primitive – no running water, no electricity, no trash cans. Potable water is available, but only from well risers.
The trash can thing threw us for a loop because it means you’re taking EVERYTHING back to the mainland with you. They went so far as to say, “Even apple cores folks” which for us isn’t a big deal, because Matt eats his apples like this:
But seriously, throwing an apple core to the ground can have an effect on an animal. But, it can also grow into an apple tree, thus disrupting the indigenous plant life, so painstakingly restored.
We observed the island’s rules closely and made an effort to learn what we could from the several science educators volunteering as guides. I suppose “Naturalist” is their official title. During one of our conversations, we chatted about an Island Fox with whom Ainsley had just finished a Robert Goulet-style staring contest:
Ainsley gave it a strong effort but, the Island Fox won. They always do…
But the steel in the Fox’s eye told a story. He had a lot to say.
What does the fox say, you might ask.
He wasn’t much for words but, our Naturalist guide told us a little more about the impact humans can have on an ecosystem so otherwise isolated.
Last week, hikers were eating strawberries and throwing the “tops” on the ground next to their picnic table. Not long after, a few Island Foxes were found eating those strawberry tops, which has roughly the same effect on them as a quickly-chugged fifth of Maker’s Mark would have on you. Just makes a mess of everything. She went on to mention a few carrots and grapes she’d found on the trail. A fox, turns out, is a close relative of the domestic dog. They react to digesting grapes in much the same way. Renal failure. We silently hoped it wasn’t us who had dropped something along the trail.
We went to great lengths in planning our food situation for this trip. We were careful to pack healthy and mobile eating choices. Fruits, veggies, and a few high calorie treats for the kids. Little did we know our careful consideration needed to be more for the island’s wildlife.
But chin up! Our many fellow travelers, once made aware of their surroundings, donned their kid-gloves like pros. Hikers reminded other hikers of trash left behind. Many picked up whatever they happened to see. A dropped pretzel was immediately seized upon by a watchful eye. Seriously, no trace was left. We all packed-up our trash and left the island near exactly as we found it. We boarded the boat and steamed back to the mainland of unmindfulness.
Make no mistake. We’re not setting out to guilt trip you about your plastic consumption. Not trying to recruit the next wave of GreenPeace activists. We do, however, aim to get you into a National Park to experience this sanctity first hand. Our trip to Channel Islands National Park hallmarked what I suppose we already know. These precious places need our engaged effort in their protection –BUT REALLY– that’s just the start. The parks are a pebble in a pond. An example of stewardship which should reach well beyond park boarders.
Here at New Innocents, we don’t text-and-drive, we don’t chew with our mouths open, we don’t talk in the middle of someone’s backswing, and you better believe we separate the recyclables from the rubbish. We hope you will, too.