When I first saw the 160 acres I now call Monkey Valley, located halfway between Merritt and Princeton, I fell in love with its silence and beauty. It was early autumn, and the aspen were golden, but tiny wild strawberries still dotted the ground. As a writer, I immediately had the vision that it would make a wonderful place for writers to come for writing retreats. Over the past 12 years I have brought the vision of a retreat centre to life, and have learned a great deal about what it means to be a steward of the land. Logging marks, water licenses, the PMFLC (which didn’t even exist when I bought the land, though the PFLA did), getting logging roads plowed and graded, forest fires, pine beetle—there has been much to learn. And many surprises along the way!
The biggest surprise was the impact the hidden valley had on me, with its log cabin overlooking the creek. It happened gradually, but the pull of the land was strong and during the first two years, my partner and I spent all our spare time preparing the off-grid house to be liveable. We planned and installed a solar power system, and it was a very proud day when the solar power sent a signal to the submersible pump and suddenly there was running water, heated by my Bosch flow-through propane hot water heater. Finally, the claw-foot tub we’d hauled up in my Volvo station wagon was able to fulfil its purpose. At this point, thanks to a liveable house and the arrival in Canada of two-way satellite internet, I was able to move to Monkey Valley full-time and carry out my technical writing job, telecommuting via internet to my software client in Vancouver. My partner didn’t feel the pull for this whole new lifestyle as strongly, and sadly we parted ways at this time.
Once I was living at Monkey Valley full-time, the land truly began to have an impact on me. I became inspired to study ecopsychology, so in addition to the nuts and bolts of living in a rural location, I began to learn about the spirituality of nature. This radically informed my relationship to the green valley and surrounding hills of lodgepole pine, magnificent ponderosas, and Douglas-fir. I began to love the land and wish to protect it in a whole new way, and to protect the entire planet, in fact. So the types of retreats I began to host were crafted to help other people feel their connection to the earth. I held meditation retreats, a medicine wheel retreat where we all built a wheel of stones together and learned to practice ancient First Nations ways of connecting with the earth, and even held a yoga and ChiRunning retreat. I also became involved with various wilderness organizations and held discussion groups in Merritt to foster environmental awareness. But the biggest impact was more personal. I felt held, cared for, and safe living alone in the wilderness, 30 KM from the nearest neighbour. The ability to completely relax in the stillness of nature brought an inner peace I had never known when surrounded by the electric buzz of the city.
Without exception, everyone who has come to visit has felt the impact of the silvery creek, majestic trees, rock cliffs, and green meadows of Monkey Valley. The really lucky visitors have been graced with the presence of deer, bear, moose, and all manner of birds and smaller woodland creatures. The magic of this place brings a profound sense of peace to all who visit. The return drive to Vancouver is a much different experience than the hectic rush most people feel when they make the trip out of town. And I hope that feeling of peace lingers and helps people understand how much we need our connection to nature in order to feel healthy and whole.