Big Basin before and after CZU, through one local filmmaker's eyes – Lookout Santa Cruz

The title is stark and sobering: “Big Basin Will Never Be The Same.”
Of course, when Eric Parson says “never,” he’s not referring to geological time. He realizes that the redwood forests in California’s oldest state park will eventually rebound from the crippling CZU fires of 2020 in some form. The title that the Santa Cruz musician/filmmaker chose for his latest short film is more a declaration of alarm.
Lookout checks in on how the recovery effort is going in Santa Cruz County
In a multi-part series, we talk to the folks who were hit hardest by nature’s wrath last August — and those who are helping them rebuild, regather, recover.
Parson knows that the redwood, the knobcone pine and other trees in the region have adapted to periodic fires for eons.
“However,” he said, “my fear is that if drought and climate change continue, that we will further be messing with the cycle that is meant to take place over very long periods of time.”
That explains why, as a filmmaker, Parson is not interested in inspiring or uplifting anyone: “This is a battle that I don’t think we’re going to win, and I don’t think this piece is particularly uplifting, for good reason.”
The short film is straightforward: It’s about 17 minutes of two side-by-side shots taken from the point of view of Parson as he runs his favorite trail in Big Basin. The video on the left is from February 2020, when no one would have recognized the acronym CZU. On the right is the same trail in November 2020, three months or so after the fires engulfed much of Big Basin. The area remains closed to the public, and the film was made without official permission.
The film has no narration or dialogue. Instead, Parson has composed music — ominous, unsettling, at times mournful — to accompany him on his twin runs on either side of the fires.
Parson , a longtime singer/songwriter who fronts the band Skinny Ricky & the Casual Encounters, was inspired by the wordless 1982 documentary “Koyaanisqatsi,” which provided through only music and images a breathtaking warning of environmental degradation or “life out of balance.”
“That style of non-verbal cinema always stuck with me,” he said.
Parson had made a favorite running route out of a remote trail on the northern edge of Big Basin State Park, not easily accessible through the main entrance to the park near Boulder Creek or by Waddell Beach. “Basically, I would spend the whole day doing this trail run,” he said.
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When the CZU fires struck, Parson was out of contact with the wireless world, hiking the John Muir Trail in the Sierras due east of Santa Cruz. He had his cellphone on airplane mode for about two and a half weeks. He was atop Mount Whitney when he finally got cell service.
“I just got bombarded by notifications,” he said, “just all at once: Santa Cruz is on fire, everything is on fire.”
At the time, he was already working on a video of the trail run as a kind of you-are-there YouTube experience, just to share the joy of running in the forest. But CZU changed everything.
“I just knew at that point that everything had changed, and certainly the project had changed. It was supposed to be a much different video.”
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Wallace Baine is Lookout’s City Life Correspondent, covering arts, music and culture, as well as the people who make Santa Cruz and neighboring communities tick. He also writes “The Here & Now,” a periodic column that offers his take on the news of the day — and the news you’d otherwise miss.
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