EIGHT MONTHS have elapsed since my last post. Delays happen though, when one takes off on a wild adventure and then intends to write about it, and then things get so wild that one doesn’t make space for writing. But the long pause can be a plus, in that it offers one space to observe a cluster of events and explore the ways in which such events connect from a vantage point that play-by-plays don’t cover.
So there I was, having returned triumphantly to Bramble Mountain with The Beanstalk. No sooner had I resumed my deep gazing over the wooded hillsides when it came. Everyone’s nightmare. COVID-19. It got Craig, and then Autumn and Noah. While the family isolated and recovered in their cob house down-mountain, my kids and I quarantined in the upper camp where The Beanstalk was planted. In the end, those of us in the camp tested negative for the virus and rejoiced. But the peace was short-lived.
Mid-December 2020, my kids’ dad pulled the rug/plug. Instead of returning the children to me at the end of the weekend per our co-parenting rhythm, Keith informed me via telephone that I wouldn’t be getting them back at all. Rather, he would be moving the children to his father’s house in San Diego. I couldn’t see them, because I wasn’t in their bubble, and it wasn’t possible to be in their bubble, because I lived in community on Bramble Mountain.
The play-by-play of this time period can be condensed into a single, soul-shattering howl.
Amidst the grief and rage, I focused my energy and orchestrated a move back to San Diego. I obtained a joint custody order and was reunited with my kids after six weeks of separation.
The Beanstalk found a landing place in the hills east of town, on a property owned by dear friends with two boys close in age to Lily and Rose: Mama Bear Sanctuary 3.0. I carried on with my commitment to a regenerative lifestyle by supporting the growth and development of two dream seeds: Good Shepherds and The Sweet Spot Farm. I built websites, created content, produced events, designed marketing material, wrote business plans, and more. By June, both dream seeds had achieved dynamic traction.
Most notably, working with the Good Shepherds hacked me into the marginal housing system. Whereas trailer living on a rural farm in Mendocino County sits nicely, in San Diego it’s illegal. Neighbors will call and report you to authorities. However, when you’re a shepherd managing a herd of grazing animals who are making the land healthier and fire-safe, neighbors bring you avocados and bread and wave their hands in celebration of your trailering ways. Now I get paid to live exactly how I want to: in service to the earth, resilient communities, and art.
“Earth Hymns,” the handpan album I composed during my time in Bramble Mountain, is scheduled for recording later this month. “Willing to Work Forward: a selection of poetry and prose,” is published and available on Amazon. Reaching beyond comprehension, I found forgiveness and recovered my friendship with Keith. My kids are stable, happy, and loved. The journey keeps unfolding. It’s hard to account for all of the grit, and all of the glory. Sanctuary still feels like a steep climb sometimes.
So what’s the current take-away?
Life throws curve balls so hard it knocks the bat out of your hands.
When this happens, pick up a bigger bat.
After a month of co-creating Mama Bear Sanctuary in Santa Cruz, with weekends dedicated to the transformation of a 1977 Komfort Travel Trailer into a Tiny Home Office (a.k.a. The Beanstalk), I am back on Bramble Mountain.
In the midst of blazing heat and raging wildfires we tore out funky ceiling panels, rotten support beams, and old insulation. We discovered termites, deserted wasp nests, and lichen—or maybe moss. We pulled out the bathroom, planning to install a private writing nook in that space instead.
“We” consisted of a small team.
Me: A lifestyle artivist with three daughters and six months of intentional rewilding under my belt.
Michael: A rogue software engineer whose talent for building far surpasses his actual experience. (He is our project leader.)
Nikki: A dear friend with a huge heart who showed up to help with re-construction.
Susan: Another dear friend with a huge heart who came to help, while constructing amazing meals from the garden.
Harii: A Mama Bear who recently migrated from Chicago with her 8-year-old son to test-run farm life.
Kayana: My teenager, who went almost an entire day without her iPhone and learned basic carpentry.
The build was hosted by Eco-Camp Coyote, a magical acre of earth-friendly industry in South San Jose. It’s a place worthy of explanation, so here is a short one. Eco-Camp operators Leo and Ero began with a reclaimed lumber business called Good News Wood Salvation, harvesting and selling what has been, for the most part, redwood fence boards. At first glance you might think they’re merely a couple of hunks installing a trendy new wall in a yoga studio, crafting a custom fence for a preschool, or supplying a local builder with affordable materials. Look closer, however, and you'll find an emerging business model that integrates Real Human Needs into its roots. (Actually, it’s the oldest model in the book, but it got smooshed under the heavy footprint of Patriarchal-Catholic/Christian-Consumer-Capitalism.) Right under the nose of Silicon Valley, this property seamlessly supports a large permaculture garden, four tiny houses, the lumber business, and additional project space. They make their own biodiesel for their fleet of vehicles, turn their poop into cooking gas, and run their homes and workshop with solar power. Piles of reclaimed redwood sit in all shapes and sizes between forklifts and fig trees. People gather regularly to learn about ecological restoration and renewable energy. Leo and Ero buy nothing new, preferring instead to discover treasures in the dumpster or along the side of the road.
This trailer is also a salvage; a reclaiming of space. By turning an old trailer into a tiny house, I demonstrate a commitment to using the resources at hand, rather than extracting more. I am pushing the limits of what can be healed and transformed, so I can best understand how these ideas apply to basic human needs (of which housing is a great example). However, no more trailer salvaging for me. My next building project will be an aircrete honeybee that hovers eight feet above a rocky mountain precipice.
Now, The Beanstalk sits on a ridge between the sweeping valley and the sleeping pond. When I open my eyes in the morning, I have only to tilt my chin slightly, and there before me spreads the pink bloom of sunrise flanked by the silhouettes of countless trees.
Although my Tiny Home Office has a resurfaced roof, new framing, redwood-paneled walls, freshly painted kitchen, tapestries, art, and two fuzzy kittens, sometimes I see only the unfinished business. The degree to which I am yet unsettled, unorganized, unsatisfied. I could easily cling to the frustration of having an injured right arm, of not being able to power through the myriad tasks on my to-do list.
Instead, I sit and breathe and write these words. Breeze moves in through the window and draws my attention gently outward, away from the mess, to the oak tree that drapes its branches across the view from my window. I still haven’t fixed the windows, either. But it is enough, and so am I.
This is a different pacing.
Let earth’s rhythm recalibrate me.
Leaves don’t all drop at once.
There are a million shades of green.
So Dina and I packed up the house in San Diego, consolidated our family treasures into a single storage unit, gave away everything else, and moved off into the world.
Dina took her kids in the minivan and road-tripped through California before flying off to Tuolumne, Mexico. I took my kids in the Corolla and drove north, into the mountains of Mendocino County, to a small organic family farm.
Bramble Mountain Farm is a 20-acre heirloom owned by a pair of good-humored lovebirds named Autumn and Craig. They built a charming strawbale house and birthed a son, who is now seven. Two other workers live on the farm full-time. Now that I’m here, our crew totals five adults and three children. We have several large gardens, an orchard of fruit trees, a tribe of chickens (and baby chicks!), a herd of goats (and baby goats!), a pack of dogs, an assortment of cats, a sweet little rabbit, and wildlife galore.
The beauty of the land defies description, so I’ll just add a few pictures to this post. Please note, however, that pictures do no real justice to the wild majesty of this mountain refuge.
Upon arrival, I set up a tee-pee tent. One week later, friends delivered an old travel trailer and set to work converting it into a solar-powered tiny house, fitted throughout with reclaimed redwood paneling and custom furniture. I followed up with art, tapestries, twinkly lights, and a mini-fridge.
Exiting mainstream modern society and moving onto a rugged rural farm is a Major Adjustment. For one thing, there is no reliable internet or cellphone service; I drive twenty minutes to the town of Willits in order to Facetime my parents. There are rattlesnakes, ticks, and mosquitos to contend with. Travel between the tiny house, outdoor kitchen, and outhouse involves multiple hilly hikes. The kids are covered in dirt and dust, almost all of the time.
But I am fully immersed in the real work of regenerative farming and community building. My little ones get to enjoy open-air, nature-based education with the support of progressive homeschool curriculum. I am learning about herbalism, permaculture, building, and animal husbandry. I pick wild arugula and stick it straight into my mouth, balancing its spice with a sweet cherry tomato, warm from the sun.
My belief—and now my personal experience—is that deeply connecting with Mother Earth is the simplest way to recover our senses after living in a society that systematically separates us. And, if we truly want to improve maternal mental health and end childhood trauma, moving away from broken, blocked, outdated, and oppressive institutions becomes an essential first step.
Times of tremendous uncertainty, overwhelming fear, and great loss require enormous courage, strong faith, and profound awareness. The maps of the previous generation do not apply in this landscape. We must dust off our inner compasses, and listen to the stars.
Dina & Gina briefly discuss the restorative power of a Real Good Hug.
Looking to the other side of this COVID-19 quarantine, we've made a remarkable discovery!
It's time for The Mama Bear Sanctuary to hit the road. The seeds we've incubated here--organic gardening, homeschooling, community building, expressive movement and the healing arts--have sprouted so abundantly that we've outgrown our house in the city more quickly than "planned."
Since the ultimate Mama Bear Sanctuary vision centers around regenerative family farming, it makes sense that our next stop would be.... (drum roll) FARM LIFE!
For the next month, we'll be consolidating all of our material belongings such that everything we own fits into one 10x10 storage unit, and our vehicles. Dina will soon be sporting a converted Sprinter Van, while Gina has a tiny house on wheels in the works.
