I returned from Ojai on April 9, and haven't been able to write about it until now. Some things were stirred up in me- not a bad thing, mind you- but the trip got me thinking about the trajectory of my life in ways I hadn't considered before. I needed to sit with it a while.
It didn't hurt I was in Ojai celebrating, in a way, the joyous recovery of my "sister" Kaity as she slayed ovarian cancer last year. (Putting "sister" in quotes feels weird, because I don't think of her as anything else- but it feels important to state we decided to be sisters. There's the family you get, and the family you make.)
It's a trip we started planning last summer to take as soon as she felt up to it and it fit our calendars and finances. Kaity's a person I knew only marginally until last year, when her cancer and sobriety journey intersected with my own recovery in a number of ways. I remember feeling drawn to her and her message- she had things to say I needed to hear (and apparently the feeling was mutual).
It turns out we travel well together. We like the same things: eating, drinking tea, reading, writing, practicing yoga, meditating, talking about spirit and recovery, and hiking. Neither of us gets particularly uptight about flight delays- good news, since our arrival out there was delayed something like 6 hours. I kept joking about being stuck in Detroit- I have nothing against Detroit, but it made for good conversation at the time, that if I had to write a review of Detroit I'd likely start it with... "Well, Detroit met all my expectations." See, I've always pictured it as cold, grey, and grumpy- and that's pretty much exactly the experience I had while there. I'll have to trek out there sometime to explore the wonderful things I'm sure it has to offer.
Our sunset arrival in LA elicited squeals of delight as we drove our rental up the PCH, chasing the sun over the horizon and enjoying all of the scenery: Santa Monica, Malibu, Ventura... then turning inland a while into the magical town of Ojai.
One of the coolest things that you notice about Ojai is what a non-entity it is- a little spot nestled in an east-west running valley (pretty rare, I am told, as most mountain ranges run north-south) with one main corridor and several outlying areas that are mostly residential. Oh, and the mountains. Ojai is easily seen from many vantage points up in the mountains which are protected land. In fact, the protected land is what makes Ojai such a non-entity: the residents vehemently oppose any major developments. There are no high rises- no apartment buildings even, and no short term rentals allowed in Ojai. There are no chain stores save for one Vons grocery store. The local council was reportedly trying to figure out how to limit tourism!
Ojai is incredibly pet-friendly- many of the stores allow pets and dogs appear everywhere. This delighted me, of course. Whenever I travel I find myself fixating on local dogs because I always miss mine so much. It's a joke between Ben and me that every dog reminds us of ours and the further we get along in our trip, the more this is true.
Upon our arrival, we went to the small Westridge market to pick up some food. We were starving. The clerk cheerily notified us that many celebrities live in Ojai (we didn't see any- or if we did, we didn't know it). I can see why- it's so different from anything I know about California living and certainly LA life.
Our Air BNB rental was this adorable little two bedroom bungalow with a large meditation pergola out back- an unusual find, our friend Jay Fields let us know the next morning when she came by to pick us up for our hike.
Hiking in Ojai is wonderful- and the weather while we were there was cooler than usual so we were comfortable all day, a little chilly at night. We roamed along dusty Shelf Road, skimming the Los Padres National Forest, sniffing the Pixie tangerine and orange groves. The scent of oranges in Ojai is nothing short of intoxicating. I can call that scent up now, even as I write about it.
Due to the recent rains, Ojai was greener than usual and the local river was also running a little faster than in recent years- but I still found it to be a very dry place. My favorite places on Earth usually have more water- a lake, or an ocean nearby- but you can't fault Ojai for falling prey to the chronic drought all of California's been experiencing.
I had a lot of down time since Kaity had chosen to work with two master Ayurvedic practitioners. I'd drop her off for her two or three hour session and explore, either on foot or by car checking out the area and ducking in the tiny shops along the main drag. (I also treated myself to an Ayurvedic treatment- so sublime- which I may write about in a separate post.)
Here are some favorite places where we shopped or ate in Ojai or nearby Meiners Oaks:
Farmer and the Cook
The people of Ojai are so friendly and accommodating. It seems like a very happy place to live.
Our friend Jay lives in a shipping container tiny house- something like 250 square feet with space for a bed, office, kitchen, bathroom with a mini claw foot bathtub, her cat, Mae, and a small, sweet enclosed outdoor sitting area. Located by the river off a quiet valley road, it's truly a sanctuary.
It got me thinking about the choices we make and how we choose to live. I've been paring down a lot in recent days- simplifying the expectations I have for my days, getting rid of excess belongings, making time for the things that matter to me: friends, family, meditation and yoga practice, 12 step meetings, good food, nature, movement, writing, reading, travel. Really, with those things floating into and out of my week, I am happy. Life is a lot simpler these days, and I'm a lucky one.
In my recovery world two people have died recently: one very kind, very quiet woman who passed following a medical procedure- and a local artist who had been apparently struggling for some time with his addiction. Both were in rooms I frequent on a weekly basis yet I didn't know them well. But we share so much in those rooms. We share our joys and sorrows, some details about the ways we suffer, the harm we've done and had done to us, the ways we forgive, and how we experience spirit. In general in the rooms it's deeper than the usual daily conversation- I'm grateful for that. At age 43 I keep thinking, maybe health, money, and relationship-wise this is as good as it gets. That's always possible though- we never know what's around the bend.
At times in my life I've let things get very, very complicated- made up whole systems of rules and expectations for how I thought things should be. Acquired things and people and whole arenas I didn't need to run among them in. It's less and less like that these days. And seeing how other people have chosen to live, with only the essentials, and with great joy, reminds me I'm on a great path in that direction too- and it feels wonderful.
Ojai helped me remember that what we value matters. Everything flows from our intention. People, animals, quality of life, nature, beauty, simplicity, kindness, health, appreciation- for me, these are essential. Nothing else is quite as important as the places where we find joy and meaning.
Otherwise, it seems best to "just let things lie."