To get to the woodworking shop on a piece of land called Wepa, cross California's broad Central Valley and start climbing into the Sierra Nevada. Turn north when you reach Highway 49 in the Mother Lode, where the pine trees start growing tall. Drive through settlements once home to gold miners, and stop to take a look at rusted water cannons and Pelton wheels on display in city parks. Leave the towns behind for the real hill country on the far side of the Yuba River, then head through the ragged cliffs of North Columbia diggings, a landscape ravaged by hydraulic gold mining more than a century ago. At last, find yourself surrounded by groves of ponderosa pine, black oak, Douglas fir and madrone. This is Wepa, bordered on one side by majestic old growth forests of public land and on the other by poet Gary Snyder's spacious homestead.
Robert bought this piece of land along with a weaver, two aspiring architects, a poet and a carpenter back in 1970. It is where Tor Erickson was born and raised, and where Robert set up his shop. From the building's front door we can see the houses of our neighbors, who are not just long-time land partners but also close friends.
Our entire community is not just off the grid, but miles from the grid. Solar panels provide 80 percent of the power for Erickson Woodworking as well as for Robert and Liese's house and two houses and a workshop of our neighbors.
We have given to and taken from this place in equal measure. Along with Gary Snyder and Liese's father, Robert is one of a handful of founders of the Yuba Watershed Institute, a place-based, non-profit dedicated to the conservation of old-growth forests. He has spent nearly two decades as the organization's president. We have harvested madrone and oak from the land to build our furniture, ponderosa pine for making our prototypes, and the rock-hard, oxblood-hued wood of the manzanita bush for drawer handles, inlays and butterfly wedges.