The trek down towards Highway 1 requires one to don extra layers of clothes for the part of the drive near the sea at the lower altitude in the cold clammy fog. All these layers of clothes would be shed again as you climb up again, zig zag through the sage and lilac stands and past the top of the redwoods and on through the oak and into the high coastal Sierra pines. It takes a whole day even if all things go right.
We had been starved for company the past winter months. So, the fun, the contacts, potential trade, and the opportunity for a social gathering all were worth the preparations for at least one overnight away from our goats and gardens. Like going on holiday.
We could hear the sound of drums. There at the end of a long journey through the trees we could see humans gathered. The beat of the drumming became louder. Drumming was the medium for social exchange in this society. They were playing close to full power by the time we got there. I unpack food to share, arrange my layers of long skirts and head to the dance floor.
I wore a russet print skirt in three tiers of flounce and underneath emerald green gauze petticoats with more flounce. I took off my deep green thick wool overcoat and show off an emerald gauze top with long sleeves and clever layers concealing everything quite modestly. Men drum, women dance or play flute. The musicians nod welcome and show encouragement and I am in the rhythm quickly. I move with all the range of motion my daily yoga practice gives. Chopping wood and carrying water also make a body fit.
There was no electricity, no cd's, no amplifiers or microphones. No recorded music anywhere. So we made our own music, a few really good musicians would keep the beat, and everyone played something. No one just listened. Playing your own music suspends the critical faculty, it all sounds great and it's fun. Bob and I played duets, our flutes were not in tune with anyone else's flutes they had a scale all to themselves, harmonious but unrelated to middle C.
I still wonder how we arrived at that standard for a musical scale, middle C. Did Hermes decide when he plucked the gut attached to the tortoise shell before he gave his invention to the Greeks?
Once the sun set there was only fire light at the party and when I put down my flute somebody picked it up and took it off to play. Sharing was a normal thing.
When we were ready to leave, I searched my flute until it was too late and dark to see. We had no artificial lights. I was feeling quite a loss. It's not easy to find, or make matched bamboo flutes in an unrecognized scale.
Playing together with Bob was a reliable way of relating, listening, changing who leads, inventing new patterns and echoing each other. The bird songs on our ridge inspired us and we often played duets to each other across the high meadows.
On full moon nights a coyote would sing long sequences of melodic howling, calling from one pack to another, the sounds would echo across the ridge top. We would play flutes to them. They would stop and listen and then answer, inter species talk. They would howl a sequence and we would improvise a response. Now I had no instrument to join in this wild life concert or call signals to my mate. The sound of a bamboo flute travels a long way on a forested hill side. Gone now into other hands my flute.
The morning after we got home I looked down at the Highway 1 in the direction we had been for the party, you could see a tiny thread of road far below. I instinctively cupped my hands near my mouth and called out, "Flute come home!" I knew that this action was spontaneous magic, giving my missing flute unrealistic qualities of animation. I said it twice, "Flute come home!" I felt determined.
Later that day my old man, Bob, went down to the highway for chain saw fuel and mail, as was our custom, bought a guest home.
We sometimes adopted young people for a few days. We were older, wiser and these kids needed some basic orientation to life outside the main stream. We lectured on; clean sex, health foods, yoga, avoiding unproductive drugs and good grooming. In those leisurely days we watched the stars and studied astronomy. I cooked three course meals on the wood-stove. Bob carved lovely madrone wood. I embroidered shirts. He drew astrological charts. We ate whole grains and garden veggies for dinner with ginger soy sauce tahini dressing. Our young guest had a candy bar to share. That was a delicious treat for us. Sugar high! Bob got out his flute after dinner and played lovely graceful melodies. I only wanted to listen to him play. I had lost my magic flute. Then, just then, the young man reached into his pack and said, "I don't play flute but the people in the car that dropped me off down on the road where you picked me up gave me this!" It looked just like mine! What a cool coincidence, if it was. At the moment, that seemed impossible, at least improbable. He handed it to me! It was my flute, my special mark was on the side.
Flute came home to me from forty miles away! We played duets until our lips got numb, our young guest was happy to have pleased his hostess, and he slept by the wood stove that night in blissful harmony in our hippie clan.
The flute had found its way home. Just like I asked! It was Big Sur magic.
I decided to be careful what I asked for after that. I had heard that true mystics don't mess with magic. You are expected to use such power for the common evolution and all humanity. But a time arrived when I found myself in need from the ever benign universe.
