Years and years ago, when I was a city-dweller, I would escape my cubicle and drive my little commuter car down Highway One to dip into the healing waters at Esalen, to hike steep mountains and dance on pristine beaches.
I'd drive up and down the highway, my arm stretched out the window, hand pressing against the wind. I would return to my city life restored, and perhaps just a little more present in my world.
A shutterbug, I snapped a shot of the often-photographed row of colorful mailboxes at the foot of Partington Ridge. A couple of years later I showed this picture to my fiancé, who'd been living on the Ridge the day I drove by. Tucked between the mailboxes was a bit of trash that he remembered picking up. Our paths had crossed -- him probably wishing he could scold the litterbug as I drove on down the highway, my camera holding an image of where my own mailbox would be some day.
Now I help others plan their escapes from the modern world to stay in the rustic time-capsule known as Deetjens Inn. As I speak with guests, I remember the fear and wonder we feel when we step into the unknown, even if it's only a 3 or 6 hour drive away. Our Inn guests are unique in their determination to have the experience Deetjens offers, of coming home to a more gracious, gentler world.
But magical serendipity, perhaps more abundant in Big Sur, does not protect us from the impermanence of life, whether we're meeting, almost meeting by accident, or parting ways. Last week our Deetjens community suffered a blow when the beloved Caroline Provost, who selected and arranged the Inn's fresh-cut flowers for over a decade, left us suddenly and too soon. She always gave her smiles and her love to us, and will be missed like nobody's business.
When we are surprised by the death of someone we love, the world tilts on its axis differently, as if a nuclear bomb had just detonated underground, changing the landscape we walk on forever. What can we do but send our prayers after the one who has gone ahead of us?
Caroline the Queen of the Flowers gave us a priceless parting gift: a deeper knowing of how little time we have, and how important it is to meet each other in the moment with all the love we have to give.
Mailboxes by Toby Rowland-Jones
Toby and Caroline in happier times --