A Return to the Farm

Sometimes serendipity takes you by surprise – but sometimes, if you really pay attention, you can catch it with its hand in the future jar. After serving a Vipassana course back in April near North Fork, CA, I had experienced a great stroke of luck. At the end of the week, a fellow meditator, a Thai man named Sathya, had informed me that he was visiting a farm up the road and asked me to come along. Of course I’d agreed and as soon as I had entered the property and met Hansel, the farm owner, I knew – right then and there – that this place would hold a great importance to my future.

I had been in touch with the family soon after returning to LA, expressing my desire to offer them a little rent in exchange for letting me come up from time to time. They told me that that sounded like a great idea and to just give them some heads up before I came through. I could have easily put it off, after all, who has the time or capacity to stop life and go live on a farm? Well, the beauty of a lot of the work I I is that is can be done online – and the farm was blessed with DSL and even decent AT&T reception. Technically people didn’t event have to know I was on a farm 🙂

So soon after a joyous July 4th in the woods of NorCal, I ascended through the winding mountain roads to North Fork. I passed through the little town and continued driving into the Sierras, carefully noting my odometer so I would not miss the nondescript turnout for the farm. I had even made a note of the combination lock of the gate, so when I finally found it after a few wrong turns, I was able to open it right up and find my way to the small cliffside studio I had rented for the week.

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Part of the deal however, was that I had promised to help out on the farm as much as I could and the very next day at the crack of dawn I found myself, together with a handful of volunteers, moving large amounts of earth to create some new fruit tree terraces. It was a extremely liberating feeling, being out in the sunshine, creating something with my energy that would produce unquantifiable amounts of new energy in the future, in the forms of apple, pear and cherry trees. Around lunch time, the days work would come to an end and we would all gather in the main house for a big vegetarian lunch.

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I spent the afternoons and evenings in quiet solitude down at the studio. Writing in my journal, doing yoga on the porch and reading a slew of old books, magazines and articles that I’d neglected over the previous months. Occasionally I would take small hikes around the property, discovering small waterfalls in hidden groves and exploring the rusting artifacts in the farms junk yard. As evening fell, I would often sit on the large rock that clung to the cliff’s edge outside the studio and look at the winding river one thousand feet below. When the sun set it would often casting rich reds and purples long after the burning yellow orb had disappeared behind neighboring mountains.

This had been the first time I had visited the farm since discovering it in late April. As I locked the gate behind me, I was glowing with a sense of calm satisfaction and creative fulfillment, ready to tackle whatever the City of Angels was cooking up for me next. It could toss me around and suck my energy, but as long as I knew this farm was here, I knew I could always have a place to heal and get ready for the next iteration.

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EPIC: The Death Valley Dunes 2010

Wild Skies

A few times a year a group of adventures seeking individuals meet up and go on EPIC outdoor adventures. This is the 3rd year returning to the Eureka sand dunes of Death Valley to spend a night on the dunes, under the bright stars.

Group Shot

There’s nothing like retreating to the desert with some of the smartest people you know to discuss topics such as quantifiable morality, malleability of social order, altruistic incentive, interstellar logistics, routine hacking and continued experiments in experience engineering.

The Dunes

The “booming” dunes of Death Valley are just a handful in the world where the conditions are just right that the sand, as it shifts emits a deeply resonant groaning! A magical place filled with old mines, bizarre rock formations jutting up from the austere desert landscape. More pics here…

CA Mountainside Exploration / Vipassana Service / Farm Discovery

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While I was in South America I experienced a fantastic realization. Besides the interesting people and cultures that I came into contact with along the three month expedition, I reached a state of deep internal contentment. The search for this state was a large part of what had driven me to take the trip – and so its discovery made me hugely happy. But ultimately I knew the trip had to end, and that inevitably I would have to head home.

Upon my return to LA, I hid out for a few days and took the time to really pin point how this feeling had come to be, and even more importantly, how I could bring the feeling back with me. The worst thing I could now do was to return to the exact same path I’d been on before. Sure, much of it was very positive, and I was looking forward to returning to – but I needed to trim that which had aggravated me and drawn me so thin.

What I discovered upon reflection is that there was no perfect place – but by being very aware of how places, people and activities made me feel, I was able to use them, almost like a drug, to achieve the mind state that I desired. Throughout the South America trip I saw my existence as a series of iterative cycles. Social times with new friends in new cities, then the escape to solitude to reconnect with nature and my internal being. I had also experienced a middle ground, where I was present in towns or cities but actively choosing to not engage in social or distracting activities, instead I used the time to reflect on the previous week or two and write. This dynamic structure had allowed me to feel fulfilled socially, spiritually and creatively – and now that I not only knew this, but had explicitly defined it, I would be a fool to not continue on this path – that is, as much as regular life could let me.

Luckily, much of my work could be done remotely, and the life I had set up in LA rally only required me to be there for a portion of the month, so soon after a wild couple of weeks back, I decided to head on a road trip. I left LA and after descending the Grapevine I split off from the 5, heading north east to Lake Isabella. I had noted down some for sale properties – and while buying a house wasn’t on my immediate to do list, I just wanted to scope things out. After heading up and down some dusty roads and hopping a few fences, I continued to make my way north, through little towns and over winding mountain roads, making notes and taking pictures. I found a variety quaint and rustic places that I would feel comfortable in. I had no plan, but I didn’t need one to feel excited.

Eventually that evening I came to North Fork, the last stop of my little tour and “Exact Center of California” as the proud sign displays as you enter the town, which is little more than a bend in the road with a few shops and conveniences. I passed through and soon afterward I ended up at the Vipassana Center, where I had planned to serve part of a 10 maintenance period. It was a wonderful opportunity to silence the mind and be around truly good people – and the gift of service (in this case, trimming the grass, cleaning bathrooms, and generally fixing things around the place) was the least I could do for a place that had served me so well over the last couple of years.

Some days later it was time to leave and as I packed my bags, an old Thai man had poked his head in my room:

“I’m heading up to see the farm that provides much of the produce to this center. Apparently volunteers can apply to work there, and live and eat for free, in exchange for some hours every day as farm hands. Would you like to come with me?” Satya asked.

“That sounds amazing – I’m in!”

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The Vipassana center handyman, Bruce, gave us a ride some miles up the winding road as I questioned him about the surrounding area. Eventually we pulled off the road and an unsigned turnoff and met Becky, the daughter of the farm owner. She took us to the farm and there we met Hansel, the owner and our tour guide. He patiently showed us around the farm, taking us across the acres of functional farm fields and terraces, through WWOOFville (where the volunteers, also known as WWOOFers live) and eventually down to a little cliff side studio. It was like a hobbit house, carved out of the hill side, with great natural light, pretty rock work and a sunken fireplace. As for amenities, there was a simple kitchen, solar electricity for appliances and a functional bathroom with gas heated water.There was some cell phone reception and even internet available up the hill. At the time, no one was living there and I asked if he ever might like to rent it out part time.

“You’ll have to speak to my wife, she’s in charge of that sort of stuff!” Hansel said, and laughed in a jolly, almost Santa Claus like way. I took down their information and promised to be in touch. We left the farm and headed down the hill.

As I drove away from the Vipassana center, I was giddy with excitement. I had left LA on a hunt for a possible get away spot. I had found a few good leads before reaching the Vipassana center, but nothing that had offered an immediate respite from the city. And in one blatant stroke of serendipity, the cosmos delivered me a giant gift, right onto my lap. As I passed through North Fork, a town where the fire station is also the library, I knew I’d be back sooner than I had expected.

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