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Caretaker Cabin next steps: concrete and framing

Site preparation for the Caretaker Cabin is complete and tomorrow, the concrete pumper trucks arrive. We expect crews to complete the concrete pour in one day, and by Monday floor framing will begin. Framing will continue weekdays through the winter and spring.

We are so grateful for the care and prudence with which which the Caretaker Cabin and Commons sites were prepared. We want to send a huge thank you to the crews from JD Wallace (site preparation), Jade Craftsman Builders (general contracting), and Live Edge Woodworks (milling) who have been incredibly light on the land and forest.

If you have questions about the project or wish to make a donation toward Caretaker Cabin completion, please reach out! We would love to hear from you.

Moving Heron

Heron moved this week, making room for Cabin Village Commons construction. Once our smallest guest cabin, Heron will serve as a temporary job shed for the crews during the coming year. In the long run, we’re not sure if Heron will be remodeled for future guest use or repurposed as an outbuilding—we do know, however, that it looks adorable in its new spot next to Madrone Meadow!

February 8, 2020

The Change to Come

On Friday morning, the Whidbey Institute staff and board awoke to this photo in our email inboxes, along with this tender note from our colleague Thomas, Resident Caretaker:

I’m sitting here in this sweet, tiny, temporary home at 4 am listening to a steady rain pouring down. As far as I know I am the only human on the land in this moment. Goodness, I am wide awake.

On Sunday the machines arrive to assist in the next phase of our transformation. It’s truly happening: this growth, vital to our development, in service to the coming generations seeking resources, connection, nourishment, and resolve. Growth that will allow us to help evolve a wiser and more loving culture. We are doing this thing together.

We enter the coming flow in a spirit of goodwill, with prayers for the trees, plants, animals, birds, and subtle energies of place. May we all be safe and patient in the disruption. I’m celebrating the vision and courage, rising through several decades, that are bringing forth this next unfolding. What a blessing to be in this journey with you all.

We’re doing this together. You—the thousands of you who read these newsletters, visit this land, attend these programs, and contribute to this capacity-building—have made this possible. Your talents, your gifts, your participation, your friendship, your counsel, your wisdom and your longings have brought us to this threshold. As we step forward into the big work ahead, we say a profound and heartfelt thank you. Read More →

From Seed to Seedling

Our autumn board/staff retreat, brilliantly facilitated by incoming Board President Larisa Benson and staff member Meg Gluckman, gave the Whidbey Institute team an opportunity to reflect on the life cycles of our work. We played with questions of germination, emergence, growth, harvest, and death. We looked at what’s being nurtured from seed to seedling, what’s abundantly mature, and what’s being composted to nourish the new. We looked at the projects, ideas, and ways of working that we’re ready to let go of and the projects, ideas, and ways that want to emerge.

One thing that is abundantly clear to me in my communications role is that telling a true story—in the moment, as it unfolds, with all its beauty and flaws—matters more than telling a perfect story. So much has changed at the Whidbey Institute since I arrived six years ago, and how we share what we’re up to needs to change too. It’s time for our blog to take center stage, as a place where you get the day to day stories from behind the scenes.

Whidbey Institute is unfolding its butterfly wings as a transformational learning center, truly embracing its values of transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability. We learn better when we learn together, unafraid to be imperfect on our collective journey of growth and change.

You can expect to see changes on our website in the coming months, harvesting our work, our learnings, and the gaps between what is and what can be in the areas of equity, climate action, self-organization, and more. You can expect to see regular blog posts from me and my colleagues, and you can expect to see programming that aligns more and more with our deep purpose to nurture the conditions for transformation in service to a future in which people and planet thrive together.

I, for one, can’t wait. Thank you for being on this journey with me.

