It’s been one month shy of two years since I posted a book review on this blog (not for want of California coastal books, of which there are many terrific titles released), because I was otherwise occupied and neglected this site.  After reading Chris Chapman’s Stories of Arroyo Hondo, the end has arrived for this book review drought and I’ll post some favorite reads from the past two years, but first, Chris Chapman’s art and history book of a little canyon on the Gaviota Coast.

As we know Arroyo Hondo today, it is a nature preserve managed by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara, located about 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara or about 10 miles south of the Gaviota Pass on U.S. Highway 101/California State Highway 1.  Visitor access for hiking its short trails is limited to two weekends each month and the preserve rents for events of up to 100 people.  Five streams form as the headwaters and converge and flow as Arroyo Hondo Creek under the highway and Southern Pacific’s trestle to the Pacific Ocean.  You can jog down the stairs to the beach and walk the 6 miles of sandy beach from Arroyo Hondo to Gaviota at low tide.storiesofarroyohondo

Stories of Arroyo Hondo begins as Tucumu (later, Tuxmu), a Chumash village recorded by Cabrillo during his contact with the Santa Barbara channel in late October through early November of 1542.  Chris Chapman writes, “Radiocarbon dates from artifacts such as pestles and projectile points indicate initial occupation of 3,000 B.C.”  In the 225 years from Cabrillo’s contact, Tuxmu was a vacant site by the time the Portola Expedition journeyed this coast.

Arroyo Hondo was a section of José Francisco Ortega’s ranch, a grazing permit named Nuestra Señora del Refugio.  Ortega enjoyed only three short years at La Nuestra.  “He became obese and eventually could not mount his horse without help.”  The Ortega family continued life on the rancho and one son petitioned for legal title from the Spanish, and then Mexican governments, but the family did not receive official title until 1866.  Bit by bit the Ortega family sold portions of the rancho.  “Arroyo Hondo was the last of the Refugio lands to remain in Ortega hands.”  Stories of Arroyo Hondo displays black and white photos of the Ortega descendants, their adobe houses, a grist mill, and a schoolhouse.

“In 1908 W.W. Hollister’s daughter Jennie Hollister Chamberlain Hale purchased the 782 acre Arroyo Hondo ranch” from E. Cordero, to whom the rancho was sold previously in 1889.  “The Ortega family continued to live at Arroyo Hondo,” through both Cordero and Hollister-Chamberlain-Hale ownership.

Transportation developments are covered in both text and black and white photos starting with stagecoach travel, then the effects of the railroad and herding of cattle by the Hollisters, and the automobile.  “Vicente lamented that the cool ocean breeze could no longer drift up the canyon,” once the Arroyo Hondo Creek culvert and highway closed the canyon at the coast.

Chris Chapman and her husband John Iwerks painted Arroyo Hondo while they ranch-sat for the Hollisters.  Watercolor landscapes and pastel coastscapes by Chris and oil roadscapes and beach scenes by her husband generously fill many pages of Stories of Arroyo Hondo as a colorful and “lasting gift.”

Stories of Arroyo Honda would make a nice holiday gift!  Purchase at:

Book Loft in Solvang
or in Santa Barbara at Chaucer’s Books, and the Presidio gift shop (Trust for Historic Preservation)
or Montecito, at Tecolote Books
and of course at Arroyo Hondo Preserve in the Ortega adobe.

Retail is $19.95 plus tax.  Shipping is possible if you cannot visit the above locations.

Note: I do not personally know the author, nor do I receive any benefit from book sales.  I think people should know about these California coast books and I’m happy to write about them.

 

dcm_cover

Almost four years ago I enthusiastically reviewed Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Highway 1 as “a fairly essential Coast Road Read,” and now Ms. Ward returns with another must-read for California coast enthusiasts or for anyone who enjoys a good mystery: Death in a California Landscape.

Set in Laguna Beach, Ms. Ward gracefully depicts the type of people who characterize Laguna: “Everyone who’d lived in town more than a dozen years knew Millicent. They called to offer help or stammer out their grief. They all expressed shock and disbelief. The Laguna family, that great, motley collection of eccentrics and artistic sensibilities, beach lovers, wildlife activists, gay, straight, old, young, every political philosophy on the map, con artist, best selling novelists in view houses, unsold poets living out their Waldens in the canyon, physicist and feng shui counselor shacked up together, the larger than life egos; this whole sprawling, prickery, generous, opinionated, cantankerous Laguna family was coming together to stand by one of their own.”

