LB’S NOTE: Last Monday I posted about the original Cloud Creek Ranch where Gwen and I lived and loved and worked and played, located in, depending on where you wanted it to be, Malibu, Hidden Valley, Decker Canyon, Carlisle Canyon, Westlake Village, or Thousand Oaks. (Mail sent to any area code in those areas always got to us at the ranch. In fact, it always got to us on time, which was just one of the minor magical aspects of the place.)
The response to that post has been awesome, and I’m grateful to everyone who has read and enjoyed it, so what did I do? Like any “retired writer,” I searched my files to see if I had anything more already written on the subject and found the TV series pitch below. I’m pretty sure I wrote (or should I say “overwrote”) this in the year 2000, but if anyone knows differently, by all means give me a holler.
Hmm. Am I really saying Cloud Creek Ranch was “magical?” You bet I am. How magical? Well, let me approach it this way. Everything in the following post is true, both emotionally and literally. Or at least it was true at the time.
Hope y’all enjoy!
A WEEKLY DRAMATIC SERIES
BY LARRY BRODY
In a world where science and technology have made more strides in the past fifty years than they have over the entire span of human history, CLOUD CREEK, a new one-hour drama series, takes us into the new millennium on a quest for understanding no computers or analysts can provide.
It is a modern voyage into our ancient souls, into our very essence. A spiritual exodus on which we embark each week, CLOUD CREEK is FANTASY ISLAND without Tattoo, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL without the angels, with a touch of NORTHERN EXPOSURE to keep our viewers’ hands off the remote during the breaks.
A kind of spiritual dude ranch, Cloud Creek Ranch both a place and a state of mind. It’s the one place on earth where people can go and find what they need—even when they don’t know they even need it. Although the ranch is just a short drive from the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, it seems like it’s countless thousands of miles away once we drive through the simple wooden gates.
There, our hosts — ROGER “SWIFT ELK” BARNES, and his wife AMY-LOUISE BARNES — help us check our worldly baggage and bottles of Prozac, taking us gently by the hand for a weekend of soul searching and enlightenment. There are no Bibles at Cloud Creek, no churches, synagogues, mosques or altars. There are also no judgmental attitudes, edicts or commandments. Instead there is the magic of the place itself, and its one rule: Listen to your heart; listen to your soul—and listen to the wind.
CLOUD CREEK’s owner, HARRIS CONNORS, met Roger and Amy at a Taos Pueblo spirituality gathering where he sought answers for the untimely death of his loving wife. A successful, busy advertising executive, Harris was drawn to the calm and contentment the Native American couple radiated. “I wish there was something like this closer to Los Angeles,” he told them over dinner that night. “A place people could go for the weekend to shut out the chaos of freeways, telephones, deadlines and fast food — a place to learn what you really feel inside.”
Two months later, on one of those February mornings in southern California when the coastal fog begins to burn off around noon, Roger and Amy stood with Harris on an oak-studded knoll overlooking a ranch for sale near scenic (and trendy) Ojai. In the valley below, a winding creek made its way through the manzanita and buck brush. More oaks watched silently as mist crept from the creek and wound upward through the mountains like smoke, turning into billowing clouds the road the wind southeast. There was a feeling of peacefulness about the place, and to Roger and Amy it seemed that the trees and the creek—the very land—spoke to them in a voice they could almost hear.
“Mmm…Cloud Creek.” Amy said softly, as she rested her head on Roger’s shoulder. “It feels so… right.” Roger looked at Harris. “We’ll do it,” he said. Harris nodded. “If nothing else, I’ll get rich..” Thus, a strange partnership was born. Cloud Creek Ranch became a gathering place for those searching for meaning and answers — a place to leave the heaviness life can bring, and to take from it the soaring spirit of the clouds made by mystical waters.
On a map, or when driving up the winding road that leads to it, Cloud Creek Ranch seems small, just a few acres. But once a visitor is on the land the geography changes, and the place seems almost mythically large, its terrain laid out so that all who are on the property feel themselves within a vastness that encompasses a multitude of geographical areas: rolling hills, craggy rocks, flower-filled meadows, secluded canyons, dangerous rapids, even roiling surf, each with matching weather. For most people the distance from the office to the dining room is a walk too short to even notice, but for some it can become an adventure-filled trek to rival the Oregon trail.
And the animals! In addition to the horses Roger and Amy keep in the corral, and the Sioux Indian dog that roams around the guest lodges, it’s easy to spot hawks, bluebirds, quail, deer, raccoons, chipmunks, as well as coyotes, bobcats, and a mountain lion or two. There is even a golden eagle—Roger’s spirit animal, the guide on whom he calls in moments of need—although no one can say for certain if it is real or an illusion spun from clouds, shadows, and hopeful minds.
With each new episode, a variety of guests from all walks of life will bring our hosts at Cloud Creek new questions, new situations for which both they and the guests must reach deep inside themselves to find answers.
Some of the situations will be heart-wrenching: A couple struggling with guilt they feel from years devoted to raising their terminally ill child, almost wishing the end would come to relieve their burden, learns their emptiness and guilt after the end does come can be replaced by the bond their child left behind for them.
Some of the situations will be mystical: A spoiled little rich girl’s father forces her to go to Cloud Creek or suffer immediate cut-off of her substantial monthly subsidy, then discovers a whole new world, exists beyond Saks Fifth Avenue, one where nature itself responds to human beings…to help or to hinder.
And some of the situations will offer comic relief: An obnoxious lounge jackal who lives off the affections of wealthy women comes to the ranch to seek new prey, only to learn what it’s like to be the victim instead of the hunter.
The lives of Roger, Amy, and others who work at Cloud Creek will also have their own stories, their calm and contentment proving difficult to maintain. Dealing with strangers is new to them, and far from easy. And dealing with Harris is no walk in the park either. No matter how hard he tries to be “enlightened,” the owner of the ranch is for the most part immune to its charms. Business is foremost on his mind, leading to conflicts he never could have imagined before.
Is Cloud Creek really magic? Do the trees talk? Does a golden eagle whisper sage advice and the landscape truly change to reflect what is going on in the hearts of those passing through it? Or is it all just an illusion created by hype—and hope? We’ll never really know.
What we will know is that CLOUD CREEK, the series, will serve as an electronic mirror where we see bits and pieces of ourselves every week. Like the ranch for which it is named, CLOUD CREEK will never preach to us; yet it will always teach a lesson, leaving the audience with something to think about, something to talk about…something to make us all feel better about our own lives.