One recent morning, as I waited for the first light of day to begin my run, I was startled by a flash of lightning and then a distant rumble of thunder. The fire doors on either side of the house were rattling in the squall front that was blowing across the valley. Fields of bunch grasses around the house swayed in the pale light that had begun to flush away the dark, leaking into the space between the night sky and the silhouetted land. In the distance, drifts of rain appeared as smudges linking the low clouds and the hills beneath them. July in Ojai: Monsoon weather.

Much later that day - but it is till warm and humid. The operative word is muggy. The westering sun is filling that rosy space between cloud and land where the thickened atmosphere glows of an evening. The blonde grasses are turned piebald as the chaparral spine that runs between east and west meadows partially shadows the slope that rises up to the house and pool terrace.

The day's fevered drama is a product of the steamy mingling of Emilia and Fabio far out to sea in the Eastern Pacific a few hundred miles south of Cabo San Lucas: two hurricanes plying their historic routes, stirring up the usual summer torpidity bringing heat, humidity, electrical storms and the threat of flash floods to Southern California.

The sheltering hill to the east of the house, which throws a protective arm around the site, is my chaparral touchstone. I watch it from the breakfast table. Right now, frizzled by this recent heat, it features the implacable ceonothus, fading cream blossomed laurel sumac, yellowing foliage on the walnuts, grey spumes of seed shrouding the mountain mahoganies, the dark black-green of the stoic oaks in the folds of the slope (where the winter rains run), but most emphatically, the slope is marbled with the deep orange of fried chamise blossoms. We live in chamise-dominant chaparral. Our weather is predominantly Mediterranean - dry summers and wet winters. It is this combination that brings great stasis to our lives. Thus the occasional clap of thunder or a sprinkle of rain in early July is notable but the foundational plants of the chaparral are indomitable, thankful for fog drip or random rain drops in summer but capable of surviving great seasonal privation.

Out of this balance of a 30,000 year old eco-system enduring in a bi-polar weather pattern, only occasionally ruffled by tropical depressions, I have tried to suggest that the stentorian voice of the divine can sometimes be discerned, as though the chaparral, in the mostly still air, is ventriloquizing spirit breath. The notion that we live in an etheric landscape has the imprimatur of Ojai's usual suspects: Besant and Bailey. Both women staked a great deal on the gnostic powers of the Ojai countryside.

When she arrived in 1926, Besant (1847 - 1933) spurned the lower valley and, at some inconvenience, arranged to travel to Upper Ojai and the Happy Valley site via what was then a rudimentary and muddy track up the Denison grade. She was, of course, rewarded with some of the most majestic views in Ojai: the view from the Beatrice Woods Center for the Arts back patio, an area where Annie and her party must have stood (atop the highest knoll overlooking what were then mostly walnut orchards) is absolutely stunning - the Topatopas spread their flanks across the horizon, the rock face emblazoned with fissures, spall boulders and streaks of exfoliated sandstone that records its geological genealogy in a mad scribble.

Annie Besant went for broke, wagering the future of civilization on 400 acres in the upper valley. As of this writing, that appears to have been a losing bet. The high school that occupies part of the land has recently fired its director and is seeking new direction from an avowed Roman Catholic and basketball aficionado. On the rise to the east, The Ojai Foundation is a long-standing tenant. It was originally founded in 1975 by Liam Gallagher (not the Oasis front-man) to explore the interface between science and spirituality. The Foundation then veered off into the Shamballic world of Joan Halifax (now abbot at the Upaya Zen center in Sante Fe) before turning to the shallow ecology of councilman Jack Zimmerman. Briefly in the secular hands of moneyman Barrie Segall, it is now directed by Jim Mangis who is continuing the focus on the way of council. Neither School or Foundation seems remotely engaged in fostering the sixth root race - Annie's vision (see David Pratt's root-race chronology) squandered by the hapless Happy Valley Foundation trustees.

Similarly, Alice Bailey (1880 - 1949), working through Florence Garrigue, established Meditation Mount in 1971. In the arcane world of esoteric theosophy, communication transcends the time its practitioners actually inhabit the mortal coil. Alice received her marching orders telepathically from Djwharl Khul, known as The Tibetan, a disciple of the Ascended Master, Khut Hoomi. In turn, after shuffling off etc. Alice, it is to be presumed, had her disciple Florence do her bidding, all the while checking in, now perhaps face à face, with Khut.

 The Mount sits on a bluff at the end of Reeves road with views westward of the entire lower valley. Its mission is to inculcate universal spiritual principles upon which a new global civilization might be built. This immodest vision is supported by more than Ojai's slightly down at heel Meditation Mount, a collection of environmentally disastrous, vaguely Tibetan style buildings (designed by the architect, Zelma Wilson) ensconced in wildly inappropriate and over-irrigated gardens: this Ojai redoubt is but one link in a far flung chain of Alice Bailey spin-offs, from Culver City to New York, New Jersey, Ashville N.C. and Geneva, Switzerland - representing the deliquescent empire of a truly remarkable seer, undone by sadly underachieving disciples.

Thus the institutional attempt to leverage the spiritual conduit that the Ojai landscape represents has largely failed. I will not, for the sake of brevity, document the long attenuation of the Krishnamurti legacy, now fatally etiolated at the Oak Grove School and of palpably diminished relevance elsewhere, despite the best efforts of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America. It is, it seems, down to us lone, cranky, Thoreauvian and Emersonian observers of the wild to lift the curtain and experience the thrill of the supernal in nature. Attempts at co-opting and branding this particular, localized, transcendental enlightenment have failed. For this we should be truly thankful.

A few nights ago we drove into our driveway and were met by two or perhaps three owls calling to each other from atop telephone poles and oaks. They flew from one roost to another in response to our presence or because they were conducting some avian courtly ritual (were they preparing for a larger group convocation or parliament?). We watched the birds, sometimes silhouetted against the night sky, dip and call, as though their entire essence was distilled in their cooing: their bodies bobbing as their owl call was expelled in a brief spasm of transportation.

These not so little birds, their head plumage standing out like devilish horns (they were of the local Greater Horned tribe) may have continued in this behavior long after we continued up the drive; we attended to our ritual of going to bed as their nocturnal lives were beginning. We had been included (it seemed) in the owls discussions as they planned their night. Our lives were touched by these reputedly wise creatures. We became, for a few moments, entwined in the skein of life that brightens at the edges and where, beyond this barely revealed glow, can be glimpsed the woo-woo, the psycho-spiritual nether world.

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