Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Magical serendipity

Everyone has a personal tale or two about the road, and its role in the adventure of living in Big Sur. Mine is a story of serendipity.

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 --

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Wedding Tree

All right, I'll admit it, here's one of my secrets: I have a special, very feminine tree that I like to hug. It comforts me to tuck my head against her tree belly, and look up and down the coast, peeking out at the world as if from behind Mama, holding onto her skirts.

This small oak grows on the point below below us, on a finger of land forming the side of one of Partington's many small canyons. She's been festooned with prayer flags and slightly pruned for a nice trim shape. She's witnessed the words of lovers, sheltered sunset watchers, and been the subject of many mystical landscape paintings.

Big Sur's mountain ridges spread away from her to the north and south, her backdrop is the ever-changing ocean and sky. From under her branches, I feel a frisson of vertigo, as if I was a red-tailed hawk swooping down towards the sea.

Probably the most interesting (and most often commented on) aspect of the Wedding Tree is that if you look at her with soft eyes, she is in fact a woman, her torso plunged into the land, legs reaching up into the air. She has an upside down "muffin top" and a serious belly button. The question, as my painter friend wondered, is whether she is diving down into the earth, or jumping up out of it.

Maybe she's doing handsprings, leaping from ridge to ridge over the ages, or maybe she's an Esalen tribal princess, transformed into an oak in some ancient, indigenous fairy tale. Either way, she is our Tree Goddess.

One morning last week I woke up like the rest of the world: after listening to city sounds in my bed, I drank a cup of coffee, walked out onto the street, got in my car and drove to an office building, where I talked about the business world all day.

How blessed I felt when the very next morning, wearing only my bathrobe, cowboy hat and sturdy shoes, playing pied piper to my three eccentric cats (who go on walks with us) I began my day leaning against the Wedding Tree's warm tummy and soaking up the strength of her primeval thighs.