Canoer Paddles The
Androscoggin In An Effort To ‘Heal And Restore’ The River

Maine woman making solo trek on Androscoggin River

Maine woman paddling Androscoggin to raise water awareness and money


IMG_0018HerStory

In 1998, year 9 in a job I was burning out on… I started to think about how I really wanted to live and work. In my mind, I saw a mountain with water, buildings powered by the sun, a central meeting space for people to gather, gardens, stone walls, a flow of people coming together for healing and peace, living close to the land, being caretakers of this pocket of space here on earth. The vision kept unfolding and I began to really listen. I invited different people to join me in the venture. No one committed. Person after person faded. It became apparent it was for me to do and the rest would unfold. I was ready to answer the calling.

I took business courses, developed a brochure and a business card. A friend showed up and built the first website for free. I got my Maine Guides and Ski Patrol license so I could take people into the wilderness and have winter work that utilized my current base of knowledge in sports medicine and emergency care as well as my love for skiing. I devoured a variety of texts, I started meditating, studying plants and birds, all resulting in an expansion of my understanding and knowledge of life. While leading my first holistic canoe trip for women, I got to witness transformation first hand. That experience guided me to the core of what was being created, a space of healing. I offered everything I knew at the time. Nature and heart did the rest.

I led retreats for 7 years without a base… with the container simply being a canoe, the shore, the island, the camp fire circle, the sunset, under the full moon, in the rain and the sun. It was time for a base now. I sold my house to buy the land. It was the land I envisioned 7 years previous, a mountain with water and stone walls, spectacular views, and a space for building. Nurture Through Nature was truly taking its form and ready to be built. With  7 canoes and enough gear to take out 14 travelers into the wilderness, it  felt like full circle. A frequent retreater lent me money to buy the first cabin, Harmony. A grant then paid for ½ of the materials for the second cabin, Robin’s Nest. A women’s carpentry workshop, “Zen and the Art of Carpentry” helped  with it’s construction.

A barn raising happened… Carpenter angel shows up named Bob Dunning. He teaches volunteers the art of orchestrating a barn raising. Ten hands-on weekends later, the retreat space was closed in, made with wood from the land and volunteer hands and hearts. Even the logger, who had cleared space for building and the solar panels, asked the birds to move from the trees before felling them. I spent a lot of that fall (2003) in tears of gratitude. I knew and I think everyone else knew that what we were working on was bigger than our little selves. It would evolve with time. NTN grew as requests showed up at the door. The vision was manifesting. My passion was exploding and apparently it was contagious as retreaters kept returning and support kept showing up. Donations, hands, hearts kept everything afloat. NTN was still not generating enough income to support a living wage. So, I worked part time jobs along way, gradually releasing old identities and hats, former skills, and made progressive leaps to leave the past life behind. I mentally gave it 7 years for NTN to be a viable business.

Each group that came here to retreat purchased, unbeknownst to them, beds, mattresses, a door, chairs, a woodstove, on and on, all for comforts, shelter, and service. It had all come together, now in the most beautiful, green, natural setting I had thought it could be. Without all of the love and support of so many people NTN would not have been born.

Special thanks goes to Lisa Baldwin, often the brains and much of the brawn behind the scenes, helping Nurture Through Nature in its fledging.

Year eight, an unusual guest arrives. Raja shows up from California for a 5 month solo stay in Harmony cabin. She falls in love with the place, decides to stay and becomes inspired to open a donation~based yoga studio here at NTN.  Local community begins to come here. In the midst of that, an amenity that had been on the list begins to come alive, a wood-fired sauna. This idea was written on an artful piece of paper in the birthing of the retreat and had remained as a quiet possibility. The project began late summer and was completed 10 minutes before its opening, Winter Solstice of 2009, a wood-fired sauna extraordinaire.

Year Nine on the mountain was another remarkable year… A deep and profound question kept arising…”what to do with the people’s poo…what to do with the doo…” Two swanky composting toilets were brought into play in full style. The Common Throne and The Vortex look like mini theaters for some reason. We could practically rent them as solo cabins they are so beauteous! Poo happens; so, we say, “go in style” :).

I do think it is an important question worth pondering; what do we do with our doo on the large scale? We tend to pee and poo in our drinking water, if you notice. The water in the typical toilet is potable. With the demands placed on water and how we are all drawing from the same well, I just couldn’t go down that road. Hence, we compost our guests contribution and from that flowers and trees are grown. My house plants are very happy.

Raising a yurt was on the list for a while… Yurts are such unique structures, such a cradling container for a personal retreat. A sweet location was found for the 20′ diameter “Mountain Brook Yurt” to live, tucked within the forest overlooking the brook, surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. All the building materials and supplies were carried in by hand as there is no road access. has been home for those coming for holistic coaching immersions for deep healing and transformation. Also solo travelers, couples and families have loved the space. This space seems to be nothing short of sacred.

All the big stuff has been seen through to its fruition… What a labor of love it has been.  readying for groups to lead their own retreat here or individuals to come here for their own healing work and eco-getaway. There are beautiful trails, healing spaces, renovations to the meeting house with a full kitchen, thoughtful finish work, and an office studio in the back for staff and guests that includes wireless internet. Whoa.

That brings in fall 2011… the evolution continues: I had been noticing a voice asking for a sabbatical, step back and widen the vision towards what was, what is and what is next. I was getting worn out from all the physical nature of creating and building a retreat. Raja felt a call to be back to California. I decided this was an opportunity to gain perspective and take a much needed break from the busy-ness.

I continued my coaching practice and traveled to California for the winter months to reflect and percolate. To rest and to see. It was really an amazing gift to not have to do anything in particular for months and to see if inspiration could be the guiding movement.

