Big Sur is singing its deep quiet song today. Everyone hears it differently, but it's there, one that must listen to in a redwood grove or at the river's edge. Its voice is joined by redtail hawks, jays, juncos, gurgling river currents and rustling dry grasses of midsummer.
You drive from Monterey south on Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) under the gray cap of fog that sits low on the brow of the coastal range. The cliffs and steep ravines angling down to the Pacific are dotted wildflowers, strewn with granite boulders. After 30 miles, a wide view opens up to you at Andrew Molera State Park with its beautiful ranch land on your left. Just in front of you, all visual lines point to the Big Sur Valley, a narrow cleft formed by coastal hills to its right and the Ventana Wilderness mountains to the left. Down the middle winds the Big Sur River, and groves of redwood trees reach straight up, ruddy and tall, with capes of green draping off their shoulders.
The fog lifts just before you enter Big Sur, the temperature is warm and the air fragrant. Rain, heat, sorrow and love are all more intense than in Monterey. Salvation and redemption are often felt to be more possible, but so, too, can be the depths of sadness. The vivid quality of nature stimulates senses to a more unmistakable degree here and if you are unprepared, you may be undone by it.
I could tell you that I went to Big Sur today, and it would be true, but it hardly tells you anything. Big Sur has an effect on people that special places do. We slow down, we look more closely, we breathe more deeply there. But, the experience is in the place itself, in the wildness of its surrounding.
It so happened we had breakfast at the River Inn because we like to see the river as we eat breakfast and then walk by it for a while. It's a place that, while you're there, makes you wonder why in the world all rivers are not enjoyed this way, sitting in an Adirondack chair midstream with a canopy of leafy green overhead.
As I have every time I have been to Big Sur, I felt as if mother nature herself was exerting a more powerful influence on me, casting a deeper spell. There is a gentle loveliness at the river's edge. Reluctant to go back north just yet, we walked along an easy trail at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park down the road a mile and found more river trails to follow. Soon enough, we found ourselves hiking on a winding uphill path called Buzzard's Roost Trail through cool towering and shade-giving oaks, laurel and redwood.
After descending again, sweaty and relaxed from our effort, we walked again by the river in shady areas back to our car. It is plain that the California State Park system is beautiful but facilities are ragged and unkempt as the state sags into insolvency; much infrastructure is lying in ruin. Big Sur exacts a toll on the man-made structures in the park in good times. During fire or flood, damage is accelerated. Compared to days I'd spent here as a child, the park appears heavily used and almost loved too much. It's sad to see the decline, to be sure.
The car drove home somehow. We were quieter on the way north. It's what happens, what Big Sur does to you, sings to you her age-old song using rhythms of life and death. You listen with more than your ears, sense it with your whole self, an abiding song we don't always find time to listen to as we rush around all day. It's a splendid song worth learning the words and singing in your heart.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way