By Peter Moore
Breitenbush Hot Springs
Nature density as a remedy for nature deprivation was not among the original concepts we started with when we began the arduous work of repairing and preparing to re-open the defunct Breitenbush resort. In the 1970s we were enamored with more holistic lifestyle notions, including self-reliance, appropriate off-the-grid technologies, organic foods, consensus decision-making, egalitarian gender and labor relationships, and a kind of “be here now” nature-based spirituality, not to mention love of the hot springs.
We were equally devoted to the outward expression of our holistic ideals, i.e. service to the public in terms of educational offerings and the quality of their stay when they would come to visit Breitenbush. The dozen or so of us who came together to do this work between 1977 and the early ‘80s assumed that any commercial business that evolved out of our efforts would reflect these foundation principles of our community. At the time, business consultants told us our business model was flawed and that we would fail.
But we didn’t fail. In fact, we weren’t too far off the mark in our assumptions about our business model, for indeed, people do come to Breitenbush. They are intrigued by our homemade hydroelectric and geothermal energy grids, and curious about our co-op business model and community life in a forest village. Equally, the public comes for our many classes and workshops, retreats, conferences and celebrations. Our business is thriving.
But I am convinced there is something else going on here that functions on a more primal level in our lives. A real magic of Breitenbush begins with the link between the wildness of the natural surround and some profound aspect of human perception set deep in the unconscious of our minds. I am convinced that this link brings people back, again and again, to the springs. There is SO much green life here, millions of plants, from trilliums to tall trees, making oxygen and sequestering carbon in that life-sustaining invisibility called photosynthesis. And so much clean precious water flows in the river and down from the skies and out from the earth, steaming. `
Wild creatures abound in all seasons at these springs; deer and bear and beavers and cougars, hummingbirds and eagles, salmon and trout. All of these forces and entities make up the real and dynamic environment here, and speaking for myself, it’s astounding to live in the passionate lushness of it all. And though most humans for most of our lives live with at least one degree of separation from such an environment, humans are creatures after all, and most of the thousands of human generations preceding us lived in ancestral environments that were not so alienated from the wild exuberance of nature as modern society is. Our species evolved within the natural world and there lingers a primal need to be in it, yet mostly we’re not. As a result, it’s clear to me that most of us suffer from nature deprivation in our daily lives.
A nature dense environment can only imprint itself when we extract ourselves from the concrete and glass and steel that make up our made-up world in cities, and begin to shed layers of media and fashion and comparisons that propagate inside our heads. And finally, after the cell phone and internet are no longer available, there is the opportunity to divest ourselves even of our clothes as we enter into the realm of a hot springs pool, drenched and surrounded by river and forest and fresh air. From that point on, we’ve entered the actual real world, very different from “the real world” in the city that we’re all supposed to understand and be adapted to in what we think of as normal life.
The business that has emerged out of all our efforts at Breitenbush over these past 40 years does include the applied principles of our practical idealism. But it also centers on this mysterious inborn human imperative to be in nature, unmediated by the securities that we have so come to rely upon for safety and comfort. To be sure, we need some safety and comfort, but these can also unconsciously separate us from relationship with the natural world that we so need for our sanity. Breitenbush achieves the balance.
This is the second in A Personal Story Told through Essays.