Parker grew up in Big Sur in the 1970s. “It was a really different place then. It was completely isolated. We had no TV and had to be creative to entertain ourselves,” he said. That lack of pre-packaged entertainment provided the impetus for him to get outside and run around “in nature and the trees,” as he put it. As he grew and learned about botany and plant care from his father, Parker became enamored of the forest. “I fell in love with it and with the kinship everything has with each other.” He was fascinated by everything from storms to the region’s geography. In 1988, Parker began doing landscaping work, and before too long, he was not only a licensed landscaper, but a building and engineering contractor. By 2008, he’d opened his own landscaping business, Pacific Land Water & Home. After the Basin Complex Fire that year, he was a big part of the cleanup and gave free workshops in preventing erosion.
More help, please
In 2013, after the Pfeiffer Fire, the Big Sur Coast Property Owners Association called on Parker to help once again. According to a testimonial on Parker’s website from Butch Kronland, the association’s past president, Parker coordinated the cleanup with county, state and federal agencies, “and provided boots-on-the-ground expertise when it was needed most.” He is also a past president of the Fire Safe Council for Monterey County, and is a hired equipment operator and licensed timber operator through Cal Fire.
Parker sees fires as inevitable, and helps homeowners plan fire-resistant landscapes to prepare for them. He described humans’ relationship with fire as “intimate,” and noted that for many years it was the only way people could see 12 hours out of the day and it made cooking possible. It’s also an essential part of the ecosystem.
He described how when chaparral grows, it turns the soil alkali, making it hostile to native grasses. Not only does fire clear out the brush and make room for grass, it adds potash into the soil, raising its acidity. The grasses can then flourish, providing food for wild animals.
“That’s been going on for millions of years,” he said. “When you understand what’s going on out there, it changes how you approach it.”
According to Parker, if you want to live in that ecosystem, then native plants — which are now trendy — are the way to landscape. He said, for example, that grasses in the fescue family are flame-retardant because during the summer, when they dry out, they secrete a bit of silica. They don’t flame up like some non-natives; instead, when they burn, they smolder or “smudge.”
After all those years, and with all his experience, Parker said he still was surprised when the new owners of Carmel Valley Ranch called on him to help redo their landscaping in 2010. “Why’d you call me?” he said he wanted to ask. They moved oak trees from the rear of the property to the front and planted a vineyard with Figge Cellars.
A private concert
An even more unusual experience was his gig as arborist for Sean Parker’s infamous wedding at Ventana in 2013. On the night before the big event, he was hoisted by a crane into the trees — no climbing allowed — to string elaborate garlands of lights and flowers.
As he worked 80 feet in the air, he began to hear music. He looked down to find that Sting was warming up — and for two hours, he had his own private concert in the redwood forest.
Parker said he enjoys his clients and is friends with most of them. While his business is based in Big Sur, he and his wife, Liz, live near Carmel High School and his two kids attend Carmel River School. Liz is the reservations manager at Post Ranch.
When asked what he does for recreation, he laughed and said, “I’m a parent for fun.”
“My favorite thing is standing in a field watching my kids play, and talking to other parents — some of whom I grew up with — and saying, ‘Can you believe we live here?’” His love for the Big Sur wilderness hasn’t been diminished by his familiarity with it. If anything, it’s grown exponentially.
“We’re so lucky there’s so much wilderness. I’ve lived here my whole life, but I haven’t done it all yet.” He wants his children to experience as much of it as they can, too. “I really want my kids to get to try everything,” he said.