Pacific Northwest | June 8, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineJune 8, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
ON FITNESS
NORTHWEST LIVING
FITNESS NOTEBOOK
NOW & THEN
SUNDAY PUNCH
LETTERS
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BARRY WONG
Fitness 2003

HAVEN for a CAUSE
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The mysterious quality of the deep forest is amplified by blackberry-vine balls woven by Chuck Pettis and his son from some of the 18,000 square feet of Himalayan blackberries removed from the property. Landscape designer Dan Borroff explains "Chuck wanted creative things going on along with all the clearing."
In quiet places, the spirit and the land are restored

EARTH SANCTUARY may have begun as a project to occupy Chuck Pettis' time while his wife tended her herd of dwarf sheep at their weekend property. But it has grown to become a cause and a haven, a parkland for meditation and a blueprint for thoughtful, ecosystem-based development. The goal is nothing short of healing the earth and lifting the human spirit while restoring logged acreage to the pristine state of old-growth forest.

Even on the warmest or windiest days, the woods of Earth Sanctuary on south Whidbey Island are hushed and still. On wet days, rain percolates through the layers of leaves and needles to drip silently onto fern, salal and moss. The canopy stretches over acres, sheltering a restoration project of startling scale. Beneath the branches of firs, hemlocks and alders, 4,800 newly installed native trees and plants are growing up to rejuvenate land logged over just 20 years ago. Wildlife is flocking to the nature reserve, finding homes in the quiet ponds, the boggy fen and carefully preserved tangles of undergrowth. Pettis hopes that people will join the birds and animals in soaking up the sanctuary proffered by his restored property. He has carved out clearings for stone circles, a labyrinth and a dolmen to encourage meditation as well as an appreciation for nature.
 
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Prayer flags flutter alongside one of the man-made ponds created in the 1970s for a hunting and fishing club planned for the property that is now Earth Sanctuary, near Freeland on south Whidbey Island.
Pettis is as much a dichotomy as his 72-acre labor of love. While the property is a combination of science and meditation site, Pettis is both highly successful businessman and dedicated Buddhist. He wrote the book "Technobrands" and also authored "Secrets of Sacred Space." He helped organize the original 1970 Earth Day and was so inspired he traveled the world to study places of power and spirituality. He maps ley lines, said to underlie Earth's sacred sites. He is also president of the company BrandSolutions Inc. and lives in Medina. Pettis believes his profession of branding is the world's most powerful communication tool. "I know how to make people want things," he says, explaining that branding is based not on manipulation but on values and images. Pettis spends half his time working with big corporations, the other half using his expertise in branding to help environmental nonprofits market their organizations more effectively.
 
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The dolmen is a meditation chamber built of 20 tons of lichen-covered Montana sandstone and modeled after ancient Neolithic structures. It was blessed by Vi Hilbert, an Upper Skagit/Salish grandmother and keeper of Native American wisdom.
Earth Sanctuary is, on the one hand, a scientifically researched wildlife preserve with an ambitious 500-year master plan. In recovering this wild place, Pettis has developed a methodology he hopes will serve as a model for designing with nature instead of destroying it. He plans to gently nurture the ponds, streams, wetlands and forests of this disturbed part of Whidbey back to life and health while providing habitat for a wide range of creatures. But it is also a place of piled up crystals, prayer flags tied to trees and standing stones carefully arranged into circles. Pettis sought advice from U.S. and Canadian ecosystem experts on his project, as well as spiritual blessings from Tibetan Buddhists and Native-American elders. His development team included a feng shui architect as well as a wetland ecologist and landscape designer.

Pettis began by buying up undeveloped Whidbey acreage, which at one point was going to be developed into the Fin and Feather Hunting and Fishing Club. Now nesting boxes fill the trees, and ospreys swoop over the ponds of this wildlife eco-resort. Pettis hired landscape designer Dan Borroff to restore the property's old-growth forest (hence the 500-year plan), wetlands, ponds and streams, much of which were blanketed by a thick cloak of English ivy and Himalayan blackberry.
 
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Hedges of salal (Gaultheria shallon) will grow up to delineate the bluestone pathways of the three-spiraled labyrinth, set on a little peninsula jutting out into one of the ponds.
Borroff's charge included developing and enhancing habitat for the greatest possible diversity of bird and animal species native to Whidbey Island. Now muskrats are busily at work in the ponds, and wild roses flourish along the banks. Borroff skillfully created view corridors that appear to be part of the natural landscape. He planted 60 species of native plants, including salal, flowering currant, evergreen huckleberry and vine maple, which now thrive in thick patches throughout the woods. Enthusiastic woodpeckers have gleefully set upon the old stumps Borroff added for artistic effect, decorating them with their own unique patterns of beak holes.

The two miles of trails that traverse Earth Sanctuary lead to the environmental artworks, sited along energy-rich ley lines, made even more sacred by especially selected crystals and minerals buried in the vicinity of each. The dolmen is a stone shelter, modeled on Neolithic structures, and built of 20 tons of Montana sandstone. Close by, on a little peninsula extending into one of the property's three ponds, is the labyrinth, a spiral-shaped meditation pathway of ancient design, paved in bluestone and planted with hedges of salal. Ever-changing views of water and woodlands enhance the walk along its winding pathways. Here, it's possible to connect with nature, contemplating the twists and turns of life's journey along the way.
 
 Photo Different stones, each having a specific energy and meaning, are piled up or buried near energetic sites around the property to help those who come to meditate. A cairn of rose quartz not far from the stone circle represents unconditional love.
See the Sanctuary
Earth Sanctuary is open to the public, with the hope they'll enjoy its quiet corners and megalithic constructions, as well as for the chance to commune with nature restored. To participate in a guided tour or group labyrinth walk, or to visit by reservation, take a look at the Web page www.earthsanctuary.org, or call the administrative office at 425-637-8777.

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A majestic old willow droops over one of Earth Sanctuary's many tranquil and shady spots. Reservations are required and limited so that each person who visits will have a chance to quietly wander the trails and visit the environmental artworks designed as places of meditation.
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Founder Chuck Pettis seeks to combine art, ecological restoration and sustenance for the human spirit at Earth Sanctuary. Deep in the restored forest is The Mutiny Bay Stone Circle, a place for quiet meditation or celebration of the solstice and equinox.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is vjeaston@aol.com. Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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