Blog Archives

Announcing the Trillium Project

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This year I’ve been learning the ins and outs of community owned property and I’m incredibly excited to announce my latest collaboration: behold Trillium! Together with some of the founders of the Lucidity Festival, we are bringing to life a beautiful and inspiring land project outside of Ashland in southern Oregon. Trillium spans 80 acres and includes 17 existing structures spread across a scenic valley, meadows and raw wilderness. The land is nestled up against 3000 acres of old-growth forest that already includes 30+ miles of trails that weave through the pristine land. Trillium has exclusive water rights to the creek which flows through its valley until it meets the healthy Applegate river at the base of the property.

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Murder Kittens and Tutu Crew Complete the NorCal ToughMudder

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I was leaving the North Fork farm, but not heading home to LA just yet; first, there was some serious business to attend to! Billed as “The Toughest One Day Endurance Race on the Planet!”, The NorCal ToughMudder was assembling teams from all over the world to participate in a 7-mile course at an elevation of 8000ft, with multiple fluctuations of 2000 feet. The 3000 participants, were a good mix of serious atheltes and groups of misshapen folk dressed in ridiculous costumes, but all determined to hop over, crawl under and trek through obstacles with names such as March of Death and Dragon Wheel!

Our posse was made up of 15 people, comprising of two teams, The Murder Kittens and The Tutu Crew (made of of members of The Phage). We’d decided to rent a cabin nearby and we were all gathering for dinner the night before the big race. The event was pricey at about $150 for the pleasure of being tortured, not to mention more than a little intimidating, so I had just registered as a spectator, which I had found surprisingly emasculating upon clicking the online ‘submit’ button.

The first challenge was unexpected. I had tried to take a short cut through Stanislaus National Forest and I was good and lost and had already missed dinner. My cell phone’s GPS was also completely useless in these mountains. Eventually I came upon a ranger station where I asked directions.

“Well, you’re going to have a tough time off roadin’ to Bear Valley!” The rather butch female ranger amused herself as a couple of very cute female trainees giggled behind her. “But you could either head back the way you came, or keep following this road – after a few turns, you’ll be back on track.”

I’m really not a fan of back tracking when it comes to life in general, and after I managed to get her to clarify “a few turns” I continued on, deeper into the pitch black forest with an impotent phone and some pumping, bass heavy music to add to the alien planet vibe. I finally made it to The Eldorado Ranch, where most of the team was already good and drunk, all too happy to celebrate their victory before the race even began.

Upon arrival, the weekend’s second unexpected challenge was exposed: our friend Enki, a member of the Tutu Crew, had come down with a cold and would not be able to join the team. In an effort to reclaim that ego-jabbing feeling of emasculation, I impetuously offered to take his place. Many of the team had been training for the last month whereas I had only done yoga a few times; I was more than a little apprehensive.

After winning the title of Game Room Champion by beating Tristan at foosball, pool and finally ping pong, I returned to the main house to set up my ‘bed’, which was really just a pile of blankets, in the living room under a large moose head. There was a sign next to the decapitated trophy, indicating that it was not OK to touch the moose head; obviously the landlords had had some troublesome tenants in the past, but they made their friendly intonation clear by appending each written rule (also found in the kitchen, bathroom and game room) with “Mahalo!”

The following morning we woke up early to get ready. I ate a muffin, granola and a big serving of pasta from the previous evening’s dinner and I also managed to squeeze into Enki’s camouflage Tutu, which looked sexy yet hardcore. We saddled up in a few cars and drove about 1 hour to the site of the course. Each 15 minutes, a couple of hundred people gathered at the start and after a dramatic, yet inspiring speech, a pistol was shot and we were off.

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The first obstacle was to crawl through mud under barbwire – but in fact, we had regular wire separating us from the barbs. After running a mile down some rocky terrain we assembled in a neat line as we waited for people to walk down a sharp precipice. Multiple signs warned us of the fact that we’d signed a death waiver, and to think about that before being stupid. We didn’t slip on the Ice Shelf, because it was rather warm and all the ice had melted. We found out the Dragon Wheel was really just an old cable bail. OK, I don’t want to completely belittle the effort, after all, running up and down hills at 8000ft is pretty exhausting and everyone’s lungs were burning – and of course, submerging yourself in the frigid waters of the Snow Making Pond is definitely a memorable brain shock. But if there’s no real timekeeping and pretty much 100% of those that partake pass, except the occasional clumsy or seriously unfit runner – how hardcore is it really?

