Last night the local bagpipe and drum core that practices in
the nearby synagogue’s parking lot moaned its way toward “She’s a Grand Ol’
Flag” and I knew it was July. Their rendition, beautiful in its own stolid and
mournful way, wafted through the twilight, not quite how bands typically
capture the tune, but one feels like marching all the same. This one does,
anyway. I do love a parade.
I live, write, and teach here in the Silicon Valley,
formerly known as the Valley of Hearts Delight in another kind of era when a
nearby town was prune capital of the world. I also edit the DMQ Review, a
journal of poetry and art, along with an editorial team of terrific poets from
all over the country.
Here in northern California, the recent fires indeed seem under control, at least from my vantage point. A morning fog still masks the traces of smoke that lingered last night, but the color isn’t quite right. While the fires threaten thousands of acres of forest and thousands of homes and lives, it’s the Big Sur, or “Basin Complex Fire,” that particularly caught my concern, and it is Big Sur that in many ways typifies much of northern California’s stereotypes.
From redwood forest to cliffs that break off right into the sea, Big Sur not only overwhelms with its natural beauty and drama but has sheltered enclaves of artists, writers and musicians. Henry Miller lived and wrote there. Jack London, John Steinbeck and Robinson Jeffers hung out regularly. The human potential movement flourished at the Esalen retreat center where clothing optional hot tubs sit on cliffs right above the surf. The center continues to offer courses in writing, art, meditation, dance, psychology in arguably one of the most beautiful sites in the world. You bet I go there. The Sandpipers, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was filmed at nearby Nepenthe, renowned bohemian café that still serves its fabulous Ambrosia Burger. Hot tubs, redwoods, the spectacular sea, hippies and a kick-back attitude, that’s what comes to mind when you think of this part of the world, right?
Just don’t forget the silicon, bagpipes and synagogues.