Ojai Magazine, Winter 2021

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Selling Distinctive Properties of the Ojai Valley.


hile most of us are relieved to have 2020 in the rear-view mirror it would be short-sighted to not acknowledge that some gifts were born of the pandemic. For many who’d only “visited” Ojai in the past ... quarantine days and isolation led to re-thinking possibilities and priorities. Plenty of those families opted out of the Citylife these past months in exchange for waking up in the cradle of the Ojai Valley with beauty and nature as their backyard. Fortunate and grateful to have called Ojai “home” for the past 40 years myself... I wonder what priorities are calling out to YOU for the New Year?

209 S Ventura St. $1,870,000

ojai real estate group | michaels+associates | DRE 00878649 www.ojaihomes4sale.com | char@ojaikw.com | 805.620.2438

My wife and I are so very appreciative of the quality repres-entation provided by Char Michaels and team on the sale of our Ojai home. The level of professionalism, communication, negotiation skills and overall management of the process could not have been better! Despite being in the middle of a global health crisis, we listed our home and Char addressed our anxiety with calm and grace. Her focused intensity smoothly guided us over the obstacles and lead to a successful closing within 45 days of listing. — Ross M.

701 Foothill Rd. $3,750,000

Char is a seasoned professional with special emphasis on the Ojai market. She knows the market extremely well and works very hard to win! I will work with her again and will be referring her to any of my friends considering buying or selling a home in the Ojai Valley! — Mas V. Five-Star Char has done it again! In mid December I entered into a fast, 21 day escrow on the second property she’s helped me buy in Ojai. As one can imagine, doing all this during the holidays is stressful. Having the unflappable Char there to guide us through the purchase made all the difference! Her integrity and deep knowledge of this market was invaluable. Her qualifications, her professionalism, her cool and her Zen-like way of dealing with contracts, real estate and all that goes with such a big life decision is fabulous! — Stephanie O.

11020 Rodeo Dr. $1,720,000

Months after the smooth sale of our Ojai property with The Michaels Team, we were looking to buy a home on the East Coast and found ourselves in a contractual nightmare. Our agent failed to educate us appropriately and certainly failed to represent our interests. On a desperate whim, I reached out to Char for advice and within an hour, she referred me to the appropriate professional to untangle the mess and then introduced me to a highly reputable Realtor who successfully navigated us to closing on the home of our dreams. That’s when I learned that Char’s professionalism isn’t limited to Ojai real estate. My advice to anyone: don’t make a move without letting Char get you connected!! — Kathy M.

3250 E Ojai Ave. $3,450,000



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REALTOR | Luxury Specialist Berkshire Hathaway Unwavering commitment to my clients’ satisfaction Driven by passion for the work I do

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853 Oak Grove

Rancho Matilija Epitomizing the California Way of Life - Welcome Home! Cozy | Blissful | Enchanting | Peaceful | Secluded | 2 acres of heaven

Asking $2,400,000

1112 Del Nido Court Exquisite Timeless Sophisticated Ojai Downtown Living! $1,050,000

614 Country Drive Multi-Million Dollar Views Turnkey with joyful, sun-drenched living spaces, happy & lively $899,000

1201 Rains Court You’ll love this gorgeous Mediterrean Home | A European inspired Delight! Sold $1,399,000




106+ Acre country retreat with mountain and lake views and custom, stone house. www.luckyqranchojai.com Lucky Q Ranch $7,500,000 Nora Davis 805.207.6177


2020 Remodel on 17 acres with gated entry, lighted tennis court, avocado orchards, outdoor kitchen & living areas, 3,000-sq.ft. shop, two fireplaces, multi-room master suite. 2871 Maricopa Hwy $5,900,000 Nora Davis 805.207.6177

OJAI 4 BR Arbolada home walking distance from downtown with two fireplaces, separate office, saltwater pool and kitchen designed for entertaining. www.802ElToroRoad.com 802 El Toro Rd. $1,895,000 Nora Davis 805.207.6177

Kellye Lynn

805.798.0322 kellye@ojaivalleyestates.com DRE 01962469

Integrity, knowledge and experience you can trust

MARICOPA 277+ Acre Ranch with 5 Houses, Horse Facilities, Hay Fields and Stunning Views in Cuyama Valley. www.29443hwy33.com 29443 Hwy 33. Price upon request Nora Davis 805.207.6177

OJAI 5+ acres in Upper Ojai with five bedrooms, flex rooms, two fireplaces, pool, tennis court, caretaker’s quarters, horse facilities, solar, RV garage, views and more. www.12605HighwindsRoad.com 12605 Highwinds Rd. $3,375,000 Nora Davis 805.207.6177

OJAI Three-bedroom, 2.5 bath Golden West home remodeled in 2020 with two fireplaces, swimming pool, fruit trees, flexible spaces for home office or hobbies. www.1116DelNidoCourt.com 1116 Del Nido Ct. $1,250,000 Nora Davis 805.207.6177


Integrity, knowledge and experience you can trust

Nora Davis 805.207.6177 nora@ojaivalleyestates.com www.ojaivalleyestates.com 727 Ojai Avenue, Ojai CA 93023 DRE 01046067



PEACEFUL OJAI OASIS On a 2½ acre lot with spectacular views, this completely renovated, 4br/4½ba luxury home is a peaceful oasis ideal for family, entertaining or retreat. The light-filled interior features wide-plank wood floors, French doors, high-ceilings, designer lighting and a modern palette. The completely remodeled chef’s kitchen opens to a dining room/living area with a large fireplace. The master bath includes a steam shower, jacuzzi and an infrared sauna. A pergola-covered porch takes full advantage of the view and a pool complex includes a spa, a cabana, and a covered outdoor kitchen/dining area. There is also an attached one-bedroom guest suite with kitchenette. The grounds feature mature oaks and citrus, as well as rose and lavender gardens. Only minutes from downtown Ojai, this unique property offers Ojai living at its best. 11089EncinoDrOjai.com

Offered at $3,100,000


25 years matching people and property in the Ojai Valley

DOWNTOWN MIXED USE HOME/STUDIO This beautiful downtown building is Contempo Hair Salon, an Ojai business for over 40 years. The property is zoned mixed use, so it can serve as a business/retail location as well as a residence. With large windows, high ceilings and an open oor plan, the interior feels light, spacious and elegant. The exterior has beautiful landscaping with mature trees, a patio with a pergola, a covered porch and ample parking. It could be used as a turnkey salon with eight spacious stations or re-imagined as something entirely new. It could easily convert to many types of uses: a family residence, a mixed living/office space, an art studio or gallery, a retail space, a restaurant or a day spa.

Patty Waltcher



(805) 340-3774



WINTER 2021 VOLUME 39 No.1

Editor’s Note - 10 BIG ISSUES

Cover story: Birds of Prayer - 16 Earth after Thomas - 24 A Day at the Climate Park- 84 FOOD & DRINK

Eating with the Season - 34 Sow Good Seed - 42 Dining & Tasting Directory - 40 EDUCATION

Space to Roam: Oak Grove School - 50




Crewing Casitas - 66 Hikes in the Snow - 114 TRANSFORMATION

56 100

A Conversation with a Master; Alexander Technique - 56 ARTS & CULTURE

Public Art; Constructivism at Play - 72 Theater Survival; The Power of Touch - 100 Artists & Galleries Directory - 75



Home; a Holistic approach to Birthing - 78 Mindfulness & Healing Directory -65 HISTORY

Steelhead Story - 92 Look Back in Ojai: Mixin’ it Up at Topa Topa Elementary - 108 The House That Love Built - 118 REAL ESTATE

- 110









id you set January 1, 2021 as your mental finish-line for when life would get better; when everything terrible about 2020 would stay in 2020? Have you continued to move that date forward ever since you made your first one last March? Have you secretly set fall for when your life might return, with the clandestine hope that summer concerts might be possible? The “just hang-on till …” game for when our lives will be lived again runs on the false idea that we are capable of suspending our lives. Time passes. Our mortal coils are lived out in every day and in every moment — this is us. Taking a pass on now breeds discontent; we are frustrated with waiting, all the while aging — and not gracefully! When we live out of habit, don’t experience the present or feel our feet in the moment, we are drifting, half-living — and with the deep-down scary knowledge we can never get the time back. As a former certified teacher of the Alexander Technique, I decided it was time to interview our local master teacher of A.T. to share the principles of this work, namely the importance of turning our attention toward the “means whereby” — our process of action on a moment to moment basis — rather than a grasping for the ends. And it turns out there is no there there; you never truly arrive. Perhaps that is the beauty of it. Similarly, single-tasking, a throw-back concept for a culture that has been worshipping at the multitasking altar since the invention of smartphones, is a current application of Alexander’s 120-year-old principle. While completing several low level tasks at once can temporarily gratify our quest for immediate self-reward and efficiency, the discoveries, the artistry and the true achievements of our lives result from our single, sustained focus and effort. This Winter issue has story after story demonstrating the fruits of single-tasked labor. In our cover story, a volunteer finds a transcendent inner silence in the unsavory task of cleaning bird cages at the Ojai Raptor Center (Birds of Prayer). Moment-to-moment awareness is at the core of both natural birthing (Birthing at Home) and the Alexander Technique (A Conversation with a Master Alexander Teacher). The House That Love Built is about a family and friends coalescing into a single unit on the single constructive goal of honoring their father. Read these stories and come to love the Ojai of not some vague and distant future but of now. And, the next time you stroll down Ojai Avenue, let yourself be stopped by public artwork of Tanya Kovaleski, now engaging the public in front of the Ojai Valley Museum (Constructivism at Play). Rather than hoping 2021 is better than last year (we’ve done enough hoping), let’s avoid another Rip-Van-Winkle year and make it our intention to pursue the activities and connections that enrich our lives. It can be difficult to know where to start, so begin with just a single small thing. Every story in our Magazine is the proof-positive result of single task work; try it on and notice for yourself the power of single-tasking as you read and engross yourself in these glimpses of Ojai life.

Laura Rearwin Ward


EDITOR / PUBLISHER Laura Rearwin Ward

ASSISTANT EDITOR Georgia Schreiner


Karen Lindell • Perry Van Houten Austin Widger • Kit Stolz • Richard Camp Valerie Freeman • Mimi Walker Robin Goldstein • Ellen O. Bierhorst and Drew Mashburn



Robert Lloyd • Jodie Miller Billy MacNeil • Tori Behar




team@ojaivalleynews.com advertising@ojaivalleynews.com Phone: 805.646.1476 101 Vallerio Avenue Ojai, CA 93023 ©2021 Downhome Publishing, LLC

Cover photo by Ira Meyer. “Topper” the burrowing owl is an ambassador bird at the Ojai Raptor Center




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The Ojai Raptor Center is a rescue and rehabilitation center in the Ojai Valley for raptors and other wildlife. The 20-yearold center treats more than 1,200 animals annually. ORC also works to educate the public through presentations with ambassador birds at events, in classrooms, and during its biannual open houses. As the center is not generally open to the public, it has been an absolute gift to be among the few volunteers to have had the opportunity to work with and witness these majestic creatures up close. The following account is a glimpse into the daily world of the Ojai Raptor Center.

Left: Eastern screech owl; photo by Perry Van Houten

Saturday morning. I am awakened at 8 by my mother, and after a week of customary high school sleep deprivation, I ask myself for the countless-th time: Why do I do this to myself? Spending my morning scrubbing bird shit and picking up small-animal entrails barnacled with ies out of bird pens doesn’t sound like something I would have signed myself up for the week before, yet here we are, with this experience curiously recurring.



I arrive at the center at 9:30 (okay 9:35…. Director Kim Stroud never seems to mind). I immediately look to my left to scope out what delectable treats have been set out for the community by one of the volunteers or staff. Several volunteers have invariably arrived before me, many of whom have driven an hour to get here. As an Ojai native, my initial pride at taking the trouble to make a laborious 10-minute drive is quickly squashed by these giants of commuting. Altogether, the place is cozy — part cozy from the relentless heat of Ojai, part cozy from the smallness of the place — you’d never guess the sometimes hundreds of birds it houses at once. The place is already in full swing. As various volunteers and staff appear in the midst of their chores, I am greeted by every one. I head straight for the hospital, where birds with every kind of injury squawk and plot their escapes — broken-winged ones included. In late spring — nesting season — young barn owls hiss a sound that can only be described as the auditory materialization of death itself. I find

myself in an art gallery, different from last week’s or next, with rows of mini kennels concealed by towel drapes, past which burgeoning Pollocks compose their artworks — splatterings of white, brown, yellow and red are smeared and layered on the walls, floors, and ceilings of their little canvas-cages in magnificent texture. I am baffled by their technique — how does one get poop on a ceiling (with no hands, mind you)? I arm myself with a bucket and sponge and soon drift into an altered state, a much-needed respite from the selforiented improvement treadmill so many high schoolers are so lovingly put on by the culture of education and society at large. For four or five hours, I (mostly) suspend the worship of myself in favor of Mother Nature in her brilliant, feathered form. Have my burdens ever felt so light? At some point I began to see my Saturdays at the Raptor Center like church services. I saw the state of reflection to be found inside dim and endless offensive-smelling cages. The meditation that sets in when washing away 50 bins worth of rat poop and soiled shredded bedding. The sermon about loss and peace silently professed by the burly onewinged golden eagle, Shytan, as I fill his water bowl and leave a dead rat on his perch.

It is in these weekly services that I remember that a world exists outside all the hullabaloo of high school life and family life and political life and, most importantly, of inner life. Outside all the social commotion there is silence, the silence of a group of humans coming together to serve birds, the silence of a fellow volunteer singing Pete Seeger songs as he hangs laundry on lines, the silence of an unsaveable owl passing in my arms. In this silence, in this place under the hot Ojai sun where the dust and smoke of life settles, I at last can glimpse at the way of the world, as one might glimpse at God in their Sunday ritual. I see the untamable world in the wild eyes of a red-tailed hawk. I see the beauty of mortality and its assuredness in the twitching nose of a plump rat as I hold it by its tail and plop it into a fresh bin. I see the sacrosanctity of nature in the eyes of a barred owl with a grandly outsized prison-striped ruff around its neck and asynchronous eyelids rolling down at leisure. I feel the delicacy of beinghood as I slowly change the water in little burrowing owl Topper’s coop as he hides from my view. To be clear, the Raptor Center isn’t a holy haven of joy and rejuvenation. Far from it. The immensity of the problem gets to me often and the whole project sometimes feels like a Sisyphean attempt against the tumbling down of nature at the clumsy hands of humankind. A bird is extricated from the grille of a truck and brought to the center. The talons of a hawk are blackened from electrocution on a power line. Countless birds are emaciated from rodent poison or head trauma or both. The endless and nauseating tragedies come cardboardboxed through the front door and sometimes my mind helplessly swells with shame for my species. I suddenly feel too big, too rapaciously devouring. All the food I’ve eaten and water I’ve run and petroleum I’ve burned and worn and used and all the land I’ve stepped on and built on come deluging into my mind and pouring out into my Left: ORC volunteer educator Rio Vogt with Rosie the red-tailed hawk Photo: Perry Van Houten


limbs till I am to the brim with terror for what I and we have done and are doing to the life of Earth. My only consolation is that ugliness inspires beauty, and there is a remarkable beauty in the relationship between birds and humans at the Raptor Center. I, in all my vegetarian righteousness, have always liked to proclaim that humans are no more important than other animals (though I confess this was often done in a dinnertime attempt to convince my father to let the cat eat on the table with us). But it’s a very different thing to live and think this way, and the Raptor


Center is the only place and group of people I have encountered that actually lives this way. Birds’ feelings are earnestly validated, and no effort is spared to avert their experience of pain and stress. The people here are free of the common human pitfall of seeing an individual animal only as a part of the mass of its species. The life of each patient is individualized from all the rest, and the treatment plan is performed with the accordant dedication. Such human humility strikes me as remarkable in its extent and rarity.

me some glimpse of a brighter future to hold on to. I can say that I look up now. I stop, break away from my procession of quotidian tasks and bickering thoughts to look up at the turkey vulture swirling in circles, riding its invisible carousel, gripping my imagination as it goes. Standing there stupefied I wonder if the vulture remembers its flying or appreciates its absurd freedom. Standing there I mourn the likelihood it does not. Standing there it occurs to me, and I mourn, that I do not appreciate my own absurd freedom.

