“Can we get a giraffe?” I knew my wife was only halfway joking.
Some friends were not surprised when we sold our house to buy land East of Austin, but most have wondered WTF, “Why the Farm?”
The conversation was sparked by a weekend family adventure at The Serengeti Resort— a humble Safari Glamping retreat in Boerne, Texas. Carving out some family time to visit "The Heart of Africa in the Hill Country,” we let the kids drive the golf cart in the plains armed with grain pellets to hand feed Clyde the Camel, Jimmy the Zebra, and Buddy the Giraffe. Kirsten’s love of animals and longing for nature trumped me being nearly Jurassic Park’ed by a velociraptorish Ostrich. Three out of four of us thought that was hilarious. Good time adventures all around.
As the sun set over the ‘Serengeti’, we enjoyed a glass of wine in the lodge beside the lemurs to hear the owner, Lily, tell stories of the wild journey of this modest boutique retreat. Maybe it was the Fredericksburg wine, but we stayed up late with “we could do this” dreams of land, a retreat center, organic farm, family homestead, bees, wine, lemurs, a skate ramp, and giraffes.
It was not the most sober of dreams amid a challenging season of doing our best to breathe life into my film career and Raven+Lily. We were still finding our way making Austin home. But somehow the idea made sense.
CUT BACK TO BERKELEY, 1997:
Berkeley proved to be our Mr. Kesuke Miyagi — a period of figuratively painting the fence, sanding the floors, and waxing on/off that would only later reveal skills necessary for survival. Seeds were planted in a season that are now sprouting up years later.
Just married, my ramshackled Spiral Films office was one door away from Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse, in the Gourmet Ghetto. We lived in an attic when we had our first puppy and moved into a basement when we had our first son. We could only afford to go to Chez Panisse a few times in those five years, but Waters’ vision was contagious. She was passionately preaching “local, eco-friendly, and sustainable” long before those terms become buzzy. “Teach, nurture, and empower” were terms she would use promoting a food economy that was “good, clean, and fair.” The few meals I had there were life changing. Slow, Sustainable, and Simple. Around a table with friends, Alice’s philosophy resonated beyond the plate.
We moved from Berkeley to Los Angeles kicking and screaming as directing had me south for nearly half the year. As if to turn the gears on the high-highs and low-lows roller coaster adventure that was ahead, Propaganda Films closed its doors before we even had our bags unpacked in our Silverlake home to send me searching for new representation along with Kaboom.
A few years into living in LaLaLand, life was buzzing by at a brisk pace. We adopted our daughter from China when our son was three and then downsized into the least kid friendly apartment in Southern California at Sunset&Vine. (Many stories to share another time, like our kids’ keen sense of smell asking, “Why are the neighbors always cooking broccoli?”)
We never articulated a life mantra, but in hindsight, it was at that time that we started to get more intentional about living:
SIMPLE. SUSTAINABLE. SPIRITUAL.
We decided to Buy Nothing New for a Year , which turned out to be far easier than expected.
In an effort to unplug from the filmmaker hustle, every few months I would go hang with monks or at a retreat space to reboot. There was a spot in Malibu I could surf in the morning and wander through a labyrinth in the afternoon. In Santa Barbara, I would enjoy a Monk-made organic farm-to-table meal before an evening of quiet reflection. In the desert, I would dwell with a ‘silent retreat’ tag around my neck to muzzle my extrovert chit-chat with other sojourners at meals. Those still times of silence, reflection, and prayer proved paramount to my survival in Hollywood.
CUT BACK TO:
As much as we loved living in Austin, some of the rhythms of life we explored in California were missing despite a laid-back community surrounded by open space.
If you look at the whole journey together—WTF starts to make more sense. Start with a nature-loving wife with a Snow Whiteish connection to animals (Paint The Fence!) along with the Gourmet Ghetto, Nothing New, Labyrinths, and Boutique Retreats (Sand The Floors!) and throw those seeds into the Austin soil rich with Tiny Houses and Dai Due (Wax On/Wax Off!) and the 30,000-foot view seems less random. But, then again, maybe it’s just crazy. It does feel like failure waiting to happen.
Dreaming about living Simply, Sustainably, and Spiritually is easy. In practice, I’m far more gifted at complicated, comfortable, and corporeal living.
Without the resources to match our dreams, I remembered Alice Waters’ encouragement to work with and be “inspired by the ingredients you have.”
We started surfing landwatch and searching for a Spartan Trailer…