Toms's Letter 2015

Posted January 18th, 2015

HISTORY OF THE HOSTEL

The hostel idea came about while backpacking on a solo trip to Europe in the early 70’s. Traveling on trains, I met a number of young people who told me they were staying in a place called a hostel. I’d never heard of such a place. I decided to join them and soon became overwhelmed at how much I liked the idea. There, I could talk to other travelers and learn about interesting places to visit not mentioned in my guidebook.

I came home enamored, if not obsessed, with the idea of having my own hostel. One large impediment faced me and that was the fact I had no money. Throwing caution to the wind, I went in search of a spot to put my hostel. I found a man who wanted to sell 75 acres and was willing to finance it 100%. “But I don’t need 75 acres,” I told the realtor. He encouraged me by saying the seller would allow me to make annual payments. He further added that each year when the time came around, I could sell off enough property to make the payment. That sounded fine to me, so, in short order I became the owner of 75 acres.

I searched the property thoroughly to find the proper location to place the hostel, but no spot seemed right. One day, while walking along the back property line, I spotted a group of large live-oak trees towering through a sea of palmettos. Curious about this area, I wandered over. I sat next to the trunk of one of the giant oaks and meditated. It became obvious that I’d stumbled upon a spiritual place. There was no logical explanation for my strong feelings, but I was convinced this spot was magical. Each time I returned, I felt that same spirit overwhelm me.

The big problem, however, was that this mystical place was not on the 75 acres I’d just purchased. I then had to find the owner, who turned out to be a crusty old farmer a few miles away who frowned upon long-haired boys. In his eye, we were hippies and nothing good could come from a hippy. That’s when the price of his 15-acre-tract doubled. Undaunted, I was convinced this place was pre-destined to become the location of the hostel. He gave me the same deal as the other seller, so I became the owner of a whopping 90-acre-tract of swampland to build my hostel. From then on until the day he died, the old farmer always referred to the hostel as “the hippy hotel.”

What kind of building should I have? My neighbor, an architect, showed me a picture of a geodesic dome, a very popular construction in the seventies designed by Buckminster Fuller. That seemed to be a perfect idea. The cedar shake covering over the domes, once constructed, made the buildings appear as if they grew out of the ground like mushrooms. And the construction of them turned out to be a “happening.” Many of my friends came out and participated in putting these domes together on January 25, 1975. The weather couldn’t have been better – warm with bright sunshine. With good music filling the air, delectable food from the barbeque grill, and a keg of cold beer to drink, it turned out to be like an old-fashioned barn-raising. The merriment of that day signaled that something very special was about to happen. And special, it was. The hostel opened its doors for guests on July 4, 1975. In the beginning very few hostellers came. My marketing technique consisted of chasing down cyclists who appeared to be long-distance travelers and convincing them to come to my hostel, the overnight fee being $3.00.

After being listed in the American Youth Hostel Guidebook, more and more hostellers began arriving, mostly from other countries. Very few Americans knew what a hostel was. The first fifteen to twenty years, practically every manager of the hostel was from another country.

In the mid-nineties, Americans discovered the place. The hostel then changed somewhat from a backpacker’s hostel to a week-end get-away. After a few years, it became obvious we needed to move away from the reputation of being a party-place and change the focus of the hostel by “going green.” I’ve always been an avid environmentalist, and that’s what I wanted the hostel to become – more of an eco-tourism destination. The hostel is a non-profit organization and with the help of a former manager, Murray Wilson, we received a 501-C-3 designation from the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt corporation by having retreats and seminars on subjects that relate to the environment.

I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve come a long way. The hostel is now governed by a board of directors made up of former managers. We have very qualified people to manage and an excellent staff. Our chef prepares great vegetarian and vegan meals for the guests each night with food grown in our organic garden. In baking breads and pizzas, the chef uses our cob oven, fueled with wood gathered from the forest floor. After dinner, we usually have entertainment from guests who bring their musical instruments. The lake continues to be a favorite with the guests for swimming and sunbathing, and on the nights of the full moon, we conduct a sweat lodge in the Native American style.

