Dear Community, Supporters & Friends!
A long-awaited update on the latest here at the Springs...
The wheels of the Morton's jumbo jet have touched down on our end-of-summer runway and we’ve been taxiing down September's tarmac to the terminal of our 2018 public season at the end of the month. And wow, what a season it's been!
We began with a strong start- our Cafe 108° opened right at the beginning of May and again featured high-quality offerings from local farms and organic suppliers. It's been amazing to see how the café is already shifting culture in a significant and palpable way, inviting in greater awareness, wellbeing and appreciation for this place. We've gotten such wonderful feedback, too. One woman told us our Farmer's Market Salad was "the best salad you could get anywhere in Sonoma County," while another local sheepishly acknowledged that she and her family had become members in part just to mainline the organic Straus soft-serve ice cream!
Our season also began with the hot source newly piped into the poolhouse showers resulting in lots of "oooohs" and "aaaaahs" emanating now from the changing rooms (instead of the shrieks of guests enduring icy rinses, as they have here since the 50's). Hot geothermal showers with lavender Dr. Bronner’s soap have also made it easier to require all guests shower, and we’ve already seen a difference in our waters staying beautiful and pristine even on busy days.
Springtime also saw another huge project commence in the re-furbishment of the poolhouse apartment -a very exciting movement after two long years of dreaming, planning and bringing together our renovation team! While there’s still several more months to go before it'll be move-in ready, it's already quite a sight to see with the 60’s linoleum and gummy single-pane windows all gone and the main space opened up as a "great room" destined to become the hub of many an Aletheia gathering, and we hope one day, a multi-use movement and workshop space. Once complete, the apartment will be home to three Aletheia stewards -Hank & Carole, and one additional steward yet to come.
And all season long the stories have continued to pour in daily from folks sharing their nostalgic love of this place, along with their appreciation for the improvements we've slowly been making. Every week we're also hearing the curiosity and delight of newcomers discovering the Springs for the very first time - people coming from Santa Rosa, West County, San Francisco, the East Bay, and visitors from around the country and even abroad. "I never knew this was here!" is a common exclamation. Since May we've received a whopping 25 Google five-star reviews (and another 8 four-star reviews), and the declaration, "Morton's is back!" was overheard earlier this year in a Glen Ellen restaurant.
So, it seems our 7-day workweeks and long exhausting hours are paying off! The financial numbers so far in 2018 also reflect this... Compared to last year, overall revenue is up another 28%, with profit up an incredible 78% over 2017. And yet, as truly wonderful as this is, our service business is not yet sustainable; though we're getting quite close. Our benchmark of sustainability will be when the short and intense 5-month public season (a limitation dictated by the county) is able to bring in enough money to cover not just all of our year-round expenses (which we achieved in 2017), and all the interest on our loans (which we have just achieved in 2018 – woohoo!), but also for the resident stewards to be supported here full time all year.
On the Aletheia community front, we were honored and buoyed to have a summer steward, Kate Bunney, join us for a 3+ month service stay starting in May. Though Kate just moved out a few weeks ago to join a sister community in Sebastopol, she was instrumental this summer in supporting our Gate Guardian sphere and she offered much-needed reflections and insights to our community. We’ve also had the boon of a far stronger team of hired summer staff this year, as well as two new residential stewards, Grace & Daniel, who joined us in June. Grace and Dan hit the ground running supporting the Springs, Lifeguardian and Cafe spheres –Grace bringing her love of cheffing and incredible organization skills, and Dan bringing his green thumb and handyman talents, along with a mighty sporty red speedo that, I have to say, certainly elevates the look on the pool deck.
Most recently we piped our hot source to a new location where we are now building out our newest addition: Thermal Baths! The Baths will be nooked in along the creek on the back property just past the last picnic spots. There’ll be new hot showers, meandering paths and clawfoot tubs to soak in the hot mineral waters, with a stock tank cold plunge as well. We’ll have our first working model ready to test out at the fundraiser on Saturday, October 20th, and we plan to publicly open the Baths in May of next year. It will be the first truly new zone and will give us the opportunity to shift culture in a more dramatic way than the incremental improvements we have so far been making to the existing facilities. I can’t tell you how excited we all are by this change!
Also, I won’t lie. This summer has been intense -one of the most intense summers of my own life, I know that. In addition to the 7-day per week Morton’s schedule, many of us have been grappling with significant things in our personal lives, too- from big health challenges, to making ends meet with offsite work, to the steep (and sleepless) learning curve of becoming new parents. (The belatedness of this update is an expression of how maxed-out we’ve been!) And, as a community, our time together this summer for regular circles and practices has been very thin, which has taken its toll and depleted the psychospiritual “bank account" we had saved up from abundant winter & spring practice seasons.
