Seth O’Donovan of The Guest House Takes Lessons Learned in Carbondale on the Road, Bringing Her Sustainable Hospitality Concept to Wild Alaska
‘Follow the Life,’ we say.
Follow the question, the uncarved path, the sustaining hearth, the life-force, the equilibrium, and the others who are also on the quest.
This following led me to set a spiritual home for the work of The Guest House in the Roaring Fork Valley at the foot of Sopris, the Mother Mountain. I had met more like-spirited people in the valley within three weeks of visits than in three years of conceptual planning and was deeply invited to begin the physical life of the work here. The valley hosts a community of people who have a next-level sense of accountability to the land, connection to our food, care for our bodies, and living sustainably with each other and the very ground we walk and rest upon. What an amazing environment to host the embryonic stage of a birthing hospitality model whose mission is to serve the (re)connecting of people to specific land through an embodied hosting, dining, sourcing, and celebrating.
Before The Guest House team moved to Carbondale, we were hosting pop-up dinners and workshops in Denver and Boulder in order to lay a foundation of community and support for the work. Folks we hosted would often ask, “Where is The Guest House?” and we would always respond that The Guest House is not a place; The Guest House is a concept. It is a notion which proposes that the art of hospitality be applied in service of the land and our relationship to it, that when people are fed from animals our own bodies have held and herbs we walked past on our way to dinner, that we’re allowed a different relationship with our food. This model postulates that when we as chefs and servers and hosts constrain ourselves to using only that which the land provides within, say, a half day’s walk, that we would (re)discover our regional cuisine and the food that matches exactly what our bodies need to live on it specifically. It’s a concept that cares more about what our great-grandmothers’ recipes were and how they used the bark of the tree that grows on the land than it does what exclusive international sourcing we can secure.
This model sounds good to most of us who care about sustainability and good living. The practice is hard. And it takes a willingness to lean into it as a practice rather than as a perfection.
It also raises many questions about our food and land systems: where and how we’re allowed to raise and harvest animals, what kind of water we use to wash vegetables, what chemicals are required for kitchens that serve people, and where people are allowed to be given a bed for the night. Diving into this model is not a theoretical exercise; rather, like any good agent of change, it raises questions about all the systems with which it interacts.
Our team enjoyed immensely the season we spent home-based at 13 Moons Ranch and were so honored to serve, cook for, and host many people from both in and outside the valley. Living into the DNA of a thing being birthed requires such precious and creative space, and we for sure found it here. We recognized so many questions about the concept of The Guest House, and many more arose to inspire the journey. So those questions led us to take the work on the road for 2019.
And the path takes us to: Alaska. An island in the middle of Kachemak Bay, to be specific. Travel to this island is possible only by plane or water taxi and we’ve ended up there for seven weeks this fall in similar ways to how we landed in the valley—through inspired invitation, spiritual alignment, and the desire to bring our sustainable hospitality concept closer to the practice of its questions on the ground.
The Alaska pop-up takes on a new line of questioning about the ability to host guests in fine ways that are simultaneously leave-no-trace. A central kitchen building, cabin, and sauna are built on 14 beachfront acres, but every other structure for the hospitality village will be built up and taken down without a trace. These include luxury glamping platform tents, an open-fire outdoor kitchen, a yoga platform, and foraging trails. All of our food will come from the island or the local Kachemak Bay community with no packaging and a culinary program that invites guests to participate. Set the Net and Evie’s Brinery, as the site’s two Alaska collaborative partners, will run all fishing, curing, fermenting, and hunting for the village which guests are also invited to. And when we are done with weeks of cooking, hosting, arts, movement, fishing, foraging, and listening to the sound of the bay as we sleep, we’ll disappear—leaving the land more nourished and loved than we found it, and able to rest and lie fallow until our joy finds us there again.
Seth O’Donovan is the creator of The Guest House and has been following the life of the project for the last three years. Along with developing the project, she is a butcher, herbalist, beekeeper, server, and loves learning any craft that brings her closer to the land.
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Learn more about Seth’s hospitality concept and follow her journal at TheGuestHouseColorado.com. The Guest House continues to maintain a supportive presence in the valley this season, donating two Alaska pop-up spots to the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork’s annual fundraising gala held April 6.