What pleases me most is the number of comments from guests who say their life has been changed for the better by spending time at the hostel and having learned more about what they can do to improve the environment and live in a more sustainable manner. We encourage travelers from everywhere to visit our hostel to see for themselves what we’re doing. I’m convinced that the hostel is an important place that not only changes lives for the better but in some small way fosters peace for the rest of the world.

Tom’s Letter – 2009

Posted May 27th, 2009

I am happy to report that the hostel continues to move in the direction I want it to go. Over the past 34 years, we’ve gradually evolved from the early days of being a backpackers’ accommodation for international travelers (a period of my life that represented my alter-ego) to being a teaching facility promoting how to live a more responsible life, environmentally. While we still encourage travelers from everywhere to visit our hostel as we did in the “old days,” we like to cater to those who have the time to stay for a few days to learn more about sustainable living in a greener world.

In the past year, our managers, staff, and work-exchange have all been outstanding in leading the hostel toward our goals. From tirelessly working in our organic and herb gardens to assisting with re-cycling, composting and gray water disposal, the staff has been exemplary. Each evening, they prepare mouth-watering vegetarian and vegan dinners for our hungry guests, yet still find time to work on projects that improve the hostel facilities. For example, we are now in the process of completing an outdoor kitchen with cob oven and rocket stoves, so that meals can be prepared by using fuel gathered from the floor of the forest. The covering over this outdoor kitchen will be a living roof. Also, the basic structure of the new dome has been completed, with only the roof and interior remaining. When it’s finished, this will give us a wonderful space for our library, a place for audio-visual presentations, and a classroom for teachers.

The hostel looks good. It’s clean. The recent rains have filled the fish pond to its normal level. The swimming pool has been scrubbed to get ready for the coming hot weather. The lake looks great and gets constant use by guests for swimming, canoeing, and sunbathing on the dock. A new swing was constructed for those who like to do nothing more than sit at the end of the pathway and gaze out over the lake. A new sweat lodge has been built and should be ready for the June 7th sweat. The forest is presently filled with an alluring green color from the recent rains that makes the hostel even more beautiful than ever.

In the later part of 2008, we completed six huts out back of the hostel so that each staff member will have her or his own private accommodations with a board walk to each hut.

One of the most notable events of 2009 was the signing of the deed conveying Cyrus’s house at the end of Mister Road over to the hostel. This gives us the right to close off Mister Road for hostel use only, if we so decide.

Guests continue to fill the hostel most of the time, keeping the staff pretty busy. The flow of income into the hostel account helps to pay expenses, maintenance, and to provide for more hostel projects. This year we raised the price of the overnight stay from $20 to $25. The $5.00 increase goes directly into the Land Trust to help pay the mortgage we obtained to purchase the 19 acres on our eastern boundary, as well as Cyrus’s house. With these new acquisitions, the hostel now owns 131 acres.

There are still three other parcels of adjoining land we badly need to purchase. First, and foremost, is the property directly behind the lake. Our present boundary line ends just beyond the clearing on the other side of the lake. I’m sure you would agree that a subdivision in that location would ruin our present enjoyment of the lake, in that the backs of houses would be in full view. We really need the financial help from all of you who love the hostel in order to obtain this property. Our 501-C-3 approval from Internal Revenue Service should be forthcoming very soon, and all gifts will not only be greatly appreciated, but also tax-deductable.

The other two properties we want to purchase are on the east side of the hostel near Highway 82. This would place the drainage ditch as our eastern boundary. Again, we need financial help. Please know that if you decide to make a contribution, 100% of it will go directly to land purchases for the hostel, without one cent being used for administrative expenses.

If you would like to help us buy more property, please click on the DONATE button. It will charge your donation to any credit card or PayPal account, or you can write a check made payable to “The Hostel in the Forest Land Trust” and mail it to P. O. Box 1496, Brunswick, Georgia, 31521.

It is our earnest desire that this hostel continue in perpetuity, so that all who visit can be benefited in some good way. The comment I most often hear from people who have been to the hostel several times is, “The hostel has changed my life for the better.”

I feel that if we can continue to provide the right environment for the hostel, then people who go there will be able to find answers to their questions that might somehow bring about a more peaceful life for them. I am convinced that the hostel is an important place that not only changes lives for the better, but in some small way fosters peace in a troubled world.

