June 2019: Many Hands Make Light Work

Dear TOF community member,

It has been a lively spring at The Ojai Foundation. In April, adventurers returned from their pilgrimage in the Sespe Wilderness with full hearts, and full of stories. Meanwhile, many hands came together to repair and upgrade the Horizon Hut at the top of the land, and the spring Volunteer Days of Service accomplished much on the land. In May, we welcomed a new crew from Center for Employment Training (CET). They are now working to restore trails after a wet winter and a lush spring, continuing the process of post-fire recovery on the land.

We extend sincere thanks to all of the volunteers and workers who continue to steward the ridge in this time of recovery. Days of Service will take a pause during the warmer months and will resume in the fall, with plenty of opportunities to get involved and engage in stewardship of the land.

With gratitude,

The Executive Stewardship Circle
Brendan Clarke & Sharon Shay Sloan, Co-Directors
David Bryan & Laura Whitney, Board Co-Chairs

Return From The Sespe 

“The trip meant so much to me… absolutely transformative. My heart is open, I feel released from much of my old self-limited thinking, and I’m buoyed by a zillion interesting thoughts and questions about what’s next”
– a Sespe pilgrim

Just on the other side of Ojai’s Topa Topa ridge meanders one of California’s last wild and free rivers. It travels through some of the most beautiful wilderness in the west, and this April, The Ojai Foundation, in partnership with Wildtender, led Wild Council, a backpacking pilgrimage that followed the Sespe’s course.

Twelve individuals, ranging from age 27 to 67, made multiple daily river crossings, spent time each day in meditative silence, learned to greet our kindred plant, animal and mineral beings, swam in glorious swimming holes, participated in simple earth-cherishing ceremony, and gathered around a fire each evening for sharing stories in council. Co-guides Fletcher Tucker from Wildtender, and Laura Whitney from TOF, flowed like the river, bending and blending with their complementary skills and knowledge, while holding space for the group. The trip was also blessed to have rock climber/filmmaker Justin Bastien documenting the pilgrimage, which culminated in an enchanted evening under a bright moon at the Sespe Hot Springs, 19-miles from the trail head. Stay tuned for more photos and a short video in our next newsletter.

With our land-based programs suspended due to the Thomas Fire, this trip provided a welcome opportunity to renew and revive the way of pilgrimage as an annual TOF offering. In the 80’s and 90’s The Ojai Foundation offered these journeys to sacred sites and wilderness areas, bringing council and ceremony into the process to deepen the experience of intimacy with each other and with place. We look forward to continuing with this legacy programming and hope to see you on the trail.

Horizon Hut Upgrade 

The Horizon Hut, at the top of the ridge, remains one of the hallmark stories of the fire. While the building burned inside and out, due to its earthen construction, it remained standing. Last summer, we repaired the reciprocal frame roof and covering, as well as re-framed the damaged clerestory. As with so much in the fire, the damages provided an opportunity to reconsider, redesign, and upgrade. With this particular structure, now one of only two public, indoor gathering places, we opted to install operable windows to create a four-season structure. This spring, we re-plastered the entire building, built and installed custom windows and doors, and completed necessary electrical repairs. The upgrades were done with the help of staff, volunteers, and long-time stewards and “mudslingers,” Marlow Hotchkiss and Leslie Roberts. We are completing final touches on the project in the coming weeks. Thank you to the many hands and hearts that have gone into this evolving structure.

An Abundance of Plant Donations 

This spring, we received several generous plant donations and are excited to add these beauties to our landscape. Our irrigation systems sustained heavy damage in the Thomas Fire, and we have relied on hand-watering for the past year and a half. We are in the process of repairing our irrigation lines, and planting looms on the horizon. Special thanks to Mairead Owens and Jessica Summerfield.