No, author Henry Miller didn't ever live there, but he did live in Big Sur starting in 1944 on high hill known as Partington Ridge. The house/memorial space belongs to painter of little renown, Emil White, who was a longtime friend of Miller. In fact, Miller dedicated his book, "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch," to White. After Miller's death in 1980, White turned his home and surrounding land into a kind of museum/performing/visual arts/ shrine space in the middle of a clump of redwoods. Everyone from Marianne Faithfull to Edward Sharpe has performed on that lawn and makeshift stage. I felt right at home there. Books and music. And giant towering trees to remember how small I am.
On this, Day Two of my two stolen days after dealing with my mother's end-of-life issues, I was blessed with perfect weather. A foggy start to the morning, a burn off around noon, and then so much open expanse of bright blue water and bright blue sky, you weren't certain where the water ended and the sky began.
I drove down the road a ways to Andrew Molera State Park and learned if I rolled up my pant legs and took off my shoes and crossed the river, I could walk down to a beach. Since most of the coastline is filled with cliffs, I figured this was worth the adventure. And it was. After maybe about a mile of up and down, I was finally on the rocky and sandy shore. There were driftwood logs hollowed out by the waves and decay, and giant rocks to climb and rest on; a few to pick up and just touch. There was one small flat piece of granite, mostly white, and it looked like a lopsided heart. It had a smooth, dented spot in the middle like someone had been worrying that place over and over again. I picked it up and slipped it in my pocket.
When I was pulling out of the parking lot and thanking the ranger for the suggested hike, I pulled out my rock and made a confession: I had taken it from the beach. "We usually say nothing leaves here," he said, "but because you asked I think should you have it." It is on my bedside table as I write this.
I was hungry and I drove back down the coast and saw a place that sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean with a roomy parking lot off the road. I had no idea I was headed to the iconic Nepenthe Restaurant. Nepenthe is the Greek word meaning "a drug of forgetfulness," a medicine for sorrow. It seemed made to order.
The view is one you might have seen in any number of movies that have been filmed there. A tiny cabin has been incorporated into the larger space built in the '40s. The tiny cabin once belonged to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Rita Hayworth died from Alzheimer's and her daughter did much to bring attention to the then-little-understood disease. That same daughter, Yasmin, bought a plaque for a seat in the Eccles Center where I work, in memory of her mother. The connections were dizzying, or maybe it was my lack of food.
I was seated right away in the outdoor top of the cliff space where there is a bit of a horseshoe effect and you can see around and down the coast. The food was fine, the service great and the atmosphere in the space, designed by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, was iconic. And quirky. I learned from the waiter the place has a wacky Greek family bohemian history that included illustrious guests and wild celebrations.
Downstairs was the most perfect store filled with books and stationery and bed linens and jewelry and baby gifts and clothes and candles and purses and kids' toys.
Then back down the coast to Julia Pfeiffer State Park and the waterfall that lands in the ocean right there, on the beach. You wander through tall, old, deeply soothing, scented eucalyptus trees to reach the viewing area. When I returned to the car, I realized I was tired, so back to the perfect lodging that was part hotel, part cabin, part tree house. Later there would be a walk through the woods to dinner and the sun that set right there, right in front of me, right into the blue, blue ocean.
In the morning I woke, sad to be leaving but determined to walk through the woods again and linger, watching the ocean from my seat outdoors, right at the edge, overlooking the vast blue water. And separating me from the cliff was a magnificent hedge of flowering rosemary and lavender somehow woven together.
Rosemary, I sighed to no one. Somewhere in Shakespeare, maybe in Hamlet, there is line about "rosemary is for remembrance." Which my mother has lost.
My mother taught me to love the ocean. "Talk to the ocean," she would say. "Let it talk back to you." And so I did. And I remembered. And I carried that good memory and that beautiful rock back home, where I am so grateful to spend most Sundays in the Park.
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.