I can’t say the Raptor Center has restored my faith in humanity or given

We both move on, he for food and I for whatever task I’ve convinced myself I must next do. I walk off, a soft glow of holiness imbued within me by that blackwinged angel. Allen Ginsberg gently echoes in my ears: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! …” Due to the pandemic, ORC is offering educational programs with raptors over Zoom, which can be booked on its website. For more information: www.ojairaptorcenter.org

Left: Juniper, a great horned Owl; photo by Jessica Kollar. Below: Spooky, a barred owl; Riley, an Eastern screech owl and Rosie, a red-tailed hawk. Photos by Ira Meyer









In the dry, warm, windy days before the Thomas Fire erupted on Dec. 4, 2017, county and federal fire and weather agencies warned Ojai and Ventura County — in the strongest language the data would allow — of an escalating potential for uncontrollable wildfire.








Above: Dry Lakes Ridge 18 months after the fire.

On Nov. 30, just four days before the outbreak of the Thomas Fire near Thomas Aquinas College on the outskirts of Santa Paula, the Ventura County Fire Department issued a warning based on the measure of moisture in “live fuels” (such as chaparral shrubs). Anything below a threshold of 60 percent is considered a hazard. On that day, the measure of moisture in live fuels stood at an almost unprecedented 56 percent. “For this time of year, we are currently matching the record low for the last 17 years,” warned the Wildland Fire Division in 2017. “With the forecasted dry windy conditions ahead, these values could continue to drop. It should be anticipated that we will experience active fire behavior.” On Saturday, Dec. 2, the National Weather Service — watching winds accelerate as they descended from the high desert regions of the West — issued a red flag warning for the county,

warning of gusts 50 to 70 mph in the passes. The hot, dry winds continued to blow for 12 days, ultimately becoming the longest stretch of critical “fire weather” in the recent history of Ventura County, according to Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service in Oxnard. When, on the evening of Monday, Dec. 4, fire broke out in two locations — near Thomas Aquinas College and on Koenigstein Road in Upper Ojai — the highway that accesses the area was blocked almost immediately by falling telephone poles. Although the Ventura County Fire Department dispatched 70 strike teams to the blaze within two hours, according to an “after-action review,” the intensely hot wind-driven firestorm overwhelmed firefighting units. The blaze, moving at an estimated 30 to 35 miles an hour, spread far beyond Ojai and could not be contained for weeks. In the end, the Thomas Fire blackened almost 282,000 acres, which at the time stood as the largest wildfire

Above: Santa Paula Canyon after 11 months and below, after 16 months.



in modern California history. (After several larger fires this year and last in the Sierra and Northern California, it’s now seventh on the list maintained by Cal Fire.) More than 1,000 structures were destroyed and hundreds more damaged. The massive vaporization of vegetation left bare slopes vulnerable to downpours. The hard rains that followed in January set off debris flows in Matilija Canyon and in Montecito. Two people were killed in the fire, and 23 in the debris flows in Montecito. Beyond these losses and property claims — which totaled about $1.8 billion, according to the nonprofit Economic Forecast Project at UC Santa Barbara — and the cost of the firefighting effort, which added another $230 million, came the destruction to the plants and animals in the hills and mountains around Ojai, Matilija Canyon and in the backcountry. The ashy moonscape, cross-hatched with the stalks of charred shrubs and bare, blackened trees, left many residents fearing the seared backcountry would never recover.

Above left and right: The Cave Fire after 1 week and 5 months later. Below left and right: Dry Lakes Ridge after 14 months and 18 months.

Tania Parker, deputy director of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and a longtime resident, said that she and her coworkers in the conservation nonprofit saw how upset people were about the destruction left by the blaze. “People really wanted to help,” Parker said. “We had to keep people out of burned areas in the aftermath, but we knew people felt helpless, so we tried to come up with ways for people to contribute, such as growing seeds or collecting acorns, to help people to process the loss. Although I do think for the most part the hillsides are recovering just fine, to have to experience the scarring of an ecosystem is still tough.” Celine Moomey, who tracks wildland fuel conditions for the Ventura County Fire Department, said that although there have been many fires within the vast perimeter of the Thomas Fire over the years, none were as destructive as the Thomas Fire.

completely burn the landscape. In the past, large fires burned across the north slope of the Nordhoff Ridge and into riparian areas, but they wouldn’t completely consume the vegetation in those areas as it did in the Thomas Fire,” she said, adding that much of the area around Sulphur Mountain and Black Mountain south of Ojai had not burned for decades.

“Other fires when they burned weren’t as intense as the Thomas Fire and didn’t

Ojai has been assaulted by fire many times in its history, including the

Wheeler Fire of 1985, which burned 120,000 acres mostly to the north of Ojai over 15 days, as well as very large and difficult-to-control fires in 1917, 1932 and 1948, and many smaller fires, such as the Ranch Fire of 1999. The Thomas Fire outstripped them all in its size, speed and intensity. Nicole Molinari, an ecologist with the Forest Service for the Los Padres National Forest, characterized the Thomas Fire as a “high severity” blaze.



Above: Laurel Sumac regrowing after 2 months. Right: A superbloom of Deerweed on Dry Lakes Ridge after 18 months.

Of 89,000 acres of chaparral within the footprint of the Thomas Fire, scientists found that about 61,000 acres had been 75 to 100% consumed. THE ECOLOGY OF BIG FIRES IN CHAPARRAL Did the ferocity of the Thomas Fire threaten the future of wild plants and animals in wildlands around Ojai? Not at all, said Bryant Baker, conservation director for the Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit environmental group devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the national forest in Southern and Central California. He said that the regrowth in much of the Thomes Fire footprint has been “spectacular,” and he added that it’s no coincidence that this surge of growth followed the worst wildfire in this region in decades. “In a lot of cases, a really intense fire is what you want to see in these shrublands,” Baker said. “It’s counterintuitive, but the bigger and hotter the fire, the better.” Baker, like Molinari and Moomey and other scientists interviewed for this story, added the caution that chaparral cannot burn too frequently without losing ground to grasslands. Molinari said that she “cringes” at any “return interval” of less than 30 years between fires in chaparral. Baker agrees, but added that as long as the interval be-

tween blazes gives chaparral a chance to regrow and cover the land before invasives take hold, the heat of the fire is less of a risk to the natural regrowth of these chaparral regions than many realize. Shrubby chaparral plants have the resources necessary to resprout or regrow after a blaze, but need more time to start than annual grasses, which can fill in gaps between burned shrubs quickly if given the chance. “When we have these smaller fires, we tend to see a lot of firefighting activity around the perimeter of the fire, with bulldozer lines and fire-retardant drops and other disturbances,” Baker explained. “This is an opportunity for non-native plants to get started. In a large fire like the Thomas Fire, there will be many wildland areas in which there wasn’t any firefighting activity at all. Those are the areas in which the natives tend to do very well.” Baker noted that the seeds of many native California chaparral species, such as ceanothus (an attractive blueor white-flowering plant known as the California Lilac) require heat to get

started, unlike the non-native seeds not adapted to a fire regime. “A lot of these native species sit there dormant for decades until they experience really high temperatures from a fire, which starts the germination process,” he pointed out. “The hotter the seedbed, the more seed germination.” Closer to town, Lanny Kaufer, who has for decades led nature and plant-discovery walks into wildlands in Matilija Canyon and on other trails around Ojai, said that he is seeing some popular landscapes in our vicinity invaded by non-natives. “I am seeing a lot of type conversion, in which non-native grasses and weeds take over a habitat,” he said. “The Valley View Preserve in the foothills is an example. If you look at historical photographs, you will see a continuous green quilt of chaparral. Evolution designed that chaparral to live 35 to 100 years between fires. A normal fire cycle gives them enough time to build a seed bank in the soil to reseed after a fire, but we have had fires there about every 15


years since the Wheeler Fire of 1985. The seed bank is exhausted, and we’re seeing non-natives such as oat straw grass and wild mustard take over.” TO THRIVE AFTER THE FIRE (OR NOT) In the mountains north of Ojai, atop the Dry Lakes Ridge not far from Rose Valley, walkers willing to climb a steep grade for an hour and a half will find a unique landscape. Here the natural drama of plant succession after a wildfire has been playing out since the Thomas Fire — all but undisturbed by people. Plant lovers such as Baker, Molinari and David Magney, a program manager with the California Native Plant Society, all encouraged a visit to the Dry Lakes area. Here Magney documented the discovery of several rare plants in a 126-page botanical book published in 1986. Here Molinari mentioned with interest a rare stand of ponderosa pine trees, catalogued by Magney, that have lived in the region for millennia. Visiting a few months after the Thomas Fire with a Forest Service team, Molinari said she saw green needles on eight trees. She hoped a few might have lived, but hasn’t been back since. In November, all these trees — some 30 or 40 feet tall — stand black and lifeless. A few fallen cones on the ground appear undamaged and might possibly lead to regrowth some day.

Above: Matilija Poppies flourishing along Hwy 33, 18 months later. Below: Lupine returns, May 2020.

“I’m sorry to hear the ponderosas didn’t make it, what a loss,” Molinari wrote in an email. “I’m happy to hear of cones on the ground — perhaps this will yield some unexpected (and much-needed) surprises. Fingers crossed!” The Forest Service ecologist added that there is interest in encouraging regrowth of the rare species in the Dry Lakes Ridge area if funding can be found. Although the ponderosas have not rebounded from the Thomas Fire, countless other native plants — many encouraged by the fire — have regrown on Dry Lakes Ridge and in the surrounding hills, launching a startlingly colorful successional drama.


“One of the first plants we see after fire is poodle-dog bush,” said Baker. “Although it has a bad reputation because it causes a rash on contact a bit like poison oak, it plays an incredibly important role in the regrowth — you only really see it after a fire.” “It’s important ecologically because it establishes an early ground cover and stabilizes the soil, while putting out massive amounts of purple flowers, which are really attractive to a lot of species, including bees,” he said, adding that the flowers of the poodle-dog bush and other plants, such as lupines, bring insects to the land, followed by birds, including some rarely seen birds such as the lazuli bunting, followed by raptors and other animals. “The whole process of ushering in pollinators, which brings birds, and that attracts other birds — it’s really interesting and fun to watch unfold,” said Baker. The regrowth in the backcountry chaparral has been inspiring to nature lovers, but as of November, the average live fuel moisture levels have fallen into the hazardous range of 57%, substantially lower than last year at the same time (68%) and just one point above the fuel moisture levels at the start of the Thomas Fire (56%). The recovery of the chaparral will continue — as long as fire doesn’t return soon. “While we see recovery in many places and we have the notion that we are heading down the right path, this landscape is still recovering and vulnerable,” said Molinari. “Another fire within the next few years in the Thomas Fire scar will have major impacts on future recovery. It might seem that the landscape is beginning to heal, but we are not in the clear just yet. Over the next decade plus, it will remain vulnerable to fire, and as the plants are regrowing, they are more susceptible to drought because the roots are not as well established. I’m feeling optimistic and think we’re moving in the right direction, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant — it is a slow process and we still have a long way to go.”





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Eating with the season


Robin Goldstein, chef and author of A Taste of Ojai cookbooks, shares some savory inspirations for winter.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO EAT SEASONALLY IN WINTER? Honoring the long winter hours of darkness and the rebirth of the sun that is believed to hold powerful energy for regeneration, renewal and self-reflection. Making a dedicated effort to support local farmers’ harvest by eating the food grown in our area. Adapting our menus to emphasize those items harvested in our particular region. Utilizing winter ingredients such as mushrooms, potatoes, onions, carrots, winter squash and garlic. Add to soups, stews and one-pot dishes for comforting colder weather meals. This is a great time to use the Crockpot and pressure-cooker, welcoming the aroma of slow cooking, stewing and braising. One of the most salient benefits of eating seasonally is that we are supporting a geographically sustainable food economy, as well as effectively reducing our carbon footprint, forming a harmonious lifestyle in our community. Seasonal foods purchased and consumed around the time of harvest are fresher, tastier and more nutritious than food consumed out of season. Even though we all like to eat strawberries or tomatoes year-round, the best time to eat them is when purchased directly from a local grower shortly after harvest from our local markets as they do not require long distances for transport. Many of our local vegetables thrive in colder weather, making it possible to fill our diet with nutrient-packed market choices of winter — the season for unearthing! Certain types of root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips, even take on a sweeter taste being exposed to frost. While all fresh fruits and veggies make a highly nutritious and delicious addition, adding as much fresh produce to our daily meals will go a long way toward promoting good health. Be adventurous! Some of Chef Robin’s favorite go-to winter recipes: Green vegetable dishes: roasted Brussels sprout Caesar salad, kale and Swiss chard frittata. Whole-grain dishes: winter grain bowl with wheat berries or couscous. Legume dishes: white bean ragout, winter squash and bean curry, hearty bean and lentil soup. One of our personal favorite winter recipes from Chef Robin’s cookbooks is Wild Mushroom and Onion Shepherdless Pie. Traditionally made with leftover roast meat, this vegetarian twist on a winter classic combines a dense crust of creamy mashed potatoes with a hearty mushroom and caramelized onion ragout, making this the epitome of comfort.



ild Mushroom-Onion Shepherdless Pie

serves 6 Potato topping: 3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes ¼ cup heavy cream 4 tablespoons salted butter 1 teaspoon sea salt Freshly ground pepper 6 tablespoons grated Asiago cheese Mushroom filling: 6 tablespoons olive oil 3 cups yellow onions, sliced 3 medium portobello mushrooms 1½ pounds assorted wild mushrooms, chopped 1 teaspoon sea salt Freshly ground pepper 2 garlic cloves, minced 1 cup grated Asiago cheese 2 tablespoons chopped herbs, parsley, thyme and/or sage To make potato filling, peel and quarter potatoes, bring to a boil in salted water. Reduce heat, simmer 30 minutes or until just tender. Drain potatoes — do not rinse with cold water. Warm the cream with the butter, then add to drained potatoes, and mash until smooth. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and grated cheese; set aside to cool. To make the mushroom filling, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the sliced onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook for 20 minutes or so until starting to brown and caramelize. While the onions brown, set the 3 portobello mushrooms gill side up on a parchment paper–lined baking pan, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, roast for ½ hour in a 350° oven. Let cool and slice thin. When onions have caramelized, add the chopped raw wild mushrooms with remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and minced garlic to the pan, season with salt, a few grinds of pepper, stir until mushrooms are cooked through and tender. Set aside to cool, then add half the cheese and herbs. Preheat the oven to 375°F. To set up, brush a 9-inch pie dish with oil (or set up 8 small ramekins.). Layer mushroom–onion mixture on the bottom then a layer of sliced portobello mushrooms. Top with potato filling, spreading to the edges. Sprinkle top with remaining grated cheese. Bake 40 minutes, until golden. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.

