The women who helped to settle the wild coastline that hugs the Santa Lucia Mountains in Monterey County, California came from many different backgrounds. They trickled in over the course of different eras, but were all bound by a love of the pounding surf swirling upon ancient beaches and a feral land that refused to be tamed.
Few of these pioneer women became well known in their own lifetime, but none-the-less, they devoted their energies and passion to carving out a life in tune with nature.
Some of their names, like Judith Goodman, roll easily off the tongue while others highlight the differences in ethnicities among them; Grace Boronda, Elfrieda Hayes, Juliet Pfeifer, Mary White, Lillian Ross, Melissa Blake, Pat Addleman, Lynda Sargent, Virginia Swanson, Rosa Nash, Eve Miller, Theodora Crowley, Esther Ewoldsen, Barbara Spring, Lulu Harlan, and many others. They all came, I suppose, to the rocky coast of Big Sur for personal reasons. Some came seeking solitude. Others wanted balance, or to commune with nature. Perhaps some even wanted to escape the mad pace of urban civilization.
A handful arrived around the turn of the twentieth century seeking adventure, while others were born in the nearby canyons simply seeking survival in a harsh and unforgiving environment. As adults, they all earned their keep with a variety of endeavors from farming to mining, teaching to ranching to running rural resorts. Several were artists and writers. One or two came as spinsters, but settled and married into local families. A few came with husbands in tow on vacation, but then stayed on. More than one chose to retain a single life amidst spectacular surroundings.
Access today via Highway 1, which winds its way north up the coast from San Louis Obispo to Monterrey, was not available prior to 1937. Back then transportation along Big Sur was mainly via horseback or in sturdy wagons bumping along ancient trails. The early pioneers who came, stayed in spite of a lack of modern roads, grocery stores, or conveniences. Children often had to ride horseback three miles to get to the local one-room school. It was not a life for the faint of heart.
But if you read any of their journal entries or snippets of interviews that were conducted, you will quickly see that each of the women had a profound reverence for the simplicity of life that Big Sur offered and perhaps expected. They swept invading tarantulas off their porches and rationed water during dry spells, accepting the arduous living that relevant solitude exacts in exchange for blissful peace and quiet.
Today the modern tourist may stop near Big Sur for lunch at the lovely Nepenthe Restaurant or to browse in a small quaint gift shop along the coast, never suspecting that it took a corps of special people – both men and women – to forge a life protecting this wilderness, so that even today the majestic views remain unspoiled.
Of all the women of Big Sur, Judith Goodman deserves extra applause. It was Judith who in the 1980s set about compiling the narratives of the strong women pioneers whose names might otherwise become lost to time. Her book containing the fascinating narratives is titled Big Sur Women, available at http://www.amazon.com.
Thanks to my awesome brother, Randy Harris, who sent me Judith’s book, knowing how much I loved visiting Big Sur and reading about the strong women who settled it.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
~ Lao Tzu
From Pearls of Wisdom, compiled by Keith Adams at http://www.amazon.com.
As always, thank you to Dixiane Hallaj, my wonderful proof reader and fellow writer.