The Helpers

The history of this place is like the fog, thick and enchanted. At one moment we are enveloped in its mystery, its care, the next the sun breaks through and we can see outward again. We are all finding our way in the fog here. 

Creating Dream Maps at Djerassi

I brought to Djerassi recordings of over 400 memorable REM dreams of more than 300 residents of the Bay Area of San Francisco that I had made over a period of 5 years as part of my anthropological research on urban emotions.  My original plan had been to create during my residency an art installation of maps that show the traces left by these phenomena in cities to complement my current writing of an ethnography of urban emotions.  Being at Djerassi has somewhat altered my plans.  


July 5th

Yesterday, July 5th, was the anniversary of Pamela Djerassi’s death. Her brother Dale joined us for dinner here in the hills, and moved some of us to tears with his remembrance. Pamela died by suicide when she was only twenty-eight, a tragedy that spurred the eventual founding of this residency program. Tragedy transformed into beauty, into a gift for twelve new people every month, twelve artists who can watch the fog rise over hills and walk the paths among the sequoias and experience a nurturing invitation to just be.

Hunting Berries

On one of my afternoon walks around the Djerassi grounds, I see a bright scrap of red set far back in the hunch of a thorny bush.  The color draws my eye, but as I crouch down to look close, it’s clear that the berry isn’t ready to be eaten.  Flat red and unglossy, it has the shape of a finished thing, the drupes lined up and articulated with precision—but it is still just an object, not yet a food, and to sample it would be a mistake.  I check back each week as I walk past the vacant space, and by the end of the month it is ripe and ready and soft to the touch.


I'm writing now from my studio at Djerassi, looking down the green hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains that roll all the way to the ocean below. When it’s clear, you can see the water, which most of the time is obscured by a cool marine layer. It’s late afternoon, so light infuses the grasses, some of which are starting to turn to the gold these whole hills will be by summer’s end. Earlier this morning, fog pressed its gray shroud to the glass.

Cloud hands on the mountain

My third day in residence at Djerassi, I join fellow residents Wei and Daiane in their Tai Chi practice. I have only previously tried Tai Chi once, for twenty minutes, when it was part of an employee wellness demonstration years ago. Here on the mountaintop, I decide to try it as a form of exercise. I can’t do my customary lap swims here. I imagine it will be something like yoga. Good for my body, but also meditative.