Author T. William Wallin standing along the cliffs amongst the ghosts of Kerouac and his uncle while the eternal golden coastline of Big Sur vanishes into the horizon. | Photo courtesy T. William Wallin

Reading “Big Sur” in Shelter-in-Place While Going to Big Sur

A reflection from a former Lumberjack news editor

A reflection from a former Lumberjack news editor

When the entire world is going mad and cities are in disarray and the economy is through the tubes and the government is ordering the people to stay indoors and keep distant from human contact and all the unknowns and uncertainties and precariousness are causing anxieties and confusion and insane isolated thinking, then the only logical solution is to search for the magnificent eternal golden light in Big Sur where Jack Kerouac lost his illumination and was succumbed to mad mad maddening disillusion and deterioration of mind.

Amidst a global pandemic and forced isolation (both for curving the spread of the disease and government say-so) Kerouac’s “Big Sur” may seem like an unlikely companion during cabin fever tendencies but he nails the coffin of loneliness surrounded by madness…and we are swimming in madness in 2020 and social distancing is causing us loneliness…he may be known for traveling on the road but the majority of his writing deals with the personal struggle of the unrevealed and intangible and intrapersonal relationships with exile and aloneness.

It was time to go back to find some sanity while the whole world was ravaging in chaos.

Last week I received a card from my obaasan written in shaky cursive:

“I’m not myself now/can’t think much things now…” Her youngest son died in the middle of all this virus business and the experience of losing her youngest before her own passing into the next existence and not being able to perform a proper Japanese funeral has weighed a heavy heart on my nearly 90-year-old reincarnation of the bodhisattva Quan Yin. The letter is marked from Monterey, my hometown, just a couple dozen miles from Big Sur, which I am currently in the thick of. Whereas Kerouac fell into his madness, I was born into mine…and it was time to go back to find some sanity while the whole world was ravaging in chaos.

Passing San Jose on the 280 at rush hour, or what normally is, and we stop not one time and I am convinced there is a God in heaven and miracles exist and coincidences mean something more than just what they don’t.

A pitter patter of rain began to fall as my partner and I sped away from our Arcata apartment and headed down the curvy empty roads of the 101 en route to console an ailing mother from 6 feet away. My paint-scratched and hood-dented Volkswagen happily ate the white lines through redwood country, wineries, extending bridges and golden rolling hills full of deer and foxes and chirping birds. With everyone staying in doors, the urbanized are becoming again what Gary Snyder calls “wild.” Only 10 cars on the Golden Gate Bridge and all of the city, void of the Tenderloin, which sidewalks are unseen due to the amount of popup tents and stretched out tarps and rucksacks rolling in the gutters. Passing San Jose on the 280 at rush hour, or what normally is, and we stop not one time and I am convinced there is a God in heaven and miracles exist and coincidences mean something more than just what they don’t. Seven hours and not a minute more since we left Humboldt County the magnificent sand dunes of my childhood explode into view as the sun sinks behind cannery row, the fisherman’s wharf and into the pacific.

We knock on the windowpane glass without warning. My obaasan, 4-foot-5 in frame in blue uwabaki and nearly all white thick Hokkaido curls reminiscent of the ancient Ainu people of our ancestors opens the door white as a ghost. We appear as road warriors traveling to find oil but she is happy nonetheless to see her most handsomest grandson and granddaughter in law (I know this because she tells us so in a faint whisper of grief). She is nearly silent and full of half smiles and sad lonely eyes staring off into a point in space I am unable to see. There is nothing more difficult than to deny a Japanese grandmother’s invitation of hot food and conversation… but these are harrowing times and one must put down their foot for the betterment of others… especially kindhearted compassionate grandmothers who want nothing more than to fill bellies and tell stories.

Without being able to hug her or get close enough for her to hear me hurt my soul but the space we shared amidst all the craziness going on filled my heart with such joy that I could feel the sanity I had lost while sheltering in place replenish.