Westridge Market 802 E. Ojai Ave • Open Daily 8am - 8pm • Phone 805-646-2762

Westridge Midtown Market 131 W. Ojai Ave • Open Daily 7am - 9pm • Phone 805-646-4082



Open for Breakfast & Lunch Tues - Sun 10-3 Dinner Friday & Saturday 5-7








Dining and Eating and tasting in Ojai is often experienced outdoors, as our little town boasts over 20 restaurants and tasting rooms with outdoor seating options. AZU

Ojai Olive Oil Co.

Bonnie Lu’s Cafe

Papa Lennon’s Pizzeria

Heavenly Honey

Topa Mountain Winery

Marché Gourmet Delicatessen

Ventura Spirits

A Sohisticated, casual restaurant & bar. We serve Spanish Californian cuisine paired with our artisanal beers, local wines and craft spirits. Open all day, 7 days a week. See our website for details or to book. 457 E Ojai Ave. 805-640-7987 | www.azuojai.com

328 E. Ojai Ave. Serving breakfast and lunch Open 7am-2:30pm Mon-Sun. Closed Weds. 805-646-0207

Tasting room. All natural pure honey. 206 E. Ojai Ave. 805-207-4847 www.heavenlyhoneycompany.com

Vegetarian, Vegan & Gluten-Free Options. Breakfast & Lunch 9-3 daily. Dinner Fri & Sat 5-8pm 133 E. Ojai Ave. 805-646-1133 www.marchegourmetdeli.com

100% organic-local-sustainable Tasting Room Open Monday-Sunday 10am-4pm 1811 Ladera Road, Ojai 805-646-5964 www.ojaioliveoil.com

Original Italian cuisine, Best of Ojai winner, local wines & beers on tap. 515 W. El Roblar Dr. www.papalennons.com 805-640-7388

Tasting room 821 W. Ojai Ave. 805-640-1190 www.topamountainwinery.com

Our tasting room is open every Friday from 1-5pm Sat and Sun 12-5pm 3891 N. Ventura Ave. SteB2A, Ventura 805-232-4313 www.venturaspirits.com



Tasting Most establishments with outdoor dining are pet friendly. So get outside, and gormandize en plein air with your pooch. You are sure to make, or see, an acquaintance while you fortify yourself. Majestic Oak Vineyard

Ojai Rotie

Tasting room 321 E. Ojai Ave. (Downstairs) 805-794-0272 www.majesticoakvineyard.com

Free-range rotisserie chicken, organic sourdough and the finest wines, beers & cider from the region. 469 E. Ojai Ave. (805) 798-9227 www.ojairotie.com

Westridge Market


802 E. Ojai Ave. Open Daily 8am - 8pm 805-646-2762

Westridge Midtown Market

Cuisine of Tibet, India & Japan. 11400. N. Ventura Ave. 11:30 to 9:30 Tues-Fri 4:00 to 9:30 Mon. www.TibetanAid.org 805-613-3048 | 805 798-2768 info@TibetanAid.org

Old Creek Ranch Winery

Hakane Sushi

Farmer and the Cook

OVG Dining & Tasting Guide

131 W. Ojai Ave. Open Daily 7am - 9pm 805-646-4082 www.westridgemarket.com

Live Music. Food Trucks. Join our Wine Club 10024 Old Creek Ranch Road, Ventura, CA 93001 www.oldcreekranch.com 805-641-4132

Market, Cafe, Bakery, Smoothies, Pizzas, Fresh Organic Farm Produce. Open 8:00am to 8:30pm 339 W El Roblar, Ojai To go orders 805-640-9608 Office 805-646-0960 farmerandcook1@gmail.com www.farmerandcook.com

The best Omakase Sushi in town. Izakaya menu, unique appetizers, Bento Gozen dinner. Top sushi chef with over 30 years experience. Open 7 days a week. See our website for details. 967 E Ojai Ave. | 805-640-3070 info@hakanesushi.co | www.hakanesushi.com

Reach a wider audience with the Ojai Valley Guide, Dining and Tasting listings. The OVG is distributed throughout Ventura, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. Contact us for details. team@ojaivalleynews.com 805-646-1476



In 2006, Quin Shakra started to help his farming mentor, Steve Sprinkel, at Mano Farm, eventually becoming its manager. It was at this farm where The Plant Good Seed Co. was founded. Quin says, “In my early 20s I started getting really interested in what ‘true’ sustainability might mean from a physical/biological standpoint. In terms of plants, this meant being able to understand more than what it took to simply raise a crop to a stage where it can be harvested and eaten; it meant gaining knowledge every step of the process — the plant’s birth, reproduction and death. So, in short, I’m interested in knowing about complete cycles. That knowledge feels empowering to me.” In turn, his increasingly well-versed knowledge on the subject began empowering Ojai consumers with their own green thumbs, of which there are now many. Quin’s seed catalog is a robust offering of vegetable, flower, and herb varieties that are suitable to growers in the Southern California region: “Many of the seed crops in the catalog are certified organic, which means we must follow the standards laid out by the National Organic Program.… I must establish an auditable, traceable supply chain in order to demonstrate that what the company sources is organic. This concerns everything from handling, to packing, to cleaning the office.

Sow Good Seed


It involves record-keeping and ensuring every supplier the company works with is also following the same process. Beyond the obvious benefits of organic agriculture, I like organic certification because it is ultimately just about being really well organized and transparent.” One of the key missions of The Plant Good Seed Co. is to provide customers with seeds that are either native to Ojai or locally adapted to the area; as seeds become adapted, they are strengthened to withstand Ojai’s various weather cycles. “The time it takes a seed to be regionally adapted is highly variable. It depends on the specific crop you are working with and the traits you are looking to adapt the crop for. Some crops I work with are perennials that take one year or longer to go to seed. Still, others are biennials that can seed within three seasons. Many are annuals that can seed within one to two seasons of growing. This is just the initial seed-to-seed phase and is very diverse, even within plant families. In terms of adaptation, most of the seed crops I work with show marked improvements in seed quality within one to two generations.” In layman’s terms, a generation is the next round of seeds from the initial crop. Accordingly, they then go through one complete seasonal weather cycle; seeds usually adapt to the terrain within two to three cycles/years through their season of vitality, experiencing varying degrees of intensity with the weather year-to-year.

Plant Good Seed Company owner, Quin Shakra, shares the wisdom behind locally sourced seeds.


Quin describes the signs of success in adapted seed: “This could be traits such as improved germination of the seed, uniformity or shape of the plant (important for vegetables), or tolerance to climate such as cold, heat, or water regime. Vegetable plant breeding is usually about selecting a couple of traits you want to focus on in a given generation of seed production. Subsequent production years can focus on other traits.” Apart from his own seed production, Quin continues to work with Steve at Rancho del Pueblo; This year they worked on a culinary hibiscus


crop; this crop has subsequently been harvested, and some is already cleaned and available for sale in the catalog. Quin also works with Richard Gambino at the Topa Vista Farmstand in Upper Ojai. Richard has provided seed (five different varieties) for The Plant Good Seed Co.’s catalog for the next two years. Quin said he believes “…increased collaboration between farmers who are committed to ecological agriculture” is integral to combatting the problems posed by mono-cropping and the subsequent hits to biodiversity that that can cause. “Because of the need for large volumes of production, mono-cropped agricultural models have tended to eliminate many niche, heirloom, or locally adapted varieties of crops. Because most larger farms aren’t vertically integrated operations that save seed, and agriculture has become an increasingly globalized business, even many local producers rely on seeds that are produced on the local marketplace. My work with Southern California native seeds takes place entirely on the land I farm. My role as a seed producer for the valley is to offer these varieties in an ethically produced manner, as some native seeds that are commercially available can sometimes be over-harvested or even illegally harvested on public lands.” Speaking of collaboration, Quin’s role in the Ojai Seed Exchange is also worthy to note. Quin details his involvement with this event and speaks to the benefits of saving and sharing local seeds: “Early in the life of the company (2011-2012), my thenbusiness partner thought it would be a great way to bring people together and share awareness about both seeds and our company. We actually weren’t the first people to organize seed exchanges in the valley, and I doubt we will be the last. Community organizations took over after our first few years of organizing the event, but this year I organized an alternate event. I brought together seeds, plants and also more traditional crafters who made plantbased art. For me, the event is about sharing culture, history and knowledge about plants.



Much the way a good restaurant is known, or a specific cook is known, the seed exchange is a way about giving a flavor and signature to a region.” Seed has historically been a commodity that was shared, bartered, traded, or exchanged. In some cases, seed has been a direct form of currency.” In terms of saving, the more of a local seed supply a given region has, the more resilient it is to withstand larger social tumult. We’ve been witness to a global pandemic this year, and I think this speaks for itself. The benefit of having something close versus relying on something far is about safety and security.” Quin states, “…my network of producers and suppliers is now larger than any one given farm.” He has already laid out plans for next year’s crop production in collaboration with Steve Sprinkel’s produce output. Quin

Above: Crimson flowered fava beans. Right: Stalks of White sage, and Culinary hibiscus branches drying for seed extraction

adds, “Some early candidates are fava beans, poppies, hibiscus (the one crop we did this year), and zinnias.” Regarding The Plant Good Seed Co.’s inventory, the offerings are diverse and unique, edible and decorative. “The company has long provided highquality seed of many niche crops such as hibiscus, rare dandelions and fava beans, and white sage, and those have

long been very brisk sellers. Because of the pandemic, this past year has been very unique. A lot of the most common vegetable crops were our best sellers. Beets, carrots, and zucchini were flying in the spring. People really got into mullein (‘nature’s toilet paper’),” says Quin. With his mastery of locally adapted seeds, Quin offers some insight on what may show up in the catalog in the coming seasons: “This is a region whose native soils are typically nitrogen deficient. Nitrogen is a crucial macronutrient for any plant, so I’m very interested when I encounter native nitrogen-fixing plants. Ceanothus is one of those. Another fun one I discovered this year is Deer Weed (Acmispon glaber). Neither are in the seed catalog right now, but I would love to carry them in the future.” For the home gardeners of Ojai, Quin has some tips for best practices for plant prosperity. Most essential, he explains, is “…balancing the soil’s fertility so the plants you are growing won’t be stressed and searching for something that isn’t there. Stress tends to bring pest pressure or disease. That, and proper spacing (not too close!) and watering of plants (not too little/ not too much).” As well, Quin shares that a good place for gardening novices to start in terms of cultivating edibles are the following: “For a number of reasons, I think big seeds such as sunflowers, zucchini, beans, or calendula, are pretty appealing for folks getting started. First, you can see them very clearly, so they’re really easy to plant; second, they tend to sprout pretty fast; finally, you can pretty easily identify them when they start sprouting.” Now that The Plant Good Seed Co. has dug its roots firmly in the Ojai Valley, there are many opportunities for enhancing its biodiversity, an exciting prospect for a land that has taken incontrovertible hits from the Thomas Fire. Quin knows the importance of giving back to the Ojai community: “I’ve always found this to be a very giving place. It’s nourished a lot of my needs and been a place that I’ve been able to thrive in.”















e each have to discover the truth for ourselves. That really is the basis of the ethos of the school: to ask thoughtful questions, to inquire, to help them know when they have a bias, and to create an environment that trusts our students to figure it out on their own.” — Jodi Grass

Oak Grove School Pavilion, Elementary students performing at the end of year assembly. Photo by Warren Petersen, June 2019






veryone at oak grove school says the word “space” a lot, because that’s what the students, teachers, staff and parents give each other, in all its forms: space to roam, think, learn, listen, let go and just be.

through eighth grade, and a collegepreparatory high school program that meets University of California requirements. Its electives and extracurricular activities include fine art, theater, music, athletics and community service.

The private Ojai school, which serves preschool through 12th grade, was founded by the renowned Ojai Valley thinker-teacher-writer Jiddu Krishnamurti, who once said that “freedom is space, outwardly and inwardly, specially inwardly.”

A boarding school is available for high school, but most attend Oak Grove by day and live in Ojai, with a few international students and kids from local cities like Los Angeles as well. Parents are deeply involved in the school, and parent education is abundant and ongoing.

Jodi Grass, Oak Grove’s head of school, said that “from day one, from preschool, we create space to have conversations, asking students what they think, and have them challenge each other’s thinking.” Clark Del Signore, a high school senior who’s attended Oak Grove since he was an infant, lauds the school’s COVID-19 safety set-up: In fall 2020, all classes began meeting entirely outdoors. “I prefer it over being inside,” he said. “I feel more comfortable outside; you have space to sort of sprawl more.” And Richa Badami, whose three daughters are Oak Grove students, described the warmth she felt on her youngest daughter Ashy’s first day of school in 2018, when the then fourthgrader’s teacher emailed Badami at the end of the day: “Usually, you hear about what your kid didn’t do, but she told me how Ashy’s day went; there was a spaciousness to talk about all things.” Academically, Oak Grove, a progressive day and boarding school with 220 students, is similar to other public and private schools, offering credentialed teachers, a Common Core curriculum

But in other ways, both concrete and less tangible, what happens at Oak Grove is very different from the educational experience of other schools; although not necessarily better, because Oak Grove discourages competition. “We don’t necessarily want to be better than another school,” Grass said. “But we want to be the right school for our families.” Oak Grove, founded in 1975, is the only Krishnamurti school in the U.S.; six more are in India and one in Great Britain. Krishnamurti, who died in 1986, started the schools, Grass said, because “he believed that we are conditioned from birth about how to dress, how to eat, what is good and bad, etc. Some of those things aren’t necessarily bad; it’s who you are. But sometimes that conditioning might prevent us from doing, saying or believing something we would naturally do.” Every child is prepared to attend a four-year university, Grass said. “But we don’t say you have to go to a university; we try not to create that pressure.



Even if they’re not going to college, we still want to send them out into the world as educated humans.” Much of what makes Oak Grove unique is visible on a tour of the campus. Several items seen on a recent weekday tour reflect the school’s values and spirit. The Bird A red-tailed hawk likes to perch atop a swingset on the school grounds. “I initially worried it imprinted on the kids,” Grass said (birds that imprint on humans bond with that species rather than their own). “We called the Ojai Raptor Center to see if we should be concerned,

of examinations and having a bright career.” A comprehensive outdoor education program is part of the school’s curriculum. Students go on camping trips starting in kindergarten, at first on campus, then branching out to local forests, beaches and mountains. High school students go hiking and backpacking in far-flung places out of state and in other countries. Clark said his favorite school trip was to Wyoming. “We went snowshoeing, had hot chocolate in the snow, and learned about native wildlife,” he said.

