Several years ago, I managed projects and designed hardscapes for a landscape company involved in native plant restoration for private residences along the Big Sur Coast*. Most of the homes were on the ocean side of Highway 1. The properties often ran to the very edge of the cliff and had no fencing to prevent people from accidentally falling the hundred feet or so to the rocks and water below. The absence of any type of railing did insure that there was a spectacular, unencumbered view of the Pacific Ocean and the scenic rocky coastline that this stretch of land is so famous for. The houses were cleverly designed and built to integrate with the environment in such a way that they were virtually invisible from the highway above. This was often a reflection of the homeowner’s ferocious desire for privacy and anonymity. In one case, we were actually required to sign documents swearing to never divulge the location or the nature of our activities.
As most of these projects were fairly extensive, I would stay on site during the week with the crew, camped out in backpacking tents. The workers were predominantly Hispanic and they got a kick out of how I looked like one of them, but was actually from Thailand. I pointed out that there was a good chance we were all related, as their ancestors had most likely come across the Bering Straits from Central Asia and my ancestors migrated to their present location from that area as well. We had a good laugh with the idea that a few of us waited several thousand years so we could fly here in a plane.
During the day, I usually worked in silence, focusing on my tasks of boulder setting and stone staircase building. Every so often I would stop to admire the amazing view. I had a couple of assistants to help me with moving the larger, heavier boulders. I often imagine stone placement a bit like looking through a telescope, moving them a bit in one direction, then another, changing the spacing a little bit one way, then back again. When the stones are in the right positions with one another, they present a sharp, crystal clear image.
One of the more beautiful sites we had the pleasure of working at was a small windswept promontory, dotted with large, old, Monterey Cypress. The property was flanked on one side by a swift running stream. A dense, lush forest surrounded the back and a faint, narrow trail led down the steep, vertical cliff to a small, rocky beach by the ocean. There was an unusually tall, abstract water sculpture set near the cliff, that even after studying art in school for over 4 years, the only words I can think of to describe this piece is ‘far out’. The fact that condors came to drink out of it was even more far out. There were several modest, yet well-constructed buildings on the property with windows facing the ocean. Sparsely furnished, they nurtured the concept of 'What more would you need in a place like this other than a contemplative mind?'
Of course, what really made this site so special and even sacred was the rich black soil filled with shell fragments. This land was a midden, a place where the original people had lived. We also found a small stone mortar and pestle. We passed it around, admired it and returned it to the ground where it was first found. In the evening we sat and stared out to sea. It was obvious the ancients had chosen wisely.
“I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.”~ Andy Warhol
*A 90 mile stretch of coastline in Central California, starting from the Carmel River and extending a little south of Lucia.