25 New Paintings! Part III
Paintings 17-25: The Big Sur.
And finally, after more than a year, please enjoy the Big Sur as I found it back in February, before the world shifted beneath our feet.
Part III: The Big Sur.
Big Sur, CA
4 days. 9 paintings. 1 incident involving territorial dogs. 1 confusing wildcat. 1 reading of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur in a small cabin overlooking, well… Big Sur.
This was a long overdue trip that would finally allow a deeper digging of the Big Sur coast. I’d travelled it many times, surfed a bit, explored many of its gems already, but like any dynamic coast, there’s always more. One could spend a lifetime just within these 50 miles and not see it all. But what a joy to see a little more with each visit.
17. Mountain of Mien Mo
Titled after Kerouac’s name for this mountain, a looming white peak visible from the canyon beneath the bridge where Kerouac stayed and wrote his novel, and also visible from this ridge a good distance down the coast. This peak is full of stories. Creation stories. Secret caves stories. Lost civilization stories. Mysterious dark figure stories. Get rich quick stories. Get rich slow stories. Lose everything stories. Find everything stories. Everyone has their own mountain to climb or else cower in fear beneath it. Onward. All of us! Onward.
She Called Off the Dogs
I only had to walk about a mile and a half down a steep and private dirt road to get to this vantage point of a beach everyone knows, but few have seen from this angle. About half way down, I was greeted by friendly dogs doing their best to act really unfriendly to strangers with funny backpacks walking down their roads. Good dogs. There was a clear point in the road that they did not want me to pass. Step over the line, bark and growl, step back, quiet, repeat as desired. Contemplating the options and the steep hike back up the road, I’d have to just risk it. Right about when I’d worked up the nerve to step over their line and keep walking I heard a voice from behind the fence down the road. She Called Off the Dogs.
This Side of the Cactus
A lonely cypress stands on this ridge, holding on for dear life through every storm and gale it’s seen, and it’s seen a lot of them. It’s getting a good whipping from the north wind right now as I paint this, its roots holding firm and its muscular bows holding back the wind for myself and this happy little cactus patch looking down on one of the most beautiful beaches in all of California. One of the most photographed beaches in all the world, but you wouldn’t know it from here. Nobody goes here. It’s off limits. Private. One jogger wandered up the path while I stood here with my host, and she sent him right back down the hill, thwarting his plan to jog the ridge over to the next state park. Big Sur is a territorial place. Always has been. There’s a lot of it that I’d love to see one day, but find myself on the wrong side of the cactus. On this day though, it was enough to just be out of the wind on this side of the tree, and on this side of the cactus for a change.
Off the Grid
A cove not easily reached. A wild country. The government here stalks on four paws and the cities are made of gray sticks full of poison. And life goes on, even off the grid.
Bobcats Don’t Have Tails
For this one, I wanted to return to the scene of the first painting, I felt there was something more to see without trying to get the entire scene all the way to that white mountain. And I was right. As soon as I stopped to set up the easel, I looked back on the path I’d just walked up and about 20 yards back there was a wild cat on the path. Not a big one. I knew they saw a lot of bobcats here, so without thinking I assumed that’s what it was. And of course I had to paint it so I watched it closely; thick paws, big head, and a big fat tail. Not very big, but big enough that I was relieved when it showed no interest in me. Recorded as remembered. Then came the puzzle in hindsight… bobcats don’t have tails. At least not usually. Was it a small mountain lion? Did I just make it up in my head? It wasn’t solved until my host explained they often have bobcats come up to their house and one in particular always seemed interested in their cat, not threatening, just curious through the glass. When their cat grew ill and passed away recently this bobcat was there sitting beside the glass, a calm presence. My hosts puzzled over this bobcat too, because it had… wait for it… an unusually long tail. Feline vindication. Feels pretty good. Thought my eyes and mind had failed me for a minute there.
Escaping Santa Cruz Crowds: Circa 1880
Yup. Even in 1880 Santa Cruz was getting too crowded for some folks, like Sabrino Gamboa who fled to this stretch of Big Sur’s coast nearly 150 years ago. Same as it ever was, I guess.
I don’t know why, but the thought of a credit card bill, or bank statement, or some foreboding notice from the IRS sitting in one of these little metal boxes getting absolutely gob-hammered by winter storms just seems so absurd and yet so right- as if nature herself was seeking revenge on the entire economic system that invented things like tourists and plastic bottles and junk mail. Just another roadside scene of daily life on the information superhighway.
The Dark Watchers
Through thickets of poison to a cliff in the wind beneath dark skies, they followed. Not with their bodies, just with their eyes. They call them Dark Watchers, and stories of them in these hills go back generations. If you see them and try to approach one, they vanish into the landscape. I wish I could do that sometimes too, just stand and watch and observe the landscape as I paint it, and as soon as someone sees me and wants to come chat and get-all-up-in-my-business-wanting-to-know-if-I-make-a-living-doing-this-stuff-as-if-that-somehow-has-any-bearing-on their-ability-to-appreciate-what-I-am-doing-right-there-before-their-eyes, then poof, I vanish back into the earth from whence I came. That would be beautiful. When I grow up I want to be a Dark Watcher. And just maybe I will.
Everyone is Listening
My final painting of this trip. I recently read about the family that home-steaded this place back in the 1800’s and installed a phone line to King City in 1910. One of the kids that grew up here recalled that you could tell who was calling because everyone had a different ring. And when a call was made, all the phones up and down the line rang and everyone answered. Once it was settled who the caller wanted to speak to, the others would go quiet, but still listen in, offering occasional corrections if something didn’t sound right. His aunt Lulu was particularly adept at this art. Awkward and funny, yet understandable. This is a quiet coast. The ocean may roar, but in the spaces between the outposts, the noise of the outside world fades into flowers. I didn’t speak to a single person while painting this one, the only people I saw were in cars moving so fast that we may as well have been in different dimensions. The air was lonely and the light was beautiful. So I just talked to myself on top of the van while painting… and aunt Lulu never had to correct me even once.
I know that was a long email blast. Thanks for bearing with me and seeing it through to the end. You guys are truly the best. I hope you found some solace and joy and beauty and maybe a laugh or two along the way. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you.”
Much love to you all,
From your wandering artist out in the field,