The Post: Community Updates
We are posting regular news updates here whenever possible. The most recent posts appear at the top. The list on the right may help you locate specific posts.
Major reports and announcements can be found on our Rebuilding News page.
On the day of September 12, 2015, while hurrying to evacuate from the Valley Fire, first-time Harbin Visitor John Isom performed a wise and brave rescue. In the midst of his rush from Mainside to the RV parking lot to retrieve his vehicle, with fire advancing down the hill before him, John stopped to gather acorns.
Standing at the edge of the Meadow, John took the time to fully appreciate and connect with one of the grandmotherly valley oak trees there – a huge, spreading tree that has graced Harbin property for hundreds of years. And in a moment of deep caring for the land and foresight for its future, John – an Environmental Studies teacher with a self-described passion for “botanical midwifery” – took the risk of pausing in his evacuation, and carefully gathering seeds for what he hoped would be a Harbin forest to come. He collected several dozen acorns and brought them home to take care of – with the hope that at least a few of them might actually germinate. And much to his delight, several of them did! For nearly a year, John nurtured his seedlings in his kitchen refrigerator, hoping someday bring them back to Harbin for us to plant – and recently he did.
Native trees like these are among our most precious resources. And as we plan, rebuild, and recreate Harbin, we’ll be sure to select just the right locations to showcase John’s saplings… with much gratitude to him for his caring, his love, and his very special gift of life from Harbin’s past to Harbin’s future.
John’s oak seedlings – significant as they are – are just a small portion of the new trees we’ve begun to plant on Harbin property. As of this writing, we’ve planted 750 new hardwood trees around Mainside alone. These new hardwoods are all native species, and including black, blue, and live oaks, bigleaf maples, alders, gainswillows, redosier dogwoods, toyon berries, redbuds, and more. We purchased these trees from Putah Creek Restoration Nursery; and through our contract with National Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), we’ll be largely reimbursed for their cost.
We’re also about to begin planting 50,000 faster-growing conifers: a mix of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. These are trees we contracted for before the fire (again, with reimbursement from NCRS), but hadn’t yet decided where to plant. Now, with more than 90% of Harbin’s land burned by the fire, we have clearer need for them than ever. As soon as the snows begin to melt in El Dorado county where they are being grown, these year-old saplings will be dug up, shipped to us, and planted throughout the road into Harbin, up the road to Mainside, and on parts of Diamond D.
Every tree we plant – whether it’s one of John Isom’s hand-gathered acorns, or a hardwood or conifer procured through NRCS – is precious to us. As are our land, air, water, insects, birds, animals, and people. And just as John Isom so carefully gathered and protected life, so will we too, as we continue to build Harbin anew.
The long-view by Linda Miller, 30 year Harbin resident
Harbin’s Security detail has long been a dedicated peace-keeping operation. A 24 hour watchful team of 8 members, male and female, continuously circulating the property’s various hubs and as Harlan, the Security Manager, says with a chuckle: “Letting trouble find us”. It used to be a non-stop stream of mostly minor incidents and follow-up reports: guests locked out of rooms; noise at the pools; keys locked in cars. That sort of thing.
It all changed on a dime, after the Valley Fire exploded and we closed our doors. Soon after, a temporary Security Station was set up at “the Y”, two miles down the road, whose function it was to keep people away. There was so much unknown and the possibility of trespassing and vandalism loomed large. A 22 ft. RV was one of our first big purchases, to allow Security to continue its 24hr vigil and peace-keeping mission.
As soon as possible the RV was moved up to the main property, now sitting across from where the Gate House used to be. As things settled, in an unforeseen way, it turned out the Security function gradually transformed into attending to a stream of visitors (still we call them “guests”) mostly on the weekends. Though they aren’t able come on to the land for safety reasons, (because of all the construction and big equipment), like pilgrims, an average of 40-45 Guests per weekend stream here, to see for themselves; to feel for themselves; to be near the land and get in touch with the sadness of loss. Our loss of course, but meaningfully, theirs, too. That’s how Harlan describes it: ‘Why do they come?’ I ask. “To be in touch with their sadness”, he replies without hesitation.
They come from all over, just as Guests from “before” had: from Florida and New York; San Francisco and Denver; Korea; and Tai Wan; India, the UK, Australia and Spain. A ballpark estimate of about 2,000 visitors have come since the Fire. People wanting to remember their special Harbin experiences and to honor these with their presence and pilgrimage. It continues to touch us deeply to meet and greet this kind of devotion.