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After the race, which ended by jumping through a rather low fire and drinking a watered down shot of Sriracha Hot Sauce, we had a couple of beers and headed home. The next 24 hours is a blur of endless BBQing, more than a little tequila punctuated with shifts in the LED lit hot tub, and numerous rematches in the game room that only enforced my reign (at least most of the time J To at least be a little healthy I brought out the veggies that I’d obtained from the farm cellar and did a little restorative yoga.

Before I left for Los Angeles I hunted for my lost sunglasses, which someone had put on the moose. I could imagine the scene with the landlord had I not found them:

“Those little bastards, I expressly put this sign in place to tell them not to touch my moose head… Mahalo!”


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My Birthday Gift? Escape to the Farm!

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Last year I had wanted a big birthday party. In fact, as I entered my 30th year, I decided that the appropriate thing to do was combine forces with the relentlessly altruistic Sloane Berrent, for yet another once in a lifetime tuxedo clad quest: Cause It’s My Birthday! 7 parties, 7 cities, 7 days! For charity of course! So last year I ate cake and dank champagne for a solid week while raising $20k for fighting Malaria. This year I was going to take it easy.

I decided to not tell anyone that it was my birthday and after one of the more challenging months of my life I woke up, said goodbye to my roommates and high tailed it for the farm. This was in fact the only gift I wanted. Even my family kept asking: “What do you want for your birthday?” I told them that I was opting out of the whole chronologically contrived gifting cycle. I thought it was pointless and often found the expectation stressful and unfulfilling. Furthermore, I think birthdays should perhaps be a time where instead of expecting to receive gifts for just being born, you actually show the world why you are worthy of occupying any space at all. OK, but that rant aside, I’m officially opting out of it, and that goes for Christmas too. I can’t sum up the love that I have for my family and friends on a time and price agreed upon schedule.

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As I made my way down the foggy road to my studio a gentle rain began to fall. Soon it began to pour down, accompanied by the most sever lightning that I’d ever seen. I made a fire, made some hearty soup and read some of Sam Harris’ “A Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”. All night long the thunder clapped and lightning strobed on the other side of the skylight. The roof leaked and even a small beetle tried to get in bed with me. At times I thought the windows were going to smash inward. Eventually I got to sleep and when I woke up, the rains had cleared and made way for a beautiful day.

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Later that day I ran into Hansel, the owner of the farm and mentioned to him how wild the storm had been.

“I’ve been up here for 30 years,” He said through his large grey beard. “and we’ve only had a couple of others like that! The storm of the decade!”

as I walked down to the little waterfall near the farm I thought about what a perfectly dramatic cleanse it had been to end my 30th year 🙂

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Sunrise at Echo Mountain

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Transitions and difficult decisions kept me up all night and I knew the day ahead was going to be a big challenge. So around 5am I decided to do a couple of things that I’d never tried before. The first was to eat a sandwich while taking a shower. It was half of a left over subway sandwich and it was a pseudo success. The second however was witnessing a fantastic sunrise hike to the top of Altadena’s Echo Mountain.

I left my new home in San Marino (south of CalTech and Pasadena) around 5:30am and headed straight up Lake Ave. After a while, just as the road reaches the base of the mountain, it curves sharply to the left. You can park anywhere near there to access the trailhead, which is through the gate on the right. As I ascended the mountain the sky slowly became lighter and just as I reached the peak about an hour later, the sun was coming up over the neighboring mountains. The sunlight also illuminated various piles of rubble from the old hotel that used to sit on top of the mountain. Around the turn of the century (1900, not 2000) a wealthy man called Mr. Lowe (after whom the neighboring mountain was named) had built a hotel / sanatorium here, and even commissioned the construction of a railroad to take well to do folks up and down. The property had event contained a zoo and observatory before being destroyed (twice) by strong winds and fires.

