Homes Away From Home

(page 2 of 9)

MJ Greenmountain prepares a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, or gongfu cha, at his nature retreat in Nevada City. (Photos by Max Whittaker)

Zen Nature Retreat

Stepping through the sunny yellow noren at the entrance to this Nevada City compound is to be instantly transported to the Japanese countryside (or the Sierra Nevada equivalent thereof). Among the towering pines and gnarly oaks, MJ Greenmountain and his wife Hiroko Kurosaki have created a peaceful oasis where deer lope from the nearby creek to graze upon the Shasta daisies and chamomile growing wild in the garden, and free-range hens strut around the mossy boulders looking for worms and insects.

Above: A bamboo "cha ze" holds pu-erh tea leaves. Below: The Airbnb room features tansu chests and tatami mats.

It’s a meditative scene that transpires each day to a pleasant soundtrack of birdsong and breeze, in full view of the single-room Airbnb, located in the west wing of the main Japanese-style wooden house. (Another Airbnb on site, a studio with a kitchenette, is situated in a separate building.) Although the quickest way to go from Type A to Zen is likely by absorbing nature’s beauty through the private entry or large windows, the thoughtful trappings of the interior chamber—a traditional futon, antique tansu cabinets, river-rock door knobs—also help with the pursuit of tranquility.

From left: Wander down the 8-acre property to Deer Creek's crystal waters; find your moment of Zen under the shade of majestic pine and oak trees

With no television, Wi-Fi or cell phone signal on the premises, bucolic communing becomes less hippy-dippy and more, well, mandatory. Soon, the grounds will include a small tea plantation, integral to Greenmountain’s long-held ambition to establish a tea education and retreat center on the 8-acre property. Just as breakfast and dinner are served in-room for an additional $15 and $20, respectively (during our visit, Kurosaki, a professional chef who teaches traditional Japanese cooking at the BriarPatch Food Co-op in nearby Grass Valley, prepared tamari-ginger trout surrounded by multiple sides, including miso soup made from her own soybean fermentation), a Chinese tea ceremony, or gongfu cha, is also on offer. Greenmountain, who has been practicing the ancient custom for more than two decades, guides guests through the ritual ($25-$60), which involves easy conversation over many tiny cups of meticulously brewed pu-erh tea. Only your mindful presence is requested, but if that even seems too much to ask, remember this: If you’re here, you’re already halfway there. $60–$70 per night plus fees. bit.ly/zennatureretreat —Leilani Marie Labong