A Hidden Place Beyond The Hills (Ojai 2.0)

With this post, I have invited E to join in as we share impressions of this hot springs journey we just recently returned from. This includes visualized memories as the place we visited made it very clear that no photos were to be taken, nor social media could be used as part of a waiver we both had to sign. Quite in tune with the grittiness of the land and the approach, what was experienced demanded that we grant our memories a more raw, shared form of documentation.

With this in mind, let's get into it!

E

 

After more than a couple years, Michael and I headed back to Ojai, and this time, to the {REDACTED}  hot springs.

 

As we drove up the undulating roads of the 150 towards Ojai and passed familiar landmarks, Michael longed to secure residence in those parts one day. I quipped that he was a Dry Hills Hobbit finding escape from too much civilization, a sanctuary nestled among dry-stack stone walls and overgrown chaparral brush. I could imagine him intently baking his loaves of fresh bread in an home-built outdoor oven. He agreed whole-heartedly.

 

We drove up and up and down and down sun-baking sinuous mountain roads. The intensifying smell of sulphur signaled that we were approaching the correct location. {REDACTED}’s first sign was one of a series of hand-painted letters with wispy ascenders on found wooden panels beckoning us to proceed to a small trailer that served multivariously as sentry, residence, and office. Those greeting us were lean, tan, and spry, true workers on the land.

The initial impressions of the place were that of an ongoing, ambitious botanical process.

The initial impressions of the place were that of an ongoing, ambitious botanical process.

 

The minimalism of infrastructure echoed across the tented common area, outdoor dining facilities of split wood trunks, and in the mobile bathroom facilities, embellished with potted succulent cuttings. All over, the hardiest of outdoor plants struggled against the ubiquitous sunrays: mammoth sunflowers, nasturtium, winter squash vines, fig, lavender, aloe vera, sages, firestick plants, and tomato vines. Planters were fashioned out of common construction scrap material and logs. A lot of work was done and more was in progress. Having a backyard myself, I could imagine the amount of work employed and how much left to go. This was an ambitious permaculture project.

 

The hot springs were an effective means of fundraising, at $20 per person for two hours of soaking. (It could still be considered a poor man’s spa, as the other day spas of Ojai cost upwards of $150 and in pools encased in ceramic or concrete.) Connected to the parking lot with carefully constructed river stone pathways, the sulphur hot springs were in a series of five. What they all shared in common was algae growth and fine black particles in the very warm water. The pools themselves were in a very natural state, though it was evident that the placement of large stones demarcated them more clearly than nature’s design. The pools cascaded into one another, with the last one being particularly slimey and characterized by feathery strands of white algae, that repulsed Michael. He took one look at the lower pools and the facial expression he bore may be equivalent to those that confronted E.Boli for the first time. There was no way he was going into, what he called White Mucous Springs. Afterwards, I found out on the interwebs that their presence in sulphur hot springs was quite normal and there was no mention of harmful effects.

 

These hot springs are supposed to be good for blood circulation and skin problems, like my eczema. Soaking in them restores minerals that strengthen these bodily systems. As we both sat in the shade of overhanging trees and leaned back on boulders in the water, we soaked and talked. The combined heat of the water and the day was a bit much but we took it like medicine.

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There were other bathers before and after us. A clothing-optional couple seemed to have no qualms about the heat, opting to wade in a pool that was directly under the sun. A young couple felt hesitant and squeamish among the dark, slippery algae. A stalwart Russian man covered with tattoos and his buxom girlfriend with long, bleached blond hair tested each pool rapidly, with equally fast exchanges of comments.

 

Two young Armenian teenage girls followed us as we finally ventured towards Cold Creek. A steady flow of water studded with minnows was sheltered by a canopy of foliage. The touch of the water lived up to its name. Each person that got in released a squeal or yelp at the frigidity, particularly in contrast to the warmth of the baths.

