Nothing Happened Here
Just west of the Wigwam, IORM Sequoia Lodge #140, is a house, also in the Craftsman Style and overlooking the ocean. Both have been around a long time, one hundred years or so. Set in the house’s driveway, and back from the sidewalk, is a small memorial plaque with the humorous sentiment, “On this site in 1897 nothing happened.” I’ve walked by many times, but it was only the other day that I stopped to look at it and think about what it meant. How is it that nothing could have happened there, even for a single day, let alone a full year?
It’s meant, of course, as a spoof on the thousands of historical markers commemorating greater or lesser events in human history. But those markers only lay claim to the place marked for a particular time and aspect of that place. They don’t make any broader claim than that, and indeed are an invitation to further exploration of the events and persons commemorated. I know that some of them have gotten my attention and led to fascinating tours through records enlivening and widening my understanding of them. So why not this one, too?
Think about it. What is the “nothing” that could have happened at that spot. First off is to understand what the spot might have looked like as the 19th Century came to a close. The right-of-way existed, providing access to the light house on Point Fermin, but would not have been paved. The house and driveway were still in the future. This was rural countryside back then, a patchwork of fields and coastal sage scrub inhabited by quail, roadrunners (both long gone), sparrows and house finches (still with us). If we were to select a single date from1897, today, for instance, there would have been grasses or perhaps sagebrush or coyote bush growing on that spot. The specific insects, rodents, birds and, possibly even humans, that stopped right there would have been dependent on which of those three (or other) plants was there. The same goes for things living in the soil below. Perhaps, too, a spring migrant coming in off the sea would have chosen this spot to land for a moment before going on. Was that a fox or coyote sniffing the ground a very long moment ago?
Then think of the clouds overhead, the sunshine or rain on that one day. The sound of the sea crashing into cliff face below. Stretch that over the full year. No, the marker was correct. Nothing happened there. And yet everything did, anyway.