Wedding ceremony in a grove of redwoods in Big Sur, California (Cedar and Pines Photography)

Dear friends and family,

This is the short story of how Kelly and I got married along with a ton of photos we want to share with family and friends. Thank you all for sharing this magical event with us, even though COVID-19 keeps us from being together in person.

How We Met

Kelly grew up in the Bay Area, and I moved there for the first time in the summer of 2014. I was an intern at a small research organization in the city, and she was an organizer at an animal rights group. I was beyond excited to meet so many people who shared my intellectual curiosity and desire to make the world a better place.

Our first conversations were debates about the most effective strategies for social activism, and we realized we shared a utilitarian philosophy, a love of science fiction and fantasy, strong commitments to personal growth, and the countless other foundations of our love. In our wedding announcement in The New York Times, this debating ended up the focus of the story: “No Debating Their Love”

Within a couple weeks of meeting, I practically moved in with her, transitioning from my shoebox bunk bed apartment in Union Square to her mattress-in-a-closet in a house with four other activist organizers in Oakland. I was on a polyphasic sleep cycle, waking up around 3–4 A.M. to commute to the Embarcadero and watch the sun rise over the San Francisco Bay from my office. She was working long days and weekends to help animals, whether rescuing them herself or protesting animal exploitation around the Bay Area.

At the end of the summer, I went back to Austin, Texas to finish my last year of school. She left her position as a professional activist and briefly worked at an animal sanctuary, where we adopted our two chickens Snow and Dualla. Then she started studying to join App Academy and embark on a new career as a software developer. As soon as I graduated in 2015, I moved back to the Bay Area to live with her. I brought Apollo, a 55-pound Border Collie and Labrador mix I adopted from Austin Animal Center back in 2013, who is now a uniquely well-traveled dog.

Viewing The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy in 2016; the earbuds are for the English audio tour (cell phone selfie)

The Proposal

In 2017, we moved to New York City. We were both working for the Effective Altruism Foundation, in the process of co-founding the new think tank Sentience Institute. As Kelly and I continued falling more deeply in love, I was wondering how to propose: I saw lots of videos of flash mobs and creative art projects that used the unique resources of the proposer, such as a group of professional dancers as friends. So, what could I make use of?

Our family in 2017 (photo by Jacy with a Canon Rebel T5 and a timer)

At the time, I was drafting my book, The End of Animal Farming. Most books have Acknowledgments, which seemed liked the perfect place to put a personal proposal! With my editor and the team at Beacon Press, we hid the proposal in most of the shared copies of the manuscript, to keep it from indirectly reaching Kelly’s wandering eyes. Once I had the first printed copy of the book, I planned a rowboat ride at Central Park in NYC where I would ask Kelly to read the section out loud and give her the ring. Our friend Adam helped us get video from behind a nearby tree, and we actually changed the location because someone happened to be playing some of her favorite jazz nearby, next to the Bow Bridge.

Wedding proposal in 2017 at Central Park (video by Jacy and Adam Lerner)
The proposal and the engagement ring (photo by Jacy; slightly edited for clarity)

Kelly didn’t give marriage much thought before I proposed, but afterward, she eagerly began wedding planning. We considered a few scenic locations and settled on Cancún, Mexico. But like many other plans for 2020, everything changed when COVID-19 became a global pandemic. We needed to have it in the U.S., and we mainly considered Zion National Park and Monument Valley before settling on Big Sur, a dreamy stretch of the California coast known for its beaches, cliffs, and redwoods.

The Legal Wedding in Pennsylvania

When we originally planned to get married in Cancún, we needed to have a legal ceremony in the U.S. This is also when we got in touch with The New York Times for the wedding announcement, so when our plan changed to Big Sur, we kept the plan for a legal ceremony at the NYC Marriage Bureau. Unfortunately, it ended up closing shortly before our ceremony date, so we found a Pennsylvania county that was using Skype for marriage licenses. We had a video call, mailed an application, and were mailed back the certificate to use and fill out in a legal self-officiated ceremony, which could be anywhere in Pennsylvania.

