The History Of Anima Center – Part 5 – by J. Wolf Hardin
Starting in 1985, my time away from the Canyon involved not only raising land payment money, but also passing on to others what it so generously and adamantly taught. From California to Vermont, I put on over 250 shows, combining spoken word presentation with live music. Most often we would begin with a blessing by a local indigenous elder, then move through pieces that evoked moods as well as presented ideas, and into heavy rhythm numbers where my hand drums set the crowds to dancing. Bands that backed me up ranged from high dollar professionals to busking street musicians, and I adapted my message and tone to work with diverse styles. One night I might perform with a country western band, followed by several shows with a blues-rock band, and then a weekend of cool reggae. At certain conferences or campuses I would give a non-musical presentation, alongside firebrands like Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, David Brower and Winona LaDuke , other times with the musical accompaniment of the likes of African drummer Baba Olatungi, all male rockers Little Women, the women’s band Joyful Noise, California’s Joanne Rand, folky heart-throb Dana Lyons and the baritone mountain man Walkin’ Jim Stoltz. Always we donated much of the proceeds to whatever local cause we supported, from habitat preservation groups to those organizing for local community autonomy… and my remaining share went to paying Emil, the seller of our Sanctuary. The greatest reward, nonetheless, came not in dollars but smiles and tears, hugs and applause, the gratitude of people who felt moved to re-embrace the vitality of their lives, to join in common cause with others of shared values, to honor instead of conceal their love for natural places and more natural ways of being. The Canyon was speaking, inspiring and healing, far from its river’s shores.
The problem was that the more I was in demand, the more I found myself away from the place that informed, nourished and sustained me, from the place where every insight and tool I taught seemed to arise. Given how much I talked on stage about relationship with the land, I began to feel hypocritical – almost like a speaker on the topic of marital bliss, who is seldom home to tend to his marriage. Realistically, I was not being disingenuous by traveling to teach, but life was certainly getting out of balance, with there being more days where I was out giving than days in the Canyon taking it in.
As a result, in 1993 I pulled in the reins, refocusing on restoring and “growing” myself, with the restoration project here, and reaching out to the world not through guest appearances but through still more articles and books. Whereas I had previously written only for the so called alternative audience, I now began to weave the same values and insights into works written for widely divergent audiences: into sensory-awakening essays on cooking, idea-challenging history pieces, sense of place and the importance of purpose into articles on Old West firearms, pieces on stewardship in the back-to-the-landers’ Mother Earth News as well as the cowboy’s Range Magazine. The first of the books written here were released, and I began to respond to the influx of seekers and students by developing a form for that.
That form was The Earthen Spirituality Project, so named to recognize the inspiritedness of everything in creation, as well to honor the deep and revelatory connection between certain individuals of seemingly every persuasion – from Atheist to Christian, Pagan to Buddhist, and from urban to rural – and the rest of the natural world of which even the most civilized of us is still a part. It was with some naivety that I underplayed the ways in which the word “spiritual” could be hot button and a liability, making it easy for the uninformed to confuse our utterly nonreligious teachings with everything from “Nature Worship” to the often escapist “New Age.” No doubt there were people who never contacted us because of that, who could otherwise have benefitted. The Project nevertheless afforded an increasing number of folks specific opportunities they took advantage of. At first these were counsel sessions with me (personalized insights and provocations), retreats (unstructured time here, to replenish the self), and primitive vision quests (periods of ritual exposure and privation, such as Native Americans and even Anglo-Saxons underwent). All such opportunities, then as now, were offered free, on a donations basis, ensuring our intention as well as making it possible to exclude no one for lack of funds.
Because of this policy, and my not touring anymore, finances became more difficult again. At one low point I had sold 10 acres to a gal whose well intended but often reckless activism dearly cost the work here and jeopardized the Canyon. A subsequent buyer built the cabin that has since been called the “Gifting Lodge,” then “flaked out” as we say, and if Canyon acolyte Ron Sutcliffe had not come forward and paid the fellow off, the portion where the Lodge sits could have ended up on the open market instead of being given back to the Sanctuary. With no money for building materials, I didn’t get our Anima den – a humble 12’ X 20’ one-room office, internet, counsel area and art studio – built until 1990. In the accompanying photo, you can see the den as well as the now-covered school-bus kitchen to its left, taken from the other side of the river (about 230 yards away), at approximately the same height.
Loba had arrived in 1993, the first person besides myself to ever come to stay. Before that, no girlfriend, friend and student had demonstrated a need to remain, or the necessary level of devotion to both place and cause. It wasn’t me but vision of New Mexico that had spurred her to leave trendy San Francisco and search out a fated lifetime home. From the start her effect on people was significant, and even when she couldn’t put a lesson into words she was somehow able to impart much of what a visitor needed. While I looked into the secret chambers of their hearts, imparted sometimes hard truths, asked them to take responsibility and watched if they lived their truths or neglected their hopes and dreams, Loba emanated acceptance and caring, and modeled engagement, compassion and delight. Some who tried to block out the counsel they most needed to hear, still found in her meals and the way she serves them, inspiration that would slowly reshape and revitalize their lives.
Loba made it easier for me to be home writing and teaching, but she also made possible and timely the creation here of a women’s center. Long before she got here, there was a higher percentage of female questers and students than male, and those who came often spoke of how important safe woman-space proved in their emotional healing. From 1996 on, we have scheduled specific times for Summer coed events, while reserving for women the time and space between. It was in 2000 that Loba facilitated the first ever group event in the Canyon, The Wild Women’s Gathering, and since then we have hosted up to 6 events per season (May through September), with from 6 to 16 participants average from all over the world. It would be four more years until the coming of Kiva Rose, and an increase in Supporter involvement that would mean our being able to do more for the land – and help more people – than ever.
(To be continued– 7 parts total)
Anima Center Website: http://www.animacenter.org
Categories: Anima's History, Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales