Ben Brode was hiking on a breezy day at Big Sur, a quiet, forested fantasy land on the Central California coast.
Suddenly, he heard voices.
"It sounded like two women having a conversation. I looked all over the place, but there was no one there," the 77-year-old artist told the News-Press in his Santa Barbara home studio full of his Big Sur oil paintings. "I decided it may have been the wind, tree trunks rubbing together. But I swore there were human voices."
They might have been the mysterious little people who, according to an ancient legend, live only at Big Sur: the Dark Watchers. They're California's counterpart to Leprechauns.
The legend inspired Mr. Brode, who heard about the Dark Watchers from his friend, Montecito author Thomas Steinbeck. The two — the soft-spoken Mr. Brode and the enthusiastic Mr. Steinbeck — went on to collaborate on "In Search of The Dark Watchers: Landscapes and Lore of Big Sur" (Steinbeck Press, $40), which was released in September. Mr. Steinbeck wrote the book. Mr. Brode illustrated it with his paintings, as well as color sketches that he did while hiking in the area.