We part for the night with three bows and head to Big Sur first thing in the morning. We were supposed to spread the ashes of my uncle but bureaucracies have slowed down (who would have thought possible they could move even slower) and checks clearing takes longer and so we had no urn and only mandatory intention of flying down the beautifully rugged pacific coast cliffs hugging the Santa Lucia Mountains to the east and infinite deep neon blue waters crashing west. All parks are closed and scattered hikers from who-knows-where park along the highway to hike in. We stop at Bixby Creek of Kerouac’s “Big Sur” but it is not the same for all the turnoffs are filled with parked cars and tourists and selfies… or maybe it is the same because on his last hitchhiking adventure up from Big Sur to Monterey 1,000-2,000 cars passed him by and he was no longer able to relate. We ate lunch beneath the shade of an oak tree 100 feet above the water and 15 miles from the hot springs. We were by ourselves with the lonely wails of the sea and the roaring of the waves and the ghostly spirits of Kerouac and my uncle.

On our way out of town we said goodbye to my grandmother. She stood behind the screen door as we stood in the sun with bandanas and masks wrapped around our faces. She was in a cheerier mood and her energy level was heightened. She wore full smiles behind her grief and talked about the chaos of the world being unbalanced. Without being able to hug her or get close enough for her to hear me hurt my soul but the space we shared amidst all the craziness going on filled my heart with such joy that I could feel the sanity I had lost while sheltering in place replenish. Kerouac pronounces, “The more ups and downs, the more joy I feel. The greater the fear, the greater the happiness I feel,” and I believe it to be important we share the same intimacies while we are submerged in the unknown dangers of threats and hazards.

Share This Post

More Stories

Nina G uses comedy to start conversations

During the virtual comedy event held by the SDRC, Nina Ghiselli tells her story and emphasizes the importance of student disability resources within schools.

It’s not just the Capitol Police

As the world watched from their televisions on January 6, we witnessed scenes unfold before our eyes that were, to many, unimaginable: supporters of President Trump swarmed the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, then proceeded to break in and

The San Jose State University Football Team Comes to Humboldt

On a day’s notice from administration, the SJSU football team spends a week and a half in Humboldt practicing because their county did not allow it. Students react to their presence on campus in the midst of a pandemic. Directed

Homelessness in Humboldt, CA

This is the first trailer of a homeless documentary created by HSU students. We have spent months filming and will continue to film throughout the next year. Follow the heartbreaking stories of the homeless community around Humboldt county and the

Thrifty Arcata

Taking a tour of the local thrift shops in Arcata during the COVID-19 pandemic. Directed and produced by Skylar Gaven.

House Plants Generate Peace and Meaning During the Pandemic

Three different people with the same love for plants! House plants have become quite popular these days especially since we’re all basically stuck inside during the pandemic. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but these beautiful green oxygen-makers provide more

Prop 22 represents political favoritism of money over workers’ rights

California’s passing of proposition 22 on Nov. 5 represents a frustrating history of workers’ rights being trampled by the overwhelming influence of greed in politics.  This proposition forces app-based workers to be classified as independent contractors, rather than employees. This

Remembering Evelyn Andrews 10 months after her passing

By Katelyn Dendas It has been 10 months since my friend, teammate and freshman year dorm mate, Evelyn Andrews, passed away. I don’t remember what the grief counselor said or what transpired after that Monday, but I do remember arriving

Protestors seek to defund HSUPD

Two local, activist organizations work together to stage a sit-in against Humboldt State’s police department.

Getting stuck on the Trump train

Writer Anthony Aragon details his experience of accidentally joining a pro-Trump car rally.

Justin Turner exposes the World Series to COVID-19

Justin Turner didn’t need to be the story in the wake of the Dodgers’ first World Series victory in 32 years. Instead here we are, wondering what sort of, if any, punishment Major League Baseball will decide to hand down

Four more years of fear

News Editor Carlos Holguin explains why he is worried about the next four years.

Dismal democracy

The Lumberjack editorial staff comments on America’s flawed electoral system As the world watches the United States 2020 election results, waiting for our pseudodemocratic process to churn out a new president, historically unprecedented voting methods misrepresents the reported Election Day

The Mario triple pack invokes a nostalgia attack

When I was a child, the first video game system I owned was a Nintendo 64. Among the games I played was Super Mario 64. I played it all the time and when I wasn’t playing it, I was lying

Women’s lacrosse drops their competitive season

Greta Roberts, president and player of Humboldt State University’s women’s lacrosse team, made the decision with her coach and teammates to cancel the upcoming spring season. The team decided that not being able to recruit in the fall would be

Dobby’s proposition opinions

Haven’t voted yet? Well, you’re running out of time. Here’s a quick rundown of California’s propositions on the ballot this year

Corporations buy out propositions

In a series of general and misleading advertisements, corporate backers of Propositions 22 and 23 show their grubby hands

CDOR continues virtually

The Campus and Community Dialogue On Race returns covering global justice for Black Lives.

Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Local food management practices of the Tolowa Dee-ni, Yurok and other indigenous peoples.

Humboldt State Admin attempts to discredit the Lumberjack

***A Lumberjack editorial represents both the majority opinion of the student newspaper’s editorial board, nine editors, as well as the overwhelming majority of Humboldt State University’s student body. Collectively, an editorial echos, embodies and advocates for community beliefs.*** Insensitive communications

Music of the Moment 6

21 Savage and Metro Boomin drop a classic with “Savage Mode II”

Spartans arrive at HSU despite campus concerns

***Editor’s note: SJSU football program was tested in congruence with Mountain West conference guidelines*** The Spartans have arrived and this time they’re not carrying spears or shields. Instead the San Jose State football team stepped onto the Humboldt State campus

Music of the Moment 5

After shooting Megan Thee Stallion, Tory Lanez cancels himself

Welcome to the Twilight Zone

Comparisons between episodes of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone and our own dismal reality

Music of the Moment 4

YoungBoy Never Broke Again dodges the sophomore slump with his new album “Top.”

Self-Care Cuts

Changing your hair to change your life

HSU Seaweed Farm sets sail

The first commercially-approved seaweed farm in California will be on the map.

Music of the Moment 3

For better or worse, Big Sean is likely gone for good.

More Layers, More Protection?

Humboldt State demands double masking on campus, does more layers equal more protection?

The Ethnic Studies Bill is a Blessing

Ethnic Studies will thankfully become mandatory for all California State University students – as it should be.

The Complex Interface of Humans and Wildfires

How fire suppression is a mixed bag in Humboldt County Every fire season, blankets of smoke roll over Humboldt County. Here on the coast, that’s as close to wildfires as some of us get. But our practice of fire suppression

Defund HSU’s Police Department

Incidents of racism from the former UPD Chief, past examples of excessive force from current officers and a shrinking university budget.

How Not To Be Bitten By A Kitten

Please prepare to be prey Congratulations, a baby feline has recently come into your life. If they’re anywhere from 2-18 months, they bite. They see you as prey. Because you are prey. You always have been. You always will be.

Graduating Into Uncharted Waters

HSU graduates attempt to navigate a world turned upside-down by COVID-19 In May, Humboldt State University graduated hundreds of students, as it does every year. Unlike past years, graduates didn’t get to shake hands with their respective dean and receive

HSU Cultural Center Budget Slashed

Associated Students leaves student body devastated after significant reductions in cultural center’s budget.

All aboard the plague ship

Unprecedented times are met with normalized behavior, HSU puts students and community members at higher risk after reopening campus and student housing.

Music of the Moment

The hip-hop community rallies behind the Black Lives Matter Movement

Inside the Immune System

How the body uses multiple levels of defense against foreign intruders

Catcalling Can’t Continue

Verbal harassment toward women is about control and the assertion of gender discrimination

Major League Marijuana

Why I don’t think marijuana is everything it’s cracked up to be in baseball

Pigs Compost on Campus

CCAT tries to reduce HSU’s food waste footprint through new pig program