Coping With Isolation on the Big Sur Coast

A section of Big Sur has once again been cut off by landslides blocking Highway 1.Credit…Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

BIG SUR — Big Sur can be a lonely place. For decades, Camaldolese monks, Zen Buddhists and New Age humanists have found solace in its remoteness. Poets and writers like Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and Robinson Jeffers have drawn inspiration from its steep slopes that drop into the Pacific Ocean.

In recent weeks, a section of Big Sur, a loosely defined 70-mile stretch of California’s central coast, famed for its stunning views, coastal redwoods and untamed, jagged coastline, has once again been cut off by landslides blocking Highway 1. About 200 residents are trapped in a 20-mile stretch between three slides starting about 45 miles south of Monterey, effectively turning their communities into an island.

The area’s isolation is part of its appeal, many longtime residents told me when I traveled there last month. Many of them are well prepared for it, having been at least partly isolated for weeks, months or nearly a year at a time, with pantries stocked with rice, beans and canned foods. Officials have also organized convoys for residents to resupply and have sent in a helicopter with a load of groceries, medication and mail.

But it’s a different story for parents of school-age children.

Sarah Harvey, 36, is a mother of three rambunctious boys — in the sixth grade, third grade and kindergarten — and she said she’s had to park them in front of screens for remote learning for weeks now. The nearby Pacific Valley School has been closed since Dec. 19 and isn’t expected to reopen for in-person learning for the rest of the academic year, as some of the road closures are expected to continue indefinitely.

About half of the school’s 17 children, from kindergarten to high school, live inside the closure area.

“They’re physically cut off from play dates and their best friends, that’s hard,” she said. “It’s all this screen time for kids that are used to running around and riding their bikes and going to the beach every day.”

More stressful for Harvey, a single mother, who is out of work because she is a housekeeper and gardener for homes in northern Big Sur, is knowing that emergency services can’t get to her home if her children get hurt. In late January, the boys were playing with a wooden swing in their yard when it hit her youngest child, 6, in the face, leaving him bloodied in the mouth and near his eye, she said.

She had renewed her subscription to an emergency helicopter ambulance service, which she’d let lapse until she got the first road closure notification during the storms. Thankfully, this time, an ice pack was enough for his injuries, she said.

Katie Day’s 7-year-old daughter, Abigail, is a first grader at the same school. The girl and her best friend, who is on the other side of the closure, can only talk on the phone, breaking out into giggles as they send unicorns back and forth on their school email accounts, Day said.

The weeks of isolation have felt like going back in time and living through the Covid-19 lockdowns all over again, said Day, 41, a hiking guide and ax-throwing instructor at a Big Sur resort. She also hasn’t been able to work because of the closures.

More on California

  • Covid State of Emergency: The state’s coronavirus emergency declaration, which gave Gov. Gavin Newsom broad powers to slow the spread of the virus, is set to expire on Feb. 28.
  • In the Wake of Tragedy: California is reeling after back-to-back mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay.
  • Fast-Food Industry: A law creating a council with the authority to set wages and improve the conditions of fast-food workers was halted after business groups submitted enough signatures to place the issue before voters next year.
  • Medical Misinformation: A federal judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of a new law allowing regulators to punish doctors for spreading false or misleading information about Covid-19.

Day said her daughter was currently learning subtraction as well as past, present and future tenses. “Being in front of a computer all day, her eyes are really red,” she said. “There’s an extra level of tiredness.”

For more:

  • Read the full article on being trapped on the scenic California coast.

  • Read the poet Robinson Jeffers on Big Sur.

A flower vendor waiting for customers at a gas station in Van Nuys last month.Credit…Richard Vogel/Associated Press

The rest of the news

  • Gas prices: In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged the federal government to investigate the soaring natural gas prices affecting California and other Western states.

  • The 38,388th point: LeBron James made N.B.A. history by breaking a record that had stood for nearly 39 years. James, the Los Angeles Lakers forward, broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring record of 38,387 points on Tuesday in the final seconds of the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder.


  • Super bloom: Officials have closed Riverside County’s Walker Canyon, where weather conditions can produce occasional super blooms of millions of poppies, after hoards of people in 2019 trampled the landscape trying to get a glimpse of the orange hills, The Sacramento Bee reports.

  • Outdoor dining: A new proposal in Los Angeles will introduce more restrictions and require restaurants to apply for expensive new permits for existing patios and outdoor dining areas, The Los Angeles Times reports.


  • Storm damage: Recent storms have caused an estimated $7 million to $9 million in damage to the city of San Luis Obispo after wrecking more than 100 public locations, KSBY reports.

  • Clovis West: For the third time in the last week, Clovis West High School received an unfounded shooting threat, resulting in another lockdown, The Fresno Bee reports.


  • Drug deal: Mayor London Breed of San Francisco is targeting drug trafficking in the Tenderloin District after pressure from businesses and property owners, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • Sex workers: City officials in San Francisco are planning to install barriers along a stretch of the Mission District to curb “cruising” by presumed sex workers, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Credit…Scott Loitsch and Vaughn Vreeland/The New York Times

What we’re eating

Super Bowl foods.

The iconic Glory Hole spillway at Monticello Dam.Credit…Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Libbie Hodges, who recommends Lake Solano County Park, about 35 miles west of Sacramento:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

With Valentine’s Day coming up, we’re asking about love: not who you love, but what you love about your corner of California.

Email us a love letter to your California city, neighborhood or region — or to the Golden State as a whole — and we may share it in an upcoming newsletter. You can reach the team at [email protected].

Students at Oakland International High School during lunch.Credit…Monica Almeida/The New York Times

And before you go, some good news

The nearly 400 students at Oakland International High come from 35 countries, and all of them have resettled in the United States in the past four years. Every one of them is an English language learner, and nearly a quarter are refugees.

Their challenges adapting to life in the U.S. are daunting, but a music program at the school is making that transition a little easier and helping them connect with other students, The Mercury News reports.

On a recent weekday at the school, after the final bell rang, a student named Gia Anela Pick Romero made a beeline to band practice. “Do you want to sing today?” asked Nick Kanozik, the program’s instructor.

Over the next few minutes, Ricky Cuadra, an 11th grader from Nicaragua, arrived and sat behind a drum set. Carlos Roberto Cuz Bol, a freshman from Guatemala, grabbed a guitar. And Edwin Corto Tule, an 11th grader from Mexico, picked up a black bass.

As the group began to play a Bad Bunny cover, members of the school staff filtered into the cafeteria to watch the students perform.

“I moved a lot growing up, and music was always the most stable part of my life,” said Kanozik, who leads the program every Friday afternoon through the nonprofit ARTogether. “Music has the ability to mute the pain from a transition, and to build a community at the same time.”

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla, Isabella Grullón Paz and Allison Honors contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


Related Articles

Back to top button