It’s more than just hands-on or making a diorama out of a book report. It’s the real realness of education.” Although founder Krishnamurti wrote and spoke a great deal about education, he purposefully did not leave a plan for how to go about teaching and learning. “Having a school without an explicit blueprint is an awesome challenge,” Grass said, “which asks us to actively question and look at how we provide the opportunity to learn.” One misconception about progressive schools is the idea that “a comfortable, wholesome, safe environment” can’t go hand in hand with an academically

“Nature is … the whole earth with all the things on it. … This sensitivity to the fallen leaf and to the because it was constantly wherever the kids were. Turns out it was OK. The kids named it Lucky.”

The goal is to develop a relationship with and respect for nature, but also to become competent at outdoor survival.

Oak Grove welcomes and supports outdoor education and a relationship with nature.

“When you know you can walk through the forest and carry your own food, and purify your own water, and take care of yourself, almost nothing can replace that,” Grass said.

Outdoor instruction during the pandemic isn’t much of a stretch for the school, where teachers are encouraged even in “normal” times to be outside. The campus, set on 150 acres filled with trees, meadows, trails and gardens, is a natural classroom. Along with hawks, a family of deer visits the campus. Classes frequently go on walks, and gardening is part of the curriculum. “If you have lost touch with nature, then you will inevitably lose relationship with another,” founder Krishnamurti said. “Nature is … the whole earth with all the things on it. … This sensitivity to the fallen leaf and to the tall tree on a hill is far more important than all the passing

The Map A large map of the campus on the wall of an indoor classroom teaches younger students about space and direction. Students discuss, for example, how to get to their classroom from the main house. Krista Swanner, director of admissions, said the progressive education Oak Grove offers is “about basing education in real-life experiences and giving students not only the skills and tools they need to work with a certain concept, but a purpose for using them.

rigorous program, Grass said. Students can take part in deep, meaningful learning that doesn’t have to feel painful or thrive on competitiveness, she said. The Sign A sign in the gazebo meeting area of the main building at Oak Grove reads, “All welcome / All sizes / All colors / All creatives / All genders / All religions / All ages / All people.” A deep respect for others and an emphasis on relationships is part of the Oak Grove ethos. Swanner has three children who attended Oak Grove, now in their 20s. Her children, she said, “have an expectation to be in deep relationships with others, to be known and seen, and to know and see others.” The students learn to respect and care for their peers as well as adults. Grass, whose two daughters graduated


from Oak Grove, gave an example, sharing how one of her daughters, in eighth grade, treated a new student who joined the class that year. When Grass asked her daughter how the boy was settling in, she replied, “He thinks the shoes he wears and the music he listens to matter. We just go along; he’ll soon realize no one cares.” The kids not only didn’t care about those material things, but they also did care about not hurting the boy’s feelings, a rare attitude in the awkward middle-school years. Badami, who moved to Ojai from Virginia in 2018 so her three daughters

missing out on anything. “Frankly, there were just too many people,” he said. “At Oak Grove, our entire class is one friend group,” which this year is about 10 students.” (Each grade at Oak Grove consists of just one class.) “I know all the teachers so well,” he said. “They’ve always felt like my peers, like we’re sharing knowledge. I think they are open to the philosophy of learning from us as much as we learn from them.” The Reflective Classroom A newer building on campus, the Reflective Classroom is a no-


The Rocking Chairs Rocking chairs are set up around the school inside and out, in classrooms and community areas, for students as well as staff and visitors. “Rocking is really good for integration and stress,” Grass said. “It creates some movement; we’re always looking at the most supportive way for students to sit and learn.” That willingness to experiment with what works best extends to all aspects of the school. “We take little bits of all different approaches, what’s working and

tall tree on a hill is far more important than all the passing of examinations and having a bright career.” could go to Oak Grove, attended a Krishnamurti school herself growing up in India. As an adult and parent, she has grown to appreciate the Krishnamurti values even more.

technology, no-shoes community room with windows all around. It’s used for dialogues, discussions, yoga and other quiet practices. “It has this amazing grounding feeling,” Grass said.

“At Oak Grove, they hold a container for awareness of relationship, and intelligence that is from within the child; these are not conversations we are having in our public schools,” Badami said. “I have never seen such a quality of attention and presence to a child by a teacher.”

Teachers use it for various purposes, not always quiet. Clark said his English teacher took them there to read and act out Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

That nurturing and understanding has extended to her own role as a mother. “I feel like I’ve grown so much as a parent and as a person being at Oak Grove,” she said.

Events, meetings and assemblies start with a moment of silence, and students study mindfulness.

Clark, who lives near Lake Casitas and attends Oak Grove with his twin sister, Gwen, said in ninth grade he thought about leaving Oak Grove, and visited other local schools to see if he was

Reflection doesn’t begin and end only in the Reflective Classroom.

Clark said that until eighth grade, he didn’t appreciate mindfulness class. But he appreciates meditation more now: “It has taught me to look within myself, to find where stress is coming from and relax. It’s also helpful with taking tests.”

resonating,” evolving with the times, Grass said. One of Krishnamurti’s most famous sayings is that “truth is a pathless land,” not dependent on any one religion, philosophy or school of thought. Grass said she was drawn to the school in part because “of this idea we each have to discover the truth for ourselves. That really is the basis of the ethos of the school: to ask thoughtful questions, to inquire, to help them know when they have a bias, and to create an environment that trusts our students to figure it out on their own.” And that’s exactly what they do‚ with plenty of free, safe breathing space to do so. Oak Grove School is at 220 W. Lomita Ave. For more information, call 805-646-8236 or visit www.oakgroveschool.org







michael d. frederick is an internationally recognized master teacher in the field of psycho-physical reeducation (mind-body learning) with more than 40 years of teaching experience. He originally trained as an Alexander teacher in England with Walter and Dilys Carrington and in America with Marjorie Barstow. He studied in the United States and Israel as a Feldenkrais Practitioner with Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, and has extensive training in the Yoga tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar. Michael has organized and taught in the United States and Europe since 1978; some notable students include: John Cleese, Quentin Tarantino, Hal Holbrook, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sir Ian McKellen, Mary Steenburgen, John Bolton and Seal. He is currently a co-director of the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles and has a private practice in Los Angeles, Ojai and Santa Barbara.

A conversation with master teacher, Michael Frederick

Alexander Technique

Conversation with Master Alexander Technique Teacher: Michael Frederick Interview by Ellen O. Bierhorst, Ph.D. Ellen Bierhorst: What does the word “transformation” mean in the topic? How does the Alexander Technique serve as a means for our transformation?” Michael Frederick: The Alexander Technique is a conscious, mindful process of looking at one’s own habit patterns (mentally, emotionally and physically). This involves intentionally inhibiting the unnecessary patterns of interference by stopping inside and saying “no” to these habits. In this way, you can allow something new to enter in and make a more mindful choice.


So the transformation is one from mindless or unconscious habit to mindful, intentional choice. (I’m using the word “inhibition” not in the Freudian sense of repression, but in the neurological sense of creating a space between a stimulus and our response.) E.B. So, Michael, I come to this from a lifetime as a seeker and 40 years as a psychotherapist, a clinical psychologist. Tell me about your own experience exploring transformation in your lifetime and in your experience as an A.T. teacher. An aerial view of your whole entire life. The principal ways that you have sought personal development. M.F. For me, it all started with my paternal grandmother, a very spiritual person of the “old school.” She lived in a small town in Southern Illinois with wooden sidewalks, a gravel Main Street and a white clapboard Methodist Church. My grandmother taught Sunday school and she used to take me along with her to the morning classes. There was something about her quality as a human being – a sense of unconditional love that affected me deeply and that I carry with me. This has been my “North Star” throughout my whole life, guiding me into right action. E.B. So you had the first-generation Alexander “Old Guard” teachers. Was there anyone else? M.F. Well, yes. I can think of David Bohm, the theoretical physicist, and Henry Bortoft, a physicist and interpreter of Goethean science. Both of these men were very important to me but there is someone I’d like to talk about, though. Jiddu Krishnamurti was one of the most important philosophers and spiritual teachers of the 20th century. He was a very well-educated Indian gentleman who was later educated in Great Britain. He was a Brahmin from Madras/Chennai, which meant he was a part of the upper caste of society. And the Theosophical Society looked to him to be the next World Teacher, like Buddha, Jesus Christ and Mohammed. He traveled

What is the Alexander Technique? Essentially a type of therapy that aims to treat and prevent a range of disorders through a system of postural changes, the Technique stresses the importance of reeducating the muscular system as a means to achieve physical and mental well-being. By unlearning common bad postural habits and ways of using the body, people can alleviate tension, fatigue, back pain, neck stiffness, asthma, headaches, depression, and many other ailments.



the world talking with people and he started several private schools for children in India, America, England and Switzerland. These schools were of very high quality; they had an important balance between academics and nature without any religious tenets or heavyhanded spirituality. One of these schools was Brockwood Park in Hampshire, England. My wife, Lena, and I went to visit and they asked us to teach theater. We accepted and ended up teaching there for two years. That was the next step. So everything always led to something else, something new. And all along the way, I carried the conscience of my grandmother with me. All of those choices were true to her. E.B. And you chose to focus primarily on being an Alexander Technique teacher? M.F. Well, sure. For one thing, the A.T. helped me immensely in a personal way. The work is good. It is not illusory, it is very pragmatic and useful in everyday life. So Lena and I had two children, a son and a daughter (John Michael and Rowan) in England and then we moved to Ojai because J. Krishnamurti had a private school there called The Oak Grove School. We enrolled our children and I began teaching the A.T. in the spring of 1979 in Santa Barbara, Ojai and eventually Los Angeles. As I have said, I have had the amazing good fortune to study with some world-class teachers. And I will mention one more, just because she was so important to me: Laura Huxley, the wife of Aldous Huxley, the great British author of the classic “Brave New World.” Aldous loved the Alexander Technique and even wrote Frederick Mathias (F.M.) [Alexander] into one of his characters in “Eyeless in Gaza.” Laura was a magnificent human being. She was like my second grandmother. In addition to just exuding unconditional love, she was funny, exceedingly bright, wholly inquisitive and never suffered fools gladly. It was 1984 when she first called me on



the phone. I was surprised to hear a woman with a lyrical Italian accent say, “My name is Laura Huxley and I understand you are both an Alexander Technique teacher and a Feldenkrais Practitioner … am I correct?” I said I was, and she said, “I want to study with you; please come to my home and give me lessons.” I ended up giving her Alexander lessons for over 25 years. Her house was always being visited by fascinating people: Chungliang “Al” Huang, the Tai Chi Master; Ram Dass of “Be Here Now” fame; the jazz clarinetist, Artie Shaw; and so many interesting, influential people. I stayed at her home for about one night a week every week for over two decades. I still miss her. E.B. You were able to develop a means to deal with tragedies in your life; Lena’s death, your son’s death, your divorce from your second wife, Tina von Moltke. Now I could imagine that anyone reading this would say, “What does a postural re-education have to do with helping us deal with bereavement?” M.F. What you are dealing with in the A.T. is more than just postural re-education. You are dealing with the fight-flight-freeze response and learning how to be free from this reactional pattern. The reason our posture worsens is that we are locked into this fear response. Imagine a conflict between what’s actually happening to us and what we wish was happening, i.e., the important phone call comes while you’re in the midst of cooking a complicated dish. Your attention is pulled into two directions simultaneously and this activates a low-level fight or flight response. The Technique teaches that you can choose

“The Alexander Technique is not a method of accumulating information nor the art of learning something new. It is, instead, the art of unlearning, which is a much more subtle and, sometimes, a more difficult endeavor — unlearning that which is habitual.”

- LAURA HUXLEY, WIFE OF ALDOUS HUXLEY AND FORMER STUDENT OF MICHAEL FREDERICK Influencers: Left: Chungliang Huang, center Frederick Matthias Alexander and right, Moshe Feldenkrais.

something else for yourself. You have to go to the root of that response. What we are really dealing with is fear and “thought in its wrong place.” That is to say, faulty perceptions and the illusion of self. We all have thoughts of insecurity, inferiority or general negativity. The problem isn’t having those thoughts. What matters is how you react to them. You know, thought is useful. But if thought wanders into the arena of comparison, of doubt or of some sort of self-loathing, and you lock into that, then you end up simply agonizing. The thing about the A.T. is that it is applied to the present moment and it gets you out of your fear-reaction pattern, allowing inner freedom. That’s the crux of the Technique: mindful awareness in movement. Your body and breath only exist now. There is no past or future with this. E.B. I think what would be helpful is if you could give us a little scenario…. M.F. I think about when my son John Michael died. I don’t want to get too dark but everything that’s dark also has a light side. And that’s the story I’d like to share with you now. I was at the crematorium in Ventura, about to push my son into the oven. We were surrounded by friends, family and teachers who loved him dearly. The poignancy was palpable because almost seven years earlier, to the day, I had been standing on the same tiles, pushing his mother into the same oven. My then-wife, Tina, and I had been blessed with a daughter, Nikita, who was just at the cusp of learning to walk. Nikita was outside of the crematorium with her little plastic walker that had a dog’s face on it. She was pushing


it around the asphalt in front of the beautifully manicured cemetery. She was laughing in the sunlight, full of joy and happiness, surrounded by beauty. As I turned away from my final farewell to my son, I saw this playful, innocent laughter in Nikita, who was exploring walking for the first time. It was one of those moments when you have an epiphany. Looking at my daughter, I absolutely sensed that life is in the present moment, forwardfacing and that the essence of life is joy. This changed everything about my perspective from that moment on. You might wonder how this relates to the A.T. With my decades of Alexander experience, I had the ability to see the importance of what was unfolding in front of me, and I was able to come back to my length and width and balance within myself. The delicacy of movement that you learn with the A.T. only happens in “the now” and the combination of gravity and joyfulness of what I was experiencing forced me to come to that “nowness” of this present moment. So that was it. It’s not that you don’t feel your feelings, or that I didn’t get angry and cry and rage and all that. You give yourself the appropriate amount of time and then you let it go. That’s why all the major religions, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and also Hinduism, say you grieve for a short period of time. They understand that you can’t hang out with the pain and loss. For a period of time, you deal with it, and then you move on. E.B. And how is it that the A.T. helps us in a way that is different from Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc.? M.F. Because the A.T. is extremely practical and pragmatic. If you have some sort of spiritual experience with the Technique, it’s because you brought it with you. It’s not inherent in the Technique itself. We’re dealing in the present moment with “Am I creating excessive downward pressure in my body due to my reactional state over some issue or can I observe it without criticism and learn how to come back to overall length and width and


M.F. The Alexander teacher has to make the connection in the student’s thinking and awareness that getting in and out of a chair is just a movementmetaphor for what is really important. As F.M. said, “boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus. But no one will see it that way. They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do.” delicacy within myself?” It is important because, as I walk along my path, my movement becomes easier, making my life less stressful. And I feel better — that’s the key thing. E.B. I’m wondering if there is a gap in understanding that the reader is going to have with it. A reader who knows that you go to an Alexander lesson and you sit and you stand; perhaps you walk, perhaps you play your violin; you do table work, you get up, you sit and stand some more, and then you leave … I’m wondering if there’s going to be a gap for that person as to, “How do you get from that to being able to apply Alexander’s principles to the real world, beyond the lesson?”

