WILD IDEA – The Whidbey Institute Story by Fritz Hull

I recently had the honor to sit down with Fritz Hull to talk about his latest book, “Wild Idea.” Published this past year, “Wild Idea” tells of how a seemingly crazy idea became a sizable force for good – the Whidbey Institute. We met at his family’s Hilltop Cabin in Legacy Forest. Built 10 years ago on 5-acres of land that is part of the original 1966 farm purchase, the cabin provided us with a peaceful setting to explore some of the ideas he shares in the book, the inspiration of the early Chinook days, and what the future might hold for the land and those who visit it.


What were the origins for this book?

About four years ago I felt the need to write the story of Chinook/Whidbey Institute, and so I began a long and fairly demanding task. I wrote it for those who have had significant experiences here, who want to remember the earlier times, and want to see their time here in the larger sweep of the organization’s journey. I have been asked a lot about the early community, those who were with Vivienne and me, who formed the early work, led workshops, proceeded always by consensus, and set the whole enterprise in motion. Who were they? What held them together? How were they inspired? I love these questions because I feel a growing respect for those who built this place and steward it so faithfully. But I wrote it even more for those here now, and for those who are coming. This long 50-year story had never been written and I felt it was essential that I could hand people the story, for now it is also their story as they build the future.

How does today’s Whidbey Institute capture some of that early energy and enthusiasm?

I believe this happens when we realize that our world needs us and we are called to a great work that is far more than a job, a workshop to attend, or a break in our busy lives. We come together here in the forest to deepen our awareness of belonging to the life all around us and to be completely amazed at how remarkable it all is. This deep sense of belonging helps us to face outward to the world and work earnestly on its behalf. This work is to love others and the earth itself. In Chinook days I reminded people that the word enthusiasm comes from the Greek en-theos, meaning God within! It is an energy always ready to be ignited. And this enthusiasm was experienced in our community as we committed to study and a spiritual practice in a joyful fellowship of creative service. Time after time, this gave us the energy to go out on a limb with our educational outreach.

How can the Whidbey Institute be of service to the world and not become simply a retreat center?

I am very aware of the importance of this question. I say in the book that it is fundamental that Chinook/Whidbey Institute become a “state of the art” retreat center, that we do the very best job we can hosting groups in a vibrant resource–rich learning environment. We want groups that are strongly mission aligned, who come here to experience a great sense of belonging to the natural world and feel supported in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. As we are aligned with our history, we can also aspire to be amazingly creative in thinking up our own programs and presenting them to a wide audience. For much of our history we have had a staff of educators and visiting presenters, who were constantly creating unique programs that we regularly presented in Seattle, on the island in various venues, and here on the land. Part of the excitement has been striving to imagine and stage programs that engage many of the great issues surrounding us with an awesomely gifted faculty who for years bonded together as our “Associate Faculty.” We can be both a retreat center and a place of highly creative work born out of our own imaginations.

You often ask the question: what’s next? I am curious as to who is next for the Whidbey Institute? Who needs to be coming? Who should be driving the mission?

Our own history has shown us that when we are holding a great dream and make our mission clear and compelling, things happen, including great people showing up. And often the money shows up. The key has always been our own deep commitment and a go-for-it-spirit. That’s when the dream happens. Then those driving the mission will be the ones with loving hearts and creative minds who bring the dream into reality and serve people and issues far outside of our own concerns. It will be a multicultural community who has the courage to face what is really happening in the world. In the book I include a line from legendary environmental writer Barry Lopez that I hesitated to use because it perhaps sounded too severe, too daunting, too impossible. But here it is again: “In this trembling moment, is it still possible to face the gathering darkness and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?” This is the call to the people who are coming to shape a new chapter in the life of the Whidbey Institute.

The Center for Knowing Home seems like your new “wild idea.” What is it and why are you so committed to it?

Over these last few years I have found myself in a kind of sustained dream time, a place where vision has come easily. I have waited patiently for the time when it felt right, even necessary, to speak of what I have been seeing. I believe that many of us are ready with new ideas and an eagerness to carry the organization forward. We seem to be anticipating a renewed Whidbey Institute. I know this is tricky for a founder, and I am wanting to be very careful as I put myself out there. The vision I hold is primarily about the land, the forest, and our relationship to it. I believe we are about to discover something very powerful, as well as essential to our survival, as we learn a new way of being with everything in the natural world. It is a vital reciprocity with the earth that we now must learn deep in our bones, and quickly. I have written of this new work in a prospectus titled Center for Knowing Home. I don’t know what will happen next, but I trust that my ideas will evoke powerful responses and join with creative strategies from many others. I think that the book Wild Idea sets the stage for new projects to begin on the land. Much of the new thinking is actually not so new. We have known of this path since the very beginning. But now is the time to understand just how relevant and essential these ideas have become. The stakes are now higher than ever.

You can receive a copy of Fritz Hull’s book, “Wild Idea,” by making a small donation to the Whidbey Institute of $30-$50 HERE.

* The cabin was built 10 years ago on 5-acres owned by the Hull family. The land is part of the original farm purchased in 1966. It is a retreat cabin serving guests who learn about it on the Whidbey Institute website. While small it sits prominently on a hill east of the wetlands, near Storyhouse, in a beautifully forested area, and offers a contemplative experience in the forest. Chinook itself was born in such a cabin, and now something new is brewing in this place not far from the original cabin. Visit our Hilltop Retreats page for more information on this beautiful cabin in its magical setting.

April 30, 2024

Nature Encounters
People & Partners


  1. Reuben Vaughn Greene III says:

    Just discovered your website. Beautiful work.

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