Dear Friends—here are more stories on the early days of Harmony Hill (HH), to be followed soon by how the Cancer Retreats began.  Some of these blogs are taken from snippets of One Hill, Many Voices: Stories of Hope and Healing written by two extraordinary volunteers Kris Leathers and Donna Cameron–an incredible labor of love.

I was working part-time at 3 jobs to start a fledging HH when lesson in synchronicity arrived that encouraged me that we were on the right path, e.g. free refrigerator  sign down the road a mile and delivered to HH when they heard of our need that ours had just died and we had no funds to buy one; an anonymous donor filled the propane tank when it was empty;  furnace was not working and a gift was immediately given to get to it fixed thanks to a relative of a beloved HH “weaver” Barbara Ray.

Kitty Nordstrom, Gretchen, and the new Truck!

Another amazing synchronicity is a favorite story of Elmer Nordstrom that concerns a truck.  The little truck I had when we started HH had given up the ghost and I did not have a back-up plan.  Elmer insisted I borrow his truck so I could continue to go out on emergency fire calls, but we agreed that I needed to find a good used truck.  He offered to accompany me truck shopping!  We spent a day tramping through one used car lot after another, finding nothing that would do.  Elmer was appalled by the steep prices on beat-up trucks with high mileage.

A week later, Elmer called me and invited me to join him and Kitty for a drive to Centralia where a dear friend had a truck that might fit our needs.  With Mitch, their wonderful chauffeur, driving, Elmer fell asleep while Kitty and I chattered away in the back seat.  We drove to Uhlman’s Motors, a Toyota dealership in Centralia.  Mr. Uhlman said he had discussed our problem with Elmer and they thought they had a solution for me.  He then showed me a brand-new 1990 white Toyota four-wheel-drive truck with a canopy and a silver-blue stripe down each side.  “Those are your racing stripes, Gretchen,” Elmer joked as he handed me the keys.  Between Mr. Uhlman and Elmer Nordstrom, the truck was a donation to Harmony Hill.  I was speechless. Driving home in this shiny, new truck that afternoon, I had to pull over to the side of the road – I couldn’t see through the tears of gratitude that were streaming down my face.  I pulled over again at Evergreen State College to show Board member Les Purce this amazing gift to Harmony Hill.  His shout of joy could be heard across the campus!

The Tree Labyrinth: “She who knows”

In the early years, Harmony Hill’s Board was frequently called upon to be “hands-on.” While we had a tiny office in the Lodge ( where the current gift shop is) we needed more space.  With little money and buildings of dubious stability, members of the Board often rolled up their sleeves and got to work.  Mike Towey was Harmony Hill’s Board president for eight years in those early days.  He recruited Dick Sides to the Board and together they rounded up a group of men to undertake the restoration of the “laundry house” cabin.  Definitely not a small job.  The back of the cabin had sunk eight inches into the mud, the floor was collapsing, and the house was completely without insulation. Dick brought a tractor, house-lifting jacks, railroad ties, and a few brave volunteers.  They spent three full days carefully raising the building and leveling it on a foundation.  I was assigned the job of keeping them well-fed and praying that the building didn’t split in half or the chimney didn’t fall on the workers.  The early Board’s concerns were largely operational, and side-by-side they laid the groundwork for a solid future and a secure foundation.

Exploring the Labyrinth – by Melissa West (written at Harmony Hill)

Other amazing “weavers” continued showing up. Melissa West who was an early program director for HH was leading a retreat next door at SAH when she came to HH to walk the Labyrinth.  The labyrinth, as she defines it, is “an archetypal map for the healing journey.” Later Melissa shared: “There’s something special about Harmony Hill that can’t be put into words, that has to be experienced.  It’s a combination of the land,  the programs, and the community – not only the staff but the larger community, as well.  There’s so much love there and so much caring; the quality of the teaching is so high, and the kitchen, the wonderful food…it’s the context there that is greater than the sum of its parts.  All come together in a way that helps people experience their wholeness at a deeper level than they ever have.”

Our tree Labyrinth which we named “She Who Knows” is a coast redwood. These trees don’t have a deep root system, they have a very shallow one, and the way they’re able to support all that weight is that their roots grow with the other redwoods’ roots.  They support each other….they don’t get uprooted because their roots become so entwined with each other that they feed each other.  They keep each other upright; they ground each other, fungi grow which bring essential nutrients to the tree, and it all becomes a community. The message is: “we can’t do this by ourselves; we might as well help each other out.” -which is exactly what happens when people come to our Cancer retreats!


“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words” 

by Donna Roberts

“Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers”

by May Sarton


Testimonial Quotes from Cancer retreat participants thanking the donors who make the retreats possible:

“Thank you !!!!! This has been an excellent kick off for my next phase, post-treatment, to start the marathon healing process. This has been an amazing place and experience to help me open my hurting self and heart and start finding peace and direction forward.”

“I really needed to connect and honor the sorrow and sadness I have been holding for a long time. The retreat created a space for me to do that. Also needed the connection with others living with cancer. Hearing and sharing stories is powerful medicine! Thanks for all you do. It meant so much!”

“We will take away the skills and techniques learned here and let them bless our lives going forward. We take much-needed peace and hope home with us. Thank you a thousand times, Thank You!”



Stay tuned—more will be revealed in Blog 5. Thanks for any comments or sharing of this Blog.

With gratitude—Gretchen Transforming the lives of those affected by cancer and inspiring healthy living for all