Ever feel like you’re being watched? Well you are, but let’s leave the NSA, Russia, Amazon, Facebook, etc, out of it for awhile (hi guys!). If you find yourself in the Santa Lucia Mountains of coastal California, perhaps in search of a nice Pinot Noir, you may end up with some company. According to Jason Offutt in his book Chasing American Monsters, the Chumash Indians were the first to see mysterious silhouettes standing on the mountain ridges, silently staring. [edit 03/22/21 Ken Layne on his Desert Oracle podcast clarified the tribe as the Essalen, a tribe nearly wiped out by the Spanish, and from whom the Essalen Institute took its name.] Spanish settlers recorded seeing these vigilantes oscuros, and a quick search online (specifically the comments section of the Weird California page on the subject [unsecure link, not sharing it]) shows that these things are still being seen regularly today. Back to Offutt, “Legend has it these humanoid creatures rarely appear to anyone who is carrying a gun, or is dressed in weatherproof clothing; they only reveal the themselves to people who wander the mountains in more old-fashioned garb.”
Pepé, the protagonist of the John Steinbeck short story ‘flight’ had a gun, and little good it did him shortly after seeing the Dark Watchers.
Once, on a white barren spur, he saw a black figure for a moment, but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show any interest in them. They did not bother one who stayed on the trail and and minded his own business.
Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man’s figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone.John Steinbeck, ‘Flight’
Steinbeck was interested enough in these mysterious beings that his son, Thomas, collaborated on a book (In Search of the Dark Watchers) about the subject with artist Benjamin Brode. Apparently lore of the Watchers was deeply ingrained in his upbringing, his grandmother even claiming to have traded with them- which is lore altering if true.
Poet Robinson Jeffers, in his poem ‘Such Counsels You Gave to Me’ also mentioned “the watchers, who are often seen in this length of coast range, forms that look human to human eyes, but certainly are not human. They come from behind ridges to watch.”
So, what are these ethereal observers? Are they like the ‘shadow people’ many observe in their bedrooms at night? Are they ghosts, or the remaining vibrations of a people long passed on? Perhaps it is a form of alien intelligence, curious about our hiking habits? Whatever they are, I thought they deserved a cocktail of their own. Luckily the boys at Bootlegger Tiki were up to the task and helped me whip up “The Dark Watcher aka the Poor Pepé”.
1 1/2 oz Singani 63
1/2 Demerara syrup
1/2 lime juice
1/4 oz fallernum
barspoon açaí pureéshake with crushed ice, Collins glass, garnish with edible flowers to accentuate the floral aspects
It’s refreshing and dangerous, and just dark enough to add a sense of mystery. If you ask the bartenders at Bootlegger nicely, I am sure you could get them to make you one.
..and if you see something dark watching you on the horizon, just leave it be.