Big Sur, Henry Miller, Mountain lions and a bust on the beach

Big Sur, Henry Miller, Mountain lions and a bust on the beach


Henry Miller is one of my heroes. He was one of the first contemporary writers for me. Like Jack Kerouac he told the stories of real life with nothing held back, with complete honesty, in streams of consciousness and descriptive passages that I would love to be able to write. He lived a life of bohemian wildness and artistic creativity that seemed to shriek to me of real life.

Henry roamed the streets of Paris and wrote about his life.

I wanted to live a life like that and see all the hues of the world, feel all the pain and ecstasy and be free.

So it was incredible to be dropped off on the coast road at Big Sur and stand in a place that I knew Henry had stood in before. To gaze out over the sea and look up at those sun baked mountains with their scorched shrubs and eagles circling above.

I was breathing the same air as Henry.

We shouldered our pack and set off down the long windy dirt road, laughing and talking. It was all downhill and we set a lazy pace. There was no need to rush.

By the time we reached the beach the sun was setting.

We joined a line of young long-hairs sitting in the sand watching that orange globe slowly slide down the sky.

There was a huge rock in the bay with a hole straight through it. The waves crashed into it and sprayed up in the air. They roared through the hole tht had been eroded through the middle and roared out of the other side.

The low sun had turned the sand to a ruddy orange so that the ripples shone with a yellow line and blue shadows. The sea was transformed to purple and mauve and the spray which leapt up around the rock glistened in sparkles of crimson and crystal blue. It was so vivid and alive that it seemed unreal, like a Dali painting full of living rocks or an impressionist masterpiece built up of strokes of all hues.

As the sun got lower it turned crimson and the sea deepened with the foam creating lines of white and blue.

When it was finally over it felt as if we had witnessed some great mystical event that had bound us together and enriched our spirits.

Soon there a campfire, food drink and jays passing round. Someone had a guitar and everyone was talking and laughing.

Then the cops came down. They broke up the party, put out the fire and carted us back up the three miles to the main road where they dumped us.

We got our sleeping bags back out and lay there talking and looking up at that heavenly dynamo above us. It was one of those clear nights in the mountains where the stars covered every centimeter of sky like someone had thrown a sack of salt over a black velvet cloth.

Jack knew a lot about the heavens and pointed out the constellations. We could see all the shapes as he told us the stories. Around us the mountain lions were roaring. They seemed to be right next to us which was more than a bit scary but Jack assured us that they were far off in the mountains and wouldn’t trouble us.

We came from England where the worst the wild-life could do to you was for you to stub your toe on a hedgehog.

We tried to get some sleep but later on the wind got up and huge gusts threatened to blow us off the mountain.

By morning we were ready to move.

We had trouble getting lifts. Nobody would pick up the three of us. In the end we decided it was best to split up and Jack got a lift leaving us with a scrap of paper with an address on.

We’d been here before.


18 thoughts on “Big Sur, Henry Miller, Mountain lions and a bust on the beach

  1. By that description you can only have been on Pfeiffer beach. Everybody has been there. It is however nothing like 3 miles from the main road, and maybe half a mile.
    I live just up the road in Sausalito and have been there hundreds of times.

    1. It was Pfeiffer State Beach and it sure felt like three miles when we were hiking down with our packs that hot summer day. But I’ll take your word for it. I remember it as a long, dusty untarmaced dirt road. But the walk was certainly worth it.

      1. But without the ‘State’ bit. You’re thinking of the two nearby State Parks, with
        the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park which is 12 miles south of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
        The Pfeiffer beach is part of Los Padres National Forest. Open for day use only and always has been for as long as I can remember which is why you were thrown off it. No evening/night time partying allowed. And if it were it would be crawling with Hells Angels. Their absence should have informed you of something.

      2. I was a traveller – it informed me of nothing. I was just passing through, meeting people, making friends, digging the scene and having a good time.

