Memories of Catalina Island

I have lost track of the exact number of trips I have made to Catalina since my youth.  The first trip there was a school campout in Avalon, and I was 12 years old.  I attended a private co-op type school after 5th grade and it was very out-of-the-box for that time period.  In Avalon at that time, the campground was Bird Park – a short walk compared to the distance to Hermit’s Gulch which is now the city’s camping spot.  Bird Park became an actual park, and then later on they built apartments there (what is standing in that spot now).

I believe that trip was in JANUARY.  We were a mix of semi-experienced to inexperienced campers, and had only a few truly rugged and experienced participants.  Avalon was chosen because it was not a difficult environment without conveniences, and there were a lot of teens and preteens of various ages along.  The school was family-oriented, so students were not unsupervised or disconnected.  January is cold, by the way… even in Southern CA… especially when you’re in the middle of the ocean.  I had a mummy bag (my first) but needless to say, it was not rated for the temps we got at night.  My mother threw the foot of her sleeping back over mine, trying to help keep me warm because I literally could not sleep I was so uncomfortable.  Bless her heart.

The school headmaster at the time was a very serious and educated Japanese gentleman that was a professional with a law career, and rarely cracked a smile.  I don’t need to tell you that we took full advantage of his personality when the opportunity arose.  Mischief doesn’t begin to cover it when it comes to turning my mother and I loose together anywhere, and she got bored after camp was set up.  When everyone else was out of camp, she saw me and two little friends I had met on the boat over hanging out, also with nothing to do in camp.  In my family we’ve had a joke for years about rocks growing in the middle of the night, so she suggested that could be the case in this campground… and remarked that the headmaster had his bedroll all neatly lain out and arranged in the middle of camp.  He wasn’t even using a tent, so this made an easy mark, needless to say.  I believe my mother’s intention was to prompt us to throw just a few rocks under his sleeping bag, but bear in mind we were teenage girls.. and bored….  We literally rolled his bedroll out of the way and probably picked up every visible rock in camp, concentrating it in that one strip of land.  It was a tidy camp.. with a bed of rocks right there.  He did not discover the situation until it was bedtime.

Long after dark all the parents are sitting around the campfire with their feet up.  Every so often someone would warn “You’re boots are smoking” to let people know to stomp them in the dirt.  The headmaster decided it was bedtime, and headed over.  While there is rustling and scuffling around in the darkness, my mother starts giggling quietly.  She then had to explain to the other parents what had happened and clue them in.  After a while he came towards the fire with his hands full of rocks and looking baffled, and said, “What kind of a school would do this to their headmaster?”  (I laugh even now.)  Then he looked around and asked, “Do any of you know which of these tents belong to which kids?”  I’m not sure to this day where those ended up, but I believe it was under the boys tents.  He didn’t suspect us girls.  (I won’t try to look innocent here, because you already figured out I’m not.)  He never did find out exactly who did it either.

We were very tight with secrets when it came to our pranks.  Years later the hazing continued with a female headmaster we had.  She was a wonderful lady with a love for all things natural, and an uncanny ability to stay unflapped even in circumstances that would be likely to rattle most people.  By now we had continued to camp every year at this favorite location, but had switched to the Isthmus – Two Harbors – to get a little more rural, and discovered the bison and wild boar (which are now gone).  This year we hiked to Cherry Valley (scout camp), so we were far from town and there were a lot of pigs.  In the middle of the night she headed to the “outhouse”, which was a small building with stalls and a spring-hinged door.  She stepped into the darkened facilities and heard a snort, turned on her flashlight and realized she was not alone.  Calmly she stepped back outside and shined her light so the pig could see it’s way out the door, as she heard muffled snickers in the brush.  The door opened outward, so clearly some little jokesters had lured it inside and were watching to see what would happen.  She went on about her business and never batted an eyelash, of course.  I know who it was now, but I won’t tell.  😉

That same trip I want to note that my grandmother went along with us.  She was around 66 years old at the time, and carried her own backpack.  She was also terrified of spiders and the lean-to tents were full of them, so that was an adventure of it’s own!  I come from hardy stock, what can I say?  Here’s to mothers and grandmothers that can hang with the best of ’em.  🙂  Thanks for the wonderful memories.


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