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.
Harbin’s Phase 1 rebuild is focused primarily – and appropriately – on Harbin’s exquisite mainside pools. So we caught up recently with Harbin’s Head Pools Consultant, Shah Luc Allard, and our Pools Manager, Abel Romero, to ask how the rebuild is going, and find out what’s new.
Shah has been the mechanical mastermind behind Harbin’s pools and their systems for well over a decade. “Because of the fire,” he said, “we had to redo all the pipes, pumps, systems – everything. And right now, with the heavy rains and all the new concrete work, it’s a bit like a war zone up there. But we’re definitely beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Every day now, we have some new, finished piece of the puzzle put into place – and it is beautiful to see.”
When asked about what’s different at the pools, since before the fire, Shah pointed to Harbin’s new, ADA-accessible hot plunge. This new plunge is a mirror copy of the ADA-accessible cold plunge that we installed several years ago, and both are located just in front of the sauna.
The new hot plunge will be heated, at least in part, by a solar system – a welcome first for Harbin pools! “We always wanted to use solar,” Shah explained, “but we really don’t get a lot of sun here in the winter, when we most need the heat, and we didn’t have the space. With our new pump house roof, though, we have space now. So we’re doing an experiment. We’re starting with two solar panels, and sending the hot water to the new hot plunge. If it turns out we’re saving a lot of money, we’ll begin to expand the system, and use it to heat the swimming pool too.”
Shah told us that he has increased Harbin’s use of water-to-water heat exchangers, as well. These systems extract heat from one body of water, and use it to heat another. With Harbin’s mix of cold, warm, and hot pool temperatures, Shah explained, these heat exchangers can save significantly on Harbin’s energy costs.
In addition to controlling its temperatures, our Pools Department is also responsible for making sure the water in Harbin’s pools stays clean, healthy, and in full compliance with County and State regulations. Shah was delighted to tell us that Harbin will continue to be one of just three public facilities in the entire State of California not required to use chlorine to disinfect its pools. Harbin’s long-established system of cleaning its pools and their water with hydrogen peroxide (what our grandmothers used to disinfect cuts and scrapes) combined with ozone gas and ultraviolet light (including an improved version of UV, since the fire), requires much more complex systems. But it’s a far gentler way to disinfect water, is easier on the skin, has no noxious smell, and makes it much more pleasant and healthy for soaking.
Abel Romero joined our Pools Department as manager just prior to the fire, after many years as the much-loved manager of our Housekeeping Department. Abel has been getting up to speed on Harbin’s pool systems, so that he can keep them finely tuned when Shah travels; and he is primarily responsible for the daily operations of the department and its current staff of 12.
We asked Abel what he most appreciates about his new job. “I’m enjoying learning something new – about all the pool systems,” he said. “But mostly, I love the water. I grew up by a river, watching it flow every day, and to me water is one of those magical things. Working in these pools, having this water that comes up out of the ground, it’s very special.” He continued, “People come here from all over the world – different countries, cultures, religions. They all come stressed out and with problems; but when they enter these pools, it pretty much all goes away. That’s spiritual: they connect with themselves, their hearts, and each other. You don’t get that anywhere else.” We couldn’t have said it better.
Even as the rebuild is in process, most of Harbin’s pools are already filled with water. So as a final question, we asked both Abel and Shah if they’ve personally been going into the water themselves. “Every day,” Abel happily reported. Shah explained: “We have to,” he said, straight-faced. “To clean.”
Harbin’s Mainside Pools
When you next visit Harbin Springs, here are all the different pools you’ll be able to enjoy:
- Our body-temperature Warm Pool is recognizable by the simple white railing that is so familiar from Harbin’s logo.
- Harbin’s signature indoor Hot Pool, with its sculpted metal whale that spouts hot water.
- The Cold Plunge, with refreshing cold water, is up the stairs behind the Hot Pool, where Quan Yin lives and guests can alternate rounds of hot and cold soaking.
- The Heart-Shaped Pool is also body-temperature and ADA-Accessible.
- Harbin’s Swimming Pool, with its slightly warmed water (temperature-appropriate to the season and weather), is the place to swim laps, lounge about, and play underwater in the deep end. This pool is ADA-Accessible.
- The ADA-Accessible Cold Plunge is in front of our Sauna building.
- Brand new since the fire, the ADA-Accessible Hot Plunge will feature solar heat, and is in front of the sauna, facing the ADA-Accessible Cold Plunge – also handy for rounds of hot and cold soaking.
- And not yet constructed, but planned for the former site of the La Sirena Cafe and awaiting final permitting approvals, our new mainside Watsu® Pool is where guests will receive professional aquatic bodywork sessions from our staff of remarkable practitioners, in quiet, landscaped privacy.
Watsu® is a registered service mark assigned to Harold Dull.
Julie Adams has been a key thread in Harbin’s fabric for more than 30 years. And no one is more surprised than her.
When she first came to Harbin in 1984, something unexpected (but not uncommon) happened: she fell in love with a Harbin resident. His name was Pete, and like Julie’s then-recently-deceased husband, it turned out Pete was dying. Unlike her husband, who had been in a hospital bed where she couldn’t give him the tender, gentle care she knew he longed for, Pete was here in this community. And he, and the community, welcomed Julie and her big hurting heart into their lives. For weeks, Julie mostly just sat with Pete and the other community members who loved him.
When Pete died on Valentine’s day (“heart consciousness day”) she had planned to go back to her job teaching in Colorado. But she had been profoundly affected both by her experiences with Pete, and by the other friendships she had found in this remarkable community. And after some time training with hospice and integrating her experiences, Julie found herself back at Harbin.
She started sweeping Stonefront, painting signs, driving residents to the local grocery store in town, Hardester’s, and on errands, and just generally helping out. She still expected to return to teaching. Until one day Ishvara, who had come to know and appreciate Julie during their time being together with Pete, offered her the job of a “Managing Director”. She didn’t have a clue what that actually meant. But in the ensuing 30 years, she has learned.
Today, Julie’s primary responsibilities are aesthetic and administrative. Julie is an artist, and it is her whimsical eye for color, form, and texture that gave Harbin its distinctive style as it grew – and that will shape Harbin’s appearance as it grows again. “The inspiration will be the touchstone structures that people loved from our past, like the gazebo and the gate, as well as the Arts & Crafts designs from around 1910,” she says. “Modest structures, with real wood, stone, and glass. Warm, inviting. Nothing grandiose.” For Phase 1, she’s especially looking forward to the roofs planned for the hot pool and sauna: standing seam copper that will weather to a soft verdigris.
As for her administrative duties, Julie sighs and takes a long pause. “When I first got here, Harbin was basic. People here had very little, and were living in very rustic conditions. We as managers had to figure out from scratch how to make enough money to give our people a better standard of living – and over the years, we have been working continually to do that.” She also cites the interpersonal challenges of being a manager. “I had no idea how hard it would be. It’s different being a manager – a different role, a different relationship with people, and them with you.” Julie hopes that she has matured into her manager’s role, become wiser, and mellowed a bit with time and age.
She also hopes to retire from that role once the rebuild is complete. Her plan is to move back onto the property, “into a tiny house that I get to design!”, she giggles, “and just be like every other Harbin resident. Enjoying the smell of wet grass, the pools, and that hive-like hum of everyday life on mainside. That’s what I miss the most.”
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.