Weather traps monks, takes away livelihood

Access to the New Camaldoli Hermitage is difficult after storms damaged the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge.

Story highlights

  • Monks are running out of fuel for electricity and heat
  • They also have taken a huge financial hit because guests cannot come stay there

(CNN)Big Sur is gorgeous country where people go to take in nature's beauty and be away from the trappings of the world.

Many people pay good money for the isolation of the retreats along this picturesque stretch of California coast.
While the remoteness is a gift, when bad weather hits, it can further isolate people there and create quite the test.
    The Camaldolese Benedictine monks at the New Camaldoli Hermitage are being tested after weeks of rain have pushed damaging rocks onto roads and buckled a vital bridge.
    They are cut off, trapped in their monastery, getting low on heating fuel and conserving the provisions they have between helicopter drops.
    The conditions aren't dire, for sure, but the financial impact could be. A letter to guests who stay on the property says it is unclear when the retreat will reopen. It is definitely closed through March.
    The monks are fine, says Prior Cyprian Consiglio.
    They are "taking this as an opportunity to enjoy more solitude, silence and simplicity, in a place that is already quite remote," he told CNN by email -- because there are no working phones.
    But in this bit of paradise, there is trouble.
    They need fuel for electricity and heat and that will have to come in by truck -- something not presently possible.
    "The second huge issue is financial. We are already hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red due to the loss of income from hospitality ... and now we will need to replace our (entrance) road," he wrote.
    Several people, including one elderly monk who had a heart attack, have had to be airlifted out.
    In good times, there are 25 guests on the property relaxing in cottages or rooms at the Hermitage, said Jill Gisselere, director of development.
    "People come here to be in silence, to reflect, to contemplate. They do some socializing with the monks," she said. The 13 monks "spend their days in prayer and service to others. And now they are the ones who need help."
    The monks and the 16 staff members are hopeful the 2-mile-long entrance road will be repaired soon. As do people who come to the retreat.
    Julia Smith, a psychotherapist who works in Silicon Valley, has found the Hermitage to have a restorative presence.
    "We are all aching for the monks at this precarious time, and missing, deeply, their luminous gift of hospitality," Smith said.