it always comes out of nowhere

June 29th, 2018

We have more money and more brains and better houses and apartments and nicer boats. We are smarter than they are. We are the elite. — Trump in Fargo ND, June 27, 2018

In the light of an early morning last week, I was on a 58-foot boat motoring the 22 miles to Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. The sky was gray, the clouds were low and the water, smooth. We hadn’t seen much—a handful of seals, a scattering of water birds, and nothing at all on the horizon—when the island suddenly penetrated the mist.

“It always comes out of nowhere,” the captain said.

I’d never been to Catalina, although I’d long heard that there wasn’t much there. As soon as the clouds lifted we set off walking. To my mind, the only way to get to know a place is on foot. A mile-and-a-half stroll across the tiny harbor town takes you a century back in time to the island’s brief heyday, when a chewing-gum magnate bought the whole of it and vowed it would never leave his hands. Mr. Wrigley aimed to turn his investment into “the people’s island,” a tourist mecca to be known all over the world.

It didn’t take me long to reconstruct what happened instead. The Wrigleys built their mountaintop home here 1921, their son’s mansion in 1927, the country club in 1928 and the Casino boasting “the world’s largest circular ballroom,” in May 1929. Yes, that 1929. In the long and great aftermath, who would dare to boast? The island was closed to visitors during WWII. Big bands died, and with it, ballroom dancing. Commercial air travel would soon make far more exotic locales accessible to tourists. Dreams disappeared like mist.

Decades later the island remains what it has always been, a lovely little spot to see the endless wash of wind and waves, which leave their mark without a word.

Can anything be imagined so ridiculous, that this miserable and wretched creature [man], who is not so much as master of himself, but subject to the injuries of all things, should call himself master and emperor of the world, of which he has not power to know the least part, much less to command the whole? — Michel de Montaigne

This sad week has felt, politically speaking, as if nothing will ever change, that the deck is stacked, the course is set and the outcome is irreversible. The vain and vile talk of “more money, more brains, and nicer boats” recalled, for me, the nicest boat of all, the world’s largest ocean liner, built by the richest men with the biggest blindest egos and ambitions, a vessel that nonetheless took only 2 hours and 40 minutes to submerge completely under the North Atlantic and a scant 5 minutes more to reach the ocean floor. All because something always comes out of nowhere, and things really do change overnight.

Photo by Matthew Johnson


  1. Gentle, wise, a little wry, and much needed. Thank you for this.

    Comment by Laura Grace Weldon — June 29, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

  2. Very nice statement. I take the quiet of Catalina with a grain of salt. We’ll see. We had an Elderhostel on the island. Smart crows unzipped my bag and pulled out the cheese sticks. Punctured each with a sharp bill. Better the ladies who had their Depends scattered around and their meds dumped. We learned from the U of Southern Cal expert that whale sex requires three: male, female and backup to back her up against him. Lively place in its way.

    Comment by Bill — June 29, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

  3. Your lips to (any god)’s ear …

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — June 29, 2018 @ 5:04 pm

  4. Thank you as always for your wise and gentle (if sad) perspective.

    Comment by Tom — June 30, 2018 @ 4:54 am

  5. Your words are my ocean waves. Many many thanks.

    Comment by Mark — June 30, 2018 @ 7:35 am

  6. People from all corners of the globe risk everything for the opportunity of those “nice homes/apartments, boats and education(brains)” because like Catalina this glorious country stands, often hidden, behind so much red tape and geography that it can, once ones feet are landed upon the soil, truly feel that it has appeared out of nowhere, a dream realized.

    The irony was not lost on me that you were on a “nicer boat” to have the experience of something ‘coming from nowhere’ despite knowing it was there waiting for your attention.

    I love this country and its always becoming, that we get to participate in its progress and evolution, even when it is not linear (or perhaps sinks and we begin again,) helping to either lift the fog, or piercing that fog by shining more brightly the light of hope/opportunity.

    What a beautiful post for our 4th of July week.

    Comment by MJ — June 30, 2018 @ 8:28 am

  7. Here’s to hoping there is an iceberg! Real soon!

    Comment by Angela — June 30, 2018 @ 8:48 pm

  8. “When in times of despair i remember that through history the way of truth and love has always won; there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall.” M.K. Ghandi

    Comment by holly — July 1, 2018 @ 6:14 am

  9. Good to remember, and that sadly, Gandhi himself was assassinated.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — July 1, 2018 @ 9:53 am

  10. Your commentaries never disappoint!

    Comment by Larry Misiak — July 1, 2018 @ 8:09 am

  11. Wow.

    Comment by Elizabeth Aquino — July 1, 2018 @ 8:32 pm

  12. This is true. And beautifully written.

    Comment by Joanne Cole — July 2, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

  13. Oddly comforting.

    Comment by Leslie — July 4, 2018 @ 6:32 am

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