The dawn is breaking on a new world, a jungle world in which the lean spirits roam with sharp claws. … I am a lean and hungry one: I go forth to fatten myself. - Henry Miller
They may appear odd and eccentric by some standards, but isn’t everyone who looks beyond the "nightmare of air conditioning," (as Henry Miller identified modern life)? The few, stalwart, blessed residents of Big Sur are typically as quirky as the landscape, seeming to be at once the recipients of wisdom as ancient as the granite cliffs yet as naïve and zealous as the relatively new-born Santa Lucia range.
Since moving to Maui I’ve taken to unconsciously bracing myself against the crush of civilization when I travel. In Hawaii, it’s easy to forget about the high-speed chase of modern life, to tune out petty concerns that seem to captivate people elsewhere; the politics, the off-handed comments that generate self-righteous indignation, the crime and petulance of the great cities. More and more we think twice about leaving our island idyll. We are careful to choose an alternative change of scenery, something even residents of Hawaii need, much to the surprise of outsiders.
But almost immediately upon our foray into Monterey, the need to be on guard turned into a round of unnecessary shadow boxing. We found the people to be blessedly kind, relaxed, minding their own business, keenly focused outside themselves and the wonders surrounding them.
It didn’t take long before I developed an appreciation for the quirky, the odd, the zealous that lead to the conservation and preservation efforts that have maintained this "great meeting of land and sky" for future generations. You know some of the names responsible for the movement: Rachel Carsons, Ansel Adams, John Steinbeck, as much a biologist as a writer.
But I wanted to mention a few unspoken heroes with whom you might wish to acquaint yourself if you visit Monterey. There is Frank Davenport, who dreamed of a family village as charming and easy-going as a European fairyland. Devoted to this notion, that he gave land away to people he felt would appreciate it and lured artists and writers including Sinclair Lewis and Jack London to Carmel.
Then there is Lathrop Brown, a former Congress member from New York who, with his wife, moved to Big Sur and befriended the local pioneer, Julia Pfeiffer Burns. He built an amazing house called Waterfall Home, since it faced McWay Falls, but afterward didn’t feel right claiming ownership to such an exquisite place, something that seemed to belong to all people. He turned over his land to the California Park Service and dedicated it to his friend, Julia.
When you visit this area, think about the contributions these quirky, conscientious people made to preserve this piece of wilderness. Contrast that with other areas of the world whose primal glories have been forever corrupted by "the crush."
I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the oddball any day.