Anne Wilson Schaef Boulder hot springs with pond reflection

Heal the building, the land, & the people

In Sustainable Building, Development and Energy by Anne Wilson SchaefLeave a Comment

“We, as humans and as a planet, want to be healed, fully-functioning and whole. And sometimes, we lose our way.” [A.W. Schaef from Boulder Hot Springs, Montana]

Finding my ‘center’

Back in 1989, I was doing a great deal of traveling around the USA and around the world to work with people doing the Living in Process healing work. I hate flying and was becoming tired of so much travel. I often had the thought that it was time for people to come to me, but I had not acted on this thought.

Then, while I was doing an intensive in Big Sky, Montana, there was a plane crash in Iowa. It was a flight from Denver to Chicago, a flight I was often on. The people who were killed were all in first class. I usually flew first class because I had so many free upgrades as a result of flying so much. Needless to say, I was quite shaken. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to look for a place for my ‘center’.

I had lived in Montana as a child and really loved the clean air, the ’protection’ of the mountains, the freedom of Big Sky, the wide open spaces, and the people. Although somewhat out of the way and impractical, I knew that Montana was it.

I contacted a realtor to have her look for options. I listed, in order of preference, my top priorities:

  • Hot springs (Why not? This was a wish list.)
  • Water through the property
  • Property that backs up to national forest land
  • Reasonable accessibility
  • Buildings that could house people, and big enough for group meetings (At that time, I was envisioning a ranch with a house and outbuildings that could be converted.)

The realtor said “whew!” and told me it might take a while.

We looked at one hot springs and several ranches. The water in the ‘hot springs’ was lukewarm at best, and the ranches – well, the ranches just did not feel right.

If it doesn’t ‘feel’ right, hesitate, even if the head says “This might do”.

“When in doubt, don’t”, is an anonymous saying that has served me well.

I knew I would ‘know’ when it was right.

Sometime later, the realtor called and said, “The old Boulder Hot Springs Hotel is in receivership and just went on the market. Do you want to see it?”

“Yes,” I said. “I went to the high school in Boulder and used to soak there. I’ll be right up.” It turned out that Boulder Hot Springs Hotel had been through many incarnations since I had known it. The owners who currently owned it just wanted to get rid of it.

I looked at it with heart, spirit and mind – in that order. The first thing the current owner said to us (I had asked a woman friend to go with me to look at it) was, “You girls don’t want this. It should be bulldozed.”

These words struck terror in my heart. Boulder Hot Springs belonged to the many generations of Montanans who had known and loved it, starting with the Native people of the land who believed that this was a sacred healing place and should be protected. Even normally hostile tribes would not fight there. They came for healing, trading and ceremony and called the valley ‘Peace Valley’.

This was a place to do healing work and it needed to be protected.

As the owner showed us through the building, the first place he took us was a first-floor room, where there was a heavily flowing ‘waterfall’ cascading from the third floor.

“You girls don’t want this,” was the mantra for the whole tour.

We saw a claw-foot bathtub in the basement with a hundred pipes running in and out of it. “This is what runs the whole thing, with gravity from the reservoir on the hill.” the owner said.

“Cheap energy,” I thought, “and not too efficient – especially with that waterfall.”

After an hour and a half tour, with a constant repetition of “You girls don’t want this.” and “It should be bulldozed.” we thanked him for the tour and, with the realtor, retired to the local café to discuss it.

The realtor was skeptical.

The price was $275,000 for the building and 200 acres. (It had originally been 600 acres and some had been sold off. I secretly started plotting to get the original acreage back to protect it).

I sat and listened as the agent and my friend discussed the pros and cons (mostly cons) of the place.

When it became my turn, I said, “I’ll take it.”

I pulled out my savings account checkbook – which had about $5,500 in it – and wrote out a check for $5,000 for earnest money and asked my realtor to have the papers drawn up.

