Chapter 1 opens with poet Robinson Jeffers’s introduction to the Big Sur landscape in 1914. Big Sur's rugged setting had long served as an obstacle to settlement or exploration, so that in the early century this coastline was sparsely populated and without modern technologies. Human endeavors had produced few permanent edifices, despite centuries of habitation and decades of small-scale extractive industries. The Spanish name for this coastline, “el sur,” represented how most people viewed the area in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and even into the twentieth centuries: as a rather inconsequential place that existed to the south of the more manageable—and profitable—Monterey Peninsula and its surrounding valley. Not until the 1920s, when highways and commercial tourism proceeded at a rapid pace throughout the country and Jeffers’s published verse on Big Sur gained popularity, did Big Sur’s isolation and underdevelopment become recast as a great asset. This chapter examines how Jeffers’s approbation of locals’ archaic mode of life helped to establish the sense that nature’s elemental forces and Big Sur’s inhabitants could together produce the most appealing landscape.
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