Personal responsibility is inherent in the Alexander Technique. This work teaches personal responsibility and accountability. We teach a student that what they’re learning is the process of creating a choice in the way they react to things and in the way they delicately move out of any fixation. M.F. Our responsibility is the first thing; the second thing is knowing that you don’t know; and third, to be open to a clear “means-whereby” process that allows the necessary change to manifest. The truth is, change is going to happen whether we like it or not. It’s just whether we can allow it to occur consciously within us. That, to me, is the key. We have to allow conscious change.





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Crewing Casitas


“Our No. 1 goal is to be something that the community is proud of. That’s always been something that we’ve focused on. We really want to be something that the community enjoys.”


These are the words of Wendy Gillett, Casitas Rowing executive director and coach. She started the Casitas Rowing program in 2008 with husband and program coordinator Eric. “My husband and I started it as a nonprofit,” Wendy said. “He (Eric) had rowed in high school, college and then for the U.S. Olympic Team. He always wanted to run his own rowing program and to be a coach. So when we saw the history and everything behind Lake Casitas, knowing that that was an Olympic site, we knew that that was where we should start a program.”

There were no rowing programs in Ventura County before Casitas Rowing. The closest program was in Los Angeles. Because of this, Wendy and Eric had to demonstrate to the community what rowing was all about, and why it’s so special. Wendy said: “We get Ojai and Ventura; those are our biggest draws. We have kids and adults that come from pretty far away, all the way to West Hollywood, all the way up to Goleta. So it’s pretty broad, but most of the kids come from Ojai or Ventura …. We have kids from every single school in Ventura Unified and Ojai Unified. It does keep us pretty busy.”

Gillett talked about how the program started small, with about six kids and three adults, but grew quickly. Today, there are about 70 adults and 70 kids of all skill levels on the team. “I think there was a definite need for something like rowing in our community, and there’s nothing really like it,” Wendy said. “It’s a unique sport.”

Casitas Rowing offers an array of programs. The high school team competes and travels, preparing those who want to row in college as well. For the adults, there is one big team separated out by skill level. Brad Wieners, a member of the adult team who also rowed in college, said his experience with Casitas Rowing has been a profoundly positive one. It allows him to experience the nostalgia of venues he competed at while rowing for UCLA, while at the same time introducing him to a lot of new friends. Wieners described the impact the program has had on him as: “A moment, a passage, to look forward to. Symmetry. Rhythm. Peace.” Below: Casitas rowers train on rowing machines to improve their endurance.

by AUSTIN WIDGER Photos by Wendy and Eric Gillett



The primary goal of Casitas Rowing is to make the community proud, and provide a program community members want to send their children to. Since the program has now been going strong for nearly 13 years, Wendy and Eric love watching the kids grow up from 11-year-olds to young men and women. “For us, for my husband and me, we don’t have kids of our own, so this is our opportunity to watch kids grow from young kids to adulthood,” Wendy said. “That’s been really exciting for us to kind of watch the kids do that. We’ve seen kids show up who were cut from other sports and really wanted an opportunity, wanted a chance. We welcome them into rowing and then they’ve gone on to receive college scholarships. We’ve seen kids with learning disorders come and get scholarships to college. We’ve seen kids who are tremendous athletes and have tried every sport, yet didn’t find something that would give them the spark, that would make them want to embrace fitness for life, and come and try rowing and say to us: ‘This is it. This is my sport. I finally found it.’” The couple strive to create healthy habits and a love for fitness that will stick with the kids their whole lives. Tanner Godfrey, a former Casitas rower who was inspired to go on to compete at UC San Diego, found this to be the case. Godfrey said: “I would

describe rowing as the sport and the challenge you didn’t know you needed. I challenge those who may not have an athletic history, or who may be nearing the end of high school, to give it a shot. For those who have been involved in other sports: your success in soccer, swimming, football and tennis is transferable to this sport. You will find yourself working harder than ever, having more fun than ever, and giving yourself a massive opportunity to be recruited to the best schools in the country.” And, of course, Casitas Rowing wants to be competitive, too. They are often competing against teams that have been around for 50, 80 or 100 years. The team is very competitive and does well whenever they go to regattas (rowing competitions). Wendy said: “Along with that, we also win awards for having the most sportsmanship at regattas, and our kids go out and win accolades for how they conduct themselves. So that’s really important to us as well. We like to win, too. The medals are really nice; the trophies are really nice. But it’s nice when they can do it and win and still be really great kids when they go out and compete against other teams. We really like to see that.” Casitas Rowing is able to thrive, even during the pandemic, through

community support. Ojai and the greater community have continually supported the kids throughout the years. Wendy said: “We have kids, about 25 percent of them are on some sort of financial aid because their families can’t afford it. We don’t turn anybody away. So because of that, the community has really stepped up and offered the opportunity for a lot of kids who couldn’t do not only rowing, but maybe any sport.” Wendy said: “I think that investing in a kid is the best investment that you’ll ever make. Because when you invest in a kid in your own community, what we have seen is that these kids row here with us, and kids who participate in sports do better in school. That’s just the way it goes. The kids do well, they row here, they go onto college. And they often come back. They come back to this community. Now what you have is a kid who’s gone on, learned a skill, brought it back to our community. These kids are then using that skill to come back and better our town.” Those interested in rowing can also contact Wendy. The season started Jan. 2, but people join all throughout the spring. The community can make a donation through the website at www. casitasrowing.org, or by calling 805642-2288. Casitas Rowing is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.






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Constructivism at play Story and photos by VALERIE FREEMAN


assing by the Ojai Valley Museum on Ojai Avenue in downtown Ojai, you may notice colorful acrobatic geometric shapes peering above their courtyard wall. “Alta” and “Nex-2” are the creations of Ojai sculptor Tanya Kovaleski. Ojai Valley Museum Director Wendy Barker invited the artist to display her sculptures in the front courtyard garden after the new entry gates were completed. With the museum’s open-ended date for installation, Tanya had extra time to work on her sculpture plans. She sketched from her car in the Westridge parking lot across the street from the museum to imagine her sculptures rising above the top of the courtyard wall. So it is no wonder the colorful wooden sculptures catch the passersby on Ojai Avenue with great expression and enthusiasm. The sculpture “Alta,” initially named “Beato,” was originally planned as an outdoor sculpture for the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts and was inspired by the surrounding mountainous landscape and Beato’s signature sculpture “Blind Man.” Tanya changed the name from “Beato” to “Alta” when she installed it at the Ojai Valley Museum. “Beatrice Wood was such an amazing artist, I didn’t want to lean on her at all,” Tanya said. When Tanya sent a photo of her newly installed sculpture to her sister-in-law, Alta, Alta loved it! So the artist changed the name from

“Beato” to “Alta,” which also means “above or higher” in Spanish. It made sense to the artist since she did the concept drawing while sitting on a hill at the Beatrice Wood Foundation. Also, Ojai was just forming when our state was called Alta California — above Baja California. In nearby Rancho Cucamonga, “Nex-2” sculpture was planned in relationship to “Alta.” These two sculptures, plus three other of her large sculptures, will travel and be installed in March on both sides of a garden walkway at the nationally treasured Sam Maloof Foundation in the Alta Loma area of San Bernardino. Last year, when I stopped by her studio, I noticed strips of wood floating in her swimming pool. My curiosity led me on a complete yard and studio tour. Much of her property is utilized for different stages to construct her large-scale wooden abstract sculptures. She soaks strips of pine molding in her pool for a week to soften the wood, then moves them to her garage where she bends and bar-clamps the wet wood onto a large curved mold 8 feet in diameter. After the wood dries, a lot of glue is applied to three or four strips at a time and then clamped to a large curve on tables in her breezeway. After 24 hours, the curved strips are ready to be made into arches with other wood supports. Even though Tanya has specific ideas in mind, the curves may change shape on their own and she lets the wood do

its own thing. For the straight sections, she uses long 2-by-2-foot redwood from — her favorite — Ojai Lumber. Much of the time-consuming sanding and priming is done by her assistant, Maria McKenzie, in the outdoor kitchen. Tanya applies the finishing paint, and with assistance from her husband and Maria, they preassemble the new sculptures on her back deck with the support of sandbags for Tanya’s final adjustments. I was intrigued to learn more about her process and we arranged an interview. When I arrived on her front porch, looking for a doorbell, I felt I was not alone because standing by me was a tall wedge of wood sculpture. I knocked on her door and patiently waited, admiring the minimal piece of wood poised with its full graceful grain, sliced and exposed on one side, with the other side rough bark. Its tall scale and natural-grain motif had gentle curves with suggestions of being figurative. It was Tanya’s remaining sculpture from a Los Angeles Arboretum exhibit, “Forces of Nature II,” a show of sculptures made from their fallen trees. After having a creative mental exchange with the sculpture, I realized Tanya was probably around back in her studio and, sure enough, we met en route. I came to love visiting her studio. It’s always different — the same breezeway with chimes catching the wind and an amazing view out the back yard of



the Ojai Valley mountains. Plus, the contents of her studio are always transformed. Tanya said: “It’s like musical chairs but with tables, depending on what I’m working on and the process. I’m always moving tables around as I work on different parts.” Standing in the middle of the floor was a big wooden sculpture in progress with green fabric-like swags clamped on various bars. A stack of long white arched geometric parts for other sculptures were suspended from the ceiling, several

Above: Tanya in her studio with works in progress and 3-D miniature models. Right: Tanya’s first drawing of “Beato” sculpture, later renamed to “Alta.”

small white 3-D foam board models sat on a sawhorse table, small pieces of bark with fungi were minimally perched on a cross brace of the illuminated wall, and a pushpin secured a splinter of wood. Tanya jetted into the house to retrieve her COVID mask, momentarily leaving me to explore her studio. Once again, I was so visually intrigued being in her studio that I began composing geometric photographic opportunities and choreographed her within the hanging lattice bars and 3-D models as she enthusiastically spoke about her works. Tanya usually begins with drawings that develop into smallscale foam board models prior to her building the full-scale works. “The models are essential to figuring out how the sculpture is going to stand in 3-D space,” she said, giggling. We went to her back patio, with a

spectacular view, for her interview. Awaiting was her picnic table with a rainbow-striped umbrella, each white metal tubular chair adorned with different solid-colored netted fabric — navy, terracotta and orange. An array of Fiesta plates in a melody of golds and reds and soft patina green were topped with dolma rolls, cut fruit, wedged crackers and a sprawl of arranged arched avocado slices. All reminded me of elements of her sculptures. As I brought this to her attention, she laughed and said, “A meal tastes better if it looks good.”

to look at and discuss each other’s work,” she said. “I was amazed how well the students in six weeks were able to describe their work in English in full sentences. It’s really inspiring teaching kids. They’re fearless and I really appreciate that they have awkwardness and courage at the same time.”

She said her fondest creative childhood memories are from her back yard, running between the sheets hanging on the line, rearranging furniture to make caves, and playing with the well-crafted wooden blocks her grandfather made for her from scraps of wood. He passed away when she was 12 and she often thinks of him while she works.

With the first request for an outdoor sculpture to be installed at the Maloof Foundation, she began to paint her sculptures in bright colors so they would be seen and stand out in nature. She loves yellow and transitions from orange to red. She exclaimed when working in watercolors, “Yellow comes right at you and hits you in the face!” But she never uses green, as her mother once said, “Nature is green and you can’t compete with nature.”

Tanya loves to draw and paint with watercolors, too, especially when she’s traveling. She often finds herself inspired by old railroad bridges and forests. For her, walking through forests is like walking through a sculpture, with the angles of the fallen trees, their relationships with each other, and the pathways through it. Influenced by Constructivism and Abstract Expressionism, with a passion for math, especially geometry, Tanya attended UC Berkeley, initially studying math and eventually switching to an art major. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sculpture at Berkeley and a master of fine arts at Yale. Tanya pursued an ambitious career while teaching sculpture in colleges and universities, and junior high school art in New York and California. In 2010, she and her husband settled in Ojai. For a few summers, Tanya taught art at Besant Hill School in Upper Ojai to international students who didn’t speak English. She likes to encourage children to use their large motor skills such as their arms instead of just fingers for drawing and painting. “At the end of each class meeting, we would gather

Her earlier sculptures were either white, grey or black, and her largest sculpture — 25-by-40-by-12 feet tall and made from white foam board — was installed at Los Angeles Artcore Brewery Annex.

In regard to her sculptures at the Ojai Valley Museum, I inquired if she ever has problems with children climbing on them because they look like so much fun. She said: “Kids are usually there with their parents, so they are careful. I tell them they can go on in and they start running through it. They don’t hurt anything. And I put a blue support in “Nex-2,” so if a kid were to hang from it, they would not get hurt or hurt the sculpture. I painted it blue and attached it, not being in the sense of it, but it makes a quirky sense. Kids have fun in the sculptures and I hope adults enjoy them, too.” Tanya is an Ojai Studio Artist on the OSA mini and annual tours. She has exhibits planned for April at the Maloof Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and, hopefully in the future, at the Ventura Botanical Gardens and the Newport Civic Park. So, the next time you see a fun and colorful geometric sculpture outdoors, chances are it may be by sculptor Tanya Kovaleski. To learn more about the artist, visit her website at www.TanyaKovaleski.com


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h o m e

Above: Baby’s first food

A holistic approach to birthing



“There’s peace; there’s quiet; it’s soft.” Janet Namdari’s gentle testimonial sounds like a script for a guided-meditation app. She continued: “There are no bright lights; it’s not mechanical; it’s not surgery. It’s a beautiful experience. It’s how it should be.” She’s talking about giving birth, not always considered the most tranquil experience. Perhaps that’s because when she gave birth to her two children, son Nima Alexander, almost 3, and daughter Laila Joy, almost 1, she was comfortably at home, by choice. Guiding and caring for her was Ojai Valley certified nurse-midwife Mary Jackson, who has been a homebirth midwife for 46 years. Camarillo resident Namdari said when she first became pregnant, she started to think of the birth process differently from how society often views it. “We’re told that it’s scary, painful and you need to go to the hospital to do it,” she said. But her home births “felt right. It was intense and not easy, but it wasn’t scary.” Namdari is among the 1% of American women who choose to have a baby at home instead of in a hospital. That number could be rising due to the pandemic. According to reports from certified nurse-midwives around the country, they’ve seen an increase in the number of women who want to deliver their babies at home. Many pregnant women are worried about being in hospitals, due to fear of infection or concerns they won’t be able to have family with them. Jackson said she too has seen an increase in people inquiring about home births. But she discourages families from choosing a home birth based on COVID-19 fears. “Do it only if you really want it,” she said. “Choosing it in avoidance of something else is different from really choosing it.” In non-COVID times, the opposite is usually the case; i.e., people tend to be more afraid of home births. But those fears are misguided. Midwives are educated professionals who carry medical equipment to handle basic emergencies. They work with backup doctors and do not hesitate to take a woman in labor to a hospital if necessary.