Even our attempts to plan for this summer’s intensity didn’t keep it from knocking us on our butts, as life has a way of challenging you to the very edge of what you can handle… and then giving you just a little bit more. Our “little bit more” has come in the form of powerful inquiries in our community field around true wealth, money and security; trust, trauma and women’s solidarity; and vision, creative power and ownership. Each of these comes with its own imprints from our personal histories, as well as from grooved storylines in our greatly dis-eased culture at large. And we’ve had almost zero time and space to explore this material in a good way until now. While incredibly grateful for the privilege of a living laboratory where foundational themes like these can be grappled with, as anyone who’s ever engaged them in earnest will tell you, it’s not for the faint of heart!
How can we be with what comes up without being blown out with our nervous system already spread so thin? Are shallow dives into such territories advisable, or even possible; or, is it better to put things off until we can really dive in? What does responsible participation in community look and feel like, and what allows us to show up in a collaborative group body without either passivity (repression/dissociation/addiction) or the urge to control (aggression/domination)? How best to explore our tendencies towards certain familiar identities, like feeling the “victim,” “helper,” “bad guy” or “policeman?” I’m sure that many of these questions also are highly relevant to you in your own lives, wherever you’re engaged.
Partially in jest, we’ve often fantasized that Aletheia had a whole other set of stewards who don’t work in the service business at all but are here just to facilitate, mentor and hold down all the practices for us! It’s humbling to note that, for now anyway, we have been wholly unable to resist the “seemingly easier” solution of just pushing through and DIY bootstrapping- a rather individualistic survival strategy, and a revered albeit decidedly destructive American pastime.
The last big update I’d like to share with you all is where we currently find ourselves in the unfolding of our multi-arced Aletheia vision as it has been manifesting on the ground here at the Springs. If you remember, we outlined 4 distinct “arcs” in our vision… Arc 1 was dubbed “A Sanctuary for Self-Care by Nature” and has to do with slowly refurbishing the Morton’s service offering, as well as shifting its culture towards that of a family-oriented sanctuary for self-care embedded in nature. Arc 2, “Restoring Our Common Source” speaks of our aim to restore the ecology, beginning with the natural water cycles of the land, replenishing and protecting aquifer and habitat alike in a way that includes humans as part of that healed picture. And finally Arc 3, “A Culture of Trust, Transformation & True Purpose” refers to our further aim to establish a working model of new culture based on trust that produces lived research relevant to the larger communities movement currently working for global system change.
No small task, but a worthy one.
The first few years of this project have necessarily focused on the foundation of Arc 1: to fix the place up, get cashflow going and begin establishing our direction with the general public. We didn’t imagine that we’d earnestly begin Arc 2 until somewhere in our third year, so we were bolstered to see the natural emergence of Arc 2 threads early this spring. It seemed to signal a timely readiness. However, since actively engaging in this big inquiry of how we might restore the way water moves on the land, we’ve been humbly learning that when guided by the courses of water, the way forward is hardly straight!
We started out thinking it could be somewhat straightforward to develop a plan with stacked, beneficial functions that use our huge amount of spring water which runs through the pools each year (roughly 5 million gallons). It was easy to picture watering the farm and gardens we want to create, replenishing the creek, protecting our woodlands against drought and wildfire, and most importantly, recharging the aquifer – an ultimate giving back to that which gives to and sustains us. We asked what would such a regenerative water picture at the Springs look like? How might we contribute to the greater Sonoma Valley watershed restoration movement? And, what is ours to do now that is possible financially, legally, politically?
Early in the summer we also began planning for a benefit in mid-September to kick-off our fall fundraising season but also as a “coming out party” for our project to the greater community of Sonoma Valley. We’d go big and book out our entire 20-acre site with MaMuse anchoring the daylong event with their transcendent music. After a few long years of private incubation and worry about neighbors, county permitting and fundraising, we became excited at the prospect of being more fully out-of-the-closet and getting to transparently share our vision for the Springs with a broader array of potential supporters and funders- from private donors, to grants and foundations. We’d also share our Restore the Springs non-profit mission along with a phased plan for its implementation to serve as a narrative anchor for who we are and our long-term intentions for the Springs.
In our time here we’ve come to understand that, to the people of Sonoma Valley, these Springs are viewed a little like an orphan child who’s already been through several foster parents. Trust has been broken, so as the latest in a long line of “parents,” we’re scrutinized with a certain amount of understandable doubt. Everyone wants to suss out if we’re worthy custodians of the legacy and if our vision is a good match. To have any hope of accomplishing the mission of Arc 2, it’s important our local community comes to know us as a super-likeable (and fundable) community-based service business with water and ecological restoration at its center.