So we drove out to the Pennsylvania border on May 2. Two of our friends from Brooklyn met us there at the Delaware Water Gap, driving in a separate car and maintaining social distance because of the pandemic. Our actual “ceremony” was a drive-through, with Kelly and I in one car with the window rolled down and our friends’ car parked alongside. Then we stopped to take some photos alongside the Delaware River.

Picking up takeout from Avant garden in NYC before the ceremony (photo by Jacy)
A railroad alongside the Delaware River; this is the photo the NYT used in the announcement (photo with Canon Rebel T5 by Rocky Schwartz)
Posing in front of the Delaware Water Gap, where the Delaware River has cut through the Appalachian mountains (photo with Canon Rebel T5 by Rocky Schwartz)

We deliberately tried to keep the Pennsylvania wedding from being too fancy or romantic, since we saw the Big Sur wedding as our ‘real’ wedding. We also had some uncertainty about our names. We both like the idea that people should not feel tied to their birth names and should feel free to take others over the course of their lives. We also recognize the value of tradition and convenience in families sharing last names.

And in our case, we actually had four names to choose from. My birth name, Jacy Reese Anthis, includes both my matronymic (i.e. mother’s last name), Reese, and my patronymic (i.e. father’s last name), Anthis. Kelly’s birth name, Kelly Emily Witwicki Faddegon, also includes her matronymic, Witwicki, and her patronymic, Faddegon. To make it a little more complicated, I’ve been shortening my name to Jacy Reese for most of my career, including my first book, because it seems to sound better for a writer and my mother didn’t have any daughters, so her last name was ‘lost’ otherwise.

Ultimately we decided to change the shortening of my name to Jacy Anthis and Kelly would switch to Kelly Emily Anthis.

The Wedding in the California Redwoods

The four of us in front of our rental house in Monterey, California (Cedar and Pines Photography)

After the Pennsylvania ceremony, we closely followed the news to assess the feasibility of our Big Sur wedding. Fortunately the COVID-19 pandemic was ebbing for a few weeks in June, and we were able to minimize social contact outside of the Newark airport, the plane ride, and the San Francisco airport. The airports were definitely less crowded than usual, but more crowded than I expected given the pandemic. The flights themselves were mostly full with around half the middle seats being empty to facilitate social distancing.

We had adopted our sixth family member, Dio (short for Dionysus), earlier in 2020 from the Korean dog meat trade, and fortunately he was able to join us for the trip alongside his big brother Apollo. We left our chickens in NYC; they are quite independent, so we were able to lock them in our bedroom and bathroom area, cover the floor and bed with sheets, and leave multiple containers of food and water — in case one got tipped over.

Flight to San Francisco! My window was broken and wouldn’t close, hence the bright light. Kelly is wearing a humidifying mask that helps with the dry air. (photo by Jacy)

Kelly’s family, who lives in the Bay Area, was able to meet us at SFO with some supplies we had mailed to them (e.g., picnic gear for the post-ceremony cake and wine, a dinner for the road from Sol Food) and a spare car we could borrow for the week. We also had a lunch from Cafe del Soul, another of our favorite Bay Area restaurants, which we ate while socially distancing at Junipero Serra Park in San Bruno, just west of SFO. Then we said goodbye to her family and took off down the scenic California coast down, stopping at Whole Foods to pick up five days of supplies.

Our white gold rings; hers with synthetic diamonds chosen for ethical reasons (photo by Jacy)
Map of the California coast from San Francisco through Santa Cruz through Monterey — where we stayed — down to Big Sur — the red pin, where we had our ceremony (photo from Google Maps)

We both love forests. Kelly grew up near the redwoods, and I grew up in the tall Piney Woods of East Texas. Kelly also loves the beach, and I love the fog, which made it even more perfect.

