When visitors come to the Big Sur wilderness on California’s central coast, they’re often struck by how mystical and remote it feels. Some people even return with tales of encounters with a “presence” —a fleeting glimpse in the sun-dappled shadows, an eerie feeling in the stillness of the trees. Could such accounts be the result of a sensitive imagination or are they a validation that the Dark Watchers live on? Stories of these elusive beings persist and get passed down from generation to generation.
On a fateful, foggy evening not long ago, Thomas Steinbeck told California landscape painter Benjamin Brode about the legendary “watchers” who roam the wilds of Big Sur. The particulars of the account had been told to Steinbeck as a child and authenticated by such credible sources as his grandmother, Olive Hamilton, and Billy Post, descendant of El Sur Grande ranchers and, at that time, the resident sage of the Post Ranch Inn.
Steinbeck’s compelling tale took root in Brode’s imagination. He wondered if it might be possible to go to Big Sur and capture some of the Dark Watchers’ mystery on canvas. Not long after, he packed up his old VW van and headed north to New Camaldoli Hermitage near Lucia. Once there, Brode set aside time to quiet his heart, walk the trails, and sit in the woods… feeling and sketching everything. To insure his success, he brought along a basket of food and offerings designed to appeal to Dark Watchers’ sensibilities.
When he returned home, Brode had the impressions he needed to start painting. And paint he did. The extraordinary series in this book was completed in record time. Did the Dark Watchers guide the artist’s brush? We’ll never know.
Steinbeck’s vivid childhood recollections and Brode’s Big Sur series became In Search of the Dark