“A lot of people think a midwife just shows up, cuts the cord and catches the baby,” Jackson said. But midwives routinely carry oxygen; Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin, used to induce labor; and Methergine, which can be used to help with hemorrhaging. They might also offer herbs or massage. Research backs up the safety of home births. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health studied the outcomes of planned home births in the United States from 2004 to 2009. Researchers found that low-risk women in the study had low rates of intervention without an increase in adverse outcomes. The study also found a low cesarean rate of 5.2%, compared with the national average of about 32%. In 2019, a meta-analysis study published in EClinicalMedicine found that “the risk of perinatal or neonatal mortality was not different when birth was intended at home or in hospital.” “Low-risk” is a key term. Experts advise against a home birth for women with risk factors such as high blood pressure, multiples, a baby who is premature or not in a position to make a headfirst delivery. Namdari’s husband, Bahram, a Ventura County anesthesiologist who works in labor and delivery, was initially among the skeptics. At first, he was against the idea of Janet giving birth at home, but that changed after the couple met with several midwives. “He grilled them, and realized they are more prepared than he thought,” Janet said. Bahram had never worked with a midwife during his training and experience as a doctor. “I didn’t have a general understanding of what they did in the process of the live birth, and how frequently they monitored the baby and mother,” he said. “After the interview I felt more comfortable. The monitoring is similar to what they do in the hospital.” During a home birth, Jackson and her colleagues (more than one midwife is present during labor) monitor the mother’s temperature, pulse and blood pressure and the baby’s heart rate. “We also offer relaxation measures such as visualization to help the woman trust her body, which helps the cervix to open,” Jackson said.

A natural birth does not include painkillers, a practice that Jackson said can benefit both mother and baby. “There are no interventions that get in the way of this delicate hormonal balance,” she said. Mothers “get to be in the experience every step of the way, and stay in connection with their baby.” Labor and birth aren’t just the mother’s experience, said Jackson, who has extensively studied and teaches about pre- and perinatal psychology. “Babies are a huge part of the journey, pushing to help themselves to get born,” she said. “It’s so healthy for a baby to feel the mother’s presence and connection; they get to do it together.” Jackson is not against drugs and interventions during birth when problems arise. “But when used routinely, that’s where I have more of a challenge,” she said. “If there is an intervention in the natural process of labor — for example, if Pitocin is involved — contractions can be stronger and closer together than with natural rhythm, and intensifying the strength can make it more challenging for the mother, who might disconnect from the baby.” Lauren Malloy of Ojai is among many mothers who actually felt safer going through labor at home. Her daughters Milly, 9, and June, 6, and son Clay, 1, were born at home. For Clay’s birth, she worked with Jackson and her team. “I chose to have a home birth because I don’t feel very safe or comfortable in a hospital,” she said. “The more research I did, I found it would suit my personality and emotions better to be with a caregiver who deeply knows me.” She was wary of unfamiliar doctors and nurses being present during the birth and wanted to avoid bright hospital lights. “I needed to be in a dark, cozy, comfortable place,” she said. Malloy emphasized that she doesn’t believe a home birth is for

every woman, and doesn’t want to put down hospital births. “The most important thing is to be educated,” she said. “It’s about knowing yourself and figuring out where you feel most comfortable to open up and have your baby.” Jackson, who has two adult children born at home, said a natural birth can be empowering for women, who get to choose the physical position they want to be in during labor, which people get to be in the room with them, and what they want to eat and drink. Janet Namdari uses the word “empowered” as well to describe how her home births made her feel. “It’s the road less traveled in this country,” she said. “It gave me confidence as a mother to know that I know what’s best for my kids, and that women are capable and strong.” Midwives also often offer options such as water births and are open to “alternative” practitioners such as acupuncturists or massage therapists helping their clients through pregnancy. The physical environment a woman gives birth in can make a difference during delivery. “At home, the environment is familiar, so it supports their body to be in a relaxed state,” Jackson said. “For some women, their body might be triggered entering a hospital — maybe the smell, or it reminds them of someone dying or sick, or maybe they had surgery. It may not feel warm and welcoming, which supports hormones to work well in labor.” A home birth can also involve older siblings, even before the mother goes into labor. “The whole family is included in the journey of pregnancy and birth,” Jackson said. She encourages mothers to include older children as part of prenatal visits, “so when we show up at their home we’re not strangers.”

Jackson lets parents decide if siblings are prepared to be present at the birth, and checks with the children themselves. “Even 2- and 3-year-olds know if they are ready,” she said. “Most of them love witnessing this miracle.” Namdari and Malloy both gave birth at home without their older children present. Namdari said her son was still too little, and her daughter was born at 2:54 a.m., so he was asleep anyway. Malloy, too, gave birth late at night, so her older children weren’t involved.

Above left: Janet Namdari is attended by her husband Bahram, Alexis Starting, doula, and Mary Jackson, LM. Above: Brothers look on as Karni Seymour-Brown, LM, prepares to weigh their newborn sister. Karni, of Sunrise Midwifery, Ventura is one of the first legally licensed midwives in California.Above far right: Janet Namdari labors at home supported by doula, Alexis Starting. Right: The Malloy sisters make their first connection with their new baby brother.

The experience is powerful as well for the woman’s partner.

During prenatal visits, Jackson delves into deep psychological work.

Bahram Namdari said he “was surprised how strong my wife was, how well she tolerated the labor.”

“I look at how the parents were born, whatever their experience at birth was,” Jackson said. “They might not remember through words, for example, being separated from their mother, but there is a sensation that relates to that.”

When the mother and father, or mother and mother, collaborate to help the baby be born, “the baby has a sensation of them working together,” Jackson said. “The partner gets to witness how strong the mother is, how hard she had to work to birth this baby, and can see her with new eyes. The mother’s heart has to open wide, and the partner gets to share in that vulnerability.”

“You talk about your birth and your partner’s birth, and that’s highly emotional,” Malloy said. “My husband was a C-section baby, and he had a sister born with disabilities. We explored a lot of his fear and reservations, which led us to connect

even more.” Malloy praised the pre-birth visits as “such intensive, sweet, connecting care I’ve never felt in a doctor’s office. It’s a very emotional time, and I felt like my emotional needs were met.” Namdari said the prenatal visits were “like therapy sessions. The midwives really honor women and birth. It was very humane and gentle and sweet. I felt heard, and that the whole of me was being taken care of — my mind, my body, my soul. It’s a holistic approach.”



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Climate Park Comprehend and copy nature. -Viktor Schauberger, Austrian naturalist

Visionary environmentalist, Bjorn Heyerdahl, has partnered with the City of Ojai to create the first climate park in the U.S. by KAREN LINDELL


earth has been around for 4.5 billion years. so let it do its thing. that is a major oversimplification of the complex philosophy of bjorn heyerdahl, grandson of norwegian explorer and kontiki expedition leader thor heyerdahl and an adventurerenvironmentalist-humanitarianintellectual in his own right. The Earth, Bjorn Heyerdahl said, knows how to regulate itself better than any human being with a Ph.D. “The closer we get to mimicking the biospheric processes of life … the closer we are to living an intelligent life on Earth,” he said. “Simply follow the lead of the planet itself.” Heyerdahl, who was born and lives in South Africa, wants Ojai in its own small way to contribute to that intelligence — and in doing so, influence the rest of the world. Partnering with the nonprofit environmental organization Global Green and the city of Ojai, Heyerdahl is leading the development of a community “climate park” around Ojai City Hall. The multifaceted project — the first such park of its kind in the United States — isn’t just about planting trees or saving endangered species. Heyerdahl doesn’t believe in single-issue solutions.

A climate park, he explained, “is a mini model of how the whole biosphere should be managed,” addressing the interactions of ecology, anthropology, culture, design, education, economy, technology and humanity, even in a relatively small space like the 8 acres planned in Ojai. A climate park follows the Earth Charter, a document that offers 16 principles for a more “just, sustainable and peaceful” society. The Earth Charter was an initiative started in 1994 by government leaders and representatives from environmental organizations around the world. A climate park, Heyerdahl said, is intended to show “what the world would look like if we actually did what the charter says and stopped talking about it.” How did a guy from the mountains of South Africa, who embraces his Norwegian Viking past and has traveled the world on environmental quests, end up championing a community park in Ojai? Heyerdahl is his own man, but he has his grandfather’s DNA. In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl led an expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands on a raft called Kon-Tiki. He wanted to prove that the islands might have been populated by


people from South America rather than Asia. Afterward, he wrote a best-selling book about the trip, and a documentary about his adventures won an Academy Award in 1951. Thor Heyerdahl had two sons, Bjorn (Bjorn of South Africa’s dad) and Thor Jr., with his first wife, Liv, and three daughters with his second wife, Yvonne. The younger Bjorn, who is married and has six children, lives in the Magaliesberg mountain range in northern South Africa. The area is part of a region known as the “Cradle of Humankind” because of the many hominid fossils that have been found there. “I’m very interested in archaeology, and here in the Cradle of Humankind you can study everything — geology, human anthropology, flora, fauna,” he said. Heyerdahl refers to himself as “thoroughly unschooled.” He became interested in the environment as a child — a passion he developed on his own, not because of his explorer grandfather. “My grandfather had this interesting insight into how men and women moved around the planet,” Heyerdahl said. “I just had a unique need to understand my place in the world. The more you study the biosphere, the more you cannot deny that you are just one cell in this unbelievable organism. You need to play a role and participate.” His schooling included the study of psychology in an unusual way — while he was in prison during the 1980s for being a conscientious objector.

Above and left: The Intrepid, Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer, Thor Heyerdahl sailed Kon-Tiki, a hand built raft, 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in 1947



Heyerdahl said his imprisonment at age 18 had a tremendous impact on his beliefs and learning. When he objected to compulsory military service during the apartheid days of South Africa’s nationalist government, he was sentenced to six years in prison, and ended up serving four years and nine months. “I had no political intentions,” he said. “I simply would not go and kill people I don’t know for some military industrial complex, and I wouldn’t have them tell me how to spend my day.” The harsh conditions of prison, he said, “forced this inquiry into why humans would do this to one another. I was brutalized by it in many ways, but I was determined not to lose my humanity.”

interiors, the intentions, the human conditions, the emotional range. All these come into play.” Heyerdahl embraces his Norwegian Viking history, with a family tree that goes back to 812 AD. He doesn’t romanticize the brutal realities of those times, but also disputes myths about Vikings. “They were unique in their feminism and equality,” he said, and in maritime matters — engineering vessels and hulls — “they were 500 years ahead.” Heyerdahl’s connection to his Viking past in part inspired another major project he’s leading: the Midgard

travel around the Horn of Africa, then along old Viking routes in Europe, in a traditional Viking wooden longboat they built entirely by hand. They almost finished the first part of the trip, around Africa, but when the coronavirus hit, they had to end plans to ship the boat to Oslo for the European portion. Heyerdahl is writing a book about the Midgard Expedition and his other environmental adventures to explore “what we need to know to be the next civilization that actually integrates and regenerates our planet.” The climate park in Ojai joins his list of

After prison, he said, “I started studying the influence of the environment over the human psyche and well-being, so I got a very inside-out approach to what I’m now best known for, which is ecological and environmental work. But I see it as absolutely integral, there being no difference between treating a human’s mind and body and treating the body of the entire planet. It is one organism.” He follows a systems or integral approach, influenced in part by American philosopher Ken Wilber, author of “A Theory of Everything.” Integral theory, Wilber writes, brings together insights from all the major disciplines, seeking “a more comprehensive view — a Theory of Everything — that makes legitimate room for art, morals, science and religion.” An awareness of this way of looking at the world is key to understanding Heyerdahl’s approach to his work. “It’s not compartmentalized,” he said. “You can’t blanket it under science; that’s a mapping of the exterior, or chemical, mineral, physiological factors in the universe. You want to insert the

Expedition. “Midgard,” in Norse mythology, is the portion of Earth where humans live. The goal of the Midgard Expedition is to visit and explore real sustainable communities on Earth, and share that information with the world. In 2020, Heyerdahl and a crew of researchers planned to

projects to help achieve that goal. “Ojai is really predisposed to this,” he said. “They have a lot of sustainable communities, lots of NGOs and influential people in the community who love the environment, how beautiful it is.”



Right: Rowing the hand-built Viking longboat around the Horn of Africa during the Midgard Expedition Below: A mangrove plantation in the Ayeyarawaddy Delta climate park

Heyerdahl came to Ojai in February 2020 while on a trip to California as a board member of Global Green, headquartered in Santa Monica. “I was educating the Global Green team on this whole systems approach, and discussed an American-based climate park,” he said.

Jamie Fleming, CEO of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, was visiting Global Green at the same time to discuss a different project, and when he heard about the climate park, recommended a site in Ojai. Global Green asked Heyerdahl to look at the property while he was in California.

Heyerdahl met with Ojai City Council members and others who showed him the proposed land around City Hall, currently the site of a demonstration garden and compost exhibit. “I said I would like to do a contextual design of the entire Ojai watershed,



the whole region, then manifest a little sampling of that in a small climate park,” Heyerdahl said. “Interested parties could then scale up what was done in the climate park to influence the entire region — the entire Ventura River system to the sea.” The self-sustaining, zero-waste park might feature gardens (including food that could be sold), animal-friendly landscaping, a circular hydration system that only uses water from the hydrosphere, the removal of nonnative plants, and an observation station built into the ground or terraced into the trees that runs off

this year in Ojai with Heyerdahl. “He clearly had a vision,” Blatz said, and pledged to work with not only city government but also local businesses and organizations including Pax Environmental Inc., Once Upon a Watershed and the Ojai Land Conservancy. “As environmentally progressive as Ojai is, we can lead and be an example,” Blatz said, “giving a little from our city to help take ideas about sustainability to the rest of the world.” Environmental solutions can’t ignore humans and their needs, including

Above: A Heyerdahl climate park in the Ayeyarawaddy Delta, at the edge of the Bay of Bengal

wind, geothermal or solar energy. The site would include artistic and educational elements to facilitate outdoor education for schools and the public, and could serve as a laboratory for academic institutions.

the modern economy, Heyerdahl said: “We’re always trying to demonstrate how climate parks can pay for themselves.”

Heyerdahl and Global Green are steering the project, but it will be a highly collaborative effort. Funding will come from Global Green along with existing grant funds.

Ojai Chamber of Commerce CEO Fleming, in accordance with that goal, explained how a climate park could be an

Ojai City Councilman Ryan Blatz, a strong supporter of the climate park, was part of the group who met earlier

economic opportunity that embraces Ojai’s environmental consciousness. “I’m always looking at businesses that fit the Ojai model — companies in the environmental field,” he said. “It’s going to be everyone working together to make Ojai a beacon for the rest of the country.” Fleming said the project will also encourage ecotourism and “engagement from universities that send professors and students to see this model.” And because the vision for the park will address the entire region, homeowners benefit as well. Other Global Green climate parks around the world already in place, or under development, include locations along the coast of Myanmar; on Benguerra Island in Mozambique; in the desert of the United Arab Emirates; and at Colla Micheri, a medieval village in Italy where Heyerdahl’s grandfather had a home. Heyerdahl does not live in a fairy-tale eco-bubble. “I’m quite a pragmatist and a realist,” he said. “It’s hard to sincerely believe we’re going to have a hopeful turnaround from mindless consumerism and destructive behavior to sensitive people living in harmony with their planet. So I try to work on models that will influence a segment of the population, which is why Ojai is an important choice.”