I had no idea what was next but I knew that this was the next right thing. Sometimes clarity and faith are the only thing we have to go on. And sometimes, we confuse desire and will as clarity. After years of doing my own work, I am pretty sure when I am clear.

“Sin bravely so that grace may abound” [Martin Luther] is a saying that has always served me well.

And so began our history of learning and healing with Boulder Hot Springs! I had a men’s intensive scheduled and I invited the men to come to BHS. I decided I would not charge them for the intensive – we would do our meals together (there was a working kitchen), we would meet together for half a day, and clean up the building the other half. All agreed! Early on, it became clear to me that we had to heal the building before groups and the public could come to the healing waters.

You can’t heal the people unless you heal the building.

Clearly, the reason there were broken pipes was that over time, with the mineral water running in the pipes, minerals accumulated and the radiators seized up.

Thanks to what my engineer father taught me, I realized that we needed a heat exchanger (it was prohibitive to heat this old place without using the mineral water). I contacted an innovative technology company in Butte and the man I spoke with started digging around in the papers on his desk and said he had just seen something about a heat exchanger.

To heal, grow, and learn, we don’t have to do it all by ourselves.

Then, we developed a closed glycol system so that the pipes would not freeze if the system shut down. This system has been working effectively since 1989 and has become better and better as we insulate the old building.

It is possible to heal in a way that is one with the environment. Indeed, for real healing to take place, this oneness must be operative.

The next phase of healing

After the bathhouse was restored and upgraded (the baths were tiled for the first time), we worked out an agreement with the state that if our soaking water had a complete turnover every four hours and the plungers were drained and cleaned every night, we would not have to add chlorine and harsh chemicals. After all, people were coming for the natural mineral baths, not artificial chemicals. This approach has worked out well.

It is possible to heal the people and the earth at the same time.

Healing the people, the building and the land

Every phase of healing the building has added to healing the people. We now have beautiful rooms for our guests and charming meeting rooms, all furnished with lovely, recycled antiques (except for the mattresses, of course).

Last summer, we opened the old bar room and the lobby to the public for the first time in 40 years. Along the way, we decided that we would be an alcohol-free, drug-free, TV-free environment. This is a place of retreat for individuals, families, and groups. If people want drunken parties, they can go somewhere else.

Healing the land

When the highway that goes right through the Hot Springs’ land was going to be widened, we negotiated with the Highway Department to respect the land and be part of the healing. We formed a partnership and made many important agreements:

  • They agreed to wildlife tunnels and special wildlife fences along the highway.
  • There is an eagle’s nest on our land on the other side of the highway. They agreed not to work in this area during nesting season.
  • The Highway Department has agreed not to disturb our whooping cranes during nesting. Have you ever awakened or gone to sleep to the calling of the whooping cranes? It soothes my soul. I feel at peace when I hear them.
  • We negotiated to keep the settling ponds for our bathhouses; we were being pressed by the state to put in septic tanks because they are more modern – and less environmentally friendly! Our settling ponds are adequate for a small city, return the water to the stream cleaner than the regulations, and grow and supply mosquito fish fledglings to the entire state of Montana – free.
  • Our meadows, after years of artificially being made into grazing and hay land by the government, are being returned to their natural wetland state.

As a result of these agreements, the wild animals are coming back. Someone even saw a white bear at the edge of our property.

You can’t heal the people without healing the building. You can’t heal the people without healing the land and you can’t heal the land without healing the people and the building.

It is all one. It is a circle. All life is a whole.


Anne Wilson Schaef, PhD, DHL, is an internationally known speaker, consultant, seminar leader and author. She is the president of Wilson Schaef Associates and a New York Times bestselling author. ’There Will Be a Thousand Years of Peace and Prosperity and They Will Be Ushered in By The Women: The Essential Role of Women in Finding Personal and Planetary Solutions’ is Schaef’s 17th published book. Schaef has also recently published a book called, ’Daily Reminders for Living a New Paradigm’. She lives in Boulder, Montana.

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