Usually these “Guests” stay at the entrance for at least 10 minutes; sometimes as much as half an hour. Our Security team has spontaneously, without coaching, developed an empathic welcoming reception for them and a quiet caring ‘holding space’. Harlan actually describes their “rolling up” as: “Precious moments, not to be squandered on the trivial and profane”. Further, he tries to help them see that Harbin wasn’t the buildings – but the water and the guests and the people –all still here. He also points out how Mother Nature is beginning to send her green bounty back onto the land, with hope and promise of more to come. And he lets them know how much has already been accomplished, tears coming to his eyes as he acknowledges the dedication, talent and strength of the current rebuilders.
Rarely does a Guest leave one of these encounters with present-day Harbin Security without asking for a hug. And invariably, they get to receive a gentle enthusiastic response. After all, that’s long been one of our main healing modalities. So, in addition to surveillance, that’s mostly what Security has to do with it. We’ll keep you posted with more unfolding as it emerges. May we remain in your thoughts and prayers as you do in ours.
It was years before the Valley Fire that a somewhat shy and soft-spoken genius on our housekeeping staff planted the thought that would eventually grow into Harbin’s action plan to restore our forests. He introduced us to a government agency called the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and described how they could suggest better land management practices, offer trainings, provide grants…all to help keep our forests and streams healthy. He had researched them and then suggested we make contact to see if they could be of help. At the time, many of us felt it was unimaginable that such a beneficent agency could exist and that their services would be so supportive and generous. Though it seemed fanciful and too good to be true, Deirdre Davis and her husband Neil Nelson, then Harbin Land Managers invited NRCS staff to visit Harbin and give a presentation. They came and gave their talk and blew our minds.
The first project the NRCS established was to design fuel-breaks up on the highest parts of our forests, up where the fire roads lead deep into the wild. While working on this project, NRCS made it clear to us it would be best to design a forestry management plan and that we would need a dedicated forester to implement this project. NRCS put us in touch with a forester, who began advising us about best land management practices and ecological restoration. Just as importantly from today’s vantage point, he helped us establish relationships with other government agencies like the Farm Services Agency (FSA) which, along with the NRCS quickly stepped forward after the Fire with significant financial funding for our extensive re-build and huge biomass cleanup projects. Of course, this was immensely appreciated.
Then, immediately after the fire, with a forester to guide us, and government grants to support us, 50,000 baby trees were purchased and seedlings planted at the Placerville County Resource Conservation Center. Without their timely input we wouldn’t have thought to order these saplings which take a full year to grow before planting. At the time, we were all still reeling with the idea that Harbin was decimated by the fire and not focused on reforestation. Our Forester will also be coordinating the planting of those saplings this winter. We hope to continue our relationship with him and NRCS for years to come.
So, it all began with seeds of an idea — a dedicated Harbinite and two savvy Managers willing to follow up a seemingly “fairytale” suggestion. Thanks again Tom… wherever you are! And Deirdre and Neil, thanks to you both for your intelligent dedication as well. Here’s hoping our new forests may live happily ever after!
To view the video on youtube, visit https://youtu.be/2XAMSYmdlz0
The Long View… by Linda Miller, 30 year resident
The obvious transformations that came in the wake of the Valley Fire had to do with letting go: letting go of homes, possessions, patterns. Rising to the occasion of newness in almost every quarter of daily life. Allowing identification to transfer from the historical, the comfortable and the patterned to the possible. To the “new” and the necessary. For many here at Harbin, the remaining inner circle of residents, it meant stepping up to the plate in new functions and entirely different levels of responsibility.
Longtime resident-employees had to switch Departments and learn new roles under the extraordinary pressure to begin the process of reopening in the shortest possible time. Nascent leadership qualities were given an opportunity to show up – in a hurry- and in support of that, the surrounding community offered up a generation of seasoned, suddenly-dispersed residents, who contributed time and energy and know-how to a new generation of leadership. This support network consists of people steeped in Harbin history and tradition and the subtle expertise necessary to enhance our quirky energetic organizational re-start.