Before heading back down the mountain, I did some stretching and considered all the options that I was facing and large swath of feedback that I’d received. In a moment of smog free clarity, I saw exactly what I needed to do and gleefully skipped down the hill towards a meeting that would impact my life greatly, as well as the lives of the community around me, in unquantifiable ways.

Exciting times 😉

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A Walk in the Huntington Gardens

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One of my favorite places in LA is the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino. For the last few years I’ve been a member which gives you access (plus a guest) to the fantastically well kept grounds. It’s an unbelievable place to come and forget about the smoggy city that sprawls across more than 100 sq miles just south west from here.

Occasionally, when I have a bunch of phone calls to make, I’ll take the 15 minute drive from my downtown LA loft and instead choose to take the calls from any one of the various thematic gardens. The picturesque Japanese Garden (see above) and the Dr. Seussian Desert Garden (pictures below) are two of my favorites.

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The Heat of the Summer at the Farm

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It is massively hot and fruitful up at the North Fork farm. Boxes of swollen tomatoes need to be plucked almost daily and squash is literally jumping out of the soil. The terrace that I’d begun the previous month is near completion (as Katy’s proud stance affirms!) and will soon be home to a row of fruit trees. I really hope to one day eat the fruit from these trees!

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After the days work, I’d escape the scorching heat back at the studio, where I’d write in my journal and take breaks to meditate or do some yoga on the porch. Sometimes I’d just sit on the large rock that protruded from the cliff’s edge and look at the river below and the mountains that shot up on the other side. The grasses and brush had turned a rich golden carpet and was pierced by the still green trees that stood defiantly against the oppressive heat. The only noise from this vantage point is the gushing of a nearby waterfall and the occasional hawk call, telling all the little rodents and animals to watch their step.

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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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Wild Things Sanctuary in the Woods of Ithaca, NY

Baby. Animals. Everywhere! By the time I arrived, Victoria’s Wild Things Sanctuary (501c3) had multiple raccoons, 2 baby deer, innumerable squirrels, a couple of day old skunk, groundhogs, a vocal crow, 6 baby ducklings, 2 angry possums and a chipmunk. Understandably she was a bit spread thin to entertain me, but fortunately I had enough on my plate. The day after I arrived I realized that my website had been hacked and become a Wachovia Bank phishing trap. All my files were gone but luckily after a couple of very anti-social days I managed to restore my blog’s pictures and writing.

Also, Josh was more than happy to entertain me, visiting his friends who were playing a game of ‘Smugglets’ which involved tossing two croquet balls connected by a rope (AKA ‘the whore’) into goals by the use of curved sticks called Smugglets. We also took a road trip to Jeffs farm, to catch a successful glimpse of a reported pilated woodpecker, to shoot some guns and pieces of wood floating on a lake and then to go fishing in the same lake. On a hike afterward he took me to a cabin that he’d used as a basecamp in hunting season and where a young deer head was still hanging from a tree. Joshua also took me to a local farmer’s market and we hopped a fence near a gorge to relax at one of his favorite chillin’ spots.

Sudden rise in gorges suicides prompts ugly chain link fences on all the bridges in close proximity to the school. In truth, the shear drops do make spontaneous suicide that much easier, although they’re no match for a really dedicated jumper. (Perhaps that’s just enough of a deterrent though…)

Late night Law and Order marathons with Bubba the rabbit and Picchu the chinchilla became the norm. By the end of the week the animal situation was so hilarious that I offered to make a video of “A Day at Wild Things Sanctuary…”

It was then back on the opulent Cornell “Campus to Campus” bus that delivers you directly, pampered with Wifi, hot drinks and snacks, to downtown Manhattan in under 4 hours.

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Victoria rehabilitating two young fawns at WTS. As a struggling non-profit organization – she could always use your help!

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EPIC: The Death Valley Dunes 2010

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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.

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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…

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The Organic Farm to San Francisco

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In a classic mental hackjob, I spend a week serving a quiet week of Vipassana mediation center, chased up by the exciting new discovery of an organic farm between SF and LA that needs volunteers, and then high tailing it to SF, to surround myself with bizarre inspiration from wickedly smart people. Like young Andreas Stadler and his home made brain scanner:

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