Peace and Flowers South Coast Island, cut off by slides, is in the midst of rewilding


By Kate Novoa

The quiet. It is peaceful and the wilding of the South Coast has returned, for a moment, or months, depending on how one counts time. Roads destroyed — the paved Highway One, and the dirt forest roads that lead to most of our houses. We have returned, however briefly, to the South Coast of the Kingston Trio. (“South Coast, the wild coast, is lonely…” 

We breathe. It is a sigh. We get to experience what it was like when most of us moved here or were born here. It was and is a love affair like no other. We are enjoying a temporary respite, and now that the weather has changed and spring has come, we can enjoy those very long drives to some town for re-supplying or respite or visits with friends so rarely seen. These drives offer us a view of the greening of our hillsides and the wildflower super blooms we see everywhere.

We have had months of uncertainty and closures, but most of us have now settled into a routine — one required for long periods of isolation. We are in this one for the long haul. Not like we haven’t been here before. Mud Creek happened six years ago this May and didn’t open until five years ago this July. That time, we couldn’t go south. This time we can’t go south or north.

I am reading an article on rewilding Scotland. “Rewilding is about stepping back, trusting nature, and letting her resume control.” It is happening in a way here, just by being physically closed. Here, we don’t “let” nature resume control, she just takes it.

This area can support the fewer than 100 people who live in this largely uninhabited area between the slides with little impact. It is when it is opened up to over 300 to 400 people a DAY, and that is with one popular entrance avenue closed, that the local flora and fauna are degraded.

Now, it is springtime and this part of the coast has not been swamped with people all year. In just four short months, I have watched the grasses come back from illegal off-roading; the wildflowers return, although not en masse. Some soil has been so compacted or eroded by off-road driving that the native grasses and flowers and the baby oak seedlings that some ground squirrel planted will never return. Maybe the atmospheric rivers thrown at us over and over and over again this winter were Mother Nature teaching us a lesson in wilding. I like to think so, and if she does it again next winter in the form of an El Niño, as Dr. Daniel Swain has indicated is one possibility (, then I will be watching very carefully, sure that she is teaching us a lesson and taking back the control we so violently wrested from her.

In the meantime, the pace has slowed for me and most of my “island” neighbors. We have adjusted our lives to the very different pace that we have in our isolation — still homeschooling our children, sharing with our neighbors and most importantly, sharing information.

We have an email list of about 70 of us and we stay in communication with one another about conditions we encounter, what is happening on Fort Hunter Liggett, and what road repairs are being undertaken. It has been quite helpful to all of us and provided a modern-era brand of solidarity among us “islanders.”

Like all families, we sometimes dicker over inconsequential things like whether the newly created “bumps” in our dirt roads are moguls or water bars. As I get ready to send this off to my editor, I am hearing rumblings from a few neighbors about the closure and again questioning why we can’t go through more often than the convoys are now allowing.

I have heard, as I have before, that tourism has fallen for our neighbors to the south and even somewhat for those to the north. Both areas, Carmel/Monterey and the Cambria/San Simeon/Morro Bay corridor, rely on Big Sur to drive their tourism dollars. The northern cities who depend on Big Sur to bring in the tourists are faring a bit better than San Simeon and Cambria, for example. I am told they are quieter. I wouldn’t know. I can’t get there.

I go to town every two weeks or so. Some of my neighbors go less or more often, depending on their needs. I use online shopping to place my grocery order so all I have to do is pick it up. That saves me about an hour.

I got a private mailbox in Paso Robles to receive all my boxes since the mail that comes via a circuitous route with a variety of carriers and boxes are problematic. Amazon has become my best friend. It saves me from having to stop at myriad stores on my trips — I just go to the UPS store, which happens to be next door to the grocery store, and I get all my packages. I have saved a couple of hours with this one. My biggest issue is to make sure I am not heading west in the late afternoon when the sun is in my eyes. I did that once. Never again.

The curves on Nacimiento-Fergusson are dangerous under any condition. Now that several have been blown out and only have a very narrow single lane left, they are uber-dangerous. Add in the afternoon sun in one’s eyes, and one would rather get out and walk. At least I would.

We each are handling the isolation differently, and each in our own way. Some of my neighbors are getting antsy — they want to go to town because they miss it, not because they need anything. Others want to go because they have a pet that needs to see the vet or because of an appointment for themselves. A few of us are relishing the quiet and redirection of our energies — enjoying the solitude and time to be even closer to nature than we usually are.

This week I have been blessed with a visit from a couple of birds with the sweetest song. I haven’t seen them, only heard them. When I go to the door with my iPhone to try to record them, they somehow know, or mind my presence, and are quiet. So I’ve taken to just listening more closely from inside the door.

I feel like I am joining the flora and fauna in our quest for rewilding and am finding peace in the solitude — peace and the music of the wilds.

About Kate Woods Novoa

Since 1985, Kate Woods Novoa has lived in Big Sur, working as a public defender for Monterey County. She started the bigsurkate blog ( during the 2008 Basin Complex fire and kept at it when she didn’t intend to.