Catalina vision

Catalina Haze

I grew up in a hazy place.

“The Bay of Smokes” was smoggy before anyone brought a car here. The inversion layer in the atmosphere holds everything in, and the higher humidity near the coast adds a Vaseline glaze to the air. Most days the mountains are barely visible.

Twenty-six miles off the coast is Catalina Island. It’s a small tourist destination for a day outing, and pleasure boats sail to its coves and isthmus. There isn’t much on the island.

On a typically hazy Newport Beach day, the question is always: can you see Catalina? On the beach, or up on Cliff Drive, or at the top of the big escalator at the Fashion Island mall, there’s a clear view of the Pacific. Does it just fade into blue-gray out there, or can you pick out the island?

As a kid I always wanted to see Catalina even when no one else could. I’d mistakenly pick out the Palos Verdes Peninsula north of us and my father would gently correct me, or I’d just pretend I could see it. I always wanted to see the island and was delighted whenever it was clear enough that the whole length of it, including the isthmus and the smaller secondary island past it, could be clearly seen. On very rare days when it was completely clear, Catalina looked alarmingly close. I remember on one such day asking my father if the island was coming closer. I must have been very young.

We had a 28 foot sailboat, just big enough to hold the family, and we sailed to Catalina many times. It’s an all-day trip in a sailboat. We had access to moor at White’s Landing in Hen Rock Cove. There are bison and wild pigs on the island, and I was languidly pursued by a bison once when I was about 9, terrifying me. But in general I loved our visits to the island and the cove.

The picture at the top is shot from the beach at Laguna, and Catalina is just barely visible. There’s a gradient between two shades of blue-gray, and there’s the island. The detail below might be easier to see:

Catalina Haze (detail)

There’s your Southern California coastal haze, and there’s the island. Can you see it?

7 thoughts on “Catalina vision

  1. My cousin grew up in Avalon. My family still has a pretty amazing house there- we should take a day trip there with some friends soon!

  2. What a lovely essay. It brought back such memories! I, too, grew up watching for Catalina. I, too, would at times pick out the Palos Verdes Peninsula and think that I’d spotted the disappearing island. And, to this day, I am forever shocked when a truly clear day comes our way and I see just how close the island actually is. I have not, however, ever been pursued by a bison. And however languid, I suspect that such pursuit would certainly be terrifying to a 9 year old! (I have been “mad-dogged” by a one-legged pigeon. Is it anything like that?)

  3. a man in a shop in laguna said to me, “today is the first day of the year that you can see catalina island!” this was in august, mind you. dude must’ve mistaken me for a tourist and probably says this to every person who walks into the store. pissed, i was like, “that’s not true.” i look for it every day. and see it on most. i don’t know why that offended me so much, but it did. i guess we get attached to that thing out there, for some reason or another.

  4. Ohhh Catalina. When I worked graveyards at the LA Times and lived on 44th and Balboa just across PCH, I would always pay attention to visibility of Catalina as I came down Superior. I miss that. It always reminded me why I moved across country and how blessed I am to live in such a beautiful place – mountains one one side – beach, ocean and islands on the other. Stunning.
    I miss Catalina as well – there isn’t much to do unless you are certified diver with a low budget for the sport šŸ˜‰ I need to get back into the water!

  5. Nice try, amigo…
    It’s not going to work, you know – between this post & the other one, you’re trying to make me miss SoCal. I have figured out your clever ruse, .
    Well played, but I will not fall for it.

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