the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

NOT QUITE ALONE

Symbol of survival: Pebble Beach’s legendary “Lone Cypress” braves the elements along the coastline of the Monterey Peninsula.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

ONE OF MY FAVORITE SONG TITLES EVER IS BRIAN WILSON’S  You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone. At least in my own life, that is probably the truest sentence in the English language. We love to promote the all-too-American myth of the self-made man (or woman), the rugged pioneer who walks into the dark forest and emerges covered in gold and glory. Our folklore is chock full of legendary giants who seem to have single-handedly crafted their own destiny. All by themselves. Don’t need help, thanks. I got this. 

It is, of course, baloney. And it may help, in light of the devastation that is still unfolding this week in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, to start emphasizing how crazy it is to talk about our wondrous ability to bend the cosmos to our will. Instead, we might reluctantly admit that we are all part of the same timid bluff against a random universe that regularly delivers knockout punches too strong for any one of us to sustain.

I thought about this last night while reviewing some recent shots of the Monterey Peninsula’s gorgeous visual icon of survival, “The Lone Cypress”. This hardy tree has endured on a barren crag on the coastline between Pacific Grove and Carmel, California since being planted nearly 250 years ago. To call its location “iffy” would be an understatement, given the typical delicate constitution of cypresses, and it has only been able to hold its position against storm and surf by being able to snake its enormous root system down deep into cliff stone, giving it at least a fighting chance.

Adopted nearly a century ago by the Pebble Beach Co., (the golf course people) as its official symbol, the tree has been immortalized on shirts, caps, ads, and promotional materials of every size and type, making the cypress into the botanical equivalent of that “self-made man.” Don’t need nothin’ from nobody. I’m good. I’m gonna do this all by myself. 

Only, like the humans it inspires, it doesn’t…really…do that.

The “lone” cypress is bolstered by a brick basin built around its root line. It is tethered and stiffened with steel cables. Most importantly, it is fenced off at some considerable distance from the millions of people who pull off the Seventeen Mile Drive each year to snap it, their multiple accents filling the air with various international versions of, “Gee, ain’t that purty?” Without the fence, the cypress would already be souvenir popsicle sticks hanging from the keychains of every Tom, Dick and Tourist. It comes down to this: the tree is too vital as a symbol to truly be a “lone cypress” any longer.

It, like us, needs a mess of help to stand alone.

Half a country away, this week, we have millions of little lone humans trying to stand alone as well, and, without the rest of us being factored in, regardless of their grit or willpower, some will be blown out to sea. They will crack and snap and wither unless we make their survival as important as…..well, as a tree.

We all have a lot of work to do.

We sink or swim together.

Thoughts?

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3 responses

  1. aldraggin

    michael, you are for me a light shining out of the darkness. one of the very few voicing a glint of sanity and common sense. i suspect you have been roaming the land for some time now, and gotten your reality lessons from experience rather than ‘online.’ it feels good to know there still are souls out there that have a sense of humanity and its relation to its environment. my pipe dream is that it would be wonderful to spend a block of time with you, talking and roaming the countryside a bit. i live in sparsely populated mendocino county california, and thoughtful moderate views seem hard to come by. so that’s my fantasy. whatever may or may not happen, i wish you good health and a continuation of the way you see and feel about life.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    • What a wonderfully kind comment. I truly appreciate it. I always hope that this blog can be a kind of safe haven from the maelstrom of noise out there, an antidote to anger and a small plea for clarity. Your reply is exactly the kind of encouragement that keeps me going. I don’t know if I have any wisdom but I do have age on my side and that helps some things ring true. Come back often and let me know what you think. The dialogue is what this is all about.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:27 AM

  2. Pingback: Seventeen Mile Drive « Bay Area Travel

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