Jay Meehan: The birthday girl
“You don’t miss your water ‘till your well runs dry.”
~ William Bell
At the onset of our first summer after “making it legal” on the altar and all, we attached additional days to a long weekend and lit out to one of our favorite haunts to celebrate the wife’s birthday. Only a few of hours up the coast, Big Sur had long suited our camping “jones” perfectly.
This wasn’t our first light-tackle rodeo by any stretch. During our past three years of cohabitation, we had set out with tent and cooler for parts unknown on a semi-regular basis. We pretty much had it down.
To a passerby, our individual skillsets were obvious. Virg, of course, was the chief cook while I was the bottle-washer-at-large. I would set up camp while she set up the kitchen. Other males of the species from neighboring campsites would gaze longingly at our plates and then back at their own during mealtime. Presentation is everything.
So on this one morning as every sense in our bodies greeted the southern California dawn with anticipation, we headed out down the walkway from our steep hillside digs in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles toward our already stuffed to the gunnels VW Bug.
Being 6-minutes by the quaint and somewhat archaic Pasadena Freeway from downtown L.A. and my job in Chinatown, it’s not like we didn’t live in an urban setting. It’s just that the thick overgrowth in the area had a way of isolating, visually, one resident from another. Whatever privacy you required came with the territory.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self Realization Fellowship hovered on an astral plane all its own not far up the road from us but like everything else on Mount Washington it pretty much kept it’s own counsel.
So off we ambled through the intoxicating aromas of our stand of Night Blooming Jasmine toward what we knew from experience would be an equally stunning bouquet at the confluence of ocean and old-growth coastal conifers.
This was back before climate change had had its way with Big Sur, prior to wildfires and, subsequently, mudslides messing with the sacred grandeur of the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. Back when you could still pick up a phone at the last minute and secure your favorite campsite at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
And, for us, that was always No. 218 at the very back of the campground loop. In that it marked the trailhead to some of the cooler hikes, you traded solitude in for keeping your finger on the pulse of the camping community. I can’t imagine any of this remaining, as the archaeologists say, “in situ.” It’s been nearly 50 years and things change over time.
Now, for instance, many of the gentler slopes on the eastern aspect currently play host to rolling vineyards of top-shelf Pinot Noir grapes. Not much is really beyond the reach of “gentrification” these days. Good though!
Back then the State Park lent itself quite easily to meandering as an art form. We would check destinations at the door and, by placing one foot in front of the other, interact along the Big Sur River with the oaks and sycamores, bobcats and black-tail deer and, on a good day, maybe even a belted kingfisher or two.
Some days, as on her birthday that year, we would escape the Park entirely and enter into what Henry Miller referred to as the “grandeur and eloquent silence” of the place. A paperback of Miller’s “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch” made that trip in a bottom of a rucksack.
It was on just such a meander somewhere down the coast that we toted some wine and cheese a short ways up a trail from a wide spot on Highway 1. And it would be there along that gorgeous coastline that the subject of leaving L.A. for a season of skiing first raised its head. Jackson Hole sat comfortably in our crosshairs.
Well, as Robert Burns once muttered: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley,” or some such thing. So we hauled our worldly goods back to join friends and family in the hills of Utah. That first summer in Park City set the hook.
Got some wine and cheese stashed for your next birthday this coming Tuesday, Virg. RIP, sweet thing! Thanks for the memories! You are loved by all!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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