The Road Home

In the summer of 2016 my family and I headed west as we always do for our annual trip to the H-Bar-G Ranch in Estes Park, Colorado. We spent a week at the ranch, soaking in the views of Meeker and Longs Peak and enjoying each other's company. But there was one person missing from the picture that summer; my grandfather.

Medical issues kept Grampy and his partner Maureen home that summer. For over ten years the duo had made the trek to the ranch from Florida where they'd spend the majority of the summer helping Julie, Tim, Jill, Rich and Anne with any ranch upkeep and projects. They decided to sit the summer of 2016 out in hopes that my grandfather would get better to enjoy many summers to come.

The week we were all together at the ranch, my grandfather went into the hospital only to be released on hospice care. At this point it was merely about making my grandfather comfortable in his final days. 

Leaving the ranch is always difficult, but that summer it was exceptionally so. I drove out of the gates heading west towards Moab, UT, immediately recalling all the times my grandfather would sing-song Roy Roger's "Happy Trails" in years past as we drove off. The tears came too easy as the ranch and H-Bar-G road became a tiny speck in the rear view mirror and I realized the last time I will have seen my grandfather was the summer prior out at the ranch.

It's strange how you always manage to remember (seemingly) all the details when something bad happens. I remember driving with my family to Ogunquit beach in Maine when the radio DJ broke the news of Princess Diana's death. I was sitting in my History of New Hampshire class in high school when the planes hit the towers on 9/11. When I got the call that my grandfather had passed I had just made a bathroom stop at a Chevron next to Glazier's Market in Kanab, Utah.

Later that afternoon, my father texted with a simple request; capture one last sunset photo for Gramps. Overlooking a valley of majestic rock structures at Monument Valley, I witnessed, and captured, one of the most beautiful sunsets I've had the opportunity to experience.

•••

A year later and the Herrin clan made the voyage back to the H-Bar-G Ranch. The itinerary included much of the same things we've done in years past; day hikes, ranch chores, eating too much food, but this time we were also celebrating the life of my grandfather in an ash-spreading ceremony. After an afternoon of remembrance, we laid Grampy John to rest, spreading part of his ashes in the place he came to love, forever keeping watch over the H-Bar-G Ranch and the Rocky Mountains. The other half was reserved for spreading at our beloved cabin on the pond in New Hampshire, Broken Paddle.

Getting Grampy back home to New Hampshire became my job as I had driven out to the ranch and would be making my way back east. And just like last year, my plan was to drive east - but we'd be detouring west first. We packed Grampy (in his Union Jack canister... his wishes) into the car, propping him up on a blanket in the middle seat ensuring he had an unobstructed view, and we set out for some amazing views and favorite national parks.

When I think of some of my favorite photographed moments of my grandfather, I always recall a photo taken of him at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Of course, I wasn't there, but I always felt connected to the image. I see myself in him. And so, I set out to not only get him home but also to photograph him in all these amazing places. On the edge of the earth, looking out over grand vistas and vast landscapes.

•••

By the end of the trip, Gramps had made it to 6 National Parks, watched a handful of amazing sunsets, hiked to a natural arch in the desert, drove through the Valley of the Gods in Utah, watched the sun rise in the Tetons, sat on the edge of the world in Canyonlands, hunkered down with us during a sand storm in the Great Sand Dunes and drove thousands of miles from Colorado back home to the east coast. For me, bringing Grampy's ashes home became my way of finally saying goodbye - in the most "me" way I know how.

I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did, Grampy. Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

California Pt. II: Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts

During my spring trip to Los Angeles for production, I spent a weekend with a friend exploring the wonderful west-coast town of Ojai (more of which you can read about here). Known for the strong positive energy and spirituality felt within the town's limits, the town has become home to a burgeoning population of creative types.

One of those people was the exceptionally talented Beatrice Wood. Beatrice was a creative woman of all trades. She was an American artist in the Avante Garde movement in the US, she founded The Blind Man in 1917 alongside Marcel Duchamp and writer Henri-Pierre Roché - a Dada movement art magazine (she has been characterized as the "Mama of Dada"). She studied art and theater in Paris and was an actress in New York City. In her later years she found pottery, creating impressive sculptures and ceramic wares and eventually become a published author after being urged by her good friend, Anais Nin to pick up a pen. Throughout her life, Beatrice stayed busy, expressing herself through a variety of art forms and mediums.

But what I found most impressive was Beatrice's foray into ceramics. Having begun taking pottery classes this past winter, I had a newfound appreciation and love for the art. And Beatrice's introduction to the medium is even more impressive. On a trip to the Netherlands to hear J. Krishnamurti speak, Beatrice brought along a pair of baroque-period plates finished in a luster glaze with the hopes of finding a matching tea pot to round out the set. Her search turned out unsuccessful, but in turn inspired her to enroll in a ceramics class in hopes of making her own tea pot. She studied ceramics at Hollywood High School. Her hobby quickly became a passion that would span over six decades of creating, though she never made that matching tea pot.

By the late 1940s, Beatrice felt as though is was time to settle down. She looked to Ojai, California where she lived, taught and practiced out of her home overlooking the mountains of Ojai. Ojai also happened to be home to Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti, who largely influenced her artistic practices.