The callers phoned Jake Martin, the same Jake Martin from Ms. Ward’s Coast Highway 1, returning as our noir narrator and unintentional private eye. Jake’s dear friend Millicent is found shot to death. Detective Swann suspects foul play, maybe even suspects Jake.  Jake knows that Millicent, albeit in her eighties was full of life and not planning to die.  Jake senses murder, but why and by who?

Millicent was the last living member of the original California plein air artists who painted the landscape that is now covered with cities sprawling across the hills and along the coast. Could the killer be one of those who make their fortunes off subdivisions and model home communities? The art museum curator informs Jake, “Developers are the largest collectors. They seem to feel that it is their responsibility to preserve the vision of the land as it was before they sliced it up and built malls and housing tracts on top of it. One would think they’d want to get rid of the evidence of what it was before they ruined it.”

To solve the mystery in Death in a California Landscape we travel with Jake Martin up and down the California coast from Laguna Canyon to Crystal Cove, with a few trips up to Newport Beach, a side trip to Ensenada, and then north to Big Sur. Death in a California Landscape delivers on its title by including the scenery in the text. Jake Martin puts us in the passenger seat as he drives up the coast, “I drove PCH through the coast cities to the traffic circle in Long Beach, north on the 405, then west to Santa Monica and Coast Highway 1. The morning fog burned off just past Oxnard where the road widened and 101 came in from the valley. From there on the sea was blue, the kelp beds rising and falling in the swells until the road curved inland and the sea was lost behind it. I turned onto the narrower and less traveled Coast Highway 1 towards Morro Bay and the Big Sur. I made San Simeon by eleven. Hearst Castle shimmered in the distance, sun turreted and dream veiled, a mirage that had floated out of the Arabian Nights, taken a wrong turn somewhere and come to rest on the far crest of the California foothills. From there on the road began to climb along the edge of the Santa Lucia range. The Big Sur is not for the faint of heart. Cliffs drop a thousand feet straight down into the Pacific Ocean on one side. Mountains rise steeply on the other. The road unwinds between the two.”

Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Road Mystery, Death in a California Landscape, serves as a retreat from the holiday frenzy this December. Download to your Kindle or pick-up the book. Death in a California Landscape also makes for a fine gift. Happy Holidays!

Click for Ms. Ward’s website.

 

 

 

 

Since Tassajara Springs Fire has our attention, let’s talk about Fire Monks, the book written by Colleen Morton Busch, about the Tassajara Five, the five monks who remained onsite at Tassajara, the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in California, nestled within backcountry south of Carmel Valley, to battle the 2008 Basin Complex fire.Fire Monks by Colleen Morton Busch

“On June 21, 2008, lightning strikes, from one end of drought-dry California to the other, ignited more than two thousand wildfires in what became known as the “lightning siege,”  opens the Prologue, setting the scene through the senses, “If you lived in California, you smelled the smoke.”

Lightning strikes in two places ignited two fires near Tassajara: one at Big Sur (10 miles west), named the “Gallery fire” because lightning struck at Coast Gallery, starting the blaze; and another at Bear Basin (8-10 miles north) the “Basin fire,” and then a third fire began three days later when a single lightning bolt enflamed a tree.  The three fires converged on Tassajara, becoming 2008’s “Basin Complex fire.”

46 guests were unpacked and in session for the summer season, with an additional 70 residents occupying Tassajara.  All of the guests were first evacuated with some students, then the residents  removed themselves to safe locations, so that only 14 remained to prepare the center in defense of the blaze.

As the fire approached nearby, burning up the other side of the ridge, Tassajara was ordered to evacuate all remaining residents.  Five returned to the site, not wanting to complete the evacuation.  These five determined to remain at Tassajara.  The fire’s Branch Director didn’t argue with their decision, but he insisted that his staff obtained each of the five names.

Fire Monks is about awareness, Dharma Rain, and remaining in the moment.  Fire Monks is about taking responsibility when agencies are unable to act.  Fire Monks exhibits Zen practice in a real life situation, as well as sitting zazen upon a cushion.  Most surprisingly, Fire Monks is about attachment, attachment to one’s place and the desire to save it from harm.

Buy the Book.

