The Understory

Pandemic Diary: The Great Invitation

Beyond the longing to “return to normal” a new future is waiting to be claimed — one more attuned to the natural world.

January 4, 2024
by pup_admin

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

It has been a full eleven days since we arrived at our sanctuary ‘shelter’ in the California hills. In eleven days our business — a nature-based retreat center serving non-profits, yogis, and nuptials — has nosedived. The first wave of cancellations was followed by a second, then the third. Within four days, almost a third of our annual revenue had disappeared and my husband, Jon, after no small amount of hand-wringing, shuttered the business. In a matter of days, reality as we knew it had come to a grinding halt.

Over the last eleven years, Jon and I have slowly developed Bell Valley, a retreat center near Boonville in Anderson Valley, California. Receiving invaluable support along the way from the team of people working with us, we’ve largely run the business remotely, commuting here on weekends from our home base in Berkeley, two and half hours away. Our twin 10-year-old boys, Charlie and Ben, have anchored us in the Bay Area, where we’ve felt the centrifugal pull of schools and summer camps, but Bell Valley has been a workplace we travel to on weekends, where we can expose our children to the outdoors, away from screens and concrete.

Test caption

There are too many stories to tell about our journey in developing a rural retreat center. It started with renovating a historic toll house on Highway 253 the year the boys were born. From those humble beginnings (until a few weeks ago, at least), our team’s efforts over a decade helped to create a thriving rural hub for meaningful gatherings and reflection, accommodating groups of sixty in glamping tents, barn meeting spaces, along miles of woodland trails leading to a freshwater, swimming pond.

However, of all the stories to be told, one thread runs through them all — the thread that carries my love for the land here. As each season has passed over eleven years, (a dot in time compared to what the ancient oaks have seen), my affections have been returned in spades in a love affair that only seems to deepen with time. Over the years, no matter how busy I’ve been, (plenty of days driving up and back on the same day), a spectacular canvas of clouds, ever-changing, like a vast, atmospheric watercolor, meets me where I park my car at the hilltop cabin. Each spring, wildflowers cast their symphony of color along the sides of the roads. Each dry August, the grasses crunch under our feet on hikes, their prickles sticking to our socks as we witness the hills transform from a patchwork of greens to rolling golds, and each brisk October, the tired trees undress one thousand leaves and more for the bare, prayer of winter.

a vertical image

There were years when the stress of trying to build a place for humans to gather here in this rural landscape made me want to walk away. There were years when I couldn’t see the beauty because my marriage was faltering, the project’s demands overtaking every corner of my husband’s life. But we survived, and looking back, it almost felt as if it was the seasons, themselves, that carried us through. In the last three years in particular, since that fateful November day in 2016, we had been thriving.

I don’t think it was Trump’s election, itself, that triggered the change. It was bigger than that. Trump was a symptom of something happening in the world that began to feel like the beginning of a Great Invitation. When America and the planet started tilting off its ‘comfortable’ axis, it exposed more clearly the many shadows created by a late-capitalist, white, elite ‘alternate reality’ that long preceded Trump’s election. What was long kept in the dark by this trajectory has begun seeing the light of day. As with all dark nights, the invitation is extended to us, hidden deep in the disillusionment and chaos, in the heart of despair, confusion, outrage and grief, an invitation to re-discover ourselves and our life, anew.
Shortly into…

More like this