Knowing I had taken up pottery as a new hobby, Sarah decided to take me to The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts to kick off our tour of Ojai. Sarah had done some work alongside the members of the center earlier in the year, so we were warmly welcomed and given an exclusive tour of Beatrice's former home, studio and the surrounding grounds.

Surrounding Beatrice's property is thriving gardens and rolling green hills that give way to the Ojai mountains. Walking around her property I immediately realized just how lucky Beatrice, and others who live in the area, are to create in this valley of stunning views... 360 degrees of endless inspiration.

But what was most impressive was Beatrice's ceramics studio just a few steps from her front door. Today, the studio is still a working studio, though it still feels like a moment from decades ago preserved in time. Jars of glazes ready for mix adorn shelves that surround the studio while hundreds of clay tools and brushes fill pots and mugs ready for use. Clay molds of Beatrice's work and some of her pieces are scattered throughout the studio, as if she is still here throwing at the wheel.

The work of Beatrice Wood is perfectly preserved at the Center, displayed and presented for all to see and experience first-hand. I highly encourage you to visit the center if you happen to be in the area - it's a wonderful place to explore, learn and find inspiration within it's walls and the surrounding grounds. To learn more about The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, click here.

California Pt. I: Ojai

At the end of March/beginning of April, I had a work trip that sent me to Los Angeles for two weeks. While there, I had the chance to visit with my best friend, Sarah Comer, and founder of Inspire-Aspire: Be the Career Change.

Sarah strives to live a life of meaning. She left her job in fashion a number of years ago, committed to finding a career that would merge certain passions like philanthropy and female entrepreneurship. She wanted a job that made a difference, in her lives and others, that helped people while helping her. One that was self-rewarding and rooted in happiness and good. Finding this unicorn of a job on the existing job market proved to be fruitless, but, she realized that she didn't need to wait, and wait and wait for it to come to her. She could create the opportunity and her career change. And thus, Inspire-Aspire was born.

Visiting Sarah is always a welcome departure from East Coast life. Beyond the obviously warmer weather, the west coast has this unwavering ability to slow. me. down. In Boston, it's go time, always. In Los Angeles, it's quite the opposite. On top of that, a weekend with Sarah always proves to be a meditative weekend away and a chance to creatively reset.

The past two years (because 2016 sent me out to LA for a week & a half as well) we spent a day in Ojai, California. Ojai is easily the best day trip from Los Angeles that one might embark on.

Ojai, CA is small city northwest of LA. Nestled in a valley in the Topatopa Mountains, it's a hotbed for art galleries, small shops, great food and beautiful outdoor spaces for the public to access, meditate in, explore and just escape reality.

We cruised down Grimes Canyon down into the Ojai valley. The colors were off the wall vibrant. Winter rains made the California landscape come to life in ways that hadn't been seen in many years (see: desert super bloom). I could barely contain my excitement seeing the green, green hills and the bright blue sky. Back home they were getting their last snowfall of the year - this was undoubtedly a welcome site.

Our first stop was the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, (but I'll save the details and photos of that visit for the next post). After a couple hours exploring the studio space of Beatrice and the museum that was once her home, we headed downtown. We dined at Hip Vegan, an unassumingly delicious vegan cafe on the far end of town, then made our way to some of our favorite Ojai haunts. Bart's Books, Summer Camp, and Tipple & Ramble all made the trip. In between visits to some of these favorites, Sarah took me to some of her favorite meditation places and spiritual getaways.

Side note: Ojai draws many visitors annually because of the strong positive energy and spirituality felt within the town's limits. There are storied electromagnetic forces that draw visitors to this inland oasis like the millions that flock to the vortexes of Sedona. Perhaps it's the majesty of the mountains and the picturesque views. Or the seemingly perfect year-round weather that put the mind at ease. Regardless, the town's earliest inhabitants, the Chumash Indians, certainly felt the pull of what they believed were the valley’s healing properties. They called their home Ojai, which derives from the Ventureño Chumash word ʼawhaý which means "moon".

We stopped into the Krotona Institute of Theosophy, visiting the gardens and the labyrinth that welcome all visitors. We followed the path that presents a single undivided journey and represents a Cretan pattern. In this type of labyrinth, "no choices are needed other than traveling onward through the winding pattern to an assured goal" (source: Krotona Institute).

As the sun started to set behind the Topatopa Mountains and the valley was painted a golden hue, we set out for Meditation Mount. Meditation Mount, much like it's name presents, is a public mediation space. Open Wednesday - Sunday, 8:00AM until sunset, the property boasts beautiful gardens, an internal Garden of Peace, an auditorium, a reading room and of course, panoramic views of Ojai from it's scenic viewpoint. 

We watched as the sun dipped behind the mountains and the valley darkened as day turned to night. We drove back into town for one last meal and some end-of-day beverages at Chief's Peak at the Ojai Rancho Inn. We decompressed and reminisced about the day's events.

Though we had filled our day with activities, it felt world's away from the hustle and bustle of every day life in Boston. And, as hoped, I left Ojai, and the company of my friend, creatively inspired and reinvigorated with a renewed sense of energy and excitement. Ojai had worked her magic.