This journal focuses on the art, history, culture, and wildlands of the northern Big Sur coast. Periodic entries and documents appear at random here.



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The Loss (?) of Our Mountain Home

July 24, 11:04 pm
Chris: Debi and I arrived home (to San José) from our roadtrip to the Southwest late Sunday night.
We had only heard very late Friday night—when checking into the Recapture Lodge in Bluff, Utah—about the sudden mandatory evacuation of Palo Colorado. We were sick at heart that we were so far away and already shut out. As I drove the next day, Debi surfed her iPhone whenever she had reception for all rumors and reports.
In Flagstaff Saturday night about 10 pm, I was able to reach a friend and near neighbor by phone. He was in a group of five friends who had stayed to defend his very well-prepared home. As we talked my friend was looking out the window to 150' flames on the mountainsides all around him including on Long Ridge above our place. The fire had already come down from a point on the ridge between Twin Peaks and upper Green Ridge and had already quickly run through other neighbors' homes. The phone line to that part of the canyon had burnt out. But one other friend who had stayed alone at his home to defend his place—just where the fire had made its fierce run—had had a shelter built, and as my near neighbor and I talked on the phone, he thought our other friend who had stayed alone would be OK so long as fire-exhaustion didn't hit him before he went to the shelter. My friends who had stayed together had already saved one of their homes.
I told my friend I was sick at heart that I couldn't be there with them. (I know how much preparation they had done and how skillful and capable their were.) My friend said he'd go down to our place in the morning if he could and backfire. I told him not to do anything that put him or anyone else in danger. But that if once his own place was safe and he felt it was safe to go over to ours, we'd certainly be grateful for any help he could safely give. I've long been bothered by the idea that even if the main front of a fire spares a cabin, that smoldering and rolling burning debris might burn the initially spared cabin in the aftermath. It was a remarkably generous offer that our friend and neighbor made.
All Sunday during our drive our hopes and fears rose and fell depending on the latest report (or conjecture) that Debi could pick up on her iPhone. Above all, we were desperate to hear that our friends and near neighbors all were safe.
Cutting and then about to mill a deadfall madrone into planks for our friend Dennis and his cousin.
By semi-happenstance our daughters Caitlin and Ali, our son Nate, our daughter-in-law Yung, our new grandson Owen, and our good friend Anthony were already here in our home in San José. Only Matt couldn't be here. Caitlin, Ali, and Anthony were babysitting Owen as Nate and Yung went out on a date-night. It was great that all of us (except Matt) were together because it was exactly then—when I opened my laptop—that I saw that I had a message from a friend who is the wife of one of our friends who stayed.
All of us were sitting around the table. I read the message aloud.  Our friends had talked with her husband who told her very emotionally that "Chris and Debi's place is gone."
Debi and I and the kids are feeling so many emotions. Most of you who know us understand how much Rocky Creek means to me—since I'm the one who spends the most time there and the place itself and the beautiful rhythm of life we have created there has become such an integral part of how I see myself. But you may not know as well (as I didn't fully know myself) exactly how much Rocky Creek also means to Debi and our kids.
I had to remind myself that "Rocky Creek" isn't gone, but rather that this beautiful way of life we've created is gone. For now? Who knows what comes next?
We'd been anxious like so many others for two days. And now we were only beginning to enter grief—whose rhythm we intend to honor. The report, as I type, is that the mandatory evacuation order might end in a couple days. On one hand that's too long. This feeling of being disconnected has gone on far too long already. On the other hand I don't feel quite ready either. Maybe in the morning. Still too sleep deprived. And when we do return, it will be a real journey—for Debi and me and our kids—to walk through our beloved Rocky Creek again. I want to sit down in the ash like Job and grieve with the madrones and black oaks and remnants of the life we built with the help of so many friends—starting with Joel Severson but also with so much help from Brian and Aaron Patch and great advice and help all along the way from people like Christopher Williams and Norm Cotton and Mike Caplin and Jeanne Brown Hopkins and Don Herrington and Steve Trapkus and Missy Lofton. And on the ground help and sweat equity from so many other friends whose place in the life at Rocky Creek will come up in later posts.
Debi and I and the kids have been talking a lot about the trees. The journey is already bringing up memories for me of the first time I walked up to Alta Vista (our friend Jeff Norman's place) after the Basin Fire.
But our own loss is greatly deepened by our neighbors who are suffering even more. Peter lost the place he built with his own hands and where he and Barbara raised Dylan and Sehra. Charlie lost his home and much of his farm (though his caretaker cabin was spared). The friend who had stayed alone to save his place wasn't able to save it and barely got out with his life. Patti and Steve  have lost their home. Bart has lived on Long Ridge for over 45 years, and he and Kristi, our neighbors right above us, have lost their home, too. Kristi gave Caitlin her first riding lessons—which was when we were still camping on the land through the round of seasons to try to understand the place as well as we could. I'd drive Cait down to the Hoist in the morning to hand her off to Kristi—and then meet them in the late afternoon for a reverse hand-off. That time with Kristi has remained very important to Cait. And I'm just naming a few of our immediate neighbors. So many others. And so many others throughout the world in unimaginable peril and grief as refugees.
Many of you have sent beautiful, soulful, and wise emails in the past two days, which haven't been just generous, warm sentiments, but "wisdom you can really use."
I've been thinking: all the love and thought and prayer and even money (we couldn't get/keep fire insurance where we are) that we've put into Rocky Creek in the past 18 years? 
I don't regret a thing.
Maybe I'm partly trying to cheer myself up. The path of grief is already really hard. We haven't even stepped foot back in our mountain home yet. I break into tears at every turn. Thank God for Debi and the kids and friends like you.
Debi: We got the hard news tonight that the fire has taken what we have put our hearts into building at Rocky Creek. It took the structures but it did not take the creative life we built there with family and friends. That remains and we will reconstruct whatever it takes to keep that alive. My heart is full—full of sadness, loss, passion and love. But just like the land will regenerate and fill our land with wild irises and lupine we will bring new creative energy however we are called. 

