. . . we get calls these days from people south of Carmel, they want to know how to get paintings appraised so they can be insured. They look south (Big Sur, Sur Grande, Big South) and see flames and smoke and of course they're frightened. It wears on you.
This place that inspired Robinson Jeffers and Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac (``Big Sur'') and Lillian Boss Ross (``The Stranger.'') is on fire.
Poet Eric Barker, in his porkpie hat, came from England and stayed. Langston Hughes visited with Robinson and Una Jeffers. A very young John Steinbeck worked on a highway crew there and as he lifted a pick he thought of what he would write one day. The poet Ric Masten, inspiring thousands in the way he handled his cancer, recently died there.
``Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice'' sat in the Esalen hot tubs there in the film of the title just given. Monks and spiritualists live in Big Sur.
Interestingly, there are not many early great paintings of Big Sur, such as there are of Yellowstone or Yosemite. It was so difficult to get to Big Sur, the hills descending steeply into the sea. Finally, with the opening of Highway One, the artists arrived. Some, such as Emile Norman, have done wonderfully well.
Major photographers worked Big Sur. Edward and Brett Weston, Ansel Adams, Morley Baer, Wynn and Edna Bullock, Steve Crouch and Al Weber. Henry Gilpin, a sheriff's deputy, went from carrying a gun to carrying a camera. He patrolled Big Sur and the beauty soaked into him over the years and then he photographed it.
But Big Sur's not for everyone. The playwright William Inge, raised on the plains of Kansas, said its redwood groves made him feel claustrophobic. An artist who grew up in Big Sur told me only certain people could thrive in Big Sur: those who could abide loneliness and those who desired aloneness.
The sunsets on the Monterey Peninsula now are deep red. Fire sunsets. All over the state. But Big Sur.
Years ago I did a series on runaways for a newspaper. I was climbing a Big Sur hill, my clothes getting caught on limb ends, fox tails in my socks and slacks. I looked up and saw twenty, thirty people, naked from the waist up, staring down at me. Young women and men, and kids, their kids, I guess. I reached down to free my pants leg from a bush and when I looked back up the hill, all of them were gone, vanished into the wilderness.
That same day, hours later, I drove south to Lime Kiln Creek, left my car on the shoulder of Highway One, to continue my search for runaways. Came up empty. Climbing back to the road I saw my car, a little Karman Ghia convertible, nose up, being towed across the road by a bulldozer to be dumped into the Pacific Ocean.
An old man, burly, in a flannel shirt, charged me. I'd wrestled in high school and college, and made matador moves to avoid him, my eyes always on the very big guy on the bulldozer; he was the one who worried me _ he had dead, unwavering eyes and seemed to be waiting orders from the old man.
If they threw the car over, I could follow and who would know? I yelled I was from a newspaper and knew cops and if anything happened to me there'd be hell to pay and the old man hesitated. They dropped my car unceremoniously onto the pavement, told me to get out of there right now.
I was glad to get out with my life. Others have not been so lucky. Like most really beautiful places, Big Sur is remote and can be dangerous. Help is not always nearby. You take your chances.
But Kerouac took his chances in Big Sur, Jeffers was hypnotized by it, Henry Miller wrote and painted surrounded by its beauty. Now it's burning and it may take decades to recover, for the ashes to be replaced, again, by those haunting green and yellow hills.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...