On The Music Box: Patti Smith – “Ghandi” (From the album “Trampin”)
On the Menu:
Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch
Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara…
Stories of Our First Arrivals
Poetry: Robinson Jeffers
Art: Rick Griffin
(more of his works coming soon… Rick was a major influence on my paintings…)
Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch
Some of my thoughts on my times in Big Sur… (apologies to Henry!)
The one thing about this universe of ours which intrigues me, which makes me realize that it is divine and beyond all knowing, is that it lends itself so easily to any and all interpretations.
© Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch
So years ago back in the winter of 67-68, I fled the Haight, trailing a string of encounters with the authorities, a semi-shattered psyche from too much too soon, utopian yearnings collapsing under the weight of media and social assualts… Yet at the same time, there was an emerging fire that one would call a spiritual drive. Arriving in Lime Kiln Creek, I found community where food and drink were shared, and I received wonderful gifts that sustain me to this day. I discovered Wizards living along the shore and in the canyons. Wise beyond my then meager years.
Every weekend, the crowds from the Haight and other parts of the Bay Area would descend on us. Camp fires would spring up the canyon, song and dance. All would collapse away on Sunday night… and the stars and mist would again appear…
It was the perfect antedote to the life I had lived previously. Many of the dwellers and wanderers on that part of the coast had been there since the 50′s, some had lived their whole lives in the area. I discovered that the Esselen Indians had buried their dead at the juncture of the creek running into the Pacific after an event one night where 5 or so of us around a fire saw a spirit of one of the ancient ones walk out of the ocean and up the trail by the stream, hesitating at our fire and walking on up the canyon…
In my mind and heart Big Sur will always be… a place of deep, deep earth & sea magick…
I cannot adequately describe the beauty of Big Sur or the Western Shore that kisses the Pacific, it would take too long, and others have certainly done it better… but in my heart of hearts there are crafted epics telling of all I have known and seen on this edge of pure delight.
There is the ocean and the mountains tumbling together in sweet embrace… that wonderous joy of chaos and beauty… Big Sur awoke in me longings for the wild that still thrum through me to this day. From her foggy mornings to star pierced nights with my ramblings from the shores up through her canyons to her heights…
For years when I drove up and down California, I never took IS5 or 101… Highway 1 or nothing. Adding days on the trip from LA to Mt. Shasta, I would find myself drawn back camping by the shore. I would be refreshed, renewed and blessed for days, weeks after.
So years later, I sat reading “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch”, this work of Henry’s brought smiles and such deep longings to my heart. It was often a point of discussion with my friend Michael. We sometimes read passages to each other after a few drinks or a bit of hash in LA late at night. I had a different fire burning then, chasing spirits that led me to other worlds and other joys…
20 years on, I brought Mary to the Big Sur Inn for a weeks stay. A sweet, sweet memory!
Tripping together by the Little Sur River… drinks on the veranda with the racoons prowling around for treats, up to the Henry Miller Library, Emil White kissing Mary’s hand and telling her she was like a flower.
We had driven up from Los Angeles in our 1966 Ford Anglia that we had shipped over from the UK… a slow winding trip, 55-60 miles an hour (tops it seemed) up, up up the coast.
She was touched by the beauty and the magick, confirming for me that I wasn’t mistaken about the spell of it all…
Hopefully, more soon about these times.
Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara
The vault of rock is painted with hands,
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of mens palms, no more,
No other picture. Theres no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying: “Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws. All hail
You people with cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country: enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human.”
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962
Stories of Our First Arrivals
by Chris Loren
After matins at the hermitage I carry toast and tea down to a secret perch I know, through the brush and beneath sprawling live oak, to watch the coast and idle in the morning sun. I think of Jaime de Angulo’s character Esteban Berenda, who fled the Portolá expedition in 1769 for these mountains, married an Esselen woman, and when she died would sit out against the wall of his cabin and doze in the sun as I do now. He would dream of the Spanish galleons that would drift by each year on their way to Acapulco, carrying porcelain and spices and silk above all, to be offered in return for the silver they would carry back across the Pacific to Manila.
I come here again and again to this spot where the Pacific stretches out before me just as dreamily, and where any writing upon it is as delible as a voyage, since in the end she always takes all things back; Chinese coins, the mast of a forgotten junk, olivella shells, fishing baskets, the rumor of five Buddhist monks who walked this shore fifteen hundred years ago — a text I love, since so few know it.
We love myths of our origins. They help to locate us in the world. By telling us who we were, they tell us what we might become. On one hand creation stories, and on the other, allied with them, but not identical, are the stories of our first arrivals. Lovers know by heart the story of the moment they first met, and each of us who love this coast can tell the story of how, in one way or another, we first came here, too. Not a bad evening would be spent around a campfire in the backcountry, sharing those stories. Every poet has them. Robinson Jeffers tells his in the form of his first trip down the old coast road with Una in Corbett Grimes’ mail stage in December 1914. Jaime de Angulo describes riding on horseback below Post’s with Roche Castro around Christmas in 1915, where the coast trail becomes so narrow and dizzyingly steep, a thousand foot sheer drop to the Pacific, that de Angulo had to dismount, steady himself, and stand in awe.