 

When I got in, I could sense myself losing sensation in my legs, and I quickly raced towards a large boulder to climb onto for solace. In the meanwhile, Michael and the others gradually sat down into the water and even dunked their whole heads. I could not believe their endurance! Michael says he can take cold water over hot on any day. He is a true creature of the desert furnace.

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Getting out of the chilled bath, our bodies felt significantly loosened and relaxed. Nearby outdoor showers, with smooth flattened rocks and feet beds, were the final phase of this bath therapy. It was wonderful! The views of the surrounds as water rained down from sunflower showerheads bestowed us with a sense of serenity.

 

Walking back towards the parking lot, we decided to explore the permaculture terraces some more. In observing its extent, we realized that {REDACTED} was not just a hot springs and a garden but a conscientious philosophical approach to a way of life in which human life thrives more symbiotically with nature.

 

I take its ideas back with me to downtown Los Angeles and to my own backyard. How can we recreate this at home? This is a big and fascinating feat, and one that is likely worth the effort.

 

Michael was not so sure!

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As we drove the two hours back to LA, he was more keen on the LED sign that said, “30 Minutes To Downtown” and the proximity of Halloween. He was also keen on succumbing to the sleep that his loosened body craved.

 

But when I reached his home to drop him off, he looked sad. He said he was bummed out that our adventurous day arrived at its end so soon.

 

Fantastic moments pass too quickly. We relive them through our notes.




 

M

 

Time to clear throat for a moment. Yes. My throat comprised of pulsing blood through my arms, ultimately leading to my digits, allowing me to better type out my thoughts in a concise, and hopefully droll enough manner to best encapsulate my take on this shared experience. With Eileen at the helm of this unique return to the hills north of L.A., there was a part of me that remains utterly curious about the capabilities of the fringe, natural world just on the ragged edge of city life. Eileen, knows this about me quite well. Particularly my own anxieties about that edge, and what might cause me to better evolve. Yes, this involves forcing me out of comfort zones, leaving me to flail endlessly into the oblivion of potential metamorphosis. And since this is Halloween, it felt only right to take the plunge as it were, and see these hot springs for what they truly are, scary or not.

 

And her impressions are largely spot-on, as the venue is a remote, almost compound-like endeavor, complete with and in progress feel, uninstalled lights, improvised garden batch setups, open domes, and pots of to inevitably become residential greens, crops, and flowers. Dirt paths, and dusty all-terrain vehicles being the larger mode of transport for the work allowing for the proprietors to go about their business as visitors tend to their bodies with the rejuvenating waters nearby.

 

It’s true, there is and likely will always be a part of me that appreciates the counterculture, but considering a frame and body type that is more about mental capacity over that of a busybody, my role tends to be more of a supporting one. Permaculture, is certainly something to both be admired, and adopted. But a cubicle dweller like myself, is a lot more at ease delving into a more hybrid approach, as opposed to these incredibly dedicated souls, all granting their hands, skin, and drive toward what is an almost all-consuming lifestyle. Which is also a reflection of how nascent, and more community based much of today’s more conservation-centric culture truly is.

 

This is reflected in the venue’s overtures for helping hands, which will pay in free trips to the springs.

 

For the two of us paying visitors, we were allotted two hours to immerse into whatever of the several pools that were within, including the Cold Creek. Adopting the Goldilocks approach seemed best. Beginning with the initial pool, where we experienced our first instances of casual nudity. And to be honest, the revelation was perhaps something of a well-prepared one on my part, because my initial impressions were not unlike that of walking out into a public beach, and everyone is on towels, and in their bathing suit best, It was more remarkable thinking about just how ordinary it felt. And while neither of us were willing to go quite that far spring-side, it was a welcome feeling that such social restrictions simply did not exist this corner of the hills. And on such a sun drenched day, this was doubly so.

