I was gone all weekend, and if I don’t get the basics down right here right now, I’ll forget. It was too good to forget.
Thursday night we landed at LAX. Once we found our ride and boat captain for the weekend, we headed straight for In-N-Out for cheeseburgers, prepared “animal style.” I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea at first because of the little predinner party Mark and I had for ourselves on the plane—Flaming Hot Cheetos and Krispy Kreme Donuts—but it turned out that more cheese flavor was okay. We stayed in Laguna Beach, ocean side, at a friend’s place. Fly boxes came out at the kitchen island, new reels were set up. Midnight beach sprints and skinny dipping. In the morning, we loaded up a cozy black Audi with a surplus of small items and gear and headed to the marina. We were going to Catalina Island on a white open style fishing boat, four of us, in pursuit of catching anything from sharks to lobsters. At one point, early on, I jumped off the bow into water diluted with chum slick. That’s lingo for shark bait, straight up. I guess about four hours of waiting around for five gallons of this stuff to hang off the back, melt and disperse through holes punched by a large rusty flathead screwdriver is what it takes to maybe catch a shark. We were there only long enough to grill some sausages and drink a few beers. No bites. Flooring it to the island, we stopped once for a shark sighting. A hammerhead or blue, or mako. I still think hammerhead. We cut a wake for a school of, must have been, a hundred dolphins. Wind-blown, hungry and so far, skunked, we cruised toward land and waited for the Harbor Master to assign us a mooring for the weekend. We ate Korean short ribs for dinner with special sauce wrapped inside pieces of lettuce. We stayed in little cabins with bunk beds; it felt like we were at summer camp. Next day, we rented dive equipment—Mark and I—and a little later I did my first un-guided dive since becoming certified last winter. I panicked just thrice at sixty below. We were down there, supposed to be looking for lobsters, not fiddling around with equipment issues. In California, you’re not allowed to tantalize the lobsters to lure them out of crevices. You must get lucky in your hunt. We did not. But a captain knows better than to let his crew go hungry. He and Mark went out free diving and speared two fish. A sheepshead and a barracuda, an afternoon sushi treat on the boat. Dinner was more fish, but cooked this time, two ways, on the grill and stove. Scallion pancakes dipped in an enhanced ponzu sauce. Ice cream and black berries. Sunday morning, we hit up the two hot spots nearby where we stayed on the island, and nothing. The wind had picked up, the areas were getting a lot of pressure and it was unproductive fishing. We headed for a cave. No takers for cliff jumping, but all of us snorkeled in and around the cave for a while. I have the most vivid, beautiful memory of my experience free diving through a narrow shoot. No footage to prove it though. Complete darkness to sunlit kelp patties at the end of the tunnel. I could think of nothing else. Then, on our way back, we ran into a pack of four killer whales. I’m not kidding. At a certain point, it became clear they were annoyed by us following them, and one charged directly at our boat and flapped its tail. We can’t say for sure what was being said, but the behavior felt aggressive. We let up after a while, after the initial shock of this unique experience wore off, and pushed on through the deep blue swells. More dolphins. Then, as we approached Newport Beach, the Blue Angels were in the sky making seamless patterns, even the occasional heart. Southern California was alive this weekend. People were out having a good time, us Bozemanites included. Fishing, alone on the break wall or with friends, family in all sizes of boats. We docked and unloaded the many small, mostly damp items into carts, cleaned the boat, and drove back to Laguna feeling dehydrated, sunbaked, and still in awe of all the things we saw. I fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing, over and over again, while watching the blue light fade to only what the moon provided. I watched the video clips I took over the weekend, having made a point to document it in this way. Not because I thought I could get away with creating a completely unrelated to Bozeman topic for my A/V short project, but because I wanted to remember the experience in a new way. For a while (years), I had steered clear of using my iPhone much for taking photos, etc. (Broken lens I didn’t get around to repairing.) I upgraded my phone last week, the impetus being our assignment due at the end of this week. I am coming around; I was experimenting. Still in my party dress, I put all of these videos into the iMovie app on my phone and relived the weekend in under 30 minutes. What an amazing resource. But I can’t help but to think about everything that didn’t get captured. In those video clips, in this reflection. A lot. A whole helluva lot. As a writer, to me, this consideration is terrifying. If I don’t write it down, even just the bits and pieces of what it was that I can manage in the moment, or when I make the time to do the work, then it will eventually become lost. Of course I haven't quite figured out how to deal with all of these large files, but here are a few snippets in photo form anyway. The trick someday will be to capture the essence of a time in as few words as possible. Or one image. One short clip.
Words spoken by Captain: "Fish are opportunistic. They cruise around."
In that way, I'm a lot like a fish.