Tom Dennard

Tom's Letter 8/2008

Posted October 11th, 2008

It’s truly mind-blowing to see how much we have evolved over the past 33 years from an international backpackers’ youth hostel into an eco-tourism destination. While we still welcome backpackers from all over the world, it has been our desire to steer the hostel in a “green” direction in order to teach our guests how to live in a more sustainable manner. To get us where we are today required the assistance of many capable individuals, who were willing to dedicate a lot of time and energy in making this a reality, and to them, we give eternal thanks.

No one has ever received any financial rewards from the hostel, and I want it to always remain a volunteer organization where people are not motivated by profits of a monetary nature. In order for the hostel to live in perpetuity, we are in the process of creating a 501© (3) charitable corporation that will own the hostel and the property presently surrounding it.

I am very happy with the present operation of the hostel and convinced we’re moving in the right direction. The feedback we receive from guests is incredible. This year we’ve had a spiritual retreat, an artist retreat, a yoga retreat, and all have been extremely successful. Even though we limit the number of guests who can visit the hostel, we have more reservations than we’ve ever had. We have a great manager, and the staff this year has been excellent. We are able to provide our guests not only with an invaluable learning experience, but also a healthy dinner, usually from our organic garden, along with sleeping in a tree house, all for a price of $20 a night.

No matter how much we do of a positive nature, we are still being plagued with developers buying property all around us. Fortunately, we were able to snag 19 acres on our eastern boundary next to the parking lot just before it became a large subdivision. This has caused us to have a sizable mortgage on the entire property for the first time in 20 years. But thanks to contributions from many of you, we have been able to timely make the monthly installments. There are other properties we need to purchase as soon as possible to avoid further development adjacent to the hostel property. To acquire these properties is an ambitious undertaking, insurmountable for the hostel to do alone. We have never asked for financial help from anyone since the beginning of the hostel, but to make this happen will require help from those who would like to make our dream a reality. If you feel a connection with the hostel and are financially able to make a contribution to help protect us by making our island larger, we would deeply appreciate your help. No matter how small or how large the gift may be, I will assure you that 100% of your contribution will go toward the purchase of land, not a cent on administrative costs and the like. You can make your contribution by sending a check, money order, or cash to The Hostel in the Forest, P. O. Box 1496, Brunswick, GA. 31521, U.S.A.

When most people remember their experiences at the hostel, they are usually pleasant ones, filled with joy and love for the place. They recall the wilds of nature, undisturbed by what most people refer to as civilization. It is vital that we protect these resources and natural habitat that have existed here for all these years. It must be managed and maintained as a healthy eco-system, one where natural flora and fauna can still thrive and mature, for it is this healthy natural environment that provides the sanctuary for the hostel spirit that must be protected at all costs. For without it, this refuge we all desire, as we search for an escape from a frantic world, would be lost forever.

Please continue sending us your love and light and good energy for the well-being of the hostel

May The Forest Be With You,

Tom

Tom's Letter 4/2007

Posted April 24th, 2007

The Hostel has significantly changed over the past few years, much for the better. In a word, we have become “greener.” In our formative years, we operated very successfully as a youth hostel for backpackers, mostly international visitors. In fact, for the first fifteen years of our existence, practically every manager was from a foreign country. After being booted out of the American Youth Hostel Association for our inability to furnish a two million dollar liability insurance policy, our international visitors dropped off to a trickle. We then became a destination for Americans, who used the Hostel as a place to party. The Hostel safely maneuvered itself through its adolescent years; and with the advent of the twenty-first century, there was a noticeable process of maturing. Having matured a bit myself, I’m happy to see the Hostel take on this new mantle. Our present staff is the most conscientious one I’ve ever seen here, and our guests now come to the Hostel looking for an eco-tourism experience.

In the past year, we have installed a major improvement in disposing of the gray-water from our kitchen. We purchased a state of the art filtering system that has cleaned up the smelly water that used to collect in back of Elmo’s. Our new system produces “waste water” into a pool that is theoretical pure enough to drink. I want to give special thanks and appreciation to our manager the first half of last year, Mark Garner, who pushed this idea through to fruition. Because of him, we now have cutting-edge technology at the hostel to dispose of our gray-water. A great deal of appreciation must be given to former manager, Macchu, and other members of the staff, who put in sweat-time and long hours getting the system installed. Believe me, it was not easy. But now we have something to be proud of. We can show our guests the progress we’re making in doing our part not to spoil the earth.

