|The labyrinth at the Lavender Wind Farm|
Waking up to the faint scent of sage incense, I switch on the coffee maker and pad downstairs to find Wendy Dion in her yoga studio, stealing a few minutes of silent meditation.
Her regular morning class will begin soon, and I'll join in, but for now I go back upstairs to my room at the Yoga Lodge on Whidbey Island, open the fridge and retrieve a breakfast tray laden with organic blueberries, yogurt, homemade granola, almond butter and thick slices of bread.
No radio. No phone. No internet. No matter. Instead of tuning into the news or checking e-mail, I take my breakfast out on the deck, and cuddle under a blanket as a deer scampers into the forest.
While biking, beach walks and water views lure summer tourists to Whidbey, a resident population of artists, nurturers, alternative healers and spirituality seekers offer off-season visitors the chance to reflect, relax and refresh as the new year begins.
Whidbey, a rural Puget Sound getaway 30 miles north of Seattle, is like "a daily year-long university for mind, body and spirit,'' says Sandra Rodman, CEO of Right Brain Aerobics, a Freeland academy that partners with local galleries and shops to sponsor workshops aimed at boosting creativity and innovative thinking.
Whether you're looking for a quiet retreat, purposeful walk, or an opportunity to jump-start 2015 by learning something new, chances are you'll find it on Whidbey in winter. Here's an expanded version of my story that appears in the January, 2015 issue of Northwest Travel Magazine.
|Wendy Dion leads a yoga class at the Yoga Lodge on Whidbey Island|
Wendy Dion was running a yoga studio in downtown Hartford Connecticut when she says the "powerful energy of the island community and land" swept her across the country to Whidbey where her Yoga Lodge sits on 10 secluded acres of forest land near the village of Greenbank.
Part bed and breakfast inn, yoga studio and retreat center, the lodge offers meditative getaways for groups or individuals who bunk down in one of four cozy rooms named after Hindu gods.
|Yoga Lodge guests sometimes have the house to themselves|
When the lodge is not hosting a group, guests often have the house to themselves as I did on a recent mid-week visit. After settling into the sunlit Ganesha room. A nearby lake and a network of community-maintained walking trails invite exploring beyond the beach. Guests are invited to relax in a wood-fired sauna or drop into one of Dion's morning yoga classes. Joining in are a regular group of locals and Dion's sidekick, Maggie, a frisky spaniel prone to lap from a water bowl while students practice their downward facing dog.
Walking with intention
When Sarah Richards bought a hayfield inside Coupeville's Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve in 1998, she consulted a county extension agent about what she could do with the land. Because the property didn't include irrigation rights, he advised her to look for something that didn't require water.
The result is the Lavender Wind Farm, with sweeping views of the Strait of Juan DeFuca and the Olympic Mountains. Named for the high winds that blow off the strait in winter, the farm includes an outdoor labyrinth that Richards planted with four types of lavender in a Hopi Indian design.
Why a labyrinth among the lavender fields?
"It had to be done,'' says Richards, thinking back to when she had more time to contemplate the meditative aspects of a sacred path than the realities of planting on a west-facing slope slammed with 75-mile-an-hour winds. The result is a smaller variety of plants that take on the appearance of miniature mounds in winter.
The farm shop closes in winter, but visitors who call ahead are welcome to walk the labyrinth anytime. Best advice: Bundle up for a brisk, quarter-mile walk around the labyrinth, then visit Lavender Wind's year-round store on the Coupeville waterfront. Browse a selection of plants, pillows, bath salts and homemade essential oils, then order a lemon-lavender scone and a cup of tea and relax on the old-fashioned porch swing.
Welcoming those with an afternoon or even an entire day to spend in silent contemplation is 72-acres Earth Sanctuary, a combination nature reserve, meditation park and outdoor art space in the south island community of Freeland.
Using money from an investment in high-tech stock, Chuck Pettis, a marketing executive and Tibetan Buddhist, founded the Earth Sanctuary in 2000 with the goal of "creating a place of peace and healing.''
|Chuck Pettis welcomes visitors to explore his Earth Sanctuary|
The result is a wooded retreat filled with trails and ponds sheltering birds and waterfowl and providing natural settings for prayer and meditation. Scattered around are shrines, prayer wheels, stone sculptures and artworks.
"It's all about mindfulness," says Pettis, clutching black prayer beads as talks about his plan to return the land to old-growth forest with native plants and trees. Pettis urges visitors to walk clockwise around a 13-foot tall stupa, a Buddhist monument designed to calm the mind, or follow a trail to the Cottonwood Stone Circle, a 40-foot-diameter Scottish-inspired circle of 11-foot-tall columns surrounded by cottonwood trees.
Stretching the mind
Off-season visitors will find opportunities to stretch the mind as well as the body.
Right Brain Aerobics holds three and four-hour weekend workshops throughout the year. Winter themes will focus on topics such as "Right Brain Mind Power at Any Age'' and "What's Up in 2015? - Right Brain Intuition Skills."
Travelers looking for low-stress ways to brush up on French or Italian can sign up for immersion weekends at Langley's Northwest Language Academy. Three acres of landscaped grounds provide a relaxing retreat for 12 hours of language instruction, roleplaying, games, discussions and cooking traditional meals as a group. Students can settle in for the night in rooms equipped with fireplaces and canopy beds.
Food for the soul
A yellow brick road crafted out of roofing shingles leads to to Whidbey Wellness in the Woods run by Freeland resident Lynn Berry, a registered nurse and nutrition specialist.
Winter weekends draw small groups into her kitchen for hands-on classes on how to ferment vegetables, fruits and beverages that boost the immune system, or how to soak, sprout and prepare gluten-free grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
|Treehouse at Whidbey Wellness in the Woods|
Spend an afternoon "getting to the why of things,'' as Berry likes to say, and spend the night in a carpeted 14-foot-high tree house furnished with a queen-size bed, cozy electric fireplace heater, fold-out sofa and comfy chairs. Hint around, and a plate of orange-cranberry muffins might appear on your breakfast tray.
If you go
The Yoga Lodge on Whidbey Island, 3475 Christie Rd., Greenbank. Phone: 306-929-5985. Winter rates: Queen room, private bath $95-$125; Rooms with shared bath, $65-$110.
Right Brain Aerobics, 5482 Windmill Lane, Freeland. Phone: 425-214-2926. Web: Workshops focused on mental exercises to boost creative and innovative thinking ($25). Check website for upcoming dates and locations.
Northwest Language Academy, 5023 Langley Rd., Langley. Phone: 360-321-2101. Weekend language immersion classes ($198). Overnight accommodations ($129-$179 per night)
Lavender Wind Farm, 2530 Darst Rd., Coupeville. Phone: 360-544-4132. (Call before visiting the labyrinth). Store location: 15 Coveland St., Coupeville.
The Earth Sanctuary, Freeland. Entrances at 2059 Newman Road or 5536 Emil Road. Phone: 360-331-6667. Open year-round. Donation: $7.
Whidbey Wellness in the Woods, 6094 Wahl Rd., Freeland. Phone: 206-571-3165. Web: http://whidbeywellness.com. Check website for upcoming classes ($45). Tree house B and B, $145 per night.
Tourism information: Contact Whidbey-Camanio Islands tourism at 360- 579-1425.