neo-primitive living in a mountain hollow


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My creative ambitions often outrun my skills and capacity.

And yet following through on inspiration to the level I’m able at any given moment is the best I can do.

This is the case with people I’ve documented who are living in beautiful relationship with the earth.

I interview and film them in their homes, studios, gardens and adventures, and it may take months or years to publish these projects.

Ultimately I’d like to produce short videos that spark possibilities in the viewers, inspiring them to explore into the whisperings of the earth and Otherworlds calling to them.

And yet producing videos is a learning curve that I’m slowly climbing.

So to honor my creative process, today I’m sharing photos and one angle of my story about Mountain Gardens, a place tended by one such person I’ve had the honor of documenting who has created his own freedom living in a mountain hollow on less than $10k annual income over the last 50 years.

The apothecary library at Mountain Gardens in October 2021

Around this time last year John (my husband) and I were vacationing in Cherokee lands outside of Asheville, NC, to peep the fall leaves and chase waterfalls.

On a whim I decided to visit a place called Mountain Gardens, a few acres in a mountain hollow where Joe Hollis has spent 5 decades tending to thousands of native and Chinese medicinal herbs in a regenerative ecosystem he calls a paradise garden.

Mountain Gardens, October 2021

Even though I had been wanting to visit for 14 years, and used to live a few hours away, I had never been.

Pictures of the apothecary library, which Joe says is, “Pretty much perfect,” had always called to me with its oversized antique windows and rustic shelves full of books, dried herbs, and tincture bottles.

Joe Hollis in the apothecary, October 2021

Being there in person stirred up past-life memories as the old woman of the woods stewarding lineages of healing wisdom in my quiet cottage.

While the sun moved across the room, I indulged myself and spent as much time as it took to feel complete in documenting this beautiful, unique space with my senses and lenses.

I did not meet Joe on this first visit, despite wandering the gardens for hours.

Flowers at Mountain Gardens, October 2021
An autumn strawberry at Mountain Gardens, October 2021

It was only after returning to my home base that I worked up the courage to contact him and see if he’d be open to an interview before I left NC.

He said yes.

Two days later I sat next to Joe in the apothecary as John monitored the recording gear, and we dove into Joe’s story of deviating from the “normal” life path to one of neo-primitive living.

Afterwards we were treated to a plant walk with Joe pointing here and there as knowledge from decades of relationships with the plants poured out of him.

Me (Natalie Ross), right, interviewing Joe Hollis, left, in his library at Mountain Gardens, October 2021

On the ride home John and I felt we had documented something special that deeply deserved more attention than one day’s worth of filming, and yet we had given our best as we chased this whim.

Not long after returning home to CA we released Joe’s audio interview on the Earth Speak podcast.

It was well received, as many folks let us know they were deeply inspired by his alternative approach to life on Earth.

A cob-walled greenhouse beneath the apothecary library at Mountain Gardens, October 2021

A few months later I heard the news from a Collective member that there had been a catastrophic fire at Mountain Gardens.

While Joe and his house were ok, the apothecary, library, outdoor kitchen, gathering pavilion, and more had burned down in one fiery night.

Decades of collecting rare books, seed saving, tincture making, and more were gone.

My heart dropped, and with deep gratitude I knew documenting the apothecary had happened at the perfect time.

Inside the apothecary library, October 2021
Joe Hollis in the garden outside of the apothecary library, October 2021

I immediately contacted Joe and offered to create a short video for his YouTube page to let his 30k+ subscribers know about the fire and to help raise money for his gofundme campaign.

Looking back, I’m so grateful that I followed this whim, finally said yes to visiting Mountain Gardens, and documented not only Joe’s story, but also the beauty of this space that was lost.

I’m sure his apothecary rebuild will be just as enchanting, and I hope to return to document more, as well as produce at least one short film about his story, as he enters his 80’s and navigates big decisions around the future of Mountain Gardens.

Thanks for reading.

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Joe Hollis on a plant walk, October 2021

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