In the past year, we have had the best and prettiest organic garden I’ve ever seen anywhere, bar none. A bevy of mixed salad greens, broccoli, beets, carrots, onion, garlic, mustard greens, turnips, dicon, bok choy, and a lot of other vegetables are served every night at dinner for our guests. This work of pride is due to a lot of hard work by Jeremy, Nikki, Mike-Joe and Joey. They are all kick-butt gardeners who are out there early each morning raking, weeding, planting new stuff and just, in general, spreading a lot of love to the plants that show their appreciation in return by bearing good fruits.

Three female goats were added to assist the chicken tractor in clearing weeds, vines, and briars and any other kind of greenery surrounding the garden that we want to get rid of. The goats are enclosed in a portable electric fence charged by a battery that is powered by a solar panel. One of the females bore two little babies recently that were about as cute and lovable as anything I’ve ever seen. They’re growing up now, but, unfortunately, both of the babies are males. We’ll eventually have to get rid of them when they become too boisterous to keep around. For now, however, they are one of the main attractions for our guests to enjoy.

Thanks to Luke, we ordered 250 mushroom spores that were planted in various oak logs surrounding the garden. There are several varieties like shitakes, oyster and chicken of the wood, setc. – the kind you’d normally buy at your neighborhood grocery. We also now have a beehive in the garden to aid with pollination as well as to provide us with sweet honey.

Our two miles of “T Trails” have been cleared and marked for winter hikes with new bridges built across the ditches. The Saturdays that I’m in town, I’ve led hikes for the guests to walk the trails with my commentary. The staff has billed it on the website as “T Time with Tom,” which ends with having tea in my new writing studio next to my treehouse. This has been a lot of fun for me.

The blueberries have been pruned for the first time in their 25 year-plus history. The entire patch has been mulched with wood chips that we get from the end of Mister Road where the electric company dumps it. I’ve never seen the blueberry patch look as good as it does now. The herb garden and flower garden have been given a lot of love and improvements and both look good, with flowers popping up all over.

We continually have to add new composting piles to take care of the vast amount of humanure we produce. After it cooks for two years, the cured piles, free of all pathogens, are placed around the shrubs, flowers, trees, etc – but not the veggie garden. The best indication of the good work that compost produces is the roof of my writing studio. We mixed humanure and peat moss to plant Boston ferns on the roof. It has produced a display that could easily make the cover of Homes and Gardens.

One of our latest improvements is the clearing around the mystic oak. For years, we’ve talked of cutting the trees around it to let in more sunlight. This best of all climbing trees has been dwarfed all these years from lack of sun. Chris, Joey, Dennis, Mattchew, Dirt and some staff members chopped down 38 good-sized pine trees and stacked them on the firebreak for future milling into boards. They moved “Louise’s Porch” next to the revered oak, re-roofed the porch and placed her own personal rocking chair where it always sat. (If only that porch could talk.) I’ve written a piece about Louise that will be bound in a water-proof book filled with her pictures and kept on the porch for visitors to have the chance to get to know her. I’ve tried my best to think of a way to keep a cooler filled with bottles of Miller High Life and a continuous play of a recording of “Strokin’” by Clarence Carter, and her laughing in the background.

One of our newest installations that we’re very proud of is our solar-powered irrigation system at the lake garden. It’s located in the back corner of the lake on the left if you’re looking at the lake coming from the hostel. This was a gift and an inspiration of Murray’s. Three 55-gallon tanks are sitting on a platform about ten feet above the ground. A PVC pipe dropped into the lake is attached to a pump powered by a solar panel. A float switch turns on the pump when the tanks are empty and, thanks to the sun, they are promptly filled with lake water for the thirsty garden.

Dennis donated a new tipi to the hostel. He cut a number of cypress saplings, skinned them, and placed them on the right side of the lake next to the big oak where the beehives used to be.

