Friday, April 14, 2017

Big Sur usually can’t keep people away. Right now, it’s practically deserted.

[Washington Post] The first thing you notice is the silence, punctured by birdcalls and the far-off roar of water moving through canyons.
You usually can’t hear these sounds, drowned out as they are by the 2 million tourists who flock here annually just to drive Highway 1, the route that cuts through Big Sur on California’s scenic Central Coast. But today the tourists are gone and Highway 1 is car-free, home instead to pickup basketball games, mothers pushing strollers, and skateboarders whizzing by at speeds approaching the 45 mph limit.
The “island” of Big Sur — for that’s what this iconic stretch of coastline has become — is entering its ninth week of nearly total isolation, thanks to punishing winter storms, landslides and a failed bridge. The rain ended California’s five-year drought, but it left 45 miles of Highway 1 cut off from the rest of California, with few services for the 450 men, women and children who live here. That means no mail delivery, a limited supply of gasoline, and a single deli where you can buy eggs. Even the resident monks have been forced to pass around the modern-day collection plate known as GoFundMe to help repair the road leading to their monastery.
“To have your habits cut off so suddenly. . . . There’s a nightmarish aspect to it,” says Peter Marshall, a gardener who has lived here 33 years.
Legendary restaurants and businesses have been temporarily shuttered and the majority of their staffs laid off. Workers are dipping into 401(k) accounts just to pay their rent. Esalen Institute, that crucible of personal transformation, is raising emergency relief funds to “help weather the storm.” For the time being, the only way in and out is a grueling hike, a pricey helicopter ride or an otherwise closed road to the south that is accessible briefly in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Yet it’s springtime and the California sun has re-emerged. The mountains are at their most verdant in recent memory, their slopes splashed with yellow poppies. Wild turkeys strut across the highway, and casual neighbors embrace at chance meetings, eager to recount their sightings of foxes, owls or a bald eagle on a turnout.
“It’s so stunningly beautiful and peaceful, like a real Shangri-La,” marvels Erin Lee Gafill, an artist and teacher who was born and raised here. “Every day there’s nowhere else I want to be. But then I’m constantly checking to see when the road is going to open.” Read More