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Looking back at the entire session, it was that initial dip into the first pool that left the most powerful dents into the layers of my mind. A sensation reaching toward every conceivable corner of one’s corporeal form. Every nerve attenuated to the feeling of an almost amniotic embrace. Not unlike William Hurt’s isolation chamber in Altered States, there for a moment, was this feeling like being straddled firmly between earth and deep space. And while it was the second to hottest pool of the bunch, a part of me laments leaving it to test the others as they progressively either grew hotter, cooler, and with varying levels of soot and bacteria. There’s just something alienating to be about immersing onesself in a hyper natural pool rife with not only algae, but rock clinging organisms undisturbed to the point where entirely new heat-dwelling microorganisms could thrive. Having been in an onsen a decade back where the rocks tend to be brushed regularly, the sight of white algae swaying in the current, unveiled to me certain personal limitations. And the cold creek, while a rush to experience alongside Eileen, and several young people, all daring each other to dive with more determination these shallow waters of possibly 35 degrees celsius, was also a hotbed of parasitic life that made me squirm just a smidge.

 

Needless to say, I might have panicked a little.

                                                                   E                                             

                                             Don't worry, Michael. It's natural.

                                                                   M

                                                        Ebola, is natural!

 

 

But those outdoor showers. What a treat.

We're hobbits!

We're hobbits!

 

Which is to bring us back to the beginning; yes, this little journey was not only about escape, health, or relaxation, it was equally another in an ever growing number of small voyages, centered on discovering as much about the natural world, as it is the self with confronted with the organic new. Like so many others, I have often lived life on a specially selected parameter of rails that allows for a sense of consistency and safety, knowing full well that this is in many ways the antithesis of life itself. Conversely, these little trips with E often represent that break free from these self-imposed confines. Not a vacation per se, but a means to challenge the more amoebic elements of body and mind. A week ago, i knew nothing of this place. Nothing of the lives that nurture it, and nothing of the unpredictable elements that surround it. The opportunity to share these moments is of peak value. And despite my tendency to jerk and evade, there will always be an invisible force, ever compelling me to experience. Much like the intense waters of these springs, may such journeys propose greater changes, and in turn, challenge the me that was days before the confrontation. And this go round, was as rewarding as ever.   

Thanks, E.

 


 

 

 

 

"Laura Is The One" - Peaks Nine and Ten Tighten The Screws

In what could only be called a deliberate speed bump for the series, the last two episodes following the heels of one of Lynch's finest, most bewildering career moments, ease down with enough supplemental plot and character information to fill several episodes. We of course, catch up with the left for dead Evil Coop, who meets cohorts, Hutch and Chantal at a remote farmhouse. Eventually having his wounds taken care of, and with new phone and firearm, sets off to finish the job, possibly up north. Meanwhile, activity brews in earnest as Gordon, Tammy, Albert, and an ever crabby Diane, surprise land in Buckhorne, to see the alleged body of the late Garland Briggs. Soon brought up to date with the headless corpse, and the utterly baffling questions that come with it, not to mention being informed about the escape of "Cooper"from prison, matters at last seem to be pointing toward Vegas. But not before even more complications stall matters for Cooper/Dougie, still recovering from the incident with Ike The Spike.

As episodes, the duo feel very much like a much needed rest stop after the mind melting experience of Part 8, and to reinforce this, they are among the funnier episodes thus far. While it may feel strange to head in this direction after such unrelenting darkness, one must remember the original series, and it's occasional tendency to camp it up. Thankfully, the jokey nature of these installments never overshadow, nor undedcut the tension that has been steadily building since Part 1. But experiencing more of Diane, her powerful pantsuit, and dwindling patience with the whole affair leads to some standout laughs, and later deep suspicion, as it could be possible that our friends have been taken for a ride. Never one to avoid a risky curveball, Lynch keeps us guessing, and seems patiently hellbent on doing so. 

