Friday, July 4, 2008

Ashes to ashes? Dust to dust?

Nepenthe, Big Sur
View from the live cam (
The smoke from the fire can almost be mistaken for fog creeping in...

Every time I go to Big Sur I have to go to Nepenthe. It’s a cathedral to the Gods, a vista a la supremo, a place where conversation is unnecessary, and where, for a couple of hours all is right in the world and I can imagine myself actually, someday, freeing my mind from endless thought patterns and sliding into the serene meditative world that has alluded me so far.

My husband and I discovered Nepenthe on our honeymoon when we stayed in Big Sur for a few days. We liked to sit outside where the patio opens to the most magnificent view unimaginable. And just sit. Have some fries and a couple of beers.

A decade and some later we had a family reunion at a campground in Big Sur. My children were seven and ten at the time and enjoyed running the river on inner tubes with their cousins, floating down to the River Inn, sometimes stopping in for a drink or snack. On the way back down the Coast to my mom’s house, we stopped at Nepenthe and I have pictures of the kids on the Nepenthe patio. The backdrop is so awesome it almost looks fake – a Sears rendition of sorts. Life so good it seems unreal.

Growing up in Southern California during the late 60’s and early 70’s, our family made a road trip every summer. Some camping. Some motels. No matter what section of the Western States or Canada we were off to, our first stop was ALWAYS the Redwood Forest. I’m not sure if my parents were na├»ve or if times were just different, but as young as ten or so I was allowed to wander the trails and woods on my own and with my little sister. I can remember perfectly the sun beams coming through the Redwoods like effervescent spotlights that seemed, if you looked at just the right angle, with perhaps a squeeze of the eye, to be lighting on woodsy mythical gnomes. The ferns and moss, the fallen over rotting logs, the musty live smell of damp earth. I remember crossing the river on a bridge made of a single redwood split in half. How on the other side of the river the woods had a wild feel to them and how we knew, as young as we were, that this side of the woods was place a child could lose themselves and how, without any adult harping to us, we respected this and didn’t wander too deeply away from the river and into that part of the forest.

I have a picture of myself the last time we made this annual pilgrimage, before my parents’ divorce, and our family’s subsequent slide into predictable LA suburbia fractured lifestyles. In the picture I am sitting inside a redwood tree’s trunk. The cave, or burrow, is big enough for several people but I am alone and it might be night, or it is just the darkness of the cave. The flash of the camera captures me sitting cross-legged, my long, straight, early-seventies hair hanging down to my waist. I’m not smiling, but starring straight at the camera. I’m wearing jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt.

The lump I feel in my stomach when my sister sends me links to the latest news on the Big Sur and Santa Barbara fires feels almost as large and gross as the nausea I experienced from chemo a couple years back. And I can’t shake the feeling that the fires are more than just fires, but a loss of one more thing that was right in the world.

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