Prompt: Write About a Place That Defines You Most Clearly

When I understand myself, I understand you, and out of that understanding comes love.” Jiddu Krishnamurti

The place in my life that defines me most clearly is our orange grove up in Ojai, California, which is 1 ½ hours north of Los Angeles, 12 miles east of the Pacific Ocean.

Our orange grove is filled with 257 Valencia orange trees, 63 cork oaks, 2 pomegranate, 1 avocado, 1 lime, 2 lemon and 3 kumquat trees and many desert succulents, such as blue and variegated agave, golden barrel cactus, Montrose cactus, Columnar night bloom cactus, Pencil cactus and Hobbit jade. We also have a dozen boxwoods and a dozen Nandina bushes, which serve as borders and blocks in several areas. Sunkist buys our oranges and we plan to sell some of the oaks in the future as well as the succulents. My husband is a landscape designer so we have a market for these. Our orchard can best be described as a growing field for several distinct species of plants.

The grove is laid out in a grid with rows and rows of trees and in between these trees, placed so as not to be obtrusive, are two vintage Spartan trailers (1953 and 1954) and a 1994 Airstream Land Yacht. (We currently sleep in the Airstream, which feels quite luxurious since we have had it refurbished in the past year.) We have straight gravel walkways that lead to common areas, such as a big gathering spot that has a stone-encircled fire ring and a free-standing kitchen, which is a small tin building with windows and a glass door, in which is housed a small stove, a fridge, sink and all the pots, pans, plates, glasses, cups and silverware needed when we have family and friends out to camp in the various camping spots located around the 2 ½ acres of the grove. We also have a freestanding bathroom a short distance from the fire ring area as well as a shower house, which is a tin building with a dressing room and shower stall with no roof, perfect for showering at night and gazing at the stars.

The grove is half mile down a gravel road and part of a fifteen-acre section of agricultural land. Across the road is an organic farm, with farmers who live in yurts back among the oak trees. In the distance, Nordhoff Ridge, the western end of the Topatopa Mountains, dominates the northern vista with its 5,000 elevation and on every clear day, the cliffs of the mountains glow a shimmering pink at sunset. The Los Padres National Forest runs for 200 miles from the Topatopa foothills to Big Sur. The climate is Mediterranean, with mild winters and hot summer days. Cool Pacific breezes keep even the summers tolerable in the shade though the sun can be oppressive in the height of the summer heat; the nights cool off to the point that a jacket is needed.

One of the best aspects of the orange grove is its location. It feels remote yet is only a ten minute drive from downtown Ojai, population 8,000. The people in Ojai are a combination of locals, hippies, movie people, and everyone in-between. The town is a destination for many because it has hiking, spas, and many nice hotels; Ojai Valley is also known as a “spiritual vortex,” much like Sedona, AZ. This distinction is apparently related to electromagnetic forces. What exactly that means, I don’t know, but it draws spiritual people from all over the world, with perhaps the most renown being the Yogi Krishnamurti, who established a national foundation and retreat center there in 1969. He said he was attracted to the geo-electrical pull of the Topatopa Mountains.

Our land is an official archaeological site and human existence has been traced there dating back 7500 years. The Chumash tribe used the land as a milling site for many generations and archaeologists have gathered up a treasure trove of mortars and pestles used by them over many years. What I know about our land: the minute I arrive there, a feeling of calmness and peace descends and my worries fade into the background. Soon I am able to refocus my mind on the beauty of my surroundings.

The salient aspect of our grove is how quiet it is there. During the day, we can hear roosters crowing in the early morning, an occasional car in the distance or the whir of a weedeater; at night, we have only the far-off calls of coyotes and the crocking of frogs from a nearby pond.

So how does this place relate to me?

I am like the orange grove in that I have a richly diverse life that is almost grid-like in design. My life centers around my family, my work, my writing (another offshoot of my work) and my church. My life, like the grove, is comprised of elements that are present for a reason and are for the most part practical. (Not that I did this on purpose, but I can see there is not a great deal of frivolity in how I live.) The grove grows several crops, is a calm and peaceful place to visit and periodically has unexpected animals (coyotes, deer, badger snakes, badgers, ground squirrels and rabbits) that pop up as a reminder that while the terrain may look tame, the grove exists on the edge of the national wilderness and a certain wildness is inherent in the place. This is a clear reflection of how I see myself – striving to live a purposeful life, wishing to provide hospitality and living right on the border of a wild and rich inner wilderness where other-worldly creatures roam and adventures abound.

The solitude and quiet that comes with the orange grove also reflects my own need for privacy and silence. I feel connected to that place because it supplies what I value: closeness to the earth through it deep roots to ancient peoples coupled with present day disconnection from the ever-constant influx of artificial input. The lack of Internet accessibility except for spotty reception on my cell phone keeps me focused on the here and now versus the distraction of technology. This allows me to remember to live in the present without thoughts of the past or the future and provides an opportunity for me to connect with my spirituality.

Am I drawn to the geo-electromagnetic field of the Topatopa Mountains? If I am, I don’t know it. However, I am attracted to Ojai for many of the same reasons as was Krishnamurti: I am pulled by the land, the mountains, the sky and the cool ocean breezes. And the people, who are a wide range of folks open to the possible. That alone would have been good enough for me. The rest simply supplies an additional sense of rightness to a place where I can be more fully myself. I am grateful to have been drawn there, whatever the force. My life is deeply enriched as a result.

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