Right now, as we speak… by all indications, Harbin Hot Springs has been reduced to ash in the Valley Fire in Lake County. Those who don’t know what Harbin Hot Springs is may shrug and think, “Yes, Harbin Hot Springs, and half of California.” It’s true… piece by piece, California is becoming charcoal. Harbin Hot Springs is just one more item to tick off on the “cremated” list.
Those of us who are part of the extended Harbin community already feel the grief. It is a death. Harbin is the heart where all the veins meet. Where WE all meet.
The place itself is gone… the memories, those cannot be destroyed. And oh… the memories…
About 10 years ago, I discovered Harbin while attending the very first Goddess Workshop, taught by Lokita Carter. Without any exaggeration whatsoever: That one experience changed my life. In that workshop, I discovered a pulse of life I’d been yearning for, searching for… I could feel that it was there, but didn’t know where it was. Until I found it. That one workshop led to other discoveries, in particular, the Pagan community of which I am proudly a part. The Harbin path led me directly to the door of the Pagan world. I found My People. My Community. I could, finally, exhale.
I returned to Harbin again and again after that first workshop, to attend other workshops with Lokita and her husband Steve, but mostly just to go there and soak up the serenity and peace and vibe of the land and the people. And the people… everyone there was of like mind. There were no political or religious barriers, no arguments about candidates or countries… just love. Healing. Oneness with the earth, everything that grew there, everything that lived — and died — there.
No other place on earth made me feel more at home in my own body, my own soul, than Harbin Hot Springs. It truly is sacred ground to me. It’s where I go when I need to transcend the roar and rattle of everyday life, whether in a car, or traveling by meditation, sitting right on my own living room floor. Harbin is home.
The memories… they come to me like a montage….
… the first glimpse at the iron dragon gate… letting us know we’re home…
… sipping hot Cafe Americana on the porch next to the Blue Room, watching the day wake up, still in sweaters because the mountain mornings are chilly
… carrying my ribbon round and round the Maypole
… sitting quietly by the fountain, in the dark, looking at starts, listening to the frog that lived in the little pond near the vendors
… early mornings spent soaking with my husband in the warm pool… the first touch of a toe on the surface and sinking into the warm mineral waters, feeling every ounce of stress just melt away… floating there, him holding me, nothing but water against skin… morning sunlight making dancing patterns against the overhanging fig leaves… closing my eyes and seeing dancing red light… feeling nothing but love and healing and light and warmth
… our handfasting in the temple with only the people who performed the ceremony – Steve and Lokita Carter. We wrote the vows, and when Lokita called us inside, she’d made a ring of pink rose petals, in which the ceremony was performed, right under the peak of that amazing, swirling structure
… morning yoga classes… stretching tight aching muscles and feeling them release and relax
… our favorite tuna sandwich at the La Sirena cafe, sitting in saris, pointing and laughing at all the little lizards skittering across the steps, and so many wonderful meals at the Harbin restuarant
… dancing and swirling in the temple until we were soaked with sweat and sitting on the cushions until we could jump up again
… walking the quiet paths along the grounds, stopping to find out what insect makes that chirping noise and what is crawling to make the grass crackle… pointing out little ferns that grow here and there… savoring the spicy, heady scent of bay laurel everywhere
… feeling warm, bare skin, soaking up sun on the sun deck… completely relaxed and at one with our bodies, with those around us, with (at that moment) the entire planet
… holding each other on the sun deck at night, star gazing, looking for satellites drifting by… feeling the wonder of gazing up at the same stars that every human being who ever lived also gazed at… in the same wonder
… and oh, the massage… heavenly, heavenly massage, particularly with Cora, who I adore so much…
… and the watsu… with Joe… so gentle and healing, melting into bliss…
… the funny jays bouncing on the lawn with their black, pointed tufts on their heads, so different from our valley jays
… the Buddha head at the warm pool… leaning my hands against the side and looking at him… and the path up the hill… hearing the sound of waterfalls and happy sighs…
… the turkeys gobbling, strutting… the deer wandering around, chewing brush, resting in the shade
… the huge, amazing buck that wandered right to the top of the stairs about the market, his head and antlers framed in orange and yellow fall leaves, backlit by the autumn sun… him staring us down… and us backing slowly away…
… the funny little orange tabby cat who always found us when we’d sit in the garden or near the Zen sandbox (oh, how I hope he made it out… how I hope…)
… quietly walking the labyrinth and placing a “Stupid Cancer” button from my friend on the altar at the center… praying for Harbin’s healing energy to touch her… sadly, it did not…
… Samhain, Beltane, Mabon… at Harbin, they all had their special flavor… going with that flow… jumping the broomstick over a fire on Beltane, which is when our handfasting took place… so special
… a Samhain ritual, holding hands in a circle by the meadow building as the light died… singing… “We all come from the Goddess, and to her we shall return, like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean… hoof and horn, hoof and horn, all who die shall be reborn, corn and grain, corn and grain, all who die shall rise again.”
… so many, many more memories… too many to enumerate… they all swirl in my heart, and my mind. The sounds, the scents, the sensations… they’re all there, still safe. Still beloved.
Our Harbin, our Heart… has been cremated… but she shall rise again, not as we remember her, but reincarnated with the love and devotion of all of us who will welcome her in her new form. Buildings and structures can be destroyed by flames. Community only becomes stronger, and the fuel is not flame. It’s love.