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Breitenbush Hot Springs logo

Nature Nurture and Human Nature

Published April 22nd, 2013 in Community Perspectives

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 idealistic and romantic notions of 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. 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.

We weren’t too far off the mark in that assumption, for indeed, people do come to Breitenbush intrigued by our homemade hydroelectric and geothermal energy grids, and curious about our co-op business model and community life in a forest village. I can relate, I remain fascinated by these things all these years later, and I’ve been involved since 1978.

But I am convinced there is something else going on here that functions as a more primal story in our lives. The real magic of Breitenbush begins with a link established between the wildness of the natural surround and some profound place of human perception, perhaps set deep in the unconscious of our minds. This is what 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. 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 armored from this wild exuberance of nature. Our species evolved within the natural world and there lingers a primal need to be in it, yet 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 town, 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 real world, very different from “the real world” 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 35 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 unconsciously separate us from relationship with the natural world that we so need for our sanity.