It was winter night, clear and cold for California. Bob was still out, I was near the stove cooking dinner. The floor was flagstone. The stones were very lovely to look at but damp from the earth below that was soaked with the recent heavy rains. My feet were cold as I popped brown rice instead of corn for a change in texture. "I wish I had a tall stool", I thought. "I could tuck my feet up and enjoy the warmth of the stove as I listen for the sound of the truck and my man coming home." When I heard the truck, it would be time to cook the veggies. That timing, I learned is just right.
Then with lights, sounds, and noisy goat greetings, I am standing in the lamp light from the open door and he is carrying something awkward. "Look what I found on the side of the road," he says, "I thought it would keep your feet off the stone floor". He handed me a wooden stool! It was strong and just the right height! The coincidence makes me giddy. As I explain why I am laughing, we are both aware that the chances of finding a wooden stool on the side of Highway 1 are statistically very low. John Lilly called this coincidence control. Big Sur magic again!
I thought I might try my hand at controlling the weather next.
There were also the strange phenomena, not magic wish fulfillment but unaccountable sights. We were enjoying the stars one clear night and I gave a gasp of surprise! "What did you see?" my man, Bob, asked.
"I saw a star in that constellation." I said. "It moved to that other constellation and is stationary again."
"Yes" he said, "I saw the same thing." We both know that is impossible, neither stars or planets or sputniks can move like that.
A few weeks later, Bob called, "Come outside FAST!" There, overhead was a blue globe! The violet blue flame from it pulsated as it headed towards the ocean. A lovely thing to watch and moving fast. We did not speculate.
The military base was just the other side of the mountain. Anything could come out of there.
If it was magic it wasn't ours.
There is also the strange coincidences where you think fate has stepped in. My dear mate, Bob decided he was going to marry someone else. I fled 400 miles south and was putting my life back together when my friends invited me to travel to San Francisco. I said, "Only if you don't drive through Big Sur because tomorrow Bob is getting married." No, no, of course they wouldn't think of it. But as the miles went by, they decided to camp for the rest of the night in Big Sur. We would definitely leave first light though. Early in the morning on the one day I don't want to be in Big Sur we stopped at the post office. The old post office that was covered with mud a few years later. And into the parking lot pulls Bob. We look at each other and the attraction is sparking! It is supposed to be forbidden now, this irresistible magic. We stand there gazing into each others eyes, mesmerized by this coincidence of fate until our friend Rodney walks up.
"Oh Marian, " says Rodney, "I've been looking for you. The Healey's want a governess for the summer and I told them you have a BA and are British. I can't take you up there though."
It took Bob one minute to offer to take me up Partington Ridge. They hired me and offered pay. It was this beautiful house with a view. At night the expanse of sky was incredible. The ecliptic rolled overhead. The planets and constellations up there were in full glory with no competition from city lights. Every morning Giles Healey, Astronomer Royal, answers our questions at the breakfast table. The marmalade became the sun, plates became planets and the mysteries of precession of heavenly bodies are made clear. His English wife had every book ever written about Gurdgieff. She loved sharing all her volumes by Maurice Nicole; and how Mr G took his group from Moscow to Tashkent in the middle of the revolution.
Quietly I hoped someone explained to the deserted bride of the day that sometimes magic is irresistible.
In the winter in Big Sur, rain clouds collected on the horizon. A line of darker sky would just sit out there for some days before coming in and bringing with it long weeks of rain. It was a necessity then to have dry wood inside the cabin, with damp wood on the porch, backed up by plenty of wood under a tarp outside so you could replenish the dry from the damp and not run out during heavy rains. Any interruption to this routine left us cold and hungry. Controlling the wood resource properly allowed us to have long lovely times in warmth and comfort, making bread, pies and jam, and reading books like "The Search for the Miraculous "through the winters. We played music, did astrological charts, and enhanced our life with all the creative crafts the sixties were known for.
Inevitably a time came when, for some reason, our supplies of firewood were low. We could be caught short of fuel if rain came to us that day. I watched the storm waiting out to the west over the sea. "Stay." I said to the storm, "Stay away a few more days. We are not ready yet".
It worked, every time I looked out to the cloud bank the dark hunched up clouds I would think of wind currents pushing it out to sea and keeping it away.
It didn't feel unethical. I used it often and it worked every time. For many years I've thought that I just sensed how far off the storm was, the magic was only because I was attuned to reading the weather patterns. Maybe that is how the weather shamans work, they know the science of nature and can predict. This was my prevailing ideology on the topic of magic until a recent experience made me re-evaluate using magic.
I was in Big Sur forty years later with my son and family. One evening the fog was approaching, "I don't want this fog", I told my son. " what can you do?" He asked.
"I'm going to blow it out to sea", I said.
When we woke up in our rented cabin in Palo Colorado Canyon it was sunny,
Michael smiled at me.
I said, "I still have Big Sur magic."