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Steelhead Story


In Ventura County, 1892 was an incredible year for catching fish. If Henry Sparks is to be believed, he caught a total of 677 trout between April 1 and Sept. 11. Sparks kept a log of every fish he caught in the Ventura River from 1892 to 1914. In 1895, he hooked 182 trout on the opening day of fishing season, which was always April 1 or May 1, depending on the year. Opening day in Ventura County was a festive occasion anticipated by anglers of all ages, according to retired civil engineer Jim Kentosh. “Kids would skip school. They’d play hooky. People would take a day off from their jobs and they’d go out. And it was just amazing, the amount of trout people would catch on opening day,” he said. For 17 years, Kentosh worked for Santa Paula-based United Water Conservation District, which operates the Freeman Diversion on the Santa Clara River, for a long time the only fish ladder in Southern California. In 2008, the District published a 700-page history of steelhead and rainbow trout in Ventura County.

Photo courtesy Ojai Valley Museum

The history of the Southern California steelhead trout





District, which operates the Robles Fish Passage Facility on the Ventura River. “They are essentially the same fish,” he said. Up until about one year of age, the resident and ocean-going form look exactly the same. “It’s a different life-cycle tactic,” said Lewis about a rainbow trout’s choice to swim to the ocean. It’s a polymorphism, like left-handed people. “It’s still unclear what controls all that, genetically,” he said. Rainbow trout may have as many as 25 or more different lifestyles, according to biologists. A certain fraction will stay in the creeks, while others will swim to the ocean, where there’s a better source of food. A female trout can lay thousands of eggs at a time, so perhaps it makes sense they’d want their offspring to exhibit a range of lifestyles. One year the ocean might be good, another year the creek might be good. “The liars are anxiously awaiting the opening of the trout season,” reported the Ventura Signal in 1885. Photo: Jim Kentosh collection

During and since his time with United, Kentosh studied the local history of the fish, trying to separate myth from reality. Rainbow trout and steelhead were here before European settlement, but the steelhead were somewhat of a novelty, according to Kentosh. “Early fishermen in the 1800s knew that occasionally you’d get these big, adult steelhead coming up, but they were not necessarily that common,” he said. Early settlers believed steelhead trout, known as “salmon trout,” were a separate species from the resident rainbow trout, known 130 years ago as “mountain trout.” Scientists now know they’re the same species, with no distinguishable genetic differences. A steelhead is simply the ocean-going (or “anadromous”) form of a rainbow trout, said Scott Lewis, fisheries biologist with Casitas Municipal Water

Due to the better food source, steelhead usually grow bigger than rainbow trout, but not always. The world record rainbow, caught in a lake, was actually larger than the world record steelhead. Large steelhead, like those found in the Pacific Northwest, can grow to 20 or even 30 pounds, but there are reports of steelhead reaching up to 55 pounds. The Southern California variety are typically in the 5 to 10 pound range, Lewis said. In 1883, a newspaper reported a fisherman had taken a 36-inch-long steelhead from the Ventura River. “The ones that we’ve documented at Robles and are headed upstream from there range from 17 to 26 inches,” said Lewis, adding steelhead can live to be 4 or 5 years old. Scientists believe environmental cues such as length of day, temperature and water flow trigger a series of physiological responses that get the fish ready to go to the ocean. After their stay at the ocean for a year or two, the steelhead migrate upstream to spawn.

It’s not easy, though, to go from a fresh water to a salt water environment. For salt water, the fish have to change their metabolism at a cellular level to accommodate all the excess sodium chloride from the environment they’ll be swimming in, Lewis said. The fish also undergo a color change, trying to camouflage themselves based on the environment. While resident trout have spots and coloration patterns that help them blend in with the fresh water environment, the steelhead take on more of a silvery or “steely” appearance so they blend in with deeper ocean water. Since 2007, biologists have done regular snorkeling in the Ventura River to count the fish. The last steelhead passing through Robles was photographed in 2010. “Then shortly after that, the drought kicked in,” Lewis said. In the late 1800s, it wasn’t a lack of water but a surplus of anglers on opening day that led to fewer rainbow and steelhead trout in the river. Fishermen complained that all the fish

were caught after opening day. Fish and game laws in the day may have indicated the scarcity of steelhead, according to Kentosh. “The limit was 50 fish. You couldn’t take a fish less than 5 inches. The limit was also 10 pounds plus one fish.” This meant that if you got lucky and caught that one big steelhead, you could keep it. “With all this fishing going on, obviously they were fishing out the streams,” said Kentosh. “The fishermen were complaining about the small size of fish. We want some bigger fish. Let’s start bringing in the steelhead like they have up north. That’s what actually happened.” In the late 1800s, the county wanted to stock fish and hired a fish commissioner. “And once the railroad came to Ventura County in 1887, the planting started immediately,” Kentosh said. Hatchery records go back to 1915, but planting was going on before that and increased over time, according to newspaper accounts. Early planting in Ventura County

included the stocking of some 75,000 trout in 1894 alone. By the following year, a regular trout stocking program was in place. Fish, both rainbow trout and steelhead, were transported in large steel milk cans. “They were packing in fish by horseback to every known stream,” Kentosh said. By the 1910s, there were more and more steelhead in the river, and the county became a mecca for fly fishing. “Ventura County, originally, was being advertised as the place to come to catch trout,” said Kentosh. “Then that changed to steelhead.” In April of 1913, the Ventura Free Press reported more than 2,000 fishermen on local rivers and creeks, and an estimated 100,000 trout taken, in one day alone. “The newspaper accounts have to be read with a grain of salt, because they were really into promoting this area,” Kentosh said. In droves, families came here to camp and fish for trout. “People loved the outdoors in those days. They’d go out on horseback into the mountains,” said Kentosh.

Above: In the early 1900s, longtime Ojai plumber Fred Linder fishes for trout in the Ventura River. Photo: Ojai Valley Museum

Postcards of the local fishing showed anglers with long stringers of rainbow and steelhead trout. San Buenaventura Mission was famous for its trout, and trout was sold in the markets. “It was renowned,” Kentosh said. “People would come up from Los Angeles. There was a guy who lived on the Sespe and he would charge people for driving past his house.” Records of steelhead planting start to trail off in the late 1930s. Steelhead runs lasted into the ‘40s, but by the ‘50s, the steelhead were mostly gone, apparently for a range of reasons, according to Kentosh. For one, the Fillmore Fish Hatchery, opened in 1942 but likely operating long before that, started releasing into the creeks and streams catchable-sized fish, which were very popular with anglers. “So they stopped importing the steelhead from up north,” said Kentosh. In 1947, a 6-year drought began, with reports of steelhead dying in the Ventura River. “That was the beginning of the end for the steelhead,” Kentosh said. The construction of major dams — Matilija Dam in 1948 and Casitas Dam in 1959 — impeded the movement of steelhead upstream to spawn, while increased use of water by humans, the Left: Fishermen with a stringer of rainbow trout, known as “mountain trout” back in the day. Photo: Jim Kentosh collection



introduction of disease and invasive species such as carp, catfish and crayfish, likely contributed to the fish’s decline. So did World War II. With journalists covering the war, no one was writing about fish. Besides, there was no money for fish. “It took a couple of years for them to notice that the steelhead were gone,” said Kentosh. Jim Stallings, 79, grew up in Mira Monte and remembers seeing steelhead in the Ventura River.

Ventura County Public Works Agency and did stream gauging on the Ventura River. “When the river flowed, you could stand on Foster Park bridge and see, every now and then, a flash. The steelhead were there,” he said. Stallings, who has caught steelhead on fishing trips in Northern California and Oregon, remembers hitchhiking with friends in the ‘50s and ‘60s to go fishing in Matilija Canyon, Rose Valley and the Sespe. “Every now and then you’d catch a huge trout, and they were probably steelhead,” Stallings said. “For

time. There wasn’t any skill to it,” he said. The Southern California steelhead was declared federally endangered in 1997, making their take illegal, but for those who have caught the fish, it was often quite a struggle. “When you hook into a steelhead they take line and they’ll run clear to the other side of the river. A good way to describe it is explosive,” said Lewis. With a higher “burst speed” than salmon or other anadromous fish, steelhead can explode out of pools and get over waterfalls. “They’re able to negotiate and work their way up into basins where there’s perennial water,” Lewis said. “They’re amazing creatures, especially when you get to see them in their environment and how they respond to water velocity and currents.” Though Southern California steelhead may appear on the brink of extirpation (local extinction), Lewis said recent evidence with large steelhead coming up San Antonio Creek shows that when conditions are right, their numbers can explode.

Opening day on the Sespe, circa 1908. Photo: Jim Kentosh collection

His mother, who came to Ventura County in 1924, told him stories of people fishing from a bridge over Libbey Creek in downtown Ojai.

a while, a section of Matilija Creek, from Highway 33 back toward the dam, was reserved for kids under 15. No adults.”

“Things have changed,” Stallings said. “The Ventura River, in those days, used to have a lot of water in it, particularly in the spring into early summer. There were swimming holes, and as kids we’d see fish in there.”

When he was 10 or 11, Stallings would see the truck from the hatchery roll through town. “As kids, we’d see the fish truck come through Ojai and we’d follow it. There were guys who would get in there and catch their limit in no

For years, Stallings worked for the

The removal of fish passage barriers in the watershed offers a glimmer of hope for the steelhead, according to Lewis. “When Matilija Dam comes down, those resident rainbow trout that are up there now will slowly start to show that anadromous, steelhead lifehistory,” he said. Just don’t expect to see the “artificial” numbers of big fish, like back in Henry Sparks’ day. History strongly suggests those numbers could only be achieved by planting, and lots of it.


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“People are still connecting, creating, laughing, singing, clapping, banging pots and pans, protesting, learning — virtually, from their balconies and 6 feet apart.” “Touch has a memory…” —John Keats We go to the theater to be touched, in so many ways, by this most communal of the arts. Theater cannot exist without stories from writers who astonish and touch with their imaginations; without actors who touch by bringing those stories to life with their living, breathing characterizations; or without directors and technicians who laser-focus the points of those stories and living portraitures to make sure the audience is touched by the tragedy or the comedy. And theater would wither on the vine were it not for the audiences who sit patiently in their dark cocoons, in breathless anticipation of having their hearts broken or their funny bones tweaked, as they wait, simply, to be touched.

The power Theater Survival in a Socially Distanced World


Left: Just before the pandemic broke out, Harvey began appearing all over town


The stage is a mirror sometimes reflecting life’s harsh realities, sometimes becoming a fun-house mirror revealing truths through outrageously funny theatrical distortions. The actors kiss, hug, touch and inspire each other as they propel emotions across the lip of the stage, sharing in the responses as actor and audience member experience the symbiotic sense of shared emotions. A recent study from the University College London found that audiences actually synchronize their heartbeats while watching a live show. Heart synchronization leads audience members to bond with each other, the study found, which may explain the audience’s need to shake hands, hug each other and bask in the energy created by a simple touch. No surprise that many compare this feeling to a religious experience, and the theater their church.

The Art Center Theater’s Youth Branch presented a Zoom production of “Frozen,” and, during the holiday season, a full Zoom production of the radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life.” OYES also presented a Zoom production showcase of songs and scenes. “We felt the need for children to stay engaged, be creative, positive and social while they adjusted to life in quarantine and school-athome,” says Daena Bleu Santoyo.

daena bleu santoyo, coartistic director of oyes (ojai youth entertainment studio): “The most significant loss has been our connection with the children, the weekly fulfillment of learning and growing alongside them as actors and explorers of life in general.”

Disturbingly, the pandemic has ruth-

of touch lessly murdered touch, and in doing so, has killed the very soul of theater itself, leaving stories untold, actors unseen, passions unexperienced. Ojai stages have been hard hit by the lockdown, with theater forced to stop doing what it was meant to do: create art and entertainment. (Not that those are mutually exclusive.) How are these theaters coping? What are their plans for returning? Due to COVID restrictions, this writer corresponded by email with representatives of five companies about these issues. Deprived of the lifeblood of performing, theater operators have been forced to inject transfusions of creativity in order to find ways of keeping their work (and names) in the forefront.


tracey williams sutton, chair of the theater branch of the ojai art center: “The pandemic completely shut us down … no income except contributions. We have attempted to keep in contact with our patrons via emails, ads and articles in the paper.”

Kim Maxwell and her daughter, Lily Brown, via their The Townies Inc. company, developed a workshop made up of students from the United States and Zimbabwe. “A collaboration that truly was only possible because of the virtual classroom,” says Maxwell. But, not everyone is enamored of the Zoom where it happens. “I am not at all interested in Zoom productions unless they are cleverly written FOR Zoom,” says OVATE’s Susan Kelejian. She is planning workshops and more touring shows, “dependent on the state of the country, both health-wise and politically,” she continues. Waiting in the wings are ideas for “The Southern Belles of Bedlam,” featuring a bevy of Tennessee Williams’ characters locked in an asylum, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream of India.” OVATE recently performed a virtual performance of “Ham ’n’ Cheese,” a presentation of songs and scenes wherein each of the actors was masked. Recently, Broadway theater owners announced that they will be dark until at least June 2021, and Joan Kemper has taken that date as a guideline for the impending “revival” of “Harvey.” Once theaters are open, OPAT’s slate of future productions includes the hilarious farce, “One Man Two Guvnors,” the play in which James Corden rode to worldwide fame, and that most theatrical of all musicals, “A Chorus Line.” (Full disclosure, this writer is the artistic director of OPAT.) Kemper emphasizes that OPAT will not return until it’s safe to do so. “We received a five-page, single-spaced list of safety requirements from Actor’s Equity,” she says. “Everything from supplying hand sanitizer to ensuring social distancing,



banging pots and pans, protesting, learning — virtually, from their balconies and 6 feet apart. Yes, it’s different, but it’s also brave and glorious.”

kim maxwell, founder of kim maxwell studios: “We were mid-session on our 10-week workshops when the quarantine was instituted … shows were scheduled for May and we were prepping for our summer abroad workshop in Italy and the Ojai Playwrights Conference Youth Workshop in August.”

even to reworking the air-flow system of the theater in which we work. It’s an enormous undertaking.” In this down period, theater leaders are not resting on their laurels. Maxwell and Brown of The Townies Inc. have used the time to educate themselves. They have taken the opportunity to study what other theaters and arts organizations are doing across the world and are looking forward to applying what they have learned to their own shows. This mother/daughter team fully believes that nothing can really be accomplished until the virus is under control, and only then can theater return with its unique and driving essence intact, which is the joy of performing live. They quote playwright Paula Vogel, who calls it “the exchange of heart for heart and breath for breath” in the magic of live theater. “We can’t have that magic right now,” they both feel. “So what are we going to do? Stop making theater? Stop connecting? Stop creating? People are still connecting, creating, laughing, singing, clapping,

The Art Center Theater is on indefinite hold, and, according to Tracey Williams Sutton, there isn’t enough solid information to make a definitive plan. “I think the most stressful aspect about all of this is the waiting,” she says. “Waiting to hear how and when we will be able to come together as a theatrical community once again.” In the meantime, they are going forward with contingent plans for a new season of plays. The moment that Santoyo at OYES realized how difficult this lockdown would be was when it really sunk in that everyone on the team was going to lose their jobs, indefinitely. “If you’re in the theater (or on a sports team, or part of a church group, etc.), you become family,” she continues, “Over the years, our family has grown to include dozens

susan kelejian, artistic director of ovate (ojai valley artists theater ensemble): “The pandemic canceled our first season of four full-length plays, a teen conservatory … a live playwriting contest and festival.”


less than a spiritual exchange rising out of the river of quantum consciousness and floating into our hearts and souls, breathing together, proving that human connection on a higher level brings us together. It simply is my house of worship; I find it nothing less than sacred.”

of return students and families, team members, mentors and volunteers.” She is passionate about this loss. “We physically and emotionally need to electrify each other and be near one another,” she says. “Our brains need it. Our hearts need it. This is a huge reason why we have not begun an outdoor social-distancing “theater” program for youth — theater is intimate. Being near each other and telling your story in the presence of your audience is the reason for doing it.” Kelejian has similar feelings. “How fortunate we are to be living in the first pandemic in history when we can be apart from each other and still connect in nearly real time because of technology. Except … it’s not the same,” she offers. “Virtual performances are proving they fall short for a variety of reasons, and though it’s an innovative ‘quick fix,’ it doesn’t seem to deliver what the live performance does. Performing live creates nothing


joan kemper, ceo of opat (ojai performing arts theater): “OPAT was one week away from opening a production of the beloved play, ‘Harvey.’ (about that mischievous rabbit) But, the entire set is built, in storage, and ready to roll in as soon as we’re allowed to.”