The sweat lodge is more popular than ever. Guests now have to make reservations in advance since we only permit fifteen to sweat at a time. I suppose I’ve led most all of them since Tony, the Blackfoot manager, left in 1996. Everyone, including me, continues to be blown-away by the sweats.

As for Hostel operations, we definitely made the right decision, even though it was a difficult one for me, to limit the number of guests to fifteen per night during the week and twenty on the weekends, except for retreats. Generally, every weekend is booked solid, and during March practically every weeknight was booked, as well. By limiting the number of guests, they all have a much better chance to get to know each other.

One of the busiest duties at the Hostel is the kitchen manager. Luke, and now Ken, has done a tremendous job serving up delicious vegetarian and vegan meals each night. There is always a large bowl of mixed green salad from the garden, soup, a couple of vegetable casseroles, fruit and a dessert. When food has to be purchased, we usually try to buy organic. One of my favorite treats is the bread. The staff built a cob oven made from clay (gumbo) dug from out back of the domes. This was mixed with straw and molded into an oven. Hot coals are placed in the oven to heat it (usually as hot as 500 degrees) then removed and replaced with trays of bread and sometimes pizza. It tastes wonderful and there has been a noticeable decrease in the amount of energy saved by not using the gas ovens in the kitchen for baking. Typically, I find the kitchen manager preparing kim chi (fermented vegetables or fruits), as well as using the peelings of the vegetables to make stock for soup, and making every effort to have no waste. I’m also pleased to report the hens are happy and doing their job by laying eggs daily.

You may wonder how we get all this accomplished. The answer, of course, is an excellent manager and staff. Our mainstays the last few months that knock it out every day have been: Mikey, from N.Y., Jeremy, Murray’s son, Nikki, from Florida, Mike Joe, from Savannah, Joey, from Pennsylvania, Luke, from Tennessee, Ken, from Michigan, and Anneli, from Sweden. An abundance of thanks goes out to this hard working crew for all the things they continue to do each day to make the hostel run smoothly.

I’m happy to report that all the physical facilities are holding their own, with a couple of exceptions. Our biggest concern relating to buildings is the “big dome,” that houses the library and staff rooms. It is leaking worse than ever, and I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to keep it. The representative of the company who sold us the domes said they were guaranteed for twenty years. At that time, I thought twenty years was an eternity, and that I probably wouldn’t even be alive that long. Well, here we are, 32 years later, and the domes are still standing.

Another concern from one of our original purchases is our well. The so-called experts are telling us we should dig another one. The present one has a significant amount of sand in the water. The casing is cracked far enough down (about 30 feet, I’m told) so that it can’t be repaired.

Okay, I’ve saved the worst news ‘til last. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in our Hostel history. We have operated all these years without ever having to ask anyone for money. I was able to purchase all the land, fortunately when it was much cheaper than it is today. We have a serious problem facing the Hostel, and that is development coming at us from all directions at a very rapid pace. A large grocery store is presently being constructed just down the road between the Hostel and the interstate. An elementary school has been built and is already in operation, even strip malls, for God’s sake. The surrounding property owners are hungry to sell out to these developers who are paying huge prices for the land. They are throwing up cracker box houses, all very close together, and selling them like hot cakes.

My first inclination, when this started happening, was to sell the Hostel property and move further out away from all the madness. Then, I thought, how can we move the domes, the treehouses, the glasshouse, but most of all the Hostel spirit we’ve all become acquainted with over the years? She has helped all of us in so many ways, and we can’t just run off and leave her here by herself to be enveloped into a subdivision.

No matter how hard I may try, there is no way I can stop development. That is inevitable. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Hostel will be on an island. We now have 111 acres, but we need our island to be larger. Why is that, you may rightly ask? The answer is that the eastern boundary of our property is but a stone’s throw from the bamboo hut, the labyrinth, the shower house, and the screen hut. In fact, it runs just a few feet east of the parking lot. If you can visualize yourself standing in the shower pleasantly looking out over the pristine forest as you bathe your body in privacy, then fast forward one year from now. Imagine yourself in that same shower looking into the back yard of someone’s house, kids playing on the gym set, Dad barbequing on the grill, dogs barking and chasing the hostellers.