Into freshly turned ground, seeds of transformation have been deftly sown and are are now coming into flower. We are so grateful for and want to acknowledge the resilience and courage of so many here at Harbin who continue to be flexible and willing to do what it takes, and change as they must to keep the Community and its possibilities alive and well. Kudos to evolution with its promise of new and brighter beginnings. Kudos to the Harbinites that remain as family and love-laced team.
We wanted to share news about the Harbin hot pool building. Because of weakening from the fire, the walls of the building became structurally compromised. Though they stood firm throughout the fire and protected the pool and railings, they were no longer safe for reincorporation into a new hot pool space. Unfortunately the walls had to be removed. Brick by brick, each wall was carefully disassembled by hand.
A whirlwind of feelings, again.
This modest temple was a place of palpable tenderness and healing and we cherish the intimate, demure candle-lit gentleness it radiated for so many years. What else to say and feel other than thank you…and deep gratitude.
In the coming weeks we will be rebuilding a new hot pool space, and it’s our intention for it to look exactly as it did before. Until then the heart of Harbin sits open, without walls, unguarded and beautiful, seeing the sun and stars for the first time in over 80 years.
Below is an image of the site plan for the final stage of construction. We are very happy to share this preliminary drawing of future Harbin. For more information concerning construction updates see our news page: http://harbin.org/community/news/
We also think you’ll enjoy this thoughtful newscast from Wilson Walker at KPIX Channel 5 News:
and this latest article from the UK Guardian.
Phase 1 update: The ground survey of the pools area has been completed. This survey determines how utilities reach the pool area and establishes a pathway for storm drainage. Both our civil engineer and architects will use the survey to determine how construction can proceed. Based on the information we receive from both those parties we should be able, in the coming weeks, to determine more accurately a timeline for Phase 1 opening.
Since our announcement last month of a fall 2016 opening, we have been striving on many fronts to get ready for the Phase 1 rebuild.
Pools: Harbin has submitted a number of plans to the county for necessary renovations to the pool area. We recently had two of these plans approved. These renovations include a total rebuild and renovation of the Harbin pool’s pump room and a large retaining wall on the hillside just above the swimming pool. Work on these projects are underway.
Environment: Ground crews are working hard to remove “biomass” from Mainside and adjacent areas. The work they’ve done has had a very dramatic effect on the visual appearance of the Mainside landscape. Though at times it is difficult to come to terms with amount of tree loss, the work being performed now sets the stage for future regrowth.
Harbin Design Layout: Harbin Management has been working (and reworking) the puzzle of facility placement of Phase 1 services. They have also been in heavy consultation with our architects (Mithun) for Phase 3 design layout. As soon as we can provide visuals we will post them.
Back to the build…
Late last January the Managing Directors and Department Representatives met with Mithun for a two day charrette (design discussion) in Middletown. This was an opportunity forHarbin people and Mithun people to connect, build relationships and trust with the architects as well as initiate the creative process. On day one, the Mithun team of five introduced themselves, their work, and a bit about their design process. After introductions, there was an opportunity for each MD, each Manager and Representative to speak from the heart on what Harbin means to them. This helped the architects to begin their process of deeply listening to the group’s needs, dreams and desires for the rebuild.
In the afternoon of day one, Residents were invited to participate in a two hour discussion to allow Mithun to further understand who ‘we’ are. The meeting was well attended and each person had an opportunity to make a statement or ask a question. The Mithun team was impressed by our Heart Consciousness, openness, and our enthusiasm. The discussion about the land and the living water was reassuring, and the team from Mithun was receptive and taking notes throughout.
On the second day, the Department Managers and Representatives were led through a series of ‘exercises’ to help Mithun further understand our community and the guest experience at Harbin. Later that morning, small groups were formed focusing on Pools, Wellness, Welcome Center/Administration and Rooms/Cottages. All had the opportunity to explore and draw on overlays of topographic maps where we felt the buildings, pools and features could be located, considering traffic flow, parking, and aesthetic aspects.
Each group had a short visit to the land with the architects to see the actual space after working on our drawings. This allowed deeper understanding of what would and wouldn’t be feasible or realistic. The groups returned to the ‘drawing boards’, eventually presenting our designs to the entire room. Although the drawings were just an exercise in terms of the final designs, the purpose was to help Mithun extract essential principles and concepts so they can create a few design options.
The process was inspiring,engaging and enjoyable for all involved and after two days together there was a palpable feeling admiration between both parties. We’re all looking forward to meeting again.