Information on the current (2013) Tassajara Fire.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Whatever Happened to the Hippies? by Mary Siler AndersonIn my never-ending search for writings on the Coast Road, I discovered this little book that documents the people who moved to the Mattole and Eel watersheds, the “Mateel,” located in southern Humboldt County (SoHum). Twenty-three individual narratives intertwine to tell the stories of settlement, stereotyping of hippies, rednecks, loggers, straights, and the rowdy bikers, conservation and restoration of anadromous habitat, establishing Sinkyone Wilderness SP, and C.A.M.P.

“Between the years of 1968 and 1977, several hundred people migrated to the remote southern portion of Humboldt County, California,” writes Mary Siler Anderson, the author of Whatever Happened to the Hippies? These people moved into a landscape reshaped by seventy years of logging and two one hundred year floods that further eroded the hillsides, filling the rivers with sediment. “We didn’t know what the land looked like before and so didn’t recognize the signs of ecological distress all around us. We came from cemented-over human-constructed landscapes that lacked life and the wild naturalness of this place was beautiful to us.” Heart of the Mateel by M.J.M. 1990

Most of the people did not settle in the small towns, but instead bought 40-, 60-, 80-acre parcels, “which in the beginning could be had for little or no money down. Land was very cheap when we first arrived, because it had all been heavily logged.” If it weren’t for real estate agent Bob McKee no one would have sold land to these long-haired newcomers. Rumor had it that Bob was “giving away land out by the ocean,” which was hyperbole. Land was inexpensive, but not free. Written in the chapter by Rick, Bob “wrote letters to the editor in those days, saying, ‘Why don’t we give these new people a chance because the land’s been logged over and deserted and no one else wants it anymore except these people.'” In another chapter written by Peter, “We negotiated a very good deal, largely because of Bob’s generosity, concern, and genuine interest in having a community center and a school.”

“Smoking marijuana was as common to our lifestyle as love beads and brown rice, only more important,” writes Mary II of the early days of the SoHum marijuana economy and culture. “When pot first began to be grown for sale, we had our Jeremiahs predicting disaster from earning money in this way. The lure of being able to finish your house or replace your broken-down vehicle was just too great.” Earning an income by growing marijuana “was stronger than the will to question what we were doing to our environment by using rat poison and chemical fertilizers that washed into our creeks, … We were beginning to be more like the rest of America, staying in our comfortable houses, watching our color TVs, eating imported food, all things that we couldn’t afford before.”

Growing pot wasn’t the sole income opportunity. David, who had previously worked for the Defense Department as an electrical engineer, moved to the country to build a house and make his own electricity. David and Roger opened Alternative Energy in Briceland, selling hundreds of solar panels to the amazement of their then-supplier, Atlantic Richfield. A competitor came out to meet them, asking if they’d try his solar panels. David and Roger placed an order for 40 panels, to which the guy said that, “as long as he’d been working for that company, he’d never sold 40 panels at once.” David writes, “We have a big wholesale business now and sell solar panels around the world. We’re still selling more solar panels than anybody else.”

Whatever happened to the hippies is a question answered in Mary Siler Anderson’s book. The hippies created new communities and retained some American comforts; they both improved and damaged fish habitat: the conservationists versus the pot growers; and they continue to be active in the community as writers, watershed professionals, and caregivers.

Many still have long hair.

Buy the book.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Doc Mishler and friends

Doc Mishler last rode the coast road fifteen years ago with the two horses pictured on the right: Chief Free Spirit and Keep The Faith. At that time, Doc trotted from Montana to Washington D.C., by way of California, after surviving a cancer diagnosis and its treatment and reading the book, How Then Shall We Live, a text that weighs the question, “How shall I live, knowing I will die?”

What was then a personal journey to celebrate life after beating a terminal diagnosis is now a ride to raise our awareness of hunger, in particular regard to starving children.  Doc says, “There are children in the world who are so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of food.”

This ride is Doc’s mission. For more information about his church community, please stop him on his way south along Highway 1.

Doc can use a place to board his horses each night, so stop to offer your place when you see him.  Today he’ll depart Pescadero to travel to Santa Cruz, then on to Monterey, and then El Sur Grande, a day’s ride southbound until San Diego, where he will then head east-northeast to D.C.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

After reading Where The Road Begins, I wonder why I’ve never seen on cars of Big Sur residents’, bumper stickers protesting, “To Hell With Ansel Adams!”

The author of Where The Road Begins, Peter Gray Scott, is a resident of the Oakland Hills, born and raised in Berkeley, and educated at Stanford.  Mr. Scott is an architect who wrote this three-part book,  Where the Road Begins: The Saga of Big Sur’s Pioneer Families, and Environmentalism in America.

The first part provides the history of American settlement in Big Sur, initiated by English-American William Brainard Post and his Ohlone-Rumsen wife, Maria Anselma Onesimo.  The second part focuses on the building of the coast road through the Sur in the 1930s, and the effects once the world rushed in and “discovered” Big Sur.  The third part, with only two short chapters, is about the new people in Big Sur, “. . . who were financially secure or whose income came from somewhere else.  They may have come for the beauty of the place, but they had no essential dependence on the land.”

Mr. Scott details a “Golden Age” on the south coast of about 70 years, from the 1870s to the 1940s.  This Golden Age grew out of an American idealism of individualism, self-reliance, and the pursuit of frontier and wilderness as one’s destiny.  The early settlers considered land stewardship their obligation to community: “Protect the water supply, mitigate erosion, avoid uncontrolled fires, handle waste appropriately, tend the essential plantings, and ensure the livestock had enough to eat without destroying the pasture.”

The Golden Age was an insular time when few outsiders passed through, and those who came and went, were provided food and shelter at a ranch, so long as they worked for their supper and bed.

The highway creation itself was a State-managed project, with no environmental impact reports and no strategic planning.  Promises were made to residents of culverts and bridges, and promises were broken.  Rights of way weren’t paid to residents, yet the residents’ were paying the taxes that went to the road being dynamited through their land.

Once the highway was built, the Sur opened to the world.  With the highway construction completed, the Big Sur economy changed from a dependence on the land, to a tourism economy, now comprised of serving meals and providing lodging for the many post-World War II automobile travelers.  “The highway that brought the tourists was also the breach in the fortress-like geography that had protected Big Sur for nearly a century.  The dead-end residential road morphed into a link in the State’s transportation system.”

The obligations remain the same, though, “Protect the water supply, mitigate erosion, avoid uncontrolled fires, handle waste appropriately, tend the essential plantings, and ensure the livestock had enough to eat without destroying the pasture.”

“Save Big Sur?  From what?  For whom?”

And then came Ansel Adams.  Ansel was one of the directors of the Sierra Club in the mid-sixties when he moved to Carmel Highlands.  Ansel was never a resident of Big Sur, nor did he ever ask the opinion of any of the 800 Big Sur residents, but Ansel decided that the Sur needed saving and proposed the “Big Sur National Scenic Area.”  A National Park like Cape Cod, except that Cape Cod National Seashore, with its 40 miles of wide sandy beaches, eleven nature trails, and three acre residential lots, isn’t like Big Sur.  Imagine a one acre parking structure, built ten stories high, in Big Sur, and, if truly emulating Cape Cod National Seashore, then include picnic areas, comfort stations, shuttle buses and additional parking lots.  Also, carve out a municipal airport.  All these amenities were to accomodate an anticipated twelve million annual visitors*.

How did the Sur escape such a fate?  Buy Where The Road Begins: The Saga of Big Sur’s Pioneer Families, and Environmentalism in America.

Henry Miller Library
Nepenthe’s Phoenix Shop
Amazon

*Current estimate is about three million annual visitors.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Two Caltrans projects halt cars on Highway 1 through Big Sur.  The northern one consists of maintenance and improvements at Rocky Creek Bridge.  The southern project consists of two constructions, both well-coordinated to appear as one project; a bridge at Pitkins Curve and a rock shed at Rain Rocks.

Project #1 – Rocky Creek Bridge

Along the northern Big Sur coast, about a 1/2 hour south of Carmel, automobiles and bicycles are controlled, by stoplight, to one-way passing on the northern and southern approaches to Rocky Creek Bridge.  You’ll wait only a few minutes at the light while the opposing traffic clears, then be allowed to pass through.  The Rocky Creek Bridge job isn’t listed (as of today) on CalTrans Road Conditions, but its roadwork is mentioned in a February 2012, District 5 Status of Projects.  CalTrans is stabilizing the roadway, widening the shoulders, upgrading guardrails, and installing a retaining wall.  Judging by the multiple scaffolds, it appears that the bridge, built in 1932, is undergoing a multi-point inspection.