These myths of creation and the stories of our first arrivals here: the first exist in a dateless, cyclic, mythopoetic time. The latter, by definition, begin with a date since they mark the first moment in a personal history, the arrival of a discrete “I” upon this shore. We find the fragments of creation stories in all the first peoples of this coast, the Rumsen and Esselens and Salinans and Chumash. In fact, the evidence points to a vast, integrated, epic culture wheel of myth so that what remains to us as fragments only appears so because our own recovery and understanding has become fragmentary itself. But to my incomplete understanding, there aren’t stories among these fragments that depict the arrival of the first people here. Perhaps someone can enlighten us otherwise, someone like Joe Freeman working with the earliest Salinan stories. But so far the origin stories all seem to be about how the human being was created anew in this very place after the flood, when eagle and coyote – with perhaps hummingbird or kingfisher – perched on a height somewhere like Pico Blanco and succeeded in riddling out the complexity of human existence once again.
For arrival stories we have had to wait for the Europeans. Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo made the first European voyage along the coast in 1542, then Sebastián Vizcaíno landed in Monterey Bay for three days in 1602. And perhaps most consequential of all, the Portolá land expedition of 1769, when history walked up this coast in the apparently meager form of a few Spanish officers, two Franciscans, a group of Catalan volunteers, leather-jacketed soldiers from New Spain, and neophyte indios from Baja California. Together they stood for an historical consciousness, a scientific mind in the form of engineering and cartography, a written script that appeared in four separate journals, and the story of a personal salvation and a personal aggrandisement, the cross and sword together. And meager as they might be, they would be enough.
But that alone should’ve been enough to warn us from the easy myth of a western movement, as if we could ever have had more in common with the eastern seaboard than we do with the vast and imponderable Pacific stretching beyond us like a dream towards the western islands of the dead and then beyond even them, the only western movement of any last import, the inevitable movement beyond the limitations of the self.
And then there is that other story that I love so much because it appears so incidental and so rare. In the year of Everlasting Origin – 499 AD in western reckoning – a Buddhist priest named Hui-Shen appeared in the Chinese court and said he had just returned from a land he called Fu-Sang, named for a plant we would later call the agave or maguey or yucca, and which the Spanish would call Our Lord’s Candle and which native peoples all along the coast used for food and cordage. You can follow Hui-Shen’s descriptions and distances from the Ainu in Japan to Kamkatcha to Fu-Sang, which measures out to California although the culture resembles people further south since the people of Fu-Sang had a form of writing and parchment made from the fu-sang plant. There is no iron in Fu-Sang, but plenty of copper, which like gold and silver, is not prized in trade. There are no tariffs or fixed prices or citadels or walled cities or warfare or implements of war. Houses are made with wooden beams and mats are made of reeds. Criminals are judged in excavated places and if guilty are strewn with ash. If the offender was a person of rank, the stigma could remain for generations.
Hui-Shen says that forty years before his journey five Buddhist monks from Kabul first brought the dharma to Fu-Sang, along with images of the Buddha. They introduced monasticism and, Hui-Shen says, “reformed the manners of the entire land.”
Czeslaw Milosz imagined a similar case, a Japanese survivor from a shipwreck washed up upon this shore, perhaps a fisherman or merchant or even a poet. The story is not only likely, but inevitable, since it is a straight line from Japan to here following the Kuroshiro current right along the coast. Then if the castaway moved upcanyon and found a group of brownskinned inhabitants, what would have happened then, Milosz wonders, since no rumor of the castaway would ever return home.
This is the perspective of an exile, of course. This coast appears in Milosz as a vanishing point, a kind of pure space that swallows history. Milosz partly took the idea from Jeffers; the beauty and violence intermingled in a wilderness like this, and also from a Jeffers’ poem he borrowed the idea that the only trace of the first inhabitants here was a cave of painted hands near Tassajara whereas the mountains are full of middens and bedrock mortars and birthing stones and jimsonweed marking ritual sites, the fit signs of people who moved in small groups, loved their children, knew the plants and animals and every nuance of the watersheds that fed them and were their calendars as they passed through the seasons like the deer they also followed, a son taking a kill from the herd his family knew for centuries in an elaborate and familiar dance between the hunter and the sacred prey. And while there are no relics of cathedrals or ramparts, they had poetry, too, those epic culture cycles that we only hold fragmented notes to, notes that only an eccentric few would even bother to attend to. Poetry and dance and visions and night-fears and hunger and intimacy and love. Hui-Shen and Esteban Berenda stand for a word coming back out of the wilderness, which is the only place the word ever comes from, and they allow us to affix a date to the dateless, that precious intersection, which perhaps relieves us a moment from the anxiety, or even terror, we feel when we enter this pure space for ourselves.
