Unprecedented Beauty

Monday, April 4, 2022

Part 6 of a photo series on life after 2020. I would not have found the time or effort to learn to camp if all other travel hadn’t been canceled.

I was urgently motivated to feel less trapped, the key word being feel. I read about these uncertain, trying times and tried to figure out how such unprecedented times could be unprecedented anymore after weeks and months of the exact same thing.

The precedent was yesterday.

I bought a used tent along with a discounted sleeping pad and sleeping bag, then borrowed a headlamp and a tiny stove that looked like a jet-engine space lander.

I perfected the art of booking on the California Parks and National Parks reservations systems, which involved setting earlier and earlier alarms and trying to stay awake next to a computer trackpad until a campsite released new dates.

The drive south over Bixby Bridge, past Carmel and Monterey, swings your car far out over the curves and folds of Highway 1. But for a long time, the highway was closed off, and I drove all the way around the Big Sur mountains, adding an extra couple of hours to reach my campsite.

One of the wildfires had rushed all the way down the hills to the Pacific Ocean and the coast seemed liable to crumble if tested. But I would not cancel, because I needed that buzz of freedom.

When I returned after the highway reopened, I was amazed to see the proud fronds of pampas grass spread thickly across the cliffs.

Their plumes stood six or seven feet tall, feathery stalks nodding elegantly with the whiff of expensive interior design. When the wind stirred, they rustled quietly above the road.

They seemed to doff their feathery caps and welcome us in.

I found out later that the pampas are an invasive species run wild. They are extremely flammable, while remaining difficult to remove by burning.

The edges of their leaves and stalks are sharp.

But that’s not to say they aren’t worth seeing, because they are one of the most beautiful things I saw while camping for the first season.

Unprecedented beauty, for today at least.