Travelers down Carmel Valley Road begin the trip with hurry and speed rushing them forward. Some lucky ones will slow down, letting the hills, the livestock, and the open spaces work their magic. Some very lucky travelers may drift even further, feeling the presence of those who preceded us, those who came dusty and dry down to the coast from the inland hills. Some say they still stand guard over us, dark watchers in the hills.
Opposite Via Mallorca near the mouth of the valley, on the north side of the road, there’s a pull-out built into the road to enable people to stop and rest. This spot has always been a resting spot for travelers, whether on horseback, or in an early car spinning its passengers around in a cloud of dust.
There, you will see a big piece of granite with a bronze plaque on it. The headline is in Spanish, El Encino Del Descanso, The Resting Place Oak.
Standing in front of the stone, you are confronted with a dusty collection of plastic flowers, such as might decorate a grave, and a religious image on a four-foot wooden pole. The shadows of the tree behind the memorial dance and move and make it hard to read the weather-damaged inscription.
Under the spreading branches of this oak tree travelers would pause to rest, the earliest travelers resting their horses. It was a long hot ride, coming down to the coast from deeper within Carmel Valley. There was more riding to come, getting into town, whether Carmel or Monterey. While waiting in the cool shadows they carved crosses in the bark. The tree engraved itself in local memory. In the 1950s when Carmel Valley Road was to be widened, what the tree had meant was still somehow alive. Locals rose up to defend the oak and in response the county road engineers managed to spare the tree. Private donors paid for the granite memorial. A silver holy water vessel that had belonged to Father Junipero Serra was brought to the dedication for use in blessing the memorial.
Retirement villages cluster around that area today — almost as if the idea of a resting place is deep seated in the soil. Although old age is not really a resting place, any place your weary bones can let the dust blow off can be called that.
The rest of the plaque says, “Indian carriers rested here with their dead on the way to burial.” Some say that the padres at Carmel Mission would come out to meet them with a cart, and take them the rest of the way. Some think this unlikely. Native peoples, they say, buried their dead where they lived.
It is said that memory is in our bodies, not our minds. If so, the deeply seated memory of shadowy rest, of coming close to the end of the journey, somehow sprang up strongly enough that the county road department and passionate locals made this memorial.
“This rock will be here, grave, earnest, not passive: the energies that are its atoms will still be bearing the whole mountain above:” And I, said Jeffers, “felt its intense reality with love and wonder, this lonely rock.”
Helene Constant, a Carmel resident, is a former print and radio journalist. “The biggest thrill in journalism” she says, “is to get the key to everyone’s door, to feel you can phone up anyone at all and ask for your thirst for knowledge to be appeased.”