But that is the other story we know so well and tell around our campfires, if we are honest enough, the panic terror we have felt at the footfall of our own abandonment and aloneness and confrontation with what we love and fear and which will inevitably consume us, alienation or communion, the guise dependent only on the habit of mind we have come to trust, grace upon grace, carrying us beyond even this beloved coast, beyond even the impeccable sunset islands of the dead.
In the year of Everlasting Origin, Hui-Shen appeared in court. In 1769 the Portolá expedition walked up this coast
Esteban Berenda is a character in Jaime de Angulo’s brilliant novella The Lariat.
Jeffers tells of his first trip downcoast in his preface to Jeffers Country: The Seed Plots of Robinson Jeffers’ Poetry, with photographs by Horace Lyon. That preface was reprinted in Not Man Apart.
Jaime de Angulo describes his first visit to Big Sur, on horseback with Roche Castro, in “La Costa del Sur,” which appears in A Jaime de Angulo Reader, edited by Bob Callahan.
Hui-Shen’s narrative of his travels to Fu-Sang are re-printed, with commentary, in Fu-Sang, or the Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century, by Charles G. Leland. This ancient chronicle is also discussed by historian Charles Chapman in his chapter “The Chinese Along the Pacific Coast in Ancient Times” from A History of California: the Spanish Period, and also by Sandy Lydon in Chinese Gold: the Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region.
Nobel poet Czeslaw Milosz imagines the Japanese castaway and discusses Jeffers’ poem “Hands” in “The Edge of the Continent” in Road-Side Dog. Milosz is one of the most perceptive readers of Jeffers, who figures prominently in Milosz’s Visions from San Francisco Bay, most directly in “Carmel.” Cf. in particular Milosz’s poem “To Robinson Jeffers.”
I am grateful to Jeffers’ scholar Rob Kafka for our correspondence on “panic terror in the Santa Lucias,” a theme that recurs in Jeffers’ poetry, in de Angulo’s writings, and in Steinbeck’s short story “Flight.”
Poetry: Robinson Jeffers
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of surburban houses-
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads-
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.-As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
Fire On The Hills
The deer were bounding like blown leaves
Under the smoke in front the roaring wave of the brush-fire;
I thought of the smaller lives that were caught.
Beauty is not always lovely; the fire was beautiful, the terror
Of the deer was beautiful; and when I returned
Down the back slopes after the fire had gone by, an eagle
Was perched on the jag of a burnt pine,
Insolent and gorged, cloaked in the folded storms of his shoulders
He had come from far off for the good hunting
With fire for his beater to drive the game; the sky was merciless
Blue, and the hills merciless black,
The sombre-feathered great bird sleepily merciless between them.
I thought, painfully, but the whole mind,
The destruction that brings an eagle from heaven is better than men.
I built her a tower when
I was young –
Sometime she will die.
I built it with my hands.
I hung stones in the sky.
Old, but still strong, I climb
The stone –
Sometime she will die
Climb the steep rough steps
And weep in the sky.
Never weep, never weep.
Never be astonished, dear
Nothing is strange
We have seen the human race
Capture all its dreams,
All except peace.
Let’s forget all that, that and the war,
And enisle ourselves a little beyond time
You with this Irish whiskey. I with red wine.
While the stars go over the sleepless ocean.
And sometime after midnight I’ll pluck you a wreath.
Of chosen ones; we’ll talk about love and earth,
Rock solid themes, old and deep as the sea
Admit nothing more timely. Nothing less real.
While the stars go over the timeless ocean.
And when they vanish we’ll have spent this night well.
The Excesses Of God
Is it not by his high superfluousness we know
Our God? For to be equal a need
Is natural, animal, mineral: but to fling
Rainbows over the rain
And beauty above the moon, and secret rainbows
On the domes of deep sea-shells,
And make the necessary embrace of breeding
Beautiful also as fire,
Not even the weeds to multiply without blossom
Nor the birds without music:
There is the great humaneness at the heart of things,
The extravagant kindness, the fountain
Humanity can understand, and would flow likewise
If power and desire were perch-mates.
The Summit Redwood
Only stand high a long enough time your lightning
will come; that is what blunts the peaks of
But this old tower of life on the hilltop has taken
it more than twice a century, this knows in
Cell the salty and the burning taste, the shudder
and the voice.
The fire from heaven; it has
felt the earth’s too
Roaring up hill in autumn, thorned oak-leaves tossing
their bright ruin to the bitter laurel-leaves,
Its under-forest has died and died, and lives to be
burnt; the redwood has lived. Though the fire
It cored the trunk while the sapwood increased. The
trunk is a tower, the bole of the trunk is a
The mast of the trunk with its green boughs the
mountain stars are strained through
Is like the helmet-spike on the highest head of an
army; black on lit blue or hidden in cloud
It is like the hill’s finger in heaven. And when the
cloud hides it, though in barren summer, the
Make their own rain.
Old Escobar had a cunning trick
when he stole beef. He and his grandsons
Would drive the cow up here to a starlight death and
hoist the carcass into the tree’s hollow,
Then let them search his cabin he could smile for
pleasure, to think of his meat hanging secure
Exalted over the earth and the ocean, a theft like a
star, secret against the supreme sky.