In the seclusion of this kind of rural life – where the nearest neighbors are coyotes, rattle snakes, spiders, quail and hawks –the home has a particularly intimate connection to its inhabitants. It is the first and last line of defense against the rigors of the wild environment – there is no sheltering community of similar buildings as in a suburb, no carapace of urban environment as in a town, not even the protection of surrounding yards, fields and out-buildings as in a farm.
At the extreme, it represents a moving from the cenobitic experience of the community to the eremitic experience of the hermit’s cell. But it also represents a new opening to the natural world unmediated by the infrastructure of development. In this context there is both a turning towards an interior life and a reaching out to the biosphere.
This living at the urban wildland interface encourages the contemplative review of one’s interior life and impacts even weekend guests, particular those attuned to matters of the body, mind and spirit.
Joan Diamond visited the house early in August 2009. An old friend, she has been associated with the Cumbria Alexander Training school in Kendal, U.K. for nearly twenty years where she is now a senior teacher. She is the author of Understanding the Alexander Technique available from Amazon.uk.com
The Alexander Technique teaches a non-invasive pathway towards achieving a natural posture that stresses an axial elongation of the spine. It is applied for purposes of recovering freedom of movement, in the mastery of performing arts, and for general self-improvement affecting poise, impulse control and attention. The technique takes its name from F. Matthias Alexander, an Australian, who first formulated its principles between 1890 and 1900.
She reflected on the time she spent with us:
"As someone who has taught meditation on the bones; how to enter the ribcage and look around, much like Jonah might have entered the whale and looked around, the house made me feel that I was inside the body human, looking out. Like a large body lying on its back, the house was allowing the landscape to enter and influence those who lived inside.
Coming up the drive from the outside world I entered the “pelvis”, the living room. Light through sliding doors that filled both walls on either side, let me see chaparral, rolling golden hills and the rising bluff of the Topa Topas in the distance. Flowing along an open hallway I came quickly to the “belly” the dining area opening to the hills through sliding doors on one side and the comfort of a potbellied stove on the other. Indirect light through partitions led to the ‘heart’: the kitchen. Here again completely open views on either side allowing the landscape to enter as we cooked.
Continuing further along the ‘spine’ I came to the ‘throat’: the studies for communication, writing, less open here, ordinary windows, sliding panels, options for more privacy, more thought and for bathing oneself; dressing, preparing, organizing and finally flowing further along the ‘spine’ to the ‘head’: the master bedroom. Again the sliding doors and windows allowing both sides to be completely open to the landscape. A place for rest, for quiet conception, space for the creative ideas to emerge between these two architects, these two friends, these partners at work.
During my stay in Ojai, walking the landscape I realized this was also the home of Aldous Huxley: the great writer but also someone who practiced the Bates Method; the ‘seeing without glasses’ in this landscape.
Over days I came to understand what he must have found so special about this light splashed land. In the foreground, the large light reflecting boulders gave the eyes their initial focus. Shifting the gaze to the mid-distance one found the rolling golden hills, the dark green scattering of native oak. Shifting the focus again to the far distance one found the mountains beyond, the light reflecting bluffs of the Topa Topas. And finally, allowing the focus to soften altogether and widen out to the peripheries, one found the chaparral; the dry grasses, the rocks, the scrub trees. And then back again to the original focus: the light reflecting boulders in the foreground. Everything the human eye needed to shift between to remind itself of its natural capacity.
And here was a house, like a body resting open, allowing the landscape in, allowing the human vision to expand outwards."