Mira Steinbrecher and I first met at a Timber Framers Guild conference in Port Townsend. We came together again through our work with the Whidbey Institute five years ago, and we recently sat together to talk about her long history with the Whidbey Institute. Here’s that conversation. —Marnie Jackson
When Mira Steinbrecher arrives on this land, she feels the same spirit that captured her attention decades ago when she first came to a potluck and sauna. “The land keeps drawing me here,” she said. “I still remember the first time I drove down this driveway. I got out of the car and thought, ‘whoa—where was the veil I crossed?’”
Mira kept coming back, becoming deeply involved with this place and its work—as site committee member for at least 10 years, as a board member for 6, and as a habitual volunteer. Over the years she’s maintained trails, led sauna upgrades, and designed flowers for most annual fundraising events. Today, she still visits the land for frequent, solitary journeys through the forest. “You may not always see me,” she said, “but I’m often here. Connecting with this land is a spiritual practice for me.”
Mira and I met through the Timber Framers Guild, where she was a long-term member and conference speaker and I was a ten-year employee. It felt like a delightful accident that we were brought back into connection through the Whidbey Institute. She currently works as an editor for the International Log Builders Association and was a design columnist for a shelter magazine for eight years. Her primary work today is as a sole proprietor with a small architecture practice in Langley.
Over a decade ago, Mira designed the shower addition to the Sanctuary bathrooms and provided other design services as a key aspect of her work with the board and site committee. “I viewed those bathroom upgrades as a first step toward eventually getting Garbanzo replaced,” she told me. Mira also led the permitting process for the 2008 Master Site Plan Review and in that capacity helped us dream 20 years into the future. That document envisioned more housing, a caretaker cottage with a bathroom, and a common space where the aging Garbanzo structure now sits. Today, these decades-old visions are coming to fruition with our Whidbey Institute 2020 capacity-building initiative. “There was so much information that had to be collated, re-collated, examined, altered, and negotiated in the context of a fairly large, fairly diverse, and fairly divergent committee,” she explained. “We were balancing the perspective of cautious leadership with the bigger vision that Sharon [Parks] and Larry [Daloz] had held for a 50-bed campus.” Due to the incredible foresight of Sharon, Larry, Mira, and their peers, the 1998 master site plan needed relatively minor revisions last year and has provided a sound foundation for our current facilities expansion and our promising future.
Asked what’s changed over her two+ decades of connection with the Whidbey Institute, Mira reflected that the role of spirituality has become decentered in our programming. “It’s a piece of the organization’s DNA that hasn’t been brought forward in a very clear way,” she said. We discussed the spiritual aspects of the social and environmental crises of today, which we both see as a crisis of severance from a deep belonging with Earth and creation, and the challenges of addressing matters of Spirit without appropriation. We returned, again, to the land: “I think the biggest asset this place has is that this land is so inspirited,” she said, “There’s something here that allows us to go deep.”
Mira talked about the shift in programming at the Whidbey Institute not as a move away from what is important, but as a move toward what’s relevant to another generation of change-makers. The Whidbey Institute is on the leading edge of cultural and generational change, she explained, and that means it never stays the same for long. “One of the things I love about this place is that it shows the way for each of us. Fritz and Vivienne have always called it a way-shower,” she said. “I love to see the young energy here.”
“I have an eleven year old granddaughter,” Mira said. “I look at places like this and know that she and her peers will be ok because of the groundwork that’s been laid.”