And speaking of Vegas, pieces are now undoutedly moving. The orders coming down from Evil Coop, eager to tie up all loose ends, have grown accelerated. The targets on the backs of both Dougie Jones, and Warden Murphy, have grown large, all while the still quite adrift Good Coop remains only slightly lucid. A car accident, is apparently the real reason his bosses and wife seem to be so nonplussed by his bizarre behavior.  "Answers" that only seem to arrive in mere nuggets of familiarity. Wilder still, is the revelation that nothing on Jones predates the late 1990s! Which does stand to reason that Dougie as decoy countermeasure has been in motion long enough for matters to slip. The notion that Dougie, was a plant that somehow became a lowly insurance salesman with a bit of a gambling problem, among others remains both funny and tragic. An empty vessel in a mostly empty town. Possibly quite strategic of Evil Coop. And let's not forget Janey E, and her newly rediscovered lust for this new improved husband of hers. 

Oh boy. 

But the true revelatory moments between these episodes  involves what at last feels like a long gestating full arc for a character. The very idea that Bobby Briggs, of all the original cast, would be one who would go a near full 180 from the punk kid we knew decades ago, to the dutiful boy scout he is now, cannot help but redeem him. The very moment his mother imparts him and our friends with his dad's secrets, it's like a moment of complete exaltation. His attempts to open what would contain a cryptic message for everyone is hard one for me, an old series fan to shake. The kind of redemptive moment that has been quite rare throughout these mostly foggier chapters. 

Jack Rabbit's Palace. Dirt. Two Dates.

Two Coopers.

Couple this with Tammy's questioning of Bill Hastings, who at last reveals his and Ruth's encounter with another plane of existence. Possibly even seeing Major Briggs at the time of his death. Further weaving together the show's more fringy world building with it's larger American vision. Something Frost has been the core vault master of since the original. With a scene that is equal parts sad, hysterical, and compulsively eerie. 

 

Scooba-diving.  

What follows with Ben Horne, possibly too freaked out by the combination of his brothers, Jerry's chemically induced adventures, or the accident suffered by his long ignored son, Johnny, is surprisingly not as eager to fall into Beverly's arms. But for how long? And then there's the pair at the Roadhouse, and one of the most disconcerting bits of dermatological discomfort ever filmed. Fragments, ever falling slowly into place.

That tone again. Anything like the tone of the metal tube that Bobby opened? Perhaps music is key toward opening the gateway? Is there truly some form of time travel at work? 

And..then there's this Richard Horne problem. 

I was merely speculating about what he/who he is, and Part 10 makes some very blunt moves toward clarifying my fears. Not only do we at last see him in action beyond his already detestable acts of violence against strangers. This time, it's upon people he knows, and there seems to be no end to his monstrosity, even if he is but a wannabe. Going out of his way to kill an informant, intercept information from within the sheriff's station, and later perpetrating something so heinous to me, it almost feels like some form of extreme ritual. The ferryman asks a pretty penny these days. A compulsion to find oneself so hateful, that only demons will welcome you. But the greatest tragedy, is perhaps his origin. I still don't want to believe who he really is. But if true, it's the kind of seismic attack that could fracture the Peaks many of us have known and loved. 

Strangely, the themes of family pervade as far as the infamous Mitchum Brothers, who's connections to so much of what has been transpiring in Vegas and beyond, is at last explored. Primarily through the perpetually aloof, Candie. One of the previously featured casino girls, with her often hopeless tendency to be distracted, and life increasingly on a thread, is also strangely cared about by these men who seem to grant an air of classic Vegas mob menace. Now being maneuvered to take out Dougie once and for all, the boys seem to further embrace the show's notion of such a town as the center of American culture; strangely caring, yet brutal, gaudy, and almost all bluster. 

And what a note to end this pair on; Magaret's message. Could it be that the teens of Twin Peaks past may indeed be the heroes we have long waited for? There is a truly romantic notion at work should James at last find his footing in this series. "Laura is the one.." As if hinting at her being the ultimate anti-BOB.

All signs leading in the same direction. 

And with the return of Rebekah Del Rio, the rest stop is complete. It might be time to buckle up again.

No Hay Estrella.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Return To Dreamland: Impressions Of Twin Peaks: The Return (1-4)

"My dream is a code, waiting to be broken. Crack the code, solve the crime."