Our first day, we took it easy, hanging out at the house, settling in, and driving down to Seal Rock Beach on the Monterey peninsula. This was our dog Dio’s first time at a beach that we know of, at least since being rescued from the dog meat market. He was nervous and excited. His biggest fear is usually noise, especially loud trucks, so the crashing waves on the rocks took some getting used to, but for the first day, we mostly walked along scenic cliffs near the water.

First day in California; Seal Rock in the background, which was covered with loud seals and louder birds (photo by Jacy)

The second day Kelly had some beauty appointments and we picked up the cake, a simple vanilla from Black China Bakery in Santa Cruz. We also drove down to Big Sur to scope out the location, including a stop at Bixby Bridge; when built in 1932, it was the highest “single-span arch bridge” in the world.

Image of Bixby Bridge from visitcalifornia.com

The third day, June 23, was the ceremony. We had planned this out well in advance with our wonderful hosts and photographers, Megan and Nate at Cedar and Pines Photography. They actually had their own wedding in Big Sur, and this was one of their first shoots since the COVID-19 lockdown, so everyone was thrilled. The first stop was our Monterey rental house, where I saw Kelly in her dress for the first time.

First look! (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Getting ready (Cedar and Pines Photography)
My beautiful bride with her boy Dio; the tattoo is of Snow and Dualla (Cedar and Pines Photography)

It’s hard to tell in these photos, but Apollo had a white bow-tie and Dio had a black bow-tie, which matched our black-and-white outfits. It also fits because I adopted Apollo before I met Kelly (back in 2013) so we were both one color, while Kelly has done the most to help Dio learn how to be a dog since he was rescued so they were both one color.

Around 4 PM, we caravaned down Highway 1 to Big Sur. Megan and Nate are wonderfully outdoorsy and know all the nooks and crannies of Big Sur, so they were able to pick out the most enchanting grove of redwoods. Kelly’s dress had taken damage along the way, as to be expected — some of the buttons on the back snapped, and the bottom of the dress was dirty and torn. Then when we neared the grove, we met a lovely dog named Lola who was so excited to see Kelly that she galloped through some mud and promptly leapt onto Kelly’s dress! That’s a forest elopement for you.

Kelly’s processional; I hummed “Here Comes the Bride” (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Me reading my vows, including a few sonnets (Cedar and Pines Photography)
We had such wonderful photographers! (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Kissing my beautiful bride (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Kelly brought her cloak (not a cape!) for when it got chilly (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Hiking back down to Highway 1 (Cedar and Pines Photography)

As we left the forest, where rays of light had dripped through the trees for us, a dreamy, evanescent fog rolled in, so we stopped for some photos at a nearby turnoff.

This is Kelly’s favorite photo; the sunny fog was really something (Cedar and Pines Photography)

From here, we drove 30 minutes to Big Sur’s best beach. The cliffs overlooking the beach were actually where Megan and Nate had their ceremony a few years ago. Fortunately, lo and behold, the fog stuck around for our beach photos! Sunny forest, foggy beach — perfect.

Kelly loves this aesthetic; you can’t tell where the water ends and the sky begins (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Kelly brought a cardigan for the chilly beach (Cedar and Pines Photography)

We made one planning mistake. We forgot a corkscrew. So we resorted to the tried-and-true method of stabbing the wine cork with small objects until it broke apart and fell into the bottle. Fortunately the cork mostly stayed intact with minimal seasoning added to the wine. A truly aristocratic way to enjoy a Château d’Yquem Sauternes 2003.

Cutting the cake! (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Strolling (Cedar and Pines Photography)
“Can we stand on this rock?” “Sure!” (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Nice to get some posed photos along the way (Cedar and Pines Photography)
Soaked (Cedar and Pines Photography)

Thanks for sharing this journey with us! And thanks again to Megan and Nate with Cedar and Pines Photography. They’re a uniquely talented young couple who specialize in elopements and adventure weddings.

With love,

Jacy

Social scientist and writer https://jacyanthis.com