Henry Miller’s “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch” is the quintessential love-letter to Big Sur.
The book is replete with countless gorgeous passages speaking to the area’s natural beauty and the wonderful people who lived here back in the salad days of the 40s and 50s.
Here’s Henry, upon first setting eyes on Big Sur:
“When I first beheld this wonderous region I thought to myself — “Here I will find peace. Here I shall find the strength to do the work I was made to do.”
Further — and this, I believe, is the most succinct and accurate approximation of Big Sur I’ve yet to come across — he describes the area’s “magnetic, healing ambiance.”
He also talks about the concept of the “last invader,” the idea that those living in Big Sur at the time represented the last wave of settlers to the reason. Echoing a distinctly American strain, Miller alludes to the prelapsarian impulse encoded in our DNA, the idea that we must preserve this peace and solitude at all costs and not let anyone else in to ruin it. (Ed: no one bothered to ask the Native Americans about their opinion on this.)
Our point? Miller’s ability to encapsulate the essence of the area cannot be surpassed. His ability at predicting the future, however, leave a bit to be desired.
Towards the end of “Oranges” — on page 403, to be exact — he talks about how he gazes out into Big Sur’s barren, rolling hills and valleys and envisions…Greece, noting:
“I sometimes think how wonderful will be the day when all these mountain sides are filled with habitations, when the slopes are terraced with fields, when flowers bursts forth everywhere [Ed: no word on if he envisioned an “In n’ Out”]…
“I picture….colossal stairways curving down to the sea where boats lie at anchor….I hear laughter like pealing rapids, rising from thousands of jubilant throats.
“I can visualized multitudes living where now there are only a few scattered families. There is room here for thousands upon thousands to come. It could happen, in fact, in a very few years from now. What we dream is the reality of tomorrow [Ed. This is not true. A dream is just a dream.]
We could go on, but you get the point. We love Henry for his boisterous irrepressible spirit and frquent forays into optimistic thinking, but while he may have been a Bohemian/Metaphysicalist/etc. bar none, he, alas, wasn’t a geologist.
In fact, by the time you finishing reading this blog, Bixby Bridge will have sunk 18.5 feet into the hillside. JK y’all.
In closing, fifty years on, Miller’s vision of a crowded, bustling Mediterranean Eden have yet to come to past. Mother Nature had the last word. Simply put, given the region’s rugged landscape, further development is, geologically speaking, impossible. (This is lamentable because the In n’ Out in Seaside isn’t set to open until November at the earliest.)
Well! Looks like we’ll just have to settle for a still-relatively-under-developed, but nonetheless-increasingly-crowded Eden for the time being!