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Big Sur Homestead Revisited

In 1967 I built a house in Big Sur. It was a rudimentary homestead. I tapped into a spring 600 feet up the mountain for water and cleared and terraced an acre or so of the hillside for farming. The house was built out of large (double-track) railroad ties for posts and recycled 30' long fir 2 x 14's (from Cleveland Wreckers)for beams and floor girders. The roof deck and the floor were 2x8" local tongue-and-groove Monterey Pine; the wall sheathing was lumber from a farm labor camp I tore down in Salinas. I made the wall shakes from a deadfall redwood I found in a nearby canyon. Used windows from chicken coops. It was what would now be called "green building." It took me about a year to build the house. Within 2 years, I left Big Sur for a variety of reasons, and had only been back down there a few times in the ensuing 40 years.
The Big Sur Historical Society invited me down to do a talk on building the house and so last week I went found myself in the deja vu zone. The weather was great and as I rounded a bend just south of Carmel and saw the first massive hills of Big Sur I got a jolt in the solar plexus: I fall in love with places and Big Sur was one of my great loves.

The beautiful Bixby bridge, built in 1931


Japanese girls at the bridge


I first went to Big Sur to build a large house on a ranch in 1966 (before building my own place), and I went back to look at this place:

The house was built from redwood bridge timbers and pretty complex in the foundation and framing work. It took 3 of us almost a year to get it framed.


This wonderful pool has been in the canyon below my house for some 50 years. There's no chlorine, it's kept fresh by constantly-flowing creek water. Each night after I'd finish working on my house I'd go down there, bow to the redwoods and then the 4 corners, and dive in. On this trip I went swimming in it 4 times. Wonderful with no chlorine.


My house is now owned by Barbara Spring, a well-known sculptor. Barbara, 90 years old and still sculpting her figures (with an electric chain saw), loves the house. Click here to see some of Barbara's sculptures
Her caretaker, Ehren Woyt, keeps the pool and grounds in beautiful condition.

In the 40 years since building the house, I've photographed countless skilled carpenters and builders, making me realize how crude was my workmanship here. But what took me by surprise was the soulfullness of the place, still intact, kept alive by Barbara and her family.


Table I built out of horse stable girders with two chunks of a bridge timber for legs, still in use.


Weathered railroad ties for framing


After going swimming and then dinner on Monday night, I sneaked into nearby Esalen Hot Springs to soak in the baths. It was pitch black and after getting into the grounds I had to rely on memory to make my way to the baths, going down dark paths and crossing creeks. avoiding Esalen officials. I made it and soaked in the magic waters, looking out at Scorpius rising, its long curved tail extending down to the horizon. Oh yeah!
The next day about 40 people showed up at the house and I told them about building it, and what was going on in the counterculture in those days. The next day I headed home, stopping to jump in the ocean in Carmel, then the 17th Avenue cove in Santa Cruz, then finally ducked under "my" waterfall on Mt. Tamalpais on the way over the mountain to home.

Paul Hawken's New Book, Blessed Unrest

Last month Paul Hawken published a stunning book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. In one of Stewart Brand's SALT Seminars, Hawken gave a talk last Friday to a packed house in San Francisco. Hawken started Erewhon Trading Company in the '60s, supplying organic products from sustainable farming (boy, how long did it take for that principle to sink in?), and in the late '70s, Smith and Hawken, purveyors of high-quality English gardening tools. He's written a number of books, been consultant to numerous companies and groups, and been on a lecture circuit non-stop. Wikepedia on Hawken
He says people from environmental and "green" groups started coming up to him after lectures and giving him cards, and after 1000 lectures he had so many cards (7000) he started assembling a data base. What struck him, and what will strike you, was the sheer number of organizations around the world now dedicated to healing and restoring the earth.

"I have come to these conclusions: this is the largest social movement in all of human history. No one knows its scope, and how it functions is more mysterious than what meets the eye."

It is under the collective radar, he says, because although it's a movement, there is no leader. And it's not so much a movement gaining power as it is a movement permeating society — from the ground up. He has 105,000 organizations listed and estimates there are over a million such organizations worldwide.
What hit me so strongly about this is how many of the principles that were espoused and embraced in the cultural revolution 40 years ago are now manifesting in these organizations that are springing up organically in response to the current threats to life as we know it on this planet.

In a poetic touch, Hawken likens the proliferation of these groups in response to today's earth-threatening realities to the body's immune system when it mobilizes to fight off life-threatening disease. Wow!