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Changing of Seasons on the Pelican Trail


I close my eyes. Silence is all I hear between the far away drone of a ship’s motor and the nearby rustle of leaves as animals move about the dry grass. Somewhere, a Santa Cruz Island scrub jay calls to another as it leaps from the tip of a gnarled scrub oak. The sound of rustling leaves moves closer. I open my eyes to find a fence lizard perched on a fallen log, soaking in the November sun.

It’s fall on the Pelican Trail. Under the limb of a giant oak, I take a moment to appreciate the peace surrounding me. Strong east winds have won the battle over our prevailing winds. Hot desert air shrouds Santa Cruz Island in stillness. The ocean below looks like a lake—beckoning me to scan the horizon for humpback whales. I’ve seen dozens over the past few weeks. I wonder if we will see any this afternoon

Fall is a special time at the Channel Islands. Plentiful cetaceans, favorable sea conditions, clear water, and a kind of stillness in the air that only fall can bring make this time of year my favorite. Everything is in a state of peace, awaiting the final storm that shifts summer to winter, warm to cold, ripples to whitecaps, humpback whales to gray whales, brown to green. For a place with “no seasons”, there sure is a lot of change.

A hermit thrush chippers away in the bush next to me. An Anna’s hummingbird darts to and fro behind. An acorn woodpecker chatters between its percussive pecking. Summer holly berries are already past ripe. Maybe the last berries will fall before I make it on trail again. I have to begin hiking back to the boat. My days on Santa Cruz Island become progressively shorter as the sun begins to set earlier and earlier.

On the hike back, I pass a couple giant coreopsis stalks. Dormant for months, I notice they have begun to sprout little green tufts in anticipation of the winter’s rain. They are a reminder that, as much as I love the warm fall days, I’m equally as excited for my sixth winter guiding on the Pelican Trail!

Submitted by Brittney Shadday