A large meadow greets visitors to Bello Ranch. Originally littered with detritus left by decades of logging, the meadow now supports healthy new-growth redwoods in isolated clusters.
In 1968, Charles Bello, now 87, bought 240 acres of redwoods in Northern California’s Mendocino County with his wife, Vanna Rae. Seeking a simpler way of life, they spent all their savings and borrowed money from their parents to be able to afford the $45,000 price. Fifty-two years later, Charles, a civil engineer and an architect who apprenticed under famed modernist architect Richard Neutra in Los Angeles, is a widower, and his two grown sons have moved away. He lives alone among the redwoods and deer now, working on wood sculptures and building fanciful guesthouses on the property for occasional visitors to stay in. Guest fees contribute to the Redwood Forest Institute, a nonprofit organization that Charles and Vanna Rae established in 1997, which serves to restore giant redwood forests by purchasing and managing forest lands, preserve existing forests, educate the public about the importance of redwoods, and provide safe and beautiful recreation opportunities among the trees. Charles hopes it will also allow for the transition of his caretaking role to a group of new, like-minded stewards. “What I would like to see for the future of the farm is to find three highly motivated, middle-aged couples who are interested in settling down on this land as their permanent home, seeking to live the alternative lifestyle that this place has to offer: off-the-grid isolation, self-sustaining in food production, power, and finances,” says Charles.
He considers life at Bello Ranch an example for others and worries that, without major societal changes, our quality of life on earth will decline dramatically in the coming decades. I visited him in February and again in March to interview him about his life’s work, the lessons he’s learned, and his prescriptions for an ailing human race.