—Marnie Jackson



Moving beyond Trauma: Robert Gilman on shifting our culture and building our resilience

Robert Gilman and I recently connected about the upcoming program From Anxiety to Agency: Generative engagement with the challenges of our times. This program is designed to provide a conceptual framework, some deeper understanding, and some experiential skillbuilding for getting into our “optimal zone”—the psychological and physiological place where we are creative, connected, energized, and capable of powerful and positive engagement with the world’s great challenges. Here’s part of that conversation. —Marnie Jackson

Read More →

January 9, 2020

Hilltop Reflections: Greeting the new year in Legacy Forest

by Marnie Jackson

I welcomed the new year with a day of rest, reflection, and solitude in Hilltop Cabin. The cabin, owned and offered by Whidbey Institute founders Fritz and Vivienne Hull, is nestled in the center of our 106 acre conservation forest near Storyhouse Meadow.  I arrived in the cozy, bright space and had a quick orientation from Fritz, who showed me the amenities—heaters and a wood stove, a little kitchen for making tea and warming up my lunch, and a fantastic library of works from poets, philosophers, naturalists, and eco-theologians. When I asked him if he had any particular advice for me to make the best use of my day, he encouraged me to spend time among the trees. 

My day began simply enough, and I spent my first hour riffing through the notebooks that Fritz and Vivienne have compiled on subjects like Celtic Spirituality, the Life Wheel, and the life and work of Thomas Berry. In that reading, I was struck by a profound sense of continuity. The Chinook Learning Community, founded by Fritz and Vivienne in 1972, didn’t just give way to the Whidbey Institute—it became it. Thomas Berry Hall was not named by accident, but as an entreaty to remember and carry forward the work of this man who wrote, “the natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.” The Hilltop Cabin itself has a clear purpose and its construction and siting was sincerely intentional: it is a place for immersion in nature, for reflection on Self and Earth, and for rediscovering how to be human in these times. 

The Hilltop Cabin has a clear purpose and its construction and siting was sincerely intentional: it is a place for immersion in nature, for reflection on Self and Earth, and for rediscovering how to be human in these times. 

I had come prepared, with colored ink pens, a blank journal, washi tape, and dozens of year-end journaling prompts. Fritz and Vivienne had provided even more resources, including a wicker basket of art supplies and reams of blank paper. I was ready to sit and reflect, making a fresh start for a new decade with clarity of purpose and power of intention. Then, a funny thing happened. After sitting and doodling for half an hour, I felt complete with my journaling. 

As a professional writer, I spend most of every day putting words to paper. As a mother and partner, I had spent the week between Solstice and Christmas drawing, painting, and creating vision board collages with my family. I was all journaled out, and therein lay another gift of Hilltop Cabin—the freedom to discover what I needed most. I didn’t need a colorful calendar, a cheerful goal list, or a revised personal purpose statement. I needed to be quiet—in body, mind, and heart. I needed to be alone in the woods.

I took my camera and my coat and made my way down the forest path to a stone circle, ringed with trees and lying just a few dozen yards from the Hilltop Cabin. A weed-suppressing barrier had been laid down, and white stones had been placed atop it. I noticed the persistence of new plant life, pushing up between the stones and reaching little green needles toward the light. 

Plants are agents in their own lives. I once read that the compounds released by plants into the atmosphere actually change the quality of the light those plants receive, increasing photosynthesis by diffusing light in the forest. A Guardian author summarizing these findings wrote, “plants have evolved a clever trick to redirect sunlight and bring the weather they want down into the forest understory.” These trees are not inanimate features of my habitat, but co-creators of ours

Therein lay another gift of Hilltop Cabin—the freedom to discover what I needed most.

I sat on the Earth in the center of the circle, contemplating the coolness under my seat and the vastness of the forest canopy. I listened for birds, close in and far off, and for the tiptoe of who-knows-who—Doe? Squirrel?—through the underbrush. 

After some time, I stood and continued my walk, eventually finding myself back at the cabin. It was now midday, and I warmed up tea and soup before settling on the couch with a novel I’d been longing to reread for years. I made it through 75% of the book, then dozed off for my first nap in at least a decade. I woke up refreshed, to the sound of a woodpecker knocking nearby. 

By the end of my 9 hour stay in the Hilltop Cabin, I felt like a human BEing—just being. No doing, planning, producing, delivering, or performing. It was not what I’d set out to achieve during this one precious day alone, and yet it felt like the most important possible work.

After a day of solitude in nature, it felt right that I got on my bicycle to return home. I couldn’t imagine climbing into a car, closing the door to the forest, and turning on a gasoline engine at the close of such a day. If my day alone taught me anything, it is that the patterns of human activity that are at odds with nature are at odds with our own being, and that what is healthy for my planet is indistinguishable from what is healthy for me. 

Hilltop Retreats are offered to the public. Visit the website to learn more and book your day-long retreat.