Projects #2 & #3 – Pitkins Curve Bridge and Rain Rocks Rock Shed

You’ll wait about ten minutes at the site of Pitkins Curve and Rain Rocks, along the southern coast of Big Sur near Lucia.  You can shut off your engine and relax, while listening to ocean breezes through your car’s open windows.  Rain Rocks Rock Shed and Pitkins Curve Bridge is listed on CalTrans Road Conditions, but without any description of how amazing is this two-in-one project.  Pitkins Bridge and Rain Rocks Rock Shed perch atop the shifting scree of greywacke within the narrowest construction jobsite ever visited.  Steel netting is draped over the rockface to contain ceaseless falling rocks.  The netting was initially draped with helicopter assistance, then climbers fasten it tightly in place.  The rock shed will allow for cars and bicyclists to safely travel this passage and the bridge will connect the rock shed to the northern roadbed.

 

Slow for the Cone Zone.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

While Holly’s Honey Wheat Berry Bread dough rises in my warm kitchen, let me tell you of a good book about the California coast which provides three things: Intimate Authenticity of the place, a History about how and why people settled at that location, and snippets of Experiences with the Coast Road.  My Nepenthe, by Romney Steele, also forks out exceptional recipes from the restaurant’s kitchen.

My Nepenthe is a cookbook memoir written by Bill and Lolly’s granddaughter, Romney Steele, who menu planned, cooked, and served at Nepenthe’s Cafe Kevah.  Romney’s family harkens to old California, back to the second-half of the 1800s, when her great-great grandfather, Albert Gallatin, built the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento.  Romney’s great-grandmother, Jane Gallatin Powers, grew up in the mansion, and then married San Francisco attorney, Frank Hubbard Powers.  Frank and Jane established the artists’ colony at Carmel-by-the-Sea and invited artists and writers to reside there to paint and write.

In 1949, Frank and Jane’s granddaughter, Lolly, together with her husband Bill Fassett, created Nepenthe atop a projection of Big Sur’s steep land, situated a few hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean.  Bill and Lolly commissioned Rowen Maiden, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, to develop their plans.  Romney writes, “My grandmother imagined an open-air pavilion for good food, dancing, and Sunday afternoon concerts, a place for people to come and forget their worldly cares.  She worked closely with Maiden to achieve her ideas.”

Nepenthe functioned as both home and restaurant.  “Bats and termites called the cabin home when they (Bill and Lolly) first saw it, and deer and rattlesnakes hovered.  My grandmother planted a grapevine that continues to trail up the front arbor.  My grandfather took jobs in the highway and in construction. The creation of Nepenthe Restaurant, a poet’s paradise carved from the hillside and formed to be one with land and sea, would follow.”

You read My Nepenthe two ways:  As a memoir, enjoying family photographs of good times and gorgeous meals at the restaurant, and also as a cookbook, by following its delicious recipes at your home.

As a memoir, My Nepenthe tells us of Big Sur through the lenses of each decade:

  • In the 1950s, “With a newly-minted highway and recovering economy, and Henry’s (Henry Miller) emerging fame after the ban on his Tropic books lifted, people flocked to Big Sur and hence, to Nepenthe.”
  • “The vigor of the ’60s brought a surge of interest in the coastal hamlet of Big Sur.  Hearst Castle in Cambria opened in 1959, bringing tourists from the south, and in 1962, the Esalen Institute opened its doors to the Human Potential Movement, drawing its own illustrious crowd.”
  • The Nepenthe Cheeseboard and the Vegetarian Chef Salad appeared on Nepenthe’s menu in the ’70s.  “The minute a waiter carried it (the Cheeseboard with generous hunks of cheese, fat slices of dark black bread, and fruit served on a board and accompanied by a glass of port) out to a table, surrounding tables asked for it too.”

After reading the book as a memoir, a memoir of Big Sur’s changes, a memoir of the restaurant Nepenthe, and a family memoir, you too will be inspired to cook.  My kitchen smells heavenly when making both, “Day At The Beach Minestrone Soup” and “Holly’s Honey Wheat Berry Bread.”

The Nepenthe telephone booth’s history is noted in My Nepenthe.  Lolly worried that they would be burdened with constantly answering the phone, “Everybody will call call to see if there was fog or not.”

Buy My Nepenthe.

 

 

This post written by Anneliese Agren

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Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
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