We grieve in solidarity with our friends and neighbors who have lost even more than we have, raising children in their homes and living full time in a home they have built with their own hands. 

We accepted the risk of knowing that the land belonged to a greater force and that some day we may be faced with this. A risk we wholeheartedly accepted. The day has come and we are now on our knees at the power of the wild.



"Nowhere Is Our Real Home": Ken Brower appearance at HMML June 5 has been cancelled

UPDATE: the event I describe below—Ken Brower's appearance on June 5 at HMML, the Library has announced, has been cancelled.
Later today—Sunday, June 5th—the speaker series "Nowhere Is Our Real Home" continues at the Henry Miller Memorial Library with author Kenneth Brower.

In Big Sur and throughout the West, a new economic wave spurred by the internet is causing dramatic impacts. Some immediately presenting issues: workers’ housing, short-term rentals, the commercialization of neighborhoods, and traffic congestion along Highway 1.

Ken is the oldest son of the pioneering environmentalist David Brower— and editor of the Sierra Club exhibit-format book Not Man Apart: Photographs of the Big Sur Coast, Lines from Robinson Jeffers—a book that belongs on every Big Sur bookshelf or coffee table.

The talk begins at 3 pm. This event is by donation. Tea, coffee—and most importantly, discussion!—will be readily available.



Nowhere Is Our Real Home: Community and Identity in the New West


Nowhere Is Our Real Home: Community and Identity in the New West

                                                           — beginning Sunday, April 3 @ 4PM

In Big Sur and throughout the West, a new economic wave spurred by the internet is causing dramatic impacts. Some immediately presenting issues: workers’ housing, short-term rentals, the commercialization of neighborhoods, traffic congestion along Highway 1, and the intrusion of helicopters, drones, and other electronic devices in the backcountry and in backcountry neighborhoods.

The Henry Miller Memorial Library will host Nowhere Is Our Real Home, a speakers series aimed at shedding light on the overall new economic wave itself—"the natural amenities economy"—while also addressing the specific local issues (listed above) that the new internet-driven economic wave is causing. The series begins with author David Gessner on April 3 (see below) and then resumes on the first Sunday in June. Speakers also include Kenneth Brower (Not Man Apart), Don Usner (The Natural History of Big Sur), and Malcolm Margolin (Life in a California Mission: Monterey in 1786). HMML will also produce it own local programs on Jaime de Angulo, Robinson Jeffers, and Henry Miller.

To begin the series, HMML is pleased to announce…

                                                        * * * * *

Nowhere Is Our Real Home: Finding a Wild Home in a Virtual Age

                                                            — Sunday, April 3 @ 4PM

David Gessner, award-winning author of All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West and nine other books, opens the series with an exploration of what it means to find (and keep) a real and wild home in our "virtual age." As part of a generation of writers who have followed Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry, Gessner will discuss his own "post-regionalist philosophy" about what home and its relationship to the wild might mean now. And he will use Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey, and Wendell Berry as touchstones.

Please visit or call 831.667.2574 for updates and more details

                                                        * * * * *

(Disclaimer: I'm on the HMML board of directors and also one of the co-creators of the "Nowhere" speakers series.)


Charles Lloyd: "Arrows into Infinity"

Spent Friday and today (Sunday) at the Monterey Jazz Festival—dialed in on Charles Lloyd and his trio Sangam (Friday) and his New Quartet (Sunday). Both performances different—and dazzling.

Also saw the relatively new film on Lloyd—"Arrows into Infinity." Apart from all the vintage footage—and a helpful reflection on Lloyd's time in Big Sur—drummer Eric Harland has an endearing segment on what the hell it's like to try to play between fabled tablas player Zafir Hussain and Lloyd.

And about halfway down a page of videos on Lloyd's webpage is the Montreux 1982 performance of "Forest Flower Sunset" with Michel Petrucciani. Lloyd had gone into seclusion for a decade in Big Sur — and the young Petrucciani traveled from the south of France to show up on Lloyd's doorstep.

And here's a performance of "Soaring" by the New Quartet.

Anyone have this LP?


Wild and Scenic Film Festival: September 13 at the Golden Gate Theater in Monterey

It is the wildness of these mountains—and the wildness of this coast—that makes human life meaningful here.

No coincidence that these three values are conjoined: freedom, wilderness, and solitude.

Fight fiercely for each one—in order to preserve them all.

The Ventana Wilderness Alliance is hosting the upcoming "Wild and Scenic Film Festival."

Date: Saturday, September 13

Place: Golden Gate Theater in Monterey

Time: 7 pm

In addition to presenting "wild and scenic" films located in other wildlands, the VWA's evening will also present original stories filmed in our own wild coast.

When you're building a vibrant local culture, it's not enough to curate. You must also create.