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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Jeff Norman — September 19, 1951 ~ October 31, 2007

Five years ago today, Jeff Norman passed. All the people I trust most can't think of someone who ever knew Big Sur better. Jeff only published a fraction of what he knew — and only a fraction of what so many of us hoped he'd publish. But his notes — not yet archived and thus not yet studied — survived the Basin Fire.

If you love Big Sur — and if don't yet know who Jeff is — you'll find out.

Jeff's "Alta Vista" before the Basin Fire. Shay, one of my three favorite canine friends, in the foreground.                                                    _____________________

Xasáuan Today has a wonderful series of reminiscences about Jeff and Alta Vista. Here's a good place to begin.


Denise Levertov — "The Two Magnets"

Where broken gods, faded saints, (powerful in antique presence

as old dancers with straight backs, loftily confident,

or old men in threadbare wellcut coats) preside casually

over the venerable conversations of cypress and olive,

there intrudes, like a child interrupting, tugging at my mind,

incongruous, persistent,

the image of young salmon in round ponds at the hatchery

across an ocean and a continent, circling

with muscular swiftness — tints of green, pink, blue,

glowing mysteriously through slate gray, under trees

unknown here, whose names I forget because

they were unknown to me too when I was young.


And there on the western edge of America — home to me now,

and calling me with this image of something I love,

yet still unknown — I dream of cathedrals,

of the worn stone of human centuries.

Guarded by lions with blunted muzzles

or griffins verdant with moss, gateposts open in me

to effaced avenues.

Part of me lives under nettle-grown foundations.

Part of me wanders west and west, and has reached

the edge of the mist where salmon wait the day

when something shall lift them and give them to deeper waters.


Denise Levertov. Evening Train. N.Y.: New Directions, 1992.


Ryōkan — "As a boy I learned the classics..."


As a boy I learned the classics

but was too lazy to become a Confucian.

As a young man I chased after zen,

but gained no Dharma worth passing on.

Now I live in a hut by a Shinto shrine

and work as the custodian,

sometimes caretaker, sometimes monk.


Ryōkan. Between the Floating Mist. trans. by Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro. Buffalo, N.Y.: White Pine Press, 2009.

Ink painting by Koshi no Sengai (1895-1958).


"The Acorn Maidens"

"Once, acorns were Ikxareyavs (Spirit-people). They were told, 'You will soon have to leave the Spirit World. You are going to go. You must all have nice hats to wear. You will have to wear them.' So they started to weave good-looking hats. Then all at once they were told, 'You will have to go now! Human is being raised. Go quickly!'

"Black Oak Acorn did not have time to finish her hat, so she picked up her big bowl basket.

"Tan Oak (tanbark) Acorn did not have time to clean her hat and make it smooth.

"But Post (valley) Oak Acorn and Maul (Canyon) Acorn finished their hats out perfectly, and even had time to clean them. Tan Oak Acorn noticed this, and said: 'Though my hat is not cleaned, would that I be the best acorn soup.'

"Then they went. They spilled (from the Heavens) into Human's place. 'Humans will spoon us up,' they said. They were Ikxareyavs, these Acorn Maidens. They were Heavenly Ikxareyavs. They shut their eyes and then they turned their faces into their hats when they came to this earth. That is the way the Acorns did.

"Tan Oak Acorn wished bad luck toward Post Oak Acorn and Maul Oak Acorn, because they had nice hats. She was jealous of them. Nobody likes to eat Post Oak Acorn. And, Maul Oak Acorn does not taste good either. They do not taste good, and their soups are black. And Maul Oak Acorn is hard to pound.

"They were all painted when they first spilled down. Black Oak Acorn was striped, and when one picks it up on the ground it is still striped, even nowadays. She was striped all over, that girl was. But Tan Oak Acorn did not paint herself much, because she was mad that her hat was not finished.

"When they spilled down, they turned their faces into their hats. And nowadays they still have their faces inside their hats."


"The Acorn Maidens" is a Karuk story recorded by John Peabody Harrington. It appears in Bureau of American Ethnography Bulletin No. 7, 1932 and has been reprinted in Oaks of California.

All photos by Debi.


Brett Weston — the Garrapata years

Several of the Brett Weston photographs in this YouTube slideshow can be directly identified as having come from Garrapata itself. All of the photographs, however, were taken during the 11 years when Brett was living at Garrapata (or maybe a couple were taken shortly thereafter) — an 11-year period that began in November 1948 when Brett and his brother Cole bought 80 acres along Garrapata Creek.

Of course, the images that will appear on your screen pale compared with the photographs themselves.



The best account of this photographic period in Brett's life that I have found comes from Dody Thompson, who was married to Brett during most of these years. One place her essay appears is as the introduction to Brett Weston: Master Photographer, published by Photography West Graphics in 1989.

The music that accompanies the slide-show is Charles Lloyd's "Sister" from his album Notes from Big Sur.

The images of Brett's photographs come from The Brett Weston Archive.


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