A few weeks ago staff photographer Tom Story and I spent two days in the lush forest around Northern California’s Mount Tamalpais. We were documenting a “field trip” of Juniper Ridge—the self-professed “nature freaks” known for their place-scented products like “Big Sur Backpakers Cologne” and “Siskiou Cabin Spray.” (Their tagline is “Mountains in a Bottle” and that’s no marketing gimmick.)
Obi wades through ferns, and morning light.This was a story photo shoot like no other Tom and I had experienced. Typically our conditions are very controlled: we’re photographing a beautiful home for which we have a lot of assistance (a stylist, a photo editor, an assistant) and a shot list (kitchen, deck, rooftop, living room details), and we’re done when the sun sets. This time it was just the two of us, no shot list (loose “reportage” style, said creative director Maili Holiman), with no end time. Did I mention we didn’t even have a trail to follow?
Beyond the obvious fascination with how these Juniper Ridge mountain men diffuse forest clippings (with the appropriate permitting) into scents that transport you the wilderness (I am certifiably obsessed with the Cascade Glacier scent), we wanted to capture how they experienced nature—the forest that is their lab.
Hall (above) showing us how tree sap (yes, that stuff you tried not to get stuck in as a kid) is instant—albeit sticky—perfume.
For all intents and purposes, Juniper Ridge founder Hall Newbegin is a modern day John Muir. (We were IDing and pulling invasive plants as much as we were savoring the perfume-making ones.) Along with colleagues Obi Kaufmann and Tom Accettola, Hall led Tom and I and an entourage of fellow nature enthusiasts on a hike that would forever change how I experience the wild. It would also remind me of what I already knew: Days feel longer when you’re out of cell phone range.
Here’s a little preview.
Hall waxes on about the resilience of redwoods. And, while we’re often looking for stable footing on our off-trail hike, I’m reminded to look up.
But also to get low. In the woods we’re surrounded by the sweet aroma that shakes up with the wind, and we’re taught to savor individual plant scents close to the ground.
And while technology feels taboo (and ironic?) in the forest, so many moments feel too much like artwork not to capture.
Obi shows us a different type of note taking.
We even taste nature. I’ll never look at pine needles—or the limits of my water bottle—the same way again.
Hall isn’t shy about lugging a few plant ID books in his pack. (And by “a few” I mean “a lot.” It was kind of like that bottomless handbag scene in Mary Poppins.)
Look for the full story in Sunset soon. We promise, you’ll never experience nature the same way again. Can’t wait to get outside? Here are 100 ideas to get you out of that desk chair and into fresh air.
Text by Sunset contributing editor, Jess Chamberlain. All images by Thomas J. Story.