I was in my second winter of bi~coastal living, spending the winter and spring months in southern California on hiatus from Maine’s rugged winter living off the grid. Raja became inspired to open a yoga studio in South Central Los Angeles. I decided to support that venture and in that learned more, first hand,  about the realities of classism, social injustice and institutional racism. My world view expanded significantly thanks for my con  section with the The Tree . It continues to thrive as a beacon within South LA. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity The Tree and its amazing community has provided me.

I continued exploring living bi-coastally while leading retreats both in Maine, Mexico, California and Costa Rica… It was a sweet challenge that provided much growth and learning, managing support staff and facilities, both virtually and on site during my extended stays in both Maine and Southern California. I was beginning to feel Maine was more where I needed to be for my soul and life’s work although still feeling very connected to The Tree and the amazing people that I love and appreciate there. Gratefully, I have had the opportunity to teach Yoga Anatomy and Injury at the unprecedented Yoga Teacher Training at The Tree. It was an honor to serve and be a part of something so special for so many who otherwise may not have had access to affordable, quality YTT.

2014 brings a land mark 15 year anniversary celebration at Nurture Through Nature… I invited the old and the new. We sang, danced, honored, celebrated the amazingness of thriving and evolving over 15 years. To bring the celebration home, expansion and renovation happened to bring the retreat to the next level. Hot showers for all, a brandy new yurt named “Sunset” and the Mt Pleasant Meeting House transformed into a lodge. She started out affectionately called a barn and now she rests as a lodge housing 6 retreaters in beautifully, heart~fully crafted Maine made bunks constructed by Marc McLeod. Marc oversaw the construction of the shower room, the raising of Sunset Yurt and the transformation of the lodge during the winter and spring of 2014, culminating at our 15th year celebration. Grateful. Excited to expand the space to now be ready for other retreat leaders to lead their own magic here on the slopes of Pleasant Mountain with the space and amenities to support.

Groups begin to lead retreats here…Brooklyn. Boston. Portsmouth. Portland. Brunswick. What an honor to meet, greet and support those in the healing arts, yoga, meditation and have an appreciation for earth~friendly practices infused here in the being and doing. Its truly become an earth-friendly retreat destination.

Pay attention because the path is filled with surprises…Now back in Maine full time with my God~Send sister Marie (Mer) helping me maintain and hold the space sweetly for the many guests that retreat here, it becomes clear to me that I want to distill my focus and life’s work down to simply leading retreats and expanding my holistic life coaching practice.

Prison of the mind…I began volunteering at Maine Correctional Facility, offering mindfulness, meditation and Inquiry~based stress reduction through The Work (that I love). I am very moved by these amazing, resilient, courageous human beings. As I drive home after our time together, I shake my head in awe at them and what they teach me. Their insights, willingness, their open minds and clear eyes model possibility beyond what I have witnessed before. This Work inspires me to want to delve wider and deeper.

Perspective is needed…Living at a retreat center~ the lifestyle here is varied, real, engaging, and deep. I took it upon myself to take a solo sojourn at the end of a very busy summer and fall, seeking perspective and space for reflection as I roll around in the idea of freedom. What is it to be free, truly free? A quest was born. Here is my experience~

Sojourn in Truth

I learned that I am free~I am free to come and go, be or do, work or play, retreat or come forward. Its all a state of mind, a perspective, moment to moment. I have chosen to offer Mer Deraspe, my beloved sister, a greater role here, of which she loves, thankfully. That has freed my up to do what I love. We now have the resources to have a small team of independent support peops and we do our best take good care of them.

Off the grid living requires mindfulness and conservation~
And that’s ok with me. Except all these years the system has been a bit too small to run 4 spaces. So this fall, dear friend supports the installation of increasing our solar powered capacity by 33%. This will relax the shoulders of this solar police officer towards the guests that don’t quite get the mindfulness and conservation peace at this practiced day to day sun dependent level of living.

Speaking of mindfulness, I got thee to a nunnery this year for a 5 day silent retreat with Thich Nhat Hahn’s monks and nuns at Blue Cliff Monastery. I got to dive deep with people who have dedicated their lives to clarity, loving kindness and waking up. It was profound and has inspired me to create more space here for mindfulness and meditation practices on purpose. Now I offer occasional Days of Mindfulness.

I have been thoroughly enjoying our Days of Mindfulness  as inspired here at the retreat center. It brings people together on common ground, practices that allow for peace and connection to both the living earth, the self and each other. I often feel quite high after these days. This offering has proven to be well received and good medicine for all involved.

It’s been sweet to be able to settle into beautification on the land, the trails, the spaces. We have carved a little space into nature and do our best to reside in cooperation with the natural world.

I got introduced to Qi Gong some years ago and has settled into my marrow  as a regular practice for inner healing and vitality. Inspired to dive deeper, I am training with Lee Holden out of Santa Cruz and am nearing completion of that teacher training. It has been an excellent immersion and I am loving sharing it. More and more Qi Gong is making its way into our offerings. (I got officially certified as a teach on Winter Solstice 2018 🙂 .

I don’t even know where this came from, but I got inspired to do some healing and restoration work around the river I grew up on. It was like the birds called me in and I really heard their call. It was a game changer for me and has been the most moving experience of my 53 years. You are invited to join me on that journey.

I have been off the river for over a month and still integrating it all. Often find myself in tears. Its one of those once in a lifetime things. Something that could not be repeated. I suppose every moment is that way, of course. And this journey was a deep one for me and I am just as deeply grateful for the support and love I received during the journey. It translated to love for this majestic river and for the water of life that we all share in.

May we walk together in peace and truth.

Humbly Yours,
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Jen Deraspe

July 2018