January 8th. Ventura, 9:30 AM.

On the boat, the captain says, “welcome back.” I sat inside for a little introduction session to the journey: “do not puke in public, because you’ll set off a chain reaction.” And I walked out to the bow of the boat, where a man, who was visiting California, walked up to me, mistook me for a National Park Service employee, and asked me what there was to do in the area that would shock and surprise him. I told him, “I have absolutely no idea—I like going to the Channel Islands,” as we were, in fact, in the middle of going to the Channel Islands. “Or Ojai,” I said, and he asked “what about the mountains?” and I said, “Ojai,” and he told me about how he was expecting something like Hawaii’s volcanos exploding at night. “A hike near Ojai,” I said, even though Ojai is a lazy town and slightly underwhelming, and he said, “thank you,” but with a sad face, not really wanting to hike. He walked back inside. And we left the harbor, onto a glassy-hazy ocean, gliding over the water almost imperceptibly. I walked to the top of the boat, looking out, forward.
            You couldn’t see the islands today because the haze obscured them. But the haze was not so thick; it was also thin enough to see clearly around us. So, we headed into the ocean that was clear, with a crisp morning light bringing vibrance to the sea, without any visible goal. It looked, as far as we could see, like aimless wandering.
            We headed to Anacapa Island—meaning “mirage” in Chumash—which is about a mile long, so that most of the passengers could be dropped off to hike around for 4-and-a-half hours. It’s a long time to be walking around such a small island. Especially when that island has no trees, only one building that you can walk into (with only two rooms: one for a lighthouse lamp, the other with a guest-book and an oversized table), and a long, empty trail leading to Inspiration Point. A member of the All-Trails website made it clear: “five hours on the island is quite a bit;” or another: “Way too many seagulls.”
            So we landed on the island, bumping the front of the boat onto the dock hidden in a cove, where most of the boat passengers got off. And we climbed up the dock’s stairs (the person in front of me, who looked like a scarecrow, climbed slowly—there were a lot of stairs) up to the trail. The trail led into what seemed to be a small “town,” with most buildings under construction, and a sign pointing to the main spot on the island: Inspiration Point. I walked. Turning back, I saw that most of the people on the island seemed kind-of confused, for the island was desolate. People kicked their feet, figuring out what to do, while seagulls mewed and chuckled.
            I walked, fast-paced, to Inspiration Point on the flat and exposed trail, following two people with a style torn from an Instagram feed: one with a mustard jacket; the other with a long red flannel coat (ketchup and mustard!). They branched off onto the shorter arm of the looping trail; I the other, and we met up at Inspiration Point, which is the climax of the island.
Inspiration Point, existing at the limit of the island’s boundaries, is what, in my mind, defines the island. It looks out over a steep cliff: on the left, a vertiginous drop, down the protruding rocks to a thin strip of black-sand beaches, giving way to the Pacific Ocean. On the right, a steep slope to the clear, calm waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. And in-between, one impossible ridge, suggesting an invisible curving line connecting the East, Middle, and West Anacapa Islands. Families, later approaching the view, expressed caution at the point—not quite inspired, but, for some reason, fearful.
The Instagram couple walked around a bit, I took a picture of them, and they disappeared for the remaining four hours of the trip. I sat staring out at the rocky cliffs and the ocean and the clouds that decided to form over the other islands stretching out in front of the cliff before me. Passing the time. I sat for a little more than an hour, eating pizza, watching the entire new population of the island come to, and then leave from, Inspiration Point, wondering what sort of wanderlust brought spectators to this tiny island of nothing, with no view of where we came from, and nowhere to go.
            Suddenly, a woman walked up to the edge of the cliff, her husband lagging behind. And she, clearly inspired, let out a vocal “wow!” She paced the point several times, radiant as she sat down. She sat down for an hour while her husband continued on the trail. A silent joy grasped her; she sat up straight, and when her hour was up, she still paced around, exclaiming to her husband, I think, that these islands appeared to rise up like pillars from an ocean of nothing. And so, they continued on the trail. I walked to the other end of the island, to the lighthouse, while most of the people on the island stopped for lunch, heading, again, to Inspiration Point.
            While everyone on the island was on Inspiration Point, I stopped at Pinniped Point, because a nice couple was sitting there enjoying nature. “Enjoying nature” is what I say—they said, “listening to the screaming.” For there were several sea lions down below the cliffs, bathing in the sun, groaning loudly and barking. It was a cacophony. Counting, there were about one hundred twenty or thirty screaming sea lions.
            The inspired woman came up to us and was shocked at the noise. Astounded—that’s what she was. Overwhelmed, thrilled, euphoric, she heard the sea lions screaming and proclaimed, jumping, that “there must be thousands of sea lions.” And she looked down at the maybe-one-hundred-and-thirty sea lions. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” On and on she repeated, “there must be thousands of sea lions!” I looked over the edge. There were no more sea lions than what I had seen, but her joy was contagious, so, edging over the cliffs carefully, I pointed out more sea lions. She borrowed binoculars, exclaiming with so much pleasure that it did not matter that she was wrong—it did not matter that you could quantify the sea lions with precision—she was overcome with her sense of scale coming from the sea lions. She heard in the voices of one-hundred-thirty sea lions thousands of screams; who could tell her otherwise?
            Back at Inspiration Point. What do you do on this island of nothing? I napped. Everyone on Inspiration Point napped too, until time ran out and we walked back to the dock.
            We stood at the dock; the entire crowd of people from the island waiting in impatient anticipation, but the boat did not come. So we stood staring at the cliffy wall in front of us, filled with seagulls and their poop. They laughed. The seagull sound is laughing, I swear (look it up!). While we waited for the boat, the seagulls would fly out off the wall, circle above us, laugh loudly, and land back on the wall. It was a motion on repeat, until the boat finally came to scare them away. So long, goodbye, this mirage, this empty island, like pillars from an ocean of nothing, where the wildlife, I swear, laugh and scream.
            Instead of heading home, the boat lingered in the Pacific, searching for whales. We did not find any. But bottlenose dolphins surrounded our boat playfully in an instant. We searched for more whales, and we found none. All the passengers sat down in resignation. And yet, the boat slowed as we abandoned our search, running into, and through, a “pod of a thousand common dolphins,” (so say the scientists on-board, explaining their method for counting: if each dolphin stays underwater for seven seconds, they suppose, before coming up for a breath, and if we just get an estimate of how big the area is, and how many dolphins appear per second, then they confidently propose that there are probably a thousand dolphins surrounding us). But the numbers did not matter—who cares about the numbers anyways?—these dolphins played with our boat, they surfed our wake, they shot up straight in the air, they jumped around and followed us home.
            It was a good day in the Santa Barbara Channel.