The owner of the property adjacent to us is negotiating with a developer to sell it at $20,000 per acre. (I paid $1,000 an acre in 1974.) He wants to sell 24 acres. The Hostel is presently debt-free, and we make enough money to operate the Hostel and are able to continue to make minor improvements. But the Hostel can’t service a large mortgage payment, and neither can I.

We all sat down and discussed it recently. We decided to turn the hostel into a 501-C-3 Charitable Corporation so that members can make contribution to purchase the land and be able to deduct the contribution from their income tax return. I personally don’t like having to ask our Hostel friends for money, but I’m afraid we’ve reached that point. Our new charitable corporation has been named, “The Hostel In The Forest Land Trust.”

I have agreed to convey all of the present hostel property to the land trust, so that it will be held in perpetuity. That will insure that all of our children and grand children and great grandchildren will have the hostel to enjoy as much as we have.

There are over 6,000 members of the hostel. If we could get just 1,000 of them to pledge only $100 a year for the next ten years, then we would have enough money, not only to buy the 24 acre tract on our eastern boundary, but also enough to buy the property behind the lake, maybe even Cyrus’ house at the end of Mister Road, and that six acres we had to sell next to the highway twenty years ago.

I can absolutely assure all of you that 100% of every gift will be used toward land purchase – not one cent of administrative costs. I’ll do the legal work necessary to prepare the deeds, etc. Murray will continue to help with the administration. No one involved will be compensated out of the money in the land trust. So, very soon, we’re going to be calling on you to help us.

I’m very proud of the Hostel and how far we have progressed. I do so much want it to continue for a long time after I’m gone, and I believe that we’re on the right track.

May The Forest Be With You,

Tom

Tom's Letter 1/2006

Posted January 12th, 2007

Letter from Tom January 2006

2005 at the hostel marked the year of change. Matthew “Machu” from Utah started the year in his second term as manager, which he relinquished in June. We then had the first son of a former manager take over the helm, Jeremy Wilson, son of Murray, reputedly conceived there. But even if he wasn’t, he spent much of his years from infancy to manhood right there in the forest. So, it was natural for him to follow in his father’s footsteps.

As Machu was leaving and Jeremy was about to take over, there were painful decisions that needed to be made for the hostel to be able to continue into the future. I had always wanted the hostel to be open to anyone at anytime so that the hostel could be shared with everyone. My dream, however, had become totally impractical. We were having more visitors to the hostel than we’d ever had before. The kitchen manager never knew whether to prepare dinner for 12 or 35. Can you imagine having that dilemma every night, seven nights a week? Enough to drive anyone mad.

The fact that we were having so many guests, most of whom were unannounced, also made for a manager’s nightmare. For the first time ever, we had reached the point where no one wanted to manage the hostel anymore. Jeremy would only take over if we made changes, so that the hostel could be operated in a manner that would keep the manager and staff from completely losing it. The final decision to make the changes resulted from a collaborative of opinions from a lot of the hostel faithfuls.

One of the changes was to have a “reservations only” policy – a thought unimaginable from years past. On a more conservative note, we have been requiring all guests to drink alcoholic beverages from a cup or glass, but not from the container. While I never thought that would lessen the amount a person consumed, I was proved wrong. It did. And furthermore, it changed the appearance of the hostel. No beer cans or wine bottles sitting around on the tables inside and out. Some of the old timers would swear that the hostel must not be much fun anymore, but on the contrary, the people who have been coming there have been singing its praises more than ever.

The other painful decision was to limit the number of guests per night to 15 and to limit the number of staff to 5. This certainly caused a lot of discussion, but what the old timers don’t understand is that we were getting 40 to 50 people showing up at the hostel wanting to stay there. It had just gotten entirely too popular and thus out of hand.

And another new change that will take effect on February 1, 2006 is to increase the overnight to $20. While this may seem a bit high to some of you, as well as me, they are really putting a great deal more money into the evening meal to make sure that we have all natural, wholesome foods. The comments from the hostellers are all positive about the good meals we’ve been having. Just the use of all biodegradable soaps for dish washing is a significant increase in costs. So it seems necessary that we increase the overnight to justify the extra costs to the hostel. Believe me every penny that comes into the hostel is used by the hostel to make it a better place for all of our visitors.

