Santa Cruz Island, Calif.In winter calm, sheets of sleek oil neared the beach. From hillsides, the island’s little foxes must have watched, maybe frightened by the stench or by the dying birds. Though the foxes must have been uneasy on this confusing, deadly Southern California day in January 1969, at least they were safe on the hills. Or so it seemed.
The foxes were watching from a large island called Santa Cruz, as the Santa Barbara oil spill—still the third-largest spill in United States history, which led to the first Earth Day, in 1970—spread three million gallons of oil on the sea and shores. I too watched the oil as if it had nothing to do with me as I drove the mainland