Sometimes Big Sur is a little too Big. Not often – thankfully. On this day, however, the day of the ten-week-mature decomposed rat I discovered under my bed, Big Sur and its abundance of trophies for my cats, felt just a little too Big.  I know this sounds ridiculous and I sound pathetic. Normally rat removal is not a problem to me.I’m pretty good at snake removal too. Not rattle snakes though. When I came side to side with about ten inches between a hissing rattle snake and me, my neighbor, Victor, came down to my house and ‘dealt’ with the situation. Back to the rats. I’ve often watched two of my cats, Gilbert and Sullivan, wrestle with rats until the creatures succumb to their fate. 

Sullivan, not satisfied with his day of hunting, sits on the kitchen counter waiting for dinner.


My other cat, Grace, lands gifts at my feet after her stalking hours in the meadows and around the old propane tank under the deck. Grace prefers small mice and snakes to rats. She’s into lizards too. Grace is a lot smaller than Gilbert and Sullivan.  

Grace, the princess.



My excuse for my horror at the rat under my bed is that I’d been away from Big Sur for ten weeks. I grew up in London and Dublin where with the exception of the occasional fox lurking at the bottom of the garden, and squirrels burying nuts for winter, we didn’t come into contact with wildlife. In fact, the first squirrel I remember was the red one climbing a tree just outside our second grade classroom window. As though the squirrel was an inspiration, Miss Jeffrey took us on a series of Nature Walks in search of more squirrels. Miss Jeffrey tried to teach us about trees on these walks. All I remember is the Sycamore trees with their dive-bomber seeds that twirled to the ground in autumn. The nature walks proved useful. I learned to identify a few trees. I loved those sycamores.
I never imagined that many years later, my love of Sycamore trees would grow. I have to drive down Sycamore Canyon to get to my home in Big Sur.
The light shines through the trees painting many pictures throughout the day.The rays of sunlight  tease the canyon. In winter the moss clothes the bark with velvet green.
During our childhood nature walks, I remember the tall fences that surrounded some of the houses when we strolled with Miss Jeffrey. We stood on our tiptoes straining to see what was hidden from us. I remember the smell of creosote. I thought creosote was a nature smell until my dad told me it was what we all painted on our fences after hard winters.

Miss Jeffrey made us draw a squirrel in one of our art classes. I don’t think she trusted us to get it right. After a few of us presented her with our attempts at the squirrel, she drew templates for us to trace. I seem to remember we had to find some furry stuff and stick it on the squirrel’s tail. Enough of my childhood for now.   

Back in my ridge top Big Sur home, I encountered the rat soon after I had returned from a seven week-long trip back to London and Dublin. I was adjusting to the change in lifestyle. In my head I was still immersed in my London ways where I’d traded my Wellington boots (rubber boots) for fine Italian leather shoes. Shorts and tee-shirts were put on hold, and pretty dresses, skirts and tops had become the norm. I missed Big Sur when I was in London. It is a privilege to live in such a beautiful place. I missed my walks on Pfeiffer beach. I missed my Big Sur microderm abrasion on windy days on the beach. I missed my friends, the genuine people who keep me grounded in my Big Sur life. London demands sophistication – fashionable clothes and make-up on faces. Travelling between two lifestyles can be discombobulating and confusing at times. As I adjusted back into my Big Sur life, rats and raccoons, bobcats and mountain lions seemed normal to me.
How I came to live in Big Sur.

Those of us who live in Big Sur all have our stories about how we came to live here. My story began on a cold, wet, depressing day in London. The sky was grey and I longed for sunshine and the end of the annual dose of seasonal affective disorder. There were times when I felt so desperate that the only thing that was keeping me alive was my three year old daughter. I was coming to the end of a nasty divorce and I was still battling a custody case. Money was tight as I raised Alexandra on my own without financial assistance from her father.   

I came across a poster one bone gnawing damp and soggy day. I was window shopping, and mesmerized by the intensity of the photo, I stopped to look at it for a while. The photo was moody. The ocean taunted the cliffs and the rocks below. It felt as though the light was moving. Dark clouds occasionally gave way  The light travelled veiling dusk to dark. What I didn’t know at that time was where the photo was taken. It was a beautiful view along a coast with ragged cliffs and waves that cradled the beaches below.   

On Friday the thirteenth of October in 1989, I met a man at the theatre one night. I’d queued for three and a half hours for returned thickets for Les Miserablés. Queuing for tickets is a social event. You meet people from all over the world. The man I met that night was Ken. I didn’t know then that he would eventually become my husband. Our story is interesting, long and full of drama. The details are for another day. We dated travelling to see each other every six weeks. Ken had several business trips to Europe and he flew through London each time. We worked on what many people thought was an impossible relationship. Ken lived in San Francisco. I lived in London. I didn’t have email. Email was only available in universities for faculty and researchers. Ken and I wrote letters. We telephone each other so much that the phone company sent calendars to ken each year.   

The first time ken came to visit me in London he noticed the poster on my wall. “You have a picture of Big Sur,” he said. I was amazed that he knew where the photo was taken. He told me all about Big Sur and promised to take me there when I visited him for the first time. I had already fallen in Love with this magical place. I felt connected to Big Sur in a way that I couldn’t explain. It was a heart connection. It took a few years after I moved to the States before Big Sur would become the home I cherish today. In my sleep I saw myself stepping into the photograph and out into a dream come true.    

I embrace my life here with the people who have become my family. The people I am fortunate to know and love here help keep me grounded. We try to live a life in harmony with our environment. I split my life between two homes. I probably spend two thirds of my life here in Big Sur – my heart home, and the rest in the San Francisco Bay Area. The past twelve months have been punctuated with extended trips back to London and Dublin. I’ve missed Big Sur a lot in those times, but not the rats!  However, being six thousand miles away from aging and sick parents presents challenges and travel. Cherishing my moments   

 in this place of stunning beauty feeds my compassion and strength

Photo courtesy of The California Coastal Project


to deal with my aging parents six thousand miles away.   

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