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Author Archives: Peter Jensen

Origins of the Ranch, Part XVII

Aldous Huxley rancho la puerta

Brave New Ranch—Aldous Huxley’s affection for the Ranch, and its influence on his last novel “Island.”

[To read more history, see Origins of the Ranch: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IXPart XPart XIPart XII, Part XIII, Part XIV, Part XV, and Part XVI]

This old photograph, one of the few of writer Aldous Huxley in Rancho La Puerta’s archives, has a mysterious power. The famous author, gaunt, struggling with his health, sits in front of a humble adobe-walled casita, unblinking in the sun, his face carved by light and shadow as if he is an immobile statue looking over an Aztec ball court.

The year was most likely 1959, and Huxley was deep into writing a draft of what would be his last novel, Island, published in 1962. On November 22, 1963, he succumbed to cancer at his house near Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles in what his wife Laura—a friend of Deborah Szekely—described as “the most serene, the most beautiful death.”

Certainly the Ranch was an ideal final writing retreat for the author.

Born in Surrey, England, in 1894, Aldous Huxley’s popular works in fiction and non-fiction included Brave New World (1932), Eyeless in Gaza (1936) and After Many A Summer (1939), released in the U.S. as After Many A Summer Dies The Swan and considered by many Hollywood aficionados to be in the same pantheon as Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run, Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, and other works that chronicle the excesses of Tinseltown.

In the 1960s, the Hippies discovered Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception”—his essay/memoir of his experience with the psychedelic drugs peyote and LSD.

There may not be an American Baby Boomer today who isn’t familiar with at least some of his work, but his novel Island? Ask around the dining room at the Ranch sometime and you won’t find a soul who’s read it.

That’s a shame, because Island, according to Deborah, opens with several chapters that were probably inspired by Deborah’s own life story of growing up with her brother and parents on a beach at the jungle’s edge in Tahiti.

In Island, Will Farnaby, a newspaperman, lies on a jungle floor, his body thrumming with “this pain, this annihilating weakness” from injuries suffered in a shipwreck on a rocky coast. His mind drifts between hallucinatory memories and consciousness. A voice keeps calling, “Attention. Attention.”

When he opens his eyes, he sees “two exquisite children looking down at him, their eyes wide with astonishment and a fascinated horror. One is a boy dressed only in a green loincloth. The other, a little girl, carries a basket of fruit on her head.

“How beautiful they were, and how faultless, how extraordinarily elegant!” he thinks, and lucidity returns…he is saved.

According to Deborah, she is that little girl, with her brother. The novel’s characters live on an island known as Pala in an ideal society, much as Deborah’s parents found paradise on the edge of their blue lagoon.

Sounds a bit like the television series Lost, no? Or a host of other shipwrecks and airplane crashes that find the survivor(s) lost—and found—in “paradise.” Like most Huxley works, Island is still in print and easy to find. Bring it with you the next time you visit the Ranch? Why not? It’s a good read.


In 1960 Huxley and Professor Edmond Szekely collaborated on Rancho La Puerta’s 20th Anniversary celebration; a gathering of intellectuals they called the Human Potential Symposium. It was a natural offshoot of the Professor’s lectures to guests each week, and it introduced the world to the term Human Potential.

(Michael Murphy, co-founder of Esalen Institute, has credited his stay at Rancho La Puerta with helping him form the concept in 1962 for Esalen in Big Sur, which aims to this day “to promote initiatives for social advance and fundamental research into the potentials of human nature.”)

The Human Potential Symposium was a success, but Huxley could not fully participate: he came down with a bad case of laryngitis and attended in silence. The transcripts are in the Ranch archives, but studying them must be—as the saying goes—left for another day, and another entry in Origins of the Ranch.


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Origins of the Ranch, Part XVI

“A healthy ecosystem is a treasure beyond measure”—A recounting of Rancho La Puerta’s extraordinary measures to preserve large areas of Mt. Kuchumaa’s wild lands for more than just the great pleasure of our hikers… [To read more history, see Origins … Continue reading


Rancho La Puerta hiking

Origins of the Ranch, Part XV

Throughout history people have erected great structures in honor of supreme beings. In the same fashion, Kuchumaa represents a natural, earthly temple and source of religious wonderment… [To read more history, see Origins of the Ranch: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part … Continue reading



Origins of the Ranch, Part XIV

A temple-like cavern lies within Mt. Kuchumaa, according to legend…and Native Americans believe that the mountain has the power to generate powerful dreams. Many guests at the Ranch report that their dreams during the week are amazing…could these legends help … Continue reading



Origins of the Ranch, Part V

Fascinating techniques on everything from sleep and breathing to chewing foods… The Professor continues his “breaking down” methods of eliminating disease and toxins from the body, as chronicled by Florence Mahon, a health refugee from England who, along with her … Continue reading



Origins of the Ranch, Part IV

Purcell Weaver (left) and Professor Edmond Szekely, circa 1940 … Challenging treatments at Lake Elsinore continue… In which Florence Mahon, a health refugee from England, and her friends continue their rigorous, ascetic exercise and diet program in search of cures … Continue reading



Origins of the Ranch, Part III

Our story to date: Rancho La Puerta co-Founder Edmond Szekely, in Tahiti on a scientific health expedition, meets Purcell Weaver in 1934. Weaver, a young Englishman suffering from ill health, solves his health problems under Szekely’s tutelage, and becomes Szekely’s … Continue reading


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