Monthly Archives: May 2012

Chaffin Family Orchard

Even though our five days at Chaffin Farm were full, the experience as a whole felt like meditation. Before we even left our base camp in Nevada City I was looking forward to our time at the farm, kind of like a five year old patiently waiting for Christmas morning. Our days were loosely set up and consisted of: getting a farm tour (of the 2,000 acre family farm run and maintained by just 6 full time farmers), designing and painting a school bus that was themed sustainability, participating in a chicken processing day, and eating as many oranges and or grapefruits as we wanted! There was so much going on and yet the air constantly felt calm, relaxed, and joy filled.

I journaled briefly during a lesson with Chris, the farm manager and while this meant that my attention was divided it was a moment that needed to be saved and remembered. “Chris’ voice is traveling through the air as the sounds of moving water and bird chirps fills the remaining spaces. An endless meadow of beauty lies behind us. Animals surround us thriving in their natural habitat as we visit them placing our feet gently with open eyes, carrying a strong eagerness to learn. Education and learning is my life! And I love it so much.” This farm is one of the many places in my life (though not typically common in other lives as I believe it should be) where learning is a constant: it truly is unavoidable. Our ‘lesson’ about raising goats, which consisted of Chris sharing his knowledge and experience with us and answering the questions we had, took place standing in a pasture amongst goats—some just days away from giving birth. What a great environment to learn about goats in. Classrooms are everywhere. The Chaffin farmers really understand this and make it part of their lives. If you cross paths with a Chaffin farmer you should feel honored—they are very special people. The farmers directly and their family are the type of people that the world would benefit greatly from having more of.

My bare feet touched the earth everyday while at Chaffin and it felt so exceptional. Nearly everywhere, nearly all day: the skin of my feet connected with the ground beneath me directly. I was barefoot even while picking oranges in the dark. Lily, Tom, and I were the gatherers for our family that night, returning from the orchard with bags bulging of freshly picked oranges. I had never picked an orange before. I was pleasantly surprised at how natural it felt even though it was something new to me. Everything at Chaffin farm felt natural. When we were painting the school bus and being suffocated by the smell of oil based paint I could look into one of the countless tunnels of olive trees and to return to the natural farming world. It also helped the chemical-filled paint job feel better when the olive orchard would erupt with laughter as our faces wrinkled and the sound of joy left our open smiling mouths. During chicken processing day, when chickens are slaughtered and prepared for consumption, feeling the disposable apron around my waist, which I was using to prevent my clothes from getting bloody, I felt unconnected in an oddly connected way. Killing your own food, living on a farm, and yet being in an environment that felt as inviting as a hospital. I was reassured and re grounded by knowing that I could (and did in fact) leave the chicken scene and sit in the grass by the sheep with a view of Tabletop Mountain just behind them.

Chaffin Farm had an indescribable feel to it. Many farms I have visited and worked on have a great feeling but this was different. Seeing the faces of the farmers as they took time out of their busy days to check on us and see if we needed anything or if they could join in the fun we were having and interact with us was special. In knowing someone for just five days, having not met them before and unsure if our paths will cross again it is quite fascinating to share experiences with them: laughter, hiking through poison oak, swimming under a waterfall, standing on the hood of an old bus and spreading the blue paint, being involved in the chicken processing day and the emotional feelings included there, breaking bread together, and much more leaves me with a unique good feeling. Experiences and openness to share are what makes this world so valuable to me: Chaffin was a great reminder of that and I am excited to see how I hold onto that energy and spread it through all that I interact with in my life.



As soon as we take a right turn into the olive and orange orchards, I am pleasantly smacked in the nose with the pungent scent of sweet orange blossoms. I try inhaling as much as I can, fill my entire being with the smell, but unfortunately, as humans have been created, we rely on exhalation as well.

As if our introduction could get any better, we are welcomed to our camp site with rows and rows of olive trees, beautifully entwined with 100 years of history. The fragrance, the lush green coloring my entire surroundings, the endless tunnel of arching branches in every direction, made me feel like I had finally found a Utopia on Earth.


To continue the magical experience, we meet Chris, a partner of Kurt and Carol, the owners of Chaffin Farm, who entertained us during our stay. Chris is so friendly and easy to get along with that I knew we were going to have a great time. We hiked around Table Mountain, from where we could see the whole orchard as well as Chico fading off into the horizon. There is a peaceful, quiet, vernal pool surrounded by grazing cows and vibrant wildflowers. Table Mountain is breathtaking and I’d love to go back there someday.

Chris had bought an 89’ Bluebird school bus to tour classes who are visiting the farm around and trusted us with the task of painting it. Since being at Finding the Good I have been acknowledged as “the artist,” which is pretty shocking because I have never been in that position before. I directed the project as best I could, with a lot of help of course, and we’re all proud of how the job turned out. I never really took my art seriously, it was just a hobby I enjoyed occasionally, but being put in the position of “the artist” is making me reconsider. Painting the bus was a valuable experience for me and helped me continue my thoughts on going to art school.

We arrived at the perfect time; the staff, students and Tom got to paint the bus, the orange blossoms had just started blooming and the weather was beautiful. We were sad to leave, but the trip felt well-rounded, full of good memories, and the rain encouraged our journey home. I would love to visit Chaffin Family Orchards again, and if you are reading this, thank you for having us!


Newts in Paradise

“I am the machine that reveals the world to you as only I alone am able to see it.”
– Dziga Vertov

It is that time of year again: the California newt-mating season. I have never seen this ritual before. There is some reluctance in the group; some of us feel it would be a better use of our time to stay and finish up schoolwork. Tom and Deb decide for us in favor of this outing because it serves a more subtle purpose. Today is our last full day before spring break. With the heavy writing and processing we’ve been doing, this outing is more about relief than media capture and sight seeing.

We drive to the entrance of the Independence Trail, gather up our equipment from the van, and start walking. The smell of bay in this forest reminds me of being a cabin leader and taking fifth graders on hikes in Santa Cruz County Science Camp. I take some bay to spread under my mattress and keep spiders away. We all separate on the hike to where the newts are; some of us walked slower and took pictures of the new spring growth. Deb and I are first to arrive at the small pond. The calming flow of water trickling in to this pool slowed me as I drew close.

I watched as the orange flames dashed inside the water. Many newts gathered into a ball of intense passion. An invisible dance occurred as singular newts chose their mate. Visual and chemical cues fired before the newt jumped onto its target, the intention being that the male deposits his spermatophore into the female’s cloaca. A white orb arose from the ball of chaos; a spermatophore missed.

I fell asleep waiting for the others to arrive; the night before I stayed up until 3:oo a.m. When I woke up it was time to have lunch. I had a dream that I was a salamander being born in the water, but surrounding me was fire. Nothing could be seen past the fire that began to change color, and each flame started to take the form of other salamanders. I ate my gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich, as I discussed this with everyone else. Then we prepared to film.

We set up two tripods and a monopod. Tom and Debra prepare a camera to start shooting. Debra holds a metallic disc in an effort to better provide lighting to the scene. The set-up looks delightfully silly. Others on the Independence Trail walk by not knowing what to think. Their whole walk ‘til this point was a beautiful sight of the growth, the river, and the sun shining through the emerald leaves. But now they are faced with an unexpected sight as they attempt to get by.

It’s funny how this situation could be awkward. I try to place myself in the shoes of someone who is walking by. I imagine its weird to walk by and pretend you haven’t noticed people taking footage of this newt orgy. This reminds me a lot of being in a street and ignoring people. I believe a certain disconnect has happened between man and nature. The way people duck their heads at the slightest chance of contact alarms me. Sometimes I find myself doing the same. When I don’t feel like saying hi as I cross paths with someone simply because I am lost in my selfish world, I am at fault of being disconnected from my surroundings and the people in my surroundings.

Once we felt satisfied with the media we had captured we packed up and hiked back to the car. Debra and I stopped on one of the bridges we passed to wait for the others. From this bridge you could hear the Yuba River growling. The sight was amazing; turquoise water flowed against rocks loud with splendor. As the others arrived we showed them this sight of raw beauty, and we all stared in awe of the mighty river dragon.

We continued our walk now feeling cleansed. This daytrip gave me something to hold on to; a reminder that beauty is, yet again, everywhere.