-Special FBI Agent Dale Cooper

Fewer words were more inviting of the authors than this piece of dialogue from David Lynch & Mark Frost's almost legendary crack in the fabric of broadcast network time and space back in 1990. It's suggestion that none of what we see will be as it seems, and that normalcy is but a petty illusion we grant ourselves is at the dark, somber heart of Twin Peaks. A television event so singular in execution, generations of longform storytellers have been sampling Promethean fire from it ever since. The quirky, occasionally disturbing revelations beneath the veneer of a quiet northwestern American community in the wake of the brutal murder of the town's misunderstood high school sweetheart, became the kind of lore that inspired ceaseless discussion and debate. Also inspired many a Twin Peaks party as far down as my own small desert community just south of Palm Springs, California. Coffee and Pie, as simple price of admission to becoming part of what became one of the briefest, yet intense pop culture phenomenons I have ever had the good fortune to be a part of.

And to think, that this largely came from the mind behind one of the most jarring cinematic experiences of my youth, Blue Velvet(1986).

The demise of Twin Peaks, was as aggressively swift as the show's overnight success. The kind of network meddling that once made many a filmmaker steer clear, and more discerning viewers avoid broadcast television for years. Being forced to reveal that ever present, driving core question of, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" became one of the great crippling decisions that render creative teams rudderless, and as such the show was never quite the same again. That is, until a harrowing season finale signaling the return of Lynch to help rescue the show after a several months absence. History, naturally borne that more than a little late as time slots went from barely manageable to outright impossible, thereby quashing much hope of the show being saved via life support. Thankfully, the season finale, which became the show's original death march, went into history as one of the most indelibly bizarre, nightmarish, and utterly frustrating endings ever made. I vividly remember gasping in utter astonishment as the credits for Frost & Lynch came up on the screen as our central hero suddenly reveals himself to be overtaken by the evil forces behind some of the stranger goings on up in those mountains. Special Agent Dale Cooper, is trapped in the Black Lodge, while his evil doppelganger walks the world we live in..triumphant.

The finale left me angry, befuddled, even depressed. The show had so clearly drawn the moral cartography with such clarity with this character, and here we were, ending with goodness. possibly in a fate worse than death. In many ways a good analogy for the show itself. An almost magical confluence of elements that could easily be manipulated into a cage of its own destruction.

Thankfully, in the decades plus since the demise of the series, and the subsequent and inexplicable booing at Cannes for Lynch's film prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, it seemed that despite all signs to Peaks being among the many casualties of myths that burnt out far too soon, here we are where creators, fans, and artists prevailed, granting David Lynch the utmost freedom to come back to a creation, and characters he so clearly still loves. The Showtime release of Twin Peaks: The Return, is not only another return to the success pool that so many filmmaking legends have. Rather, it is the kind of singular form of artistic revenge that only lands once or twice in our laps in a single lifetime. Much like a certain George Miller, what I've seen so far is reminiscent of his own vision unleashed. It is a wildly strange, unflinchingly Lynchian,  caustically funny, and occasionally terrifying opus of ideas that must have been percolating since 1991. Gone is the often screwball nature of the original series, but also not as tonally grim as the 1992 feature. What we have here, is the natural extension of all of Lynch's art spanning from as far back as his experimental films, not to mention ERASERHEAD(1974). 

 Opening within an enigmatic space of pure monochrome, a slightly aged Dale Cooper has now been within realms beyond the feared Black Lodge, and has been informed by The Giant, that the time to leave is nigh. Speech remains in eerie reverse, but the color has been completely bled out, perhaps implying that the show we had previously watched over the years had indeed entered the world of classic vintage television. We are also introduced to various characters from New York City to even Buckhorn, South Dakota, where matters have undertaken less the episodic, and often goofy feel of the original, and taken an almost novel-like structure. A school principal dreams of murdering a co-worker, only to awaken and be arrested for a similar crime. A woman with faulty memory, helps the police discover a murder victim with the wrong head on its shoulders. A young man, is tasked with watching a glass box in a city skyscraper that may or may not be a transportation device for alternate dimensions. Meanwhile, a man in black leather who bears a bizarre resemblance to Cooper is on a mission to obtain information, and kill a few along the way as his help might very well be in the process of betraying him. As new revelations that seemingly come from other Lynch worlds expand themselves into the larger story, it rapidly becomes clear that the tale of Peaks has bled out across the country.

All of this, as Sheriff Tommy "Hawk" Hill(Michael Horse) is given a call by Margaret (The Log Lady, played by the late, wonderful Catherine Coulson) that some new puzzle pieces have suddenly come to light. Little by little, it is indeed happening again. And whether or not anyone is ready, it seems like The Return, is not only a sober, more adult Peaks, but it's also something of a liberation from the confines of network broadcast. An existence that ultimately sunk the original show. Frost, makes good use of the lore he has helped hone over the years, helping Lynch further ground his series in a way that we had only been hinted at with Fire Walk With Me. The range is certainly lighter than that excursion into the bleak, but it is no less unsettling when Lynch goes full horror show. And not unlike 2001's Mulholland Drive, the tonal shifts somehow find even keel weaving an endlessly fascinating new life for a show that at one time captured the minds of many in its vision of a Rockwell dream gone malignant. Oh, for sure, innocence remains strong within Peaks, but it has begun to waver with the loss of Cooper, and Major Garland Briggs. Andy and Lucy(Harry Goaz & Kimmy Robertson), are good and well as they could ever be as fixtures in the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Office. And while we do not have Harry Truman who's apparently ill, we have his brother in Frank (Robert Forster!) taking care of the law enforcement family alongside Hawk. 

And as hours three and four have unveiled themselves, it rings louder than ever that Lynch has a fire within that even I though had long been diminished. It's the kind of creative fury that only the right producers and supportive entities could have allowed. In hindsight, this so easily could have flown completely off the rails, and yet somehow, even the most bizarre events of these two episodes seem perfectly in keeping with the world presented. No matter how insane things get, it's always in support of Cooper's journey toward not only the home of his beloved deep black joe, and pie, but himself. Playing at this point, three roles is easily the best work Kyle MacLachlan has ever executed on film. Years of describing him as something of Lynch's visual analog couldn't be more fitting as he traverses between worlds and personalities with the precision and trust only collaborating friends could ever conjure. And this is but one blip among a wealth of performances that further offer a depth that the show had only hinted at in the past. Sure, there are a few that hit those strange notes (Chrysta Bell, instantly comes to mind), but considering the universe of Peaks as something that exists in a plane not quite ours, it never milks the camp factor beyond tolerance levels.

But the real surprising juice comes in the form of elder Gordon Cole(Lynch himself), and fellow agent, Albert Rosenfeld(The late, great Miguel Ferrer) who upon receiving cryptic information about the long lost Cooper, venture out to meet a captured man, only to wonder who exactly they have behind bars. It's a truly mesmerizing final few minutes in this series of episodes that both sells the utter eerie nature of old events returning to haunt old friends, as well as their loyalty to their fellow agents. The final scene hued in a deep shade of blue, brings to the forefront revelations that harken to both the original series as well as FWWM, hinting at something both men had been troubled by for years. No, none of this feels normal at all. But maybe there is someone we know who can help. It's a bang-up way to leave us hanging. Needless to say, I am probably just as hooked now as I was back in 1990. Perhaps even moreso. Like Albert and Gordon, a part of me had lied dormant. Ever resigned to the idea that these forces would forever be ignored, leaving threads eternally neglected. And despite knowing of this project for over a year now, I never expected it to be rekindled with such energy and sincerity. It's the kind of return we rarely to never receive. At last, we have Twin Peaks as a complete story. Whether or not this is truly Lynch's great goodbye to narrative filmmaking, I'll be there with many others, savoring every delicious moment.  

14 hours remain..