This phrase from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer applies to something other than Big Sur, but it’s easy to see where the author drew his inspiration as it as aptly applies to the physical wonders of the area he called "home" as it does to the changing forces in man’s psyche.
Throughout Big Sur, the restlessness goes on, voluptuous as ever, moving with the same energy and force as always, yet under the time-scaled observations of mere mortals it appears steadfast. I’m not certain how the image of mountains came to represent stability and fortitude, for they are among the most dynamic of the earth’s features. Then again, compared with the changing tides, the falling leaves, the lifespan of man… progress is slow.
But the impact of such deliberate force! Speed up the cosmic camera and witness the moving of mountains as they tiptoe across the Sierra Nevada to be deposited at Big Sur‘s coastline. Watch with wonder as another portion of the peninsula slithers all the way from the Baja peninsula moved by the force of shifting plates deep below the sea. Be astounded as volcanic forces spew molten lava, alternating with settling sediment like a giant geologic lasagna resulting in a mélange more wacky than the décor at Nepenthe. Pack them all together, slam them into the coastal plains and find one of the most astounding vagaries of flora and fauna in the world.
First there was an island, then following the last ice age it joined the mainland just as the fault line pushed up a newborn mountain range. Inhabitants of the former isolated mass lived on, adjusting to the new surroundings and evolving into species found no where else. The unique coastal climate, deemed "Mediterranean" in spite of being on the Pacific Ocean, with rolling fog coming off the gulf stream waters, sunshine, sea air, rivers running through it, all contribute to maintaining a diverse ecology that seems entirely incongruous yet wildly beautiful. According to Henry Miller, it represents, "the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look."
One theory claims that prior to the last ice age the Colorado River emptied into the Pacific from the central valley, cutting out the canyons of Carmel. After the warming, waters filled those canyons followed by rich sediment, explaining the area's fertile soil. Nearly half of all the flora in California grows here. Within whispering distance of one another, redwood forests thrive along side high chaparral yuccas as in no place else. At least 57 plants are totally endemic to this region.
But although this continuous changing and swirling of nature continues to occur before your very eyes, it may go unnoticed, save the foamy surges of the ocean blasting granite into sand. Instead you may observe simply as Mr. Miller did, that the area maintains, "That same prehistoric look. The look of always. Nature smiling at herself in the mirror of eternity."