What we have found is that the guests really do appreciate all of the new regulations. They now know when they arrive at the hostel not only will they have a place to sleep, but they’ll know in advance where they will be sleeping. And furthermore, having only 15 people makes it a cozier atmosphere. The guests get to know each other, and the staff, believe it or not, gets to know all of the guests. And it is a far less impact on the hostel grounds and the environment. The guests get more attention and a much better experience than in the past when they had to share it with such large numbers of people.

While all of this seems foreign to veteran hostellers, we are all convinced, after having implemented these rules over the past 8 months, that we have re-created that little piece of heaven that the people in the very early years of the hostel found when they came there.

We have had two educational workshops in the past six months (July 4th and Labor Day) which were a rousing success. Everyone went away from those weekends talking about what a wonderful experience it was. We plan to continue doing these retreats at least quarterly. And we increase the number who can attend to 35 on these special weekends.

We are attempting to move toward becoming more self-sufficient in all areas. We’ve enlarged the secret garden, so that more vegetables can be grown. We’re presently having fresh salad greens out of our garden each night. It is our intention in the future to grow even more vegetables, which can be canned, put up in jars, frozen or de-hydrated, so that each night all food served will be grown at the hostel, or exchanged with the local fruit & veggie market for produce we are unable to grow.

In clearing the trees to enlarge the garden, a subject that was deeply painful to my heart, we hired a man with a portable sawmill to saw all of the trees into usable lumber. Murray donated a planer so that the boards were planed, and I was astounded at how beautiful the lumber was. And to know that it was grown at the hostel made it even nicer. That’s one of our plans for the future – to use home-grown lumber as much as possible in new construction.

Having a lesser number of people has also made a positive impact for the compost piles. Prior to last June, it seemed we were adding new compost piles constantly. Our composting is much more efficient now.

We are in the process of tackling the gray water that comes from the kitchen sink and the washing machine. Most of you know that our former system stunk, both literally and figuratively. We are hiring an expert to come in and install a gray water system that will be state of the art. This is a matter we have put off for a long time that really needed addressing. We’ve talked about having our expert conduct one of the workshops on gray water so that those who have an interest can see how it is done.

Many of our guests, most of whom live in urban areas, are telling us that they didn’t realize until coming to the hostel that people can actually live and be somewhat comfortably self-sufficient. That is really what we want to promote. We want to teach people to become more self-sufficient, and we want to continue to move the hostel in that direction.

On a sad note, Essie Mae, had a stroke during mid-summer and is presently in a nursing home in Jacksonville near her daughter. The Juke Joint has been closed ever since. It is sad to ride by it, as I did today, and see that it is forsaken. We have been taking hostellers there for so many years on Friday nights, and all of us have so many good memories of that place. I almost feel we should make it into a shrine. If you would like to write her and wish her well, please send it to me here and I will see that the messages are delivered to her.

On a more personal note, I have built myself a little writing studio next to my tree house and am going there after work each day for a couple of hours of writing. It is exactly what I’ve wanted for a long time. If you haven’t seen it, I’d like to show it to you. It has a living roof of ferns, and the interior has a Tibetan motif.

Now to start off the 2006 year, we’re making another manager change. Jeremy is moving out of his position as manager of the hostel, and we are creating a new position for him as manager of the gardens – vegetable, herb and flower. There is no way that a manager of the hostel can also handle all the gardens, and that is really where Jeremy’s interests lie. So, we are about to install a new manager of the hostel – Mark Garner from Athens. Mark, a regular at the hostel for several years, has been on the staff for the past couple of months, and I can’t think of anyone who I’d like to see manage the place more than Mark. He is a great guy and is well-liked by all the staff and the hostellers as well. Nikki, who has been on the staff for 14 months, Tannis and Noemie will lend the female energy which the hostel so desperately needs at all times. Former manager Travis will be there through January in charge of recycling; Nikki, as kitchen manager; Tannis as compost technician; and we’re hoping Machu will return the first of February, after Travis and Noemie leave, to help us achieve our goals we have set for this year. What a lineup! A lot of major league hitters! I expect the hostel to take off and evolve into the place it was destined to become.

MAY THE FOREST BE WITH YOU

Tom