We're connecting with other mamas who share the same dream, and although we won't all be in the same place at the same time, we're weaving a new narrative together. Eventually, we want to establish hubs around the world where families can live, work, play, and build in harmony with each other and the earth.
Meanwhile, we are missionaries on the move! We'll create pop-up educational experiences, dance parties, and wellness workshops wherever we go. The tools, wisdom, and skills we gather and share along the way will be available on our You Tube channel. Stay tuned!
Due to an abundance of self (and therefore social) responsibility,
we have converted our living room into a dance floor.
There is A LOT of stress and fear and overwhelm floating around in the world. Or rather, these factors, already present in our individual (and therefore collective) systems, orchestrated a timely eruption.
Life-as-we-knew-it no longer functions.
When navigating new territory, embodied intuition guides our steps. We cultivate this connection in many ways. These include, and are unlimited to: music, movement, and meditation.
Today we went for a great adventure to help our friends at Hawkeye Ranch build a pond on their land. They've got lots of permaculture projects underway, and we're always up for an opportunity to learn!
It started with digging a great big hole, deep enough to expose large quantities of natural clay in the earth. Adding water to make the clay workable, we then squished and smeared and spread the clay all over the walls of the hole. Of course, the kids spent a lot of time simply squeezing it between their toes; occasionally attempting to throw some.
Mud is great for the microbiome, which means immunity. It's also a useful form of sunscreen. Plus, it's a delightfully grounding sensory experience. The kids were in exuberantly good moods for the rest of the day!
Once the hole is totally coated in mud, they'll light a fire inside. The heat from the flames will harden the clay so that it is able to hold water on its own. Eventually the pond will be home to tilapia whose poop makes perfect food for plants. This is called aquaponics, and it's a brilliant way to to grow happy fruits and veggies.
There we were, putting out the word about our Backyard Homeschool, scheduling workshops (Planting & Poetry!) and making moves on our various goals and initiatives.
Suddenly, everything froze.
No more places to go. No more people coming over. No more events and classes and gigs and gatherings. Just this new trend in responsibility called “social distancing.”
Thankfully, Dina and I are both well-connected with our tribe online, and we have continued to drop into virtual containers for dance jams, meetings, and parties. Our pantry and refrigerator are full of food, we still have quite a few rolls of toilet paper, and there’s plenty of soap. Most magnificently, we have each other.
That’s right. The so-called apocalypse has arrived, and I happen to be bunkered with a beautiful woman. After all, you never can tell what may surface for people during a crisis, or how they’ll respond when faced with intense fear and stress. Even the most serene human beings may turn savage, or strange. I feel incredibly blessed to be partnered with Dina. She is not technically my wife, nor the target of my romantic attention, but she is 100% my significant other when it comes to this household, and she’s holding super steady. In fact, she is showing up in amplified beauty, wisdom, and grace.
Today we rearranged the furniture in the common areas. What once resembled our living room is now a full-blown movement and play space. The couch is cozied up in the dining area near the kitchen, calling people to gather more intimately around food and conversation.
It’s not just the physical space that’s getting a face-lift. We’re also sweeping up around the edges of our boundaries with the kids’ fathers, who have come to stay. We’re leaning into new layers of healing in our generational inheritance, aka “mother wounds” and “father wounds.” We’re softening into a deeper surrender with stay-home, full-time mothering, and—like magic—we’re merging it with our work in the world. Indeed, with everything else suspended or stripped, it’s easy to feel what we’re working with.
We’ll continue cultivating our offerings to moms and families with our You Tube channel! (Click here to subscribe.) Choose from yoga dance parties and family-friendly guided meditations to ayurvedic cooking tutorials, gardening projects, and more.
We kicked off the month with some deep mind-body clarity...and we're coming out the other side with a strong vision for our first major project, along with new key players!
We are officially building toward The Mama Bear Sanctuary's BACKYARD SCHOOL. The Backyard School is a Waldorf-inspired holistic homeschool cooperative for children ages 2-5. We believe in learning through play and hands-on experience. Our daily activities center around gardening, literacy, math, art, and music. In addition, we emphasize social-emotional skill building and promote mindfulness in communication, cooperation, and creativity! The school offers lots of time in nature, organic food, and fun field trips about town.
But of course, baby steps.
Step one: meet Jeanne. She is a beautiful human with over 20 years of childcare experience who will be offering a nanny-share at the Mama Bear Sanctuary, four mornings a week!
Jeanne adores children of all ages, and finds great fulfillment in creating a safe, supportive, and structured environment for them to thrive. She facilitates discovery through play, art, dancing, singing, reading, writing, nature walks, yoga, healthy eating and lots of love. Jeanne is a certified children's yoga teacher and looks forward to growing with us!
We have three spaces available now...
Send us a message if you want to come visit!