  2. That was your failing as you probably weren’t well enough informed. Anybody traveling California back then was mostly aware of where to go and where not to go. Pfeiffer beach at night was one of these places and had they felt like it the cops could have fitted you up just as they did to hundreds and hundreds of people back then. The Angels were in full force back then and people such as you were part of their target market – they’d rob you clean in seconds and maybe even with a busted head just for good measure. In retrospect you should have been informed. That Californian freedom vibe was busted with Manson and his family gathering and the big changes in police activities. When the Californian pop music scene collapsed in 1970, these cops were no longer friendly. Nothing was friendly anymore. Even Bill got outta there in 71.

    1. Well my San Franciscan friends were certainly friendly and I had a great time in both SF and LA – Venice Beach. It was my SF friend who we were hitching with who got us dropped off at Pfeiffer and he obviously thought it would be great – and it was. The people we met there were a great bunch. It was brilliant up until we got bust. Those cops weren’t too bad either. They didn’t come down heavy on us. It was more the camp-fire than anything else. They could have bust us for dope but didn’t. They just rounded us up and dumped us back on the highway. No rough stuff or nastiness. Never saw a whiff of any Hell’s Angels when we were hitching. Apart from nearly being killed we never had too much trouble anywhere – apart from Texas. I guess we were lucky.

      1. Hey man. Relax. You don’t need to explain anything to me about anything. I’m Californian and always have been – unless you garnered no information at all from my other comments.
        Had you been at any Fillmore West or Winterland gigs, then you would have seen the Angels in their droves. Man, you’d have seen them alright.
        You just must have been hitching at different times to Angel-hours. They don’t do daylight time too much as you sure would not be hitching at night, right?
        I know your script man, as I wrote it! I met more of you types of people than could fill Candlestick Park.

  3. No I did not hitch at night.
    The only California gig I have ever caught – apart from friends jamming – was the New Bill Graham Auditorium in SF where I caught Furthur (GD) in December 2011. I have that gig on CD – which amazingly I purchased on the night from the band after the gig. That gig was full of freaks and not an Angel in sight.

    1. Fer chrisakes man – were’s talking 1971 not 2011!
      Are you putting me on or what?
      You wouldn’t ever see an Angel at a corporate venue that sucks like that ever!
      That band Further was crumby, some sort of dead wood ex-Dead reheat off-shoot. Total shit. Total Corporate. Totally never an Angels band. The Dead were never an Angels band – too slow, not nearly enough rock ‘n roll for Angel’s tastes.
      You’ve got the entirely wrong picture of the scene. You obviously have no ideas to the activities of the Angels these days or at least the past twenty-five years. Stuff has changed a lot.

      CD’s of shows for sale straight after the gig have been available since 2006, man!
      So why is that amazing in 2011?
      The first band to do it was Hellwood – that’s Johnny Dowd and Jim White’s band.

      1. Here’s a repost, but I wrote this ode to Henry about ten years ago. Someone recently asked me how I started to write, and I thought of Henry Miller whose writings (about writing and himself, well mostly about himself) made me want to tell my story too.
I wrote a poem to Henry several years ago which I posted early on. So I’ll re-post it now and wish everyone a happy weekend.
A Song to Henry Miller

A song to Henry Miller
To setting out on the road
To the spirit in the glass
And to the hand that raises it
To the future shining
Like the light of the sun upon us
To the days gone by
To their continuation
In us and all of ours
And the days go on
The years they pass by
And the end is nearing
Yet it is not
So raise your glass again
To setting out on the road
To setting out on the light.

      2. Bumba – thank you for sharing that! I’ll certainly drink to Henry Miller – a pioneer in writing and the modern form, a precursor of Kerouac and Beat. I’ll raise a glass to that!

  4. What a lovely description of seeing that glorious sun set on Big Sur, likening it to a Dali painting. I, too, love Henry Miller’s writings. I’d have to say my favorite books of his are “Big Sur & The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch” and “Black Spring”. Miller and Kerouac are absolute inspirations!

  5. Really cannot agree with the comment about English wildlife and the worst that can happen is to stub your toe on a hedgehog. Seems to me somebody has never been bitten by an Adder snake. Tell me about that if you can.

    1. Well there was a little poetic licence in the writing. Not everything is to be taken quite so literally. However the adder, while considered venomous, is not really greatly venomous. You only have a problem if you are allergic so it is not a huge threat. More people die from bee stings, I understand.

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