One of my favorite books as child was The Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. A Newberry Award winner published in 1960, it’s the story of Karana, a Chumash Indian girl who is left alone on San Nicholas Island off the coast of California. When a Russian ship arrives for the purpose of hunting sea otters, a fight breaks out between the Russian fishermen and the native island dwellers. Karana is the lone survivor on both sides.
San Nicholas is one of the eight channel island off the coast of California. Some of the islands are desolate and deserted, home to only birds and seals. A few of them are used by the military, and others form the Channel Islands National Park. Only Catalina Island, located 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles is populated.
These islands strike me as a perfect setting for a historical romance, in part because of Margaret Holden Eaton and her autobiography, Diary of a Sea Captain’s Wife. A Canadian woman, she relocated to Santa Barbara around the turn of the century. There she met a sea captain and married him in 1903. They moved to Santa Cruz Island, the biggest of the eight islands, where they ran a small hunting and fishing business. The island was inhabited with wild boars, otters and all sorts of sea life. The Eatons and Santa Cruz Island somehow caught the eye of 1920s Hollywood. A few movies were filmed there, and Margaret’s book shows pictures of actors John Barrymore and William Boyd in his pre Hopalong Cassidy days.
What an interesting setting these islands would be for a book . . . It’s one of the places I can feel in my bones. I’ve never been to either Santa Cruz Island or San Nicholas Island, but I once had the pleasure of camping on Anacapa Island. Standing on what’s literally a slab of eroding land twelve miles off the coast, seeing the city lights so far away and hearing only the lap of waves–not noisy cars–is an experience I treasure to this day.
Then there’s Catalina Island . . . Catalina is a populated tourist spot and has a history all its own. My own best memory is taking a boat to the island for a family weekend. Halfway there we were suddenly surrounded by an acre of dolphins. At least a hundred of them were jumping in perfect arcs right in front of us. I’ll never forget that scene . . . I wish I had a picture of it, but we weren’t quick enough (or skilled enough) with the camera to get a shot that did the moment justice. I’m planning to use this scene in the book I’m working on right now, a contemporary romance for Bethany House.
California’s in my blood. How about you? Where are you from and what are you favorite bits of local history? I’d love to hear about your home towns and places that are special to you!