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I recently got back from the mountains of Big Sur, where I stayed in the majestic creekside cabins at Tassajara Zen Center. Tassajara is a private institution managed by the SF Zen Center that’s tucked away in the remote hills along California’s central coast. The first zen training monastery founded outside Japan, Tassajara boasts an incredible culture that’s rooted in the beauty of the natural world.

I stayed in Tassajara thanks to an invitation from my friend Betsy MacGowan at the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA). VWA does trail work throughout the year all over the Ventana Wilderness, and that work was desperately needed after the heavy rains the area got in the winter. The mountains around Big Sur saw more than fifty inches of rain this year, which would be normal in the coastal range of Oregon. In this area, it means a lot of felled trees and a spring bloom that’s out of control. Once I stepped foot on the trail, it was easy to see we had our work cut out for us.

Each morning I woke up and set out onto the trails to clean up the debris and get them back in working order. This is where staying at Tassajara comes in handy, because the monastery is located next to some incredible hot springs. Each night, I came back from an exhausting day of trailwork, soaked in the hot springs, and enjoyed some of the best vegetarian food I’ve ever had. Tassajara is well known for its vegetarian food, especially its baked goods. After a long day working on the trails, I was so grateful to have a delicious meal waiting for me and a breathtaking hot spring to unwind in.

Tassajara is remote. There were a lot of miles between me and the nearest town, and I had to take a 14-mile dirt road just to get out there. When you’re that far removed, though, it’s incredible how many things you notice about the world. As I felt the heat of the afternoon sun coming on, I’d nap under the bushes and let my surroundings take hold of me. Nothing gets me deeper into the world of plants than spending days in a remote location like this. My animal senses came alive and suddenly I was there and deep in it, feeling the energy of the wilderness around me.

The area boasts a breathtaking natural bouquet that adds to its magic. While working on the trails, I kept catching wafts of the black sage that grows around Big Sur. It’s a pungent mint scent that almost smacks you in the face to wake you up in the morning. As I cleared the trails, just touching and pruning those black sage bushes over and over again let the smell seep deep into me and left it lingering in my thoughts.

In the evenings while I soaked, I couldn’t get the smell of the black sage out of my head; I just wanted it around more and more. I became fixated on it; ultimately deciding to use it as the cornerstone of our next Field Lab release. I set out on the trail for the next few days and then returned to West Oakland and came up with a scent that embodies this magical time in Tassajara.

I love these central coastal mountains of California because they just explode with late spring and summer beauty. They’ve been waiting to bloom all year, and suddenly it’s green everywhere, bees in the air, the thick resiny smell of black sage, green grass…it’s just pure magic. With our latest Field Lab release, I hope we captured a little bit of that magic. Peppery and sweet, our Tassajara Creek Field Lab will awaken your senses and remind you of the beauty that’s found in these precious natural locations that need our support.

If you would like to learn more about or visit Tassajara, visit their website. For some excellent vegetarian recipes, check out Tassajara’s cookbooks. If you would like to learn more about Ventana Wilderness Alliance or support VWA through donation, click here.


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