To that end, we began opening our Arc 2 work at the beginning of the summer by seeking out and consulting with water experts, mentors and professionals, both locally and globally. We spoke with experts from Esalen Institute in California regarding their Living Machine tidal wastewater treatment system and from Tamera Peace Research Center in Portugal regarding their water retention landscape. We consulted with Zach Weiss from Elemental Ecosystems regarding his work all over the planet with wetlands and water retention landscapes. We explored regenerative place-based site planning with Chris Lopez from Regenesis Group in New Mexico, and looked at constructed wetland wastewater treatment systems with Michael Ogden of the Living Guild. We began work with a team at the Sonoma Ecology Center and Trout Unlimited exploring partnerships and working to improve the health of Sonoma Creek and our groundwater basin. And we’ve consulted with Brock Dolman from the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) regarding creek ecology, stormwater management, water retention, graywater, septic and the very latest in composting toilets.
Brock Dolman, who also co-directs the OAEC’s Water Institute, speaks of water as primary wealth as it underlies and gives rise to all other forms of prosperity. Brock is also a master metaphoric punster and offered a jestful but accurate framing of our challenge when he described these springs as similar to a trustafarian with a bank account (of water wealth) spraying money out every day. Many places are faced with the challenge of having enough water. Here we just have to figure out how to direct the abundant amount we already have so it can do the most good!
But as we explored further, we began to tease out the sizeable permitting realities which will ultimately shape the content and timeline of Arc 2. To explore any change in how water moves means coming current to the political realities that dictate water management in both local municipalities and our culture at large. Everything is tightly scripted and generally reduced to permitting, over-engineered failsafes and legal precedence. Even when almost any change would mean a vast improvement to the ecology of a place, red tape abounds and almost always the priorities of restoration and “existing use” conflict. For example, how are we to refurbish our aquifers and creeks without involving water storage, which carries with it the political tangle of associated regional water rights?
Where humans are involved, water is never simply water- it’s rainwater, surface run-off, graywater, wastewater, blackwater (septic), etc. So as we look at how water moves on this land we necessarily must explore onerous things such as who “owns” it, how we process our poop with it, and how it’s a political locus used to control development. The discourse is not at all centered around restoring, healing or regenerating anything, and it’s common to see county legal standards trailing behind current proven technology by at least twenty to thirty years.
So we did learn a lot through the summer about the territory of Arc 2 and where we may be headed. Yet things just weren’t lining up. We were feeling increasingly stressed and pressured to come up with a direction for a plan that would impact our project for decades to come. At some point it hit us that we were just moving much too fast and trying to mentally project “regenerative techniques” onto this place without crucial layers of information and support already in place. And all this because of our own self-created pressure to be ready with our basic plan for the big public fundraiser event we had slated for September!
So while it was a bit belated (alas, baby-brain + summer craziness), thank goodness we realized that we needed to slow down. We need to more deeply understand the long-arc history of this place, and by delving into these layers of time we can connect with the true purpose of these Springs and the foundation for whatever could emerge in its future. To create space for this process to unfold, we postponed the bigger, public “coming out” event (perhaps to the fall of 2019) and decided to instead host a private launch and fundraiser kick-off for our extended community and ally network – each of you!
In the meantime, we’re in the midst of a more comprehensive research into the historical layers, beginning with the pre-Morton’s era from 1880–1940 and continuing on through an incredible 10,000+ years of indigenous stewardship. Most of this history is not popularly known and it’s not easily accessible, and yet it’s there waiting to be uncovered -if we can find those who can still tell its story, and if we can listen. What we find out will guide us in aligning with what’s most relevant and essential that this place has to share with the greater community of life. Some of that may be obvious and is evident throughout every era, including today, while other things we are still uncovering beneath the many layers of time. It’s a mysterious process. We trust it’s unfolding and feel privileged to be in service to it.
So that brings us current, dear friends! We hope that this share holds reflections and meaning also with you in your own life, and that all we are discovering, struggling through and celebrating here at the Springs serves in some way.
We hope you join us in just three weeks time at our Aletheia Fall Fundraiser Benefit on Saturday, October 20th. Bring friends whom you would like to introduce to Aletheia and to these incredible waters and be sure to register soon to attend: www.tinyurl.com/Aletheia-Fundraiser.
In dedicated service,
Laurie & Sean
& The Aletheia Stewards