Simply put, again, theater is church. As painful as the lockdown has been and will continue to be, most who live and work in the Ojai theater world look optimistically to the future. Sutton: “The scars from this will continue to affect the theater for a long time to come, but I am confident that we will emerge from these dark times.” Maxwell and Brown: “Theater and the arts will always be there. Our artistic communities have survived world wars, oppression, pandemics, and they always come back stronger and better than ever.” Kelejian: “There is no possible way that the oldest most indelible part of our DNA memory/connection to family and community and friends and self, about telling stories around the campfires, creating myths in every culture, evoking tears and laughter and a myriad of emotions by telling story, will ever leave us as long as we are on the Earth. It’s a part of the human experience.” Santoyo: “This will be the ultimate phoenix rising from the ashes. Perhaps the most celebrated moment for live theater that the world has ever experienced simultaneously.” Kemper: “I have already sent out invitations to my annual holiday actors’ party for 2021. OPAT will continue to touch the hearts and minds of Ojai audiences for years to come.” This optimism from a woman who is approaching the century mark in age serves to inspire each of us in theater who treasure that day when we can again worship at the altar of our humanity and experience theater that can astonish us with the breathtaking sublimity of touch. Left: The show must go on Zoom.



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Mixin’ it Up

AT TOPA TOPA ELEMENTARY Mikey Payton broke my spectacles more than once; in all fairness, I busted his several times, too.


om (Arlou) moved to the Ojai Valley in 1947 with her mother (Peg Wells). The school year had already begun at Nordhoff High School when Mom enrolled. She wound up being one of the four yell-leaders. She became lifelong friends with one of them, Marie Ford. Marie married George Turner. Their eldest child was Georgie. Mom married Dad (Harold) and I ended up as a result. Georgie is a few weeks older than me. He’s the first kid I ever knew. I’ve always liked him, but he did convince me to get into his toybox, then he sat on the lid and scared the pee-waddin’ outta me! I shoulda pounded him when I finally got out, but I was raised to respect my elders.

I was only 9 months old in 1952 when Mom and Dad bought a brand-new home on East Aliso Street in Ojai. Mikey Payton lived two doors over. He became the second kid I ever knew. Because of living so close, Mikey and I hung together a lot. So much so, we oftentimes fought like brothers over stupid stuff. In 1957, I got my first pair of glasses. I was 6 years old. Mikey was already sporting glasses. We mixed it up a number of times. I don’t think either of us ever got physically injured. The guy who won was the guy who broke the other’s specs first. You could tell the loser ‘cause he was crying. Mikey and I seemed to oftentimes have big rounds of tape holding the temples onto the frames of our glasses, or holding the nose-bridge together.

That one really looked bad. But, neither Mikey nor I were the best looking boys, so it didn’t really make us look any worse. A few years went by, then Mark Kingsbury moved into the home between Mikey and me. The three of us became tight buds. Mark had two older brothers, Dale and Rick. Our three homes backed up to Sarzotti Park. The three of us spent a lot of time at the park. Of course, there were a lot of older boys at the park. Some of them were bullies. I was with Mark a few times when, on occasion, a bully would threaten us. Mark always told the bullies that he had older brothers who would beat them up should they hurt us. The bullies backed off every time. Sometimes, when I was alone

LOOK BACK IN OJAI with Drew Mashburn Contributed on behalf of the Ojai Valley Museum

Drew 2nd-grade

Tim Murphy 6th-grade

1946-48 Yell Leaders Arlou Wells (my Mom) at far left. Marie Ford at far right.

at the park, a bully would tell me he was going to kick my tail. So, I’d pull a “Mark.” I’d tell them I had older brothers who would take them out should they do so. It always worked. I could lie with the best of them when it came to self-preservation! I had a lot of close calls when it came to fistfights, but I was a pretty fast runner and my legs saved my tail many a time over the years, that is, until I was in a special fifth/ sixth-grade class at Topa Topa Elementary School. There were a bunch of fifth-graders, but only eight of us sixth-graders. Four were boys (me, Tim Murphy, Mike Hagen and Kent Campbell) and four were girls (Shirley Hurt, Claudia Lindley, Patty Cate, and Carole Shelton). The eight of us became

Claudia Lindley 6th-grade

pretty tight. But, my three male classmates pulled a good one on me. To this day, I don’t know what they told her, but they riled-up “Tomboy” Carole by telling her I said something terrible about her or something. We left our classroom at the end of the day and were headed out to the front of the school when Carole grabbed a hold of my shirt and began screamin’ at me. I had no friggin’ idea what in tarnation was transpiring. Carole began pushin’, pokin’ punchin’, scratchin’ and maybe even bitin’ me. She was madder than a hornet! I was taught not to hit girls, so she had the upper hand. She threw me to the ground and laid into me while Tim, Mike and Kent were laughin’ their guts out. They had a great time at my expense. I just

Shirley Hurt 6th-grade

Mike Payton 2nd-grade

wish I had been one of them, and one of them had been me. Ha!!! I may have been in a few other scuffles, but nothing significant. I can tell you that Mikey Payton and I are still friends after all these years. I had PRK (like Lasik) eye-surgery a few years ago. I no longer wear glasses. Mikey still wears them. When we were kids, Mikey and I were about the same size. He grew to be quite a bit bigger than me. In fact, he turned into a “Lean, Mean Fighting Machine.” I call him Mike now. I can’t imagine Mike and I ever getting so agitated with one another to ever scrap with one another again, but should it happen ... I’d immediately go for his spectacles!

Carole Shelton 6th-grade




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Hikes in the




hile snowfall on the valley floor is rare, the mountains surrounding Ojai can become a winter wonderland whenever the snow level drops to 5,000 feet or so. The sparkle atop Nordhoff Ridge, Chief Peak, the Topatopa Mountains and, farther north, Pine Mountain, beckons the genuinely adventurous, with a sure-fire cure for cabin fever.


The problem can be getting there. Backcountry roads will be closed, so snowbound adventurers must make the trip on foot. Take the Sisar, Horn and Howard canyon trails, or Chorro Grande Trail, to reach 7,000-foot Pine Mountain, if you’re hankering for a hike to the snow. You’ll likely see crystals clinging to the stratified, crumbling cliffs of Topatopa, the sun playing hideand-seek behind dark gray clouds moving like great ships and the tracks of wild animals in fresh powder. Or you may experience “graupel,” a German word for soft hail or snow pellets, created when a snow crystal comes in contact with a super-cooled droplet of water.


As rare as it is, snow did blanket the valley in 1916, 1932 and 1957. According to “The Ojai Valley: An Illustrated History,” the heaviest snowstorm ever to occur in the valley happened in 1949. It brought 3 to 4 inches of snow to the valley floor. “By noon, every store in the valley had sold out of film,” the book states.



639 West Villanova Road, Ojai | $1,250,000 Long private driveway to a park-like serene world with mountain views. Solid built 1954 3 + 2 home has massive windows to let the outside in for a natural relaxing environment. Open floor plan flows out to the patios for a seamless convenient lifestyle. You will fall in love the moment you step in! Newer expanded dream kitchen has a wall of windows for natural light, LED lighting, large island work space and plenty of storage. Fruit trees and vegetable gardens are steps out the kitchen door with room for much more. Expanded master suite, owned solar panels. A large classic AirStream is included.

1489 Foothill Rd, Ojai | $2,150,000 A quiet peaceful retreat, tucked away on a private elevated knoll placed to maximize the property’s 360 degree exceptional views! Nestled at the base of Ojai mountains, with hiking/biking trails, just minutes from Ojai village. The multi-room master features a walk-in closet plus a view office and private patio. With 5-bedrooms including a 2-bedroom separate entrance suite upstairs, there’s lots of room for creativity; offices, etc. With fruit trees and lots of land, just sit back or swim and savor the peace and solitude of dreamy Ojai living. Incredible views, exquisitely designed, custom-built home, owned solar, whole house water filtration system and alarm system in place!

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the house that



Ray and Gloria Phillips moved to the Ojai Valley in 1977 to get the family away from the trappings of city life.

Love built a printer by trade who worked at the ventura county government center for more than three decades, ray bought a 2-bedroom colonial-style home in mira monte for $66,000. “My dad was a James Dean, 1950s, loves old cars kinda guy,” said daughter Vanessa Rae Phillips, who was raised in the house built in 1948 near the corner of Cruzero Street and Loma Drive. After her father passed away in September of 2017, Phillips decided she’d build a new home on the property in his honor. She’d call it “The House That Love Built.” Nail by nail and board by board: Gloria Phillips and daughter Vanessa last September, outside the house they’re building in honor of Ray Phillips (below).


Construction on the 1,800-squarefoot, 2-story accessory dwelling unit, located just south of the main house, began in May of 2018. “I want to save the integrity of the property,” Phillips said. “The reason my parents moved here was to be that loving family and to bring me up in a good place where there’s not so many drugs and people being mean to each other.” Phillips got a loan to build the house, expected to cost approximately $275,000 to construct, and assembled a team of loved ones and longtime family friends to do the work. “I wanted to have only friends and family; good loving people that were involved with our lives, to put their hands on this house. That was my homage to my dad,” she said.



One of those longtime friends was Eric Baker, a classmate from Nordhoff High School and an accomplished builder. Baker hired two workers who just happen to be brothers, and together the team, including Vanessa and her mom, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. “I’m a doer. I’m a get dirty, get into the mud Ojai girl,” Phillips said. In junior high, Phillips got her first job,

After high school, Phillips moved to Los Angeles and then to Texas, before relocating to New Jersey and starting her own business as an esthetician. When her father got sick, she gave up the business and moved back to the Cruzero Street home to care for her parents. Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” is a song that’s always held

way her dad could see the new house under construction and help celebrate her birthday. As she was driving to work the next morning, she switched on Pandora and immediately heard: “Hello, this is Miranda Lambert, and you’re going to hear The House That Built Me.” She took her foot off the gas and broke out in goosebumps. “It was like my dad saying, ‘not only am I letting you know I’m here on your birthday, but I know you picked that song for my funeral,’” she said. The living room of the new house will feature a piano from the 1800s that belonged to Vanessa’s grandmother, while out in the garage sits a 1940 Ford coupe that was her parents’ first car together. Vanessa and Gloria are restoring the car as another homage to Ray. On the home’s exterior, on the corner of each window, Phillips plans to install ceramic tiles painted with bright red chili peppers. The tiles were inspired by one she and her dad picked up in Mexico years ago on one of their fatherdaughter trips together. The original tile with the words “mi casa es su casa,” accidentally broke the year Ray died. Months ago, as work on the second floor of the house was getting underway, a beautiful monarch butterfly appeared and seemed to be taking a tour of the property as it flew in and out of the open windows and doors.

The Phillips family: (from left) Gloria, Ray and Vanessa. After her dad got sick, Vanessa learned you can go home again.

delivering the Ojai Valley News. Her dad bought her a moped so she’d have an easier time on her paper route. But the house her father bought for the family came with bad vibes, according to Phillips. “There were a lot of bad things that happened in this house before we got here. A lot of bad people,” she said. Another structure on the property that was demolished so the new home could be built was sometimes occupied by squatters, Phillips said.

special meaning for Phillips. “It has always reminded me of this house, because it was the house that built me as a person, and it was the intention of my parents to have things better for me,” she said. The song was played at Ray’s funeral at Ojai Presbyterian Church, and Phillips explained to family and friends what the song means to her. “Not a dry eye,” she said. The night before her birthday in 2018, Vanessa and her mom made cupcakes, and Vanessa wished there was some

“Look, there’s a butterfly!” Phillips said to the men working on the second story. “No, it’s Dad!” To her astonishment, as she said it, the butterfly began weaving in and out of the house and out the roof. More goosebumps. “My dad speaks to us in so many different ways,” she said. “When these things happen, it’s so my dad’s personality.” Phillips expects construction on the new home to be completed in 2021. Once it’s finished, she plans to have family dinners and parties there. “My end goal is to literally make this place The House That Love Built,” she said, “and have only loving, kind, beautiful people here.”


Sitting on over three acres in the prestigious Persimmon Hill area of downtown Ojai. This 5 bed, 3.5 bath sprawling ranch style home showcases open beamed vaulted ceilings, a stunning great room with a massive brick fireplace, formal dining room, hardwood floors and a large master suite. The magical meandering pathways will lead you to an Artist’s studio where you can once again find your creative soul. Plenty of charming areas to gather and enjoy the sensational views of the famous Pink Moment or enjoy a swim under the stars in this completely private estate. Living off the grid is easy with your own private well and solar panels. This slice of Country living offers a prime location all within walking distance to Libby Park, shops, restaurants, and the Ojai Bike/Hike Trail. Horses welcome.

3860 Grand Avenue Fabulous & charmingly inviting, this two-story Victorian estate is nestled in the magical East End of Ojai. Surrounded by organic orchards & meticulous landscaping, this 5 bed & 4 bath home is ďŹ lled with Southern Charm. The wrap around porch looks out to the gardens, the country kitchen & breakfast nook looks out to the pool & tennis court. Perfectly situated nearby are the spacious guesthouse, separate cottages & a writer’s studio, creating plenty of living space for friends & family.

Patty Waltcher 25 ye a r s o f e x p e r i e n ce m a tc h i n g

p e o p l e a n d p ro p e r t y i n t h e O j a i Va l l e y


Designed and built in the 1920’s by legendary African American LA architect Paul Williams, this Spanish Colonial Revival masterpiece is characteristically balanced, intimate and elegant. Completely restored and modernized, it includes 5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, an office, a detached studio, a pool and an expansive veranda. Integrated into a lushly landscaped Foothill Road parcel with Topa Topa views, this is a rare and magical home. 906FoothillRoadOjai.com Offered at $7,250,000

I will help you discover the home that brings peace to your mind and heart (805) 340-3774 ~ pattywaltcher.com