Chris came to Esalen a couple of times, to paint with her beloved teacher Leigh Hyams. What she learned there was the foundation of her identity as an artist and I returned this week with our dear friend Chad Morse who used to be in charge of the gardens there. It took very little time to find the perfect place to scatter the ashes we’d brought with us.
Hot Springs Creek runs through Esalen along a steep-sided gully. Chris would come to this spot by the bridge sometimes to draw or to make her way under it to the meditation hut overhanging the stream. The entrance to the track is marked by a threshold with the mantra Be Free inscribed on the concrete lintel. Tibetan prayer flags fluttered in the breeze as Chad and I made our way to the water’s edge and put several handfuls of Chris’s ashes into the fast running water.
It was thrilling to watch the current take them away downstream to the Pacific. Chris felt very present and I loved the idea of her swimming freely in the deep currents of the ocean with the whales that patrol these coastal waters. Afterwards, I went to the circular meditation hut and sat in silence for 40 minutes, saying farewell to Chris the wild-woman artist.
Then I walked to the famous Esalen hot-tubs perched on the cliff a few hundred yards away, stripped off, climbed into the slightly sulphurous water, and stared out to sea for a long time, imagining Chris’s essence spreading to the horizon.
Later that evening, I met Chad at Nepenthe, a one-time hippy haunt and now fashionable restaurant where, according to her great friend and fellow artist Kathy Skerritt, they had once “laughed [their] asses off while eating cheese and drinking wine.” Chad and I sat outside for an hour until our table was called, taking in the view that Chris and Kathy had enjoyed.
Chad had organised a bed for me at a friend’s place in part of Esalen nicknamed New Yurt City. I slept well and was up early for a 7.30 hot tub and massage before hitting the road. Chris had told me that the massages at Esalen were “out of this world” and she was right. It’s 24 hours later and I’m still feeling relaxed which is a miracle considering that in the interim I’ve driven 8 hours along the Big Sur coast and then Route 101 to get to Los Angeles!
It seemed as though every other car on Highway One was a Ford Mustang, so I was pleased in the end that Alamo didn’t have any left by the time I picked up my car (which I upgraded to an Infiniti QX70 with a sunroof, just for the hell of it). I’ve loved every minute of my time in California, even the rather tacky Holiday Inn last night and the nail-biting drive through dense traffic this morning in the hotel shuttle bus.
And now it’s time to move on. I’m writing this in the departure lounge at LAX waiting for my flight south for the next stop on my peregrination with Chris’s ashes: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.