Environmentalist. Surfer. Chicken Whisperer. Evan Marks’ slice of paradise just off the Pacific Coast Highway.
“I start my morning with tea.”
We arrive in San Clemente just after the sun has risen. As we approach the duplex apartment where Evan Marks lives, we hear voices, and movement from within, even at the early hour. Cars loaded up with surfboards sit in the driveway – at the ready. Evan emerges – a smiling, lean, and tanned face with a mop of black hair. Asked how he starts his morning, Evan takes only a moment to answer: “I start my morning with tea.”
Marks is the founder of The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, an educational center and organization dedicated to teaching practical, fun environmental solutions and sustainability to community members. “This area of Southern California consumes the most resources of all,” Evan explains. “So what better place to get people excited about sustainable living?” Visitors are encouraged to hang out and take in what’s happening on the grounds. Wander. Find inspiration. And local school children stop by for hands-on activities that teach at-home practices like water conservation and composting.
But back to the tea. “I lived in Latin America for four years,” Marks explains as he stands at his kitchen sink. “So I picked up the practice of drinking Yerba Mate in the traditional way – packed into a gourd-like vessel and sipped with a bombilla” (a straw-like piece that acts as a filter). Evan pours steaming water into the gourd and we pass around the warm mate, like a pipe. It provides an earthy jolt. “There’s a good bit of caffeine in here,” Marks says. “If I drink a lot of mate in the morning it lasts me all day.”
Evan – a lifelong surfer – checks the forecast on his computer, chooses a board out of his large collection, and we pile into his station wagon for the ride to the beach. He swings the vehicle through town, and stops on a nondescript street. “We’re gonna suit up here,” he says. Down a long wooden staircase, and over a train trestle awaits a wide-open beach (“it’s kind of a local’s spot”). Evan stretches his legs, hustles toward the water, and spends half an hour alone with the waves. He catches a few decent rides – the last of which brings him towards shore, grinning widely. “Man, even if the waves kinda suck, I try to get out here anyways. Sometimes it’s just about getting wet, you know?”
Back at the apartment, Evan dumps frozen Acai packets, dates, hemp seed, hemp protein, coconut water, walnut milk and an apple into his blender and mixes it into a smoothie, deep purple in color. He offers everyone a glass, including his wife, Kristin, who has returned from her morning errands. The pair sit together at the dining table, chatting. Another friend requests a Talking Heads album, and Evan obliges, dancing over to the turntable. The apartment smells of palo santo and the eucalyptus growing in the backyard. Admittedly, we could have sat there for hours, but Evan tells us it’s time to go to work.
“Sometimes it’s just about getting wet, you know?”
The Ecology Center is situated on a small slice of arid land, just down the Pacific Coast Highway from Evan’s home. “When we first came here in 2008, this was just a dirt lot with a dilapidated house,” he tells us. “We sat a bunch of our friends on bails of hay, and said ‘This is what we want to do with the place.’” He laughs. The well-designed property still features that same old wooden house (built in 1898) – which Evan and his team have refurbished into their office-like HQ – and is surrounded by gardens, fruit trees, greenhouses, Kristin’s studio (where she creates handmade textiles) a chicken coop; plus enough outdoor space to hold events – like their popular (and massive) community brunches featuring local chefs. We welcome anyone,” Evan says as he shows us around the grounds. “Our hope is that people will show up and see something they like… that they’ll want to take the journey with us, even if it begins with just a small change in their lifestyle.”