By Peter Moore
Breitenbush Hot Springs
I first arrived at Breitenbush Hot Springs in the spring of 1978, more than 40 years ago. I was 28 years old and had just gotten back to the USA after 4 years travelling in Europe and Asia. Upon returning from India and Nepal, I hiked a long section of the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that extends more than 3000 kilometers, from the southern border of the US and Mexico all the way to the northern border with Canada.
Off the trail in Portland, Oregon, I visited Peoples Co-op, an organic natural foods grocery store to get some food. There I saw a little announcement that a holistic center was just beginning to form at the historic Breitenbush Hot Springs. It went on to say that this new center was dedicated to energy self-reliance (it was off the energy grid), egalitarian decision making, organic vegetarian foods, and offering an educational curriculum to guests that supported the manifestation of human potential. I decided to check it out.
I was amazed at what I found when I arrived Breitenbush. It was what we, in USA, call a “Ghost Town”, a large group of buildings that are no longer inhabited, having been abandoned many years earlier. Here was an awesomely beautiful property, forested, with a river running through the middle of it. Here were some 100 structures, many in states of terrible disrepair. Here was no electricity, no heating for any of the buildings, no water or sewer utilities, no telephone or other communication technology. The only sounds were from the river, the wind in the trees and the birds.
I joined the small group that was living there.
Over a period of several years we grew to be 12 people. We bought the land (160 acres = 0.64750 square kilometers) and the ghost town that was on it for a total of $250,000. We were not well capitalized for the project, and only had enough money left over to purchase tools and necessary equipment and supplies. During those first years, 1977 – 1981, we could not afford to pay ourselves for our labor, so we all worked for free. To feed ourselves one of us would go out and get a job as a carpenter or tree climber picking cones for the US Forest Service, then bring back money to buy food for all of us. If you didn’t have money but worked, you would eat just like everyone else.
After more than 4 years of work, we finally were able to open to the public. In that first year, our little business grossed $12,000, and we began to pay ourselves $1/day for our labor. I remember my first paycheck of $30 for 30 days of labor. It felt like I had just made a million dollars, I was so elated. I was happy because we had finally created a successful local economy. As an entrepreneur, I knew that you have to start somewhere, and to go from no pay for your labor to something for your labor (even very little) is going in the right direction.
Over the past 37 years since 1982 we have grown our business from a few guests to about 35,000 guests/year, serving them organic vegetarian meals and offering a wide range of holistic educational offerings. We now employ 75 workers year-round, providing excellent benefits to them as well as excellent service to our guests.
This is the first in A Personal Story Told through Essays.