In the forests of northwestern Washington, on a small piece of land that has been in his family for generations, SunRay Kelley has created small homestead village. It is a place so beautiful and unique that it feels as though it is an entirely other world. Fairy tale houses with curved, sloping roofs with whole tree trunks for beams are surrounded by orchards, gardens, forest, and ponds.
I first met SunRay through my friends Jerry and Bill of the Glendale Localization scene. Jerry and Bill both lived at Harbin Hot Springs before moving to Southern Oregon, and when SunRay was hired to build the Harbin Temple, Jerry (who was the engineer for the project) worked with him closely for some time as they built one of the most amazing buildings on the west coast. Sadly, the Harbin Temple was destroyed in the fire of 2015, along with almost all of the Harbin Hot Springs grounds.
I first met SunRay when he came to Gateway Gardens, showing up in his custom gypsy wagon with a huge front window and caboose like rear entry. He wore no shoes, and his pants looked like something out of the nineteenth century – rough and woolen. They were suspended by a rope. His beard was full and his smile was genuine. He hugged in greeting. We had good conversations around the table, during which time SunRay would roll up immense joints full of barely broken up larfy green herb, from his own garden. I listened to he and Jerry and Bill catch up on Harbin happenings and memories, and we talked a bit about SunRay’s schedule. He was off somewhere to build something for somebody.
Along with the many houses on his own land, SunRay has been commissioned to build houses and structures all over the world. Whenever I catch up with him, it’s always interesting to hear about where all he’s been and what he’s been up to. For instance, when we went to stay in Costa Rica to caretake at a small community there, we learned that SunRay built several houses in the community right next door to us, and several of the people I became friends with there had worked with him.
The next time we saw SunRay was about a year later, when we were heading up towards St. Helens for the national Rainbow Gathering. SunRay’s place in Bellingham was on the way, so we stopped to stay with him for a couple of nights. He and his partner Bonnie planned on joining us later at the Rainbow Gathering. It was a really nice stay, and I very much enjoyed getting to see into SunRay’s magical world.
While we were visiting he fired up the sauna he built out in the woods, and as it was heating up he got naked and jumped into his main pond from an immense diving board plank he put up. We sweated in the sauna, and SunRay told Jerry he should get a sauna built at Gateway Gardens. Jerry considered it, and eventually we would build that sauna, though it took us a couple years to get SunRay back to Gateway for that one.
SunRay’s land was enchanting. Each house looked like something out of a fairy tale, with large windows and curving creative shapes. SunRay’s home is probably the coolest house I have ever seen. It has been featured on MTV’s cribs, and it was well described by a journalist for the New York Times, who visited SunRay to do a story on him.
SunRay himself is as much of a story as are his amazing creations. He is not of the world of modern men, and though he is courteous and friendly, he is about as concerned about convention or propriety as a bear would be. When eventually he came to Gateway to build the sauna, he brought with him a large burlap sack full of walnuts, which he cracked into and ate at every opportunity. I had wondered, when he first showed up, why his fingers were stained so greenish brown. Walnut shells were everywhere around the construction scene.
SunRay's homestead has a very nice mature apple orchard, a greenhouse, and extensive gardens. It was in full summer bloom during my first visit, and I was so absorbed in the beauty of the place that I put only minimal effort into photographing it. Many professional photographs of SunRay’s place are on the web, I’ve included some below. His was the kind of place that makes you just want to live there. Each dwelling is such a masterful work of art, and the atmosphere so serene.
While passing through Washington earlier this year (2016) I dropped in on SunRay, mostly so I could show my girls his magical place. It was in the winter and the skies were gray, but I was blown away by how much more he had done around the land since my first visit. New houses, new ponds, a tree house, and a suspension plank bridge had all been added, giving the whole place even more a fairy tale village feeling.
I highly recommend checking out SunRay’s website, which has many more details about his building career. Also, a very nice glimpse into his world can be found in Lloyd Kahn’s book Builders of the Pacific Coast. The magic of what SunRay does is something you can feel just from looking at the photographs of his work, but there is no substitute for actually being in his presence, hearing his deep reflections and Earth-conscious wisdom, and enjoying his humor and wit. He is a one of a kind, and a visionary whose work will inspire natural builders and crafters of a brighter world for generations to come.