When I read that Thomas Merton stayed at the Our Lady of the Redwoods monastery while he was photographing the nearby coast I tried to envision just what that monastery might look like. What came to mind was a dark stone building tucked away in a redwood grove, with a tall ivy covered stone wall and wrought iron gate blocking the road. I pictured an eerie place with strange rituals, dark secrets hidden behind creaky doors, and unspeakable things hiding in trunks in basement dungeons. Because Lady of the Redwoods monastery is a community of women Cistercian monastics I had visions of old women dressed in black habits peeking out of iron barred windows, - pulling back into the darkness when they saw me looking.
We crossed a wooden bridge and drove slowly down the road to the monastery. We came to a clearing that had two motel-like buildings, with maybe ten units each, about five hundred yards from the road. Continuing down the road, beyond a small stand of trees, we could see another clearing with several wooden buildings. As we approached we saw a casually dressed elderly woman walking across the grounds toward a Japanese-style wood building. She smiled and walked over to our car and said, “ Hello, would you like to visit our church?” I said yes, we would love to.
The church was a modern building made of cinder block with lots of glass, exposed beams and a flat roof. It had a very “fifties-modern” look. Attached was a complex of buildings of similar style. Suddenly another Sister appeared. She was younger, had a beautiful smile, soft voice and a peaceful, serene presence. When I told her of my interest in Thomas Merton she immediately began to tell me some antidotes about his stay at the monastery. She showed us a painting that he had donated to the church. She also showed us a signed black and white photo of himself that he had sent. She gave us a tour of the church and some of the other buildings then left us. We spent some time taking photos while absorbing the peaceful atmosphere.
After I returned home I began working on some paintings of our trip. I worked from memory and photos.
Working on Paintings
Bridge to Monastery
Our Lady of the Redwoods Monastery
Whitehorn Post Office
Whitehorn Welcoming Committee
Cross and Cemetery
Fog at Needle Point
Jacob the Cross Walker
Little Barn at Needle Rock
Natural Land Bridge