Breitenbush Hot Springs logo
Breitenbush Hot Springs logo

Breitenbush Community

Published August 22nd, 2009 in Community Perspectives

IMG_7954In the center section of this catalog you see the faces of many who make up the current Breitenbush Community. Here we are, young and old, with a wealth of life experiences, skills and social philosophies, living together at this old hot springs resort in the forest. Collectively, we are the latest incarnation of the “intentional community” that was born in 1977 when the abandoned resort at Breitenbush was bought and brought back to life

The foundation idea—to create an intentional community—came out of the practical and applied idealism of the 1960’s, which in turn had its roots in the utopian communities and the empowered workers movements that go back for centuries of human experience. Ultimately, there is an inextinguishable longing in the human soul (at least some human souls) to be free and freely creative, to live by our own dreams and visions for the future, rather than by the rules & superstitions of dreary old institutions and bureaucracies created by others elsewhere.

For the people who came to Breitenbush in the early years of the social experiment—what we call the “Pioneer Period” of the late 1970s—Breitenbush was a perfect place to perfect the art of intentional community. Here was a little ghost town that cried out for loving attention. Here, in this off-the-grid wilderness place, were natural wonders of hot springs and river, just waiting to be developed into heat and electricity by a community of people devoted to sustainability and service. It was an exciting opportunity. It was fun. It was years of hard work.

We numbered about a dozen people in those first years. Now, three decades later, we number some 70 people when you count all the kids and current partners-in-residence. In the early years we were mostly 20-somethings, about half of us new parents (my own daughter Jazz Minh Claire was born in a Breitenbush cabin in November of ’78 with no electricity, heat or running water, apart from the river.) Now the community spans generations, from 1 to 70 years of age—and babies continue to be born in these cabins. Happily, we’ve got heat and light and water utilities these days.

From 1977 to today, there has been an unbroken stream of community at Breitenbush, working in service and for sustainability. The idealism that we began with then has morphed with the pressures of emerging circumstances over the years. For instance, in the early ’80’s we incorporated as a worker-owned co-op, to give ourselves a corporate form, something we found necessary once we began to serve guests in earnest. So now we have this co-op structure, with all of its governance checks and balances, infused with that original idealism of intentional community that we started with. Let’s see, what was I saying at the beginning of this piece? Oh yeah, practical and applied idealism. That’s what we’re still up to these many years later.

Life and human consciousness are great. Humans organize themselves into the most outrageous social structures—just look at all the tribes, religions, research institutions, army platoons, corporate boards of directors, political parties—you get the idea. We humans are incredibly inventive. Hopefully, we can get it together to work cooperatively worldwide over the next few generations to heal the wounds of the past and get on with sustainable planetary stewardship that honors local economies and regional community solutions. It’s what we think we’re up to at Breitenbush.

The other day, walking to a board of directors meeting, I found a beautiful obsidian arrow point on the path. This random find points to the fact that there has been community on this land for thousands of years. We’re just the latest to inhabit the space here. And as we acknowledge and honor those who came before, so do we for all who will come after.

I have always thought that when our guests arrive at Breitenbush, they become part of our community too, because of the ways they directly experience the nature here. As we say in the Breitenbush Credo, we make this place and these healing waters available for all beings who respect them.