I. Noonday Demons and Hermitages
Most on the Thomas Merton Society Canada (TMSC) national executive had planned on doing a week retreat at Redwoods Monastery (where Merton twice visited in May & October 1968) the week of April 13 2015. The closer we inched towards commitment and arrival date, the fewer on the journey. There were, finally, only three of us (Angus Stuart, my wife Karin and myself) who arrived for the weeklong retreat.
I was interested, though, in visiting the Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur before the trip to Redwoods for three reasons: 1) there has been a lingering myth that Merton visited the Hermitage, 2) there was, also, the controversy in the 1950s about Merton longing to leave the Cistericans and join the Camaldoli monks so well recounted in Don Grayston’s recent book, Thomas Merton and the Noonday Demon: The Camaldoli Correspondence and, 3) there was Merton’s interaction and correspondence with the Beats of the Big Sur area such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and William Everson. I was interested in doing more sleuth work to get some further answers to my questions. So, Karin and I left our West Coast Canadian home Easter Sunday (April 5) and headed southward to California. Our trip to the Hermitage in Big Sur took us three days (stopped in Ashland/Oregon, site of one of the best Shakespearean Festivals, onwards to Santa Cruz, then to Big Sur on April 7 after a fine trekking day on some of the Big Sur coastal trails and pathways in Andrew Molera State Park and Pfeiffer Beach). Big Sur was the setting for the much acclaimed and award winning 1965 film, The Sandpiper.