Earth Day 2019: How One Hipcamp Host Chooses to #LeaveItBetter

As the saying goes: there’s no place like home. Earth Day is a timely moment to celebrate our planet and all the wondrous things that make living here so special. Every day, Hipcamp landowners and stewards across the country inspire us with their regenerative, empowering pursuits to support our communities and our world. Today, we’re highlighting one such Host who spends her days working to #LeaveItBetter.

Hipcamp Host Carolyn lives on a slice of heaven: the Bella Luna Mountain Retreat. In sharing her land with travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, she’s been able to drive a lifelong dedication to environmental activism. In her 40-plus year career, Carolyn has worked as an educator, filmmaker, and community organizer, which ultimately earned her the Women Taking the Lead to Save the Planet Award from the National Women’s History Project, an honor she shares with the likes of Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson, and Helen Caldicott.

The Star House is built into the cliffside on Carolyn and Gary’s property.

The Bella Luna Cottage sits on five mountainous acres in the heart of Sonoma’s wine country. When you’re there, you wouldn’t guess you’re anywhere close to any lasting reminders of civilization. The property overlooks the Hood Mountain Regional Park and is home to a 40-foot spring and waterfall, private hiking trails, and a cliffside “Star House” primed for stargazing. Surrounded by a thick forest of trees (and no WiFi), the Bella Luna Cottage is a retreat in the truest sense — a portrait of quality, sustainable lodging.

Hipcamp: You’ve helped start a handful of organizations dedicated to sustainability and environmental change. How did you first become passionate about sustainability?

Carolyn: I’ve always been an environmentalist and loved nature. I had been doing work as an environmental educator at Hunters Point in San Francisco and taught environmental education. I also had a background in theater, so I like to merge arts and ecology. I did that with kids and put on a lot of cool plays and cleanups and focused on integrated education.

Hipcamp: How do you live sustainably in your day-to-day life? How are those values represented at your Hipcamp?

Carolyn: We ran our cars on organic olive oil for years, and now we have an electric car. The cottage is a yurt and it has all organic cotton sheets. The paint is nontoxic. Everything is [intentional]: we recycle, compost, that’s just what I do. It’s an extension from my own life. I try to live my values. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to get better and better. I’m vegan, too.

Hipcamp: What’s special about your property?

Carolyn: You don’t even know where you are when you come out here. That’s why people freak out when they’re here. You’re just 10 minutes up this windy road, but we’re surrounded by parkland. Hood Mountain Park is walking distance from our property. It’s this tremendous, very big mountainous place. In 2000, we said let’s build a Star House up there so we can sit and see the view. The view is a stunning, just drop-to-your-knees kind of view.

The view from the Star House.

Hipcamp: What’s your favorite part about hosting?

Carolyn: We’ve had a lot of people come for honeymoons and anniversaries and they are all filled with so much gratitude. Our guestbook is filled with stories, poems, and drawings and gratitude for having been to this place. Initially, we thought it’s not a big deal — we both just wanted to get out of civilization and live on a mountaintop, why are people freaking out so much when they’re here? We were stunned with the reviews we were getting initially, but then I slowly realized it’s really nature.

People are embedded here, surrounded by trees. The Star House and Cottage are built caressed by oak lands that have protective energies. Being in a forest calms down your nervous system, your biology. Being in nature is what people are getting up here. It’s not the cottage — that’s just a small round circular space. It’s charming and I’ve made it pretty, but it’s that they’re surrounded by nature.

Part of what we’re contributing here is this whole sense of wellbeing. Nature is really the queen, the healing force. And people are really getting it, even if they don’t know why.

Hipcamp: Any advice for other Hipcamp hosts?

Carolyn: Go out of your way to make your place incredibly special, beautiful, and magical. Put nice things in the cottage even though they get broken or stained sometimes. I have really expensive linens in there but I love that level of quality. Give to people — they’re supporting you. They came all this way to be in your space. Be generous. Greet your guests like they are your family.

Hipcamp: A lot of the initiatives and organizations you’ve started are focused on empowering local communities. Why choose local?

Carolyn: Localization is the number one cure to climate change. Localizing your economy. We’re talking about banks, your food, but also getting to know your community, developing deep connections. It’s really about forming connections with people.

The view from the cottage.

Hipcamp: Sometimes it can be hard to remain hopeful about the state of the environment. How do you?

Carolyn: It’s a journey that we’re on. And I always [ask], ‘how can I serve?’ ‘And how can I do it with joy?’ I want to live in joy because I do see so much beauty in the world, it makes my heart sing. There’s art, there’s music, there’s literature, in all of this mass of despair and destruction, there is still the heart of light.

Hipcamp: Any advice for people wanting to live a more sustainable life?

Carolyn: Be conscious of your diet, consumption, and trash. Don’t bring plastic water bottles — our water is good, we’re on a mountain top. I’ll bring out jugs of water for you if you want it.

We are so grateful for hosts like Carolyn for doing their part to #LeaveItBetter. Happy Earth Day!

Julie is a journalist based out of wherever her truck is parked now. Follow her on Instagram at @jjkuks for pictures of canyons and doggies.

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