Big Sur Stories and Tips

Big Sur: The Conversion

A view looking north from Southern approach Photo, Big Sur, California

Even if everything I say is prejudiced, spiteful, malevolent, even if I am a liar and a poisoner, it is nevertheless the truth and it will have to be swallowed.
- Henry Miller

Perhaps I had it wrong about Californians.

Before my recent visit to Monterey Peninsula, my views of the great state of trends and image-makers were slanted. I had seen California as a necessary evil, like the instigative Mothers of Invention who send the world trend after meaningless trend yet who sometimes, in the midst of the nonsense, also hit upon an enduring and substantial discovery--the value of fitness, the cure for AIDS, the protection of endangered species, and Farm Aid.

Like a group of collective researchers, not all of whom are qualified for the task, California’s citizens often appeared to me derailed in a self-conscious void, an underworld ruled by mind-expanding drugs, marketing ploys and good-life celebrations when a bit of self-control and quiet contemplation would sooner, and better, reveal the answers to their search. Their sense of self-importance, often demonstrated as thinly disguised "causes" generated by a weary vacuous search for the meaning of life, often wore me out.

But that was unfair. California, it turns out, is more than its cities, more than bikini, muscled beaches, Rodeo Drive, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood. It is more than fast-driving entrepreneurs and celebrities who steal the show and thunder from the real work-a-day citizens who are the true majority.

There is a fairness in the attempt to "type" a culture--as that is the travel writers’ primary quest. Assuming our global similarities, we are charged with the dubious task of isolating and identifying the differences, a challenge in this day of political correctness (which to me is just another of California’s good intentions gone overboard). Now, more than ever, it becomes imperative to do adequate and extensive research before drawing any conclusions. Who has the time?

Instead, I simply observe anecdotally. Go anywhere that Californians have migrated--their second homes at the shore and in the mountains, the Oregon coast, newly-emerged centers of technology, Wailea!--and hear the whispered comments from locals, "… Californian," as they acknowledge with raised eyebrows the behavior of the bold, the brash, the beautiful people who carry cell phones into theaters, digi-cams into labor rooms while spouting PC and diet commandments as if they’d found a new religion.

Certainly kooks, weirdoes and eccentrics exist everywhere, but in California they are given center stage and quite often idolized. There is little discernment between the truly novel thinker and the publicity craving big mouth. Self-centered, self-righteous and senseless, they spend more than they make, live a drive-through, expendable life, and then recall their governor when the state coffers run dry. Naturally, they replace him with a myth of their own making, The Terminator. Does he have experience governing and setting budgets? Who cares! He has proven he can save the world in the dark glow of the movie theater, and what’s life without a little touch of fantasy now and then?

So how can you not be tempted to draw a conclusion too soon from such evidence? How can the entire world, who also often mistakenly sum up the "American" by the antics and philosophies communicated by the Hollywood star-making machine and its out-of-touch directors, not make this same mistake?

I suggest you visit the Monterey Peninsula. There you can visit a winery where people who grow the grapes see themselves as they are--farmers--and see you as you are--a valued customer whether you swirl, spit or chug. There you can visit a low-key community festival, like Pumpkin Carving on Main Street, and feel like a local in five minutes flat- regardless of what you wear. Even in the highest rent districts of the country, Carmel, you will likely experience a truth my mother spoke long ago; that the truly rich have nothing to prove, they just own nicer real estate. Those that feel compelled to flash and flaunt reveal, sadly, a poverty of spirit and an empty emotional bank account.

In the remote regions of Big Sur, where electricity has yet to make its way across the high chaparral, it is impossible to ignore a kinship with the world beyond commerce. Which is why I am tempted to conclude, admittedly without adequate methodology, that the Monterey Bay is home to more truly rich folks than I’ve seen anywhere else in recent memory. They have the stewardship thing down. Drive the 60 miles of coastline at Big Sur and you will know what I mean as seals, condors, eagles, peregrine, otters all revel in the largest marine sanctuary in the world.

Here the California spirit is a zen born of nature, not constructed in the same old "better, faster, smarter" intensity found even in the stress relief clinics of the cities.

In the Central Coast there appears a more authentic appreciation for the natural glories of this rarified world than are found elsewhere. Immediate needs met, values intact, there seems to exist an awareness and enlightenment that doesn’t need to drone on or constantly reinvent itself. It echoes instead across the bay in the elephant seal’s groan and the cry of the gull. Animals, from butterfly to cormorant, allow approach, as if humans had never been an historical threat.

There are issues everywhere inherent in the basic human condition and surely the "haves" and "have-nots" exist divided by a wide swath of valley agriculture East of Eden past Highway 101. Taken as it is, this county is uniformly blessed with unique climatic, geological and natural features that serve to feed the soul. In Monterey County, everyman has a mansion; it is called nature.

It is not off-handedly that I give such high marks to a place other than my beloved Hawaii. But if Hawaii were to sink into the sea I’d paddle to the Monterey Peninsula. There I’d gaze across her fertile valleys, trudge up the Santa Lucia range, croon with the sea lions in the moonlight over Monterey Bay. Then, if the San Andreas fault tripped this former island back into the sea, I’d give glory to the forces at work behind it all, and swimming through a forest of kelp, I’d float through my last breath with a smile.

Fortunately, this outcome is highly improbable. Instead, I will admit again that the options put forth here may have been drawn using an inadequate methodology and may be based more on a glorious, revitalizing, romantic experience that was graced with perfect atmospheric conditions and barometric readings than it was upon science.

As such, I will need to return often to conduct further studies.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip