We wait for it year after year, and when it comes, we are never disappointed. The wildflower bloom along the coastal canyons in California, from Baja to Big Sur, begins with a rumble of poppies and lupines and finishes with an explosion of acres full of Hummingbird Sage and Wooly Blue Curls. Every year, the character of the place changes, and we all held our breath this season over concerns about the drought and how our new techniques of trail-side perfume making might influence our ability to capture the true flavor and essence of the experience of this beautiful moment.
It is another beautiful sunset when the wildcrafting team pulls up to the Reel Inn at the bottom of Topanga Canyon in late March. With Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush playing on the little record player in the back of the Field Lab van, Hall Newbegin, president of Juniper Ridge and its head Wilderness Perfumer, pops a beer in the parking lot and explains the seasonal cycle, the pulse of life along the coast: “All year long these mountains are dry, and the plants wait for the rain. Wait, wait, wait. And then, boom! The rains come in November or December, and the plants literally go kaboom; they’ve been waiting for this all year, and suddenly it’s green everywhere. Bees in the air and the thick resiny smell of sage, green grass… ah gawd, it’s just pure magic. This is what our Topanga Canyon GREEN EARTH RISING fragrance is. It’s the winter rains transformed into sticky green gooey plants all around, food for bees and hummingbirds and insects. The banquet is on, and everything is alive for a couple months and then it’s all quiet again.”
Obi, Juniper Ridge’s Chief Storyteller, is there too. He is cleaning the converted whiskey still the team uses to prototypes these Field Lab fragrances. “The Hummingbird Sage is going off right now; our fears over the drought didn’t pan out, the flowers are fine, the air is alive with all the sweet goodness that we’ve come to know about this place. While today we only harvest a few handful of flowers, we will head up north to some secret canyons near Santa Barbara and harvest some of the same spots we did last year. We do this all very gently. After we move through, we make careful pains to make it look like we were never there. We are very careful to gently harvest only a tiny fraction of any given stand; being stewards to these gardens is a core responsibility of everything Juniper Ridge does.”
We are very careful to gently harvest only a tiny fraction of any given stand; being stewards to these gardens is a core responsibility of everything Juniper Ridge does.
Back in the Oakland workshop, Tom, our chemist, takes a handful of Wooly Blue Curl blossoms that have been drying for the past two weeks and shoves them into a round bottom flask and sets up the vacuum distillation rig and the dry-ice receiver. “I’ve been working on this set up for the past year since our last harvest of Topanga Canyon GREEN EARTH RISING.” He explains. “The delicate aromatics in these tiny flowers need to be handled delicately. The still in the van destroys them. For the first time, we’ve taken flowers from the southern, coastal canyons of California and are able to really capture the most delicate of notes that they carry. This formula of Topanga Canyon GREEN EARTH RISING is the most complex wildflower wilderness perfume we’ve ever made. More complex than anybody has ever made, really; nobody has ever used these ingredients.”
In his office, sampling the different tiny vials and considering the ratio of each prototype before final approval, Hall Newbegin has eyes full of emotion as he continues on about these wonderful places he loves and the time of year that most strikes a chord: “Seeing a coastal hillside explode with poppies, Hummingbird Sage, goldfields and lupine is like watching a giant humpback whale breach out of the water. You’re witnessing the deep cycles, something ancient that extends back into antiquity. It’s something ancient that persists in spite of our sprawling freeways and fast food joints. This is deep time, deep quietness and the deep willful intelligence of life wanting to make more of itself.”
Field Lab is Juniper Ridge’s seasonal wilderness perfume; it defines the outer, experimental edge of what we do. Field Lab captures the sun, rain, and earth, delivering a glimpse of life on the trail. Produced in extremely small batches, these Wilderness Perfumes are poems of the American West. They reflect the rugged, aromatic landscapes from which they’re born.
Breathe it in and go there.