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The Stewards of the Land—Rev. Jayna and Jonny Gieber

The People of the Heart community rose up from the six acres Jayna and Jonny Gieber fondly call Crooked Kitty Ranch. This is the story of how they became stewards of the land upon which they now live, love, and share with community members—folks who come out to visit and reconnect with the Earth.

It was the summer of 1996 and I, Jayna, had been assisting with a Vision Quest Camp atop Mt. Hood. Spirit whispered in my ear on the drive home to Aloha, Oregon, "Move to the country. The girls are all out of school. No need to stay in the suburbs."

Jonny met me at the door with a bear hug, "Jonny, why don't we move out of town and get back in touch with the Earth?"

He scratched his head and smiled as if to say, "Yes, my queen."

And we were off on the adventure of a land search.

As we drove up the creek bed of a road to check out acreage for sale in Battle Ground, Washington, of all places, it never occurred to us that the road was treacherous or the drive was too far out. We just heard the trees talking as we pulled up and saw the seriously dilapidated trailer out of which a teenage kitty with a crooked tail emerged. The feline escorted us all around the property, hence the nickname for the land came to be Crooked Kitty Ranch.

It was 9 am that Saturday morning when the owner came out of the trailer and offered us a tall Budweiser. She didn't want to drink alone. We graciously declined her offer and followed her inside where there was a sawed off shotgun parked by the front door.

It was hard to imagine that this woman, Molly, had been living under such horrible conditions. The flooring of the trailer was rotted through. There were visible holes in the roof where the sun snuck in.

She shared with us how she and her husband had had big plans to build their home on the land. But they kept running out of money and logged the huge fir trees to help them pay the bills. They kept meaning to take better care of the land, she told us, "but something was always going wrong."

Then, tragically her husband died right there on the land in a tragic accident. Left alone, she fell apart.

Her alcoholism progressed and she lost her will to live. The land became a living metaphor for her grief and broken dreams—garbage everywhere, no birds or wild life. A pall was cast over the land.

Jonny and I had been considering a luscious riverfront property that we'd nicknamed Wet Dream. I was way in love with it and Jonny was too—he could fish whenever he wanted. But there was no place for a sweat lodge or enough room for gatherings. We made a pros and cons list—Wet Dream vs. Crooked Kitty Ranch. After praying on it several days, Spirit spoke and the right piece of land called us to it.

When we formally became stewards of Crooked Kitty Ranch, we performed a clearing and blessing ceremony releasing the former owners and their pain, making our commitment to carry on their dream—to build a home and to love the land.

This was particularly touching for us as we were many years into recovery from the addictions that had destroyed the lives and dreams of that couple. We were humbled and blessed at the chance to love this land back to health and beauty.

We went about cleaning up the debris that covered the land. To this day we find liquor bottles and beer cans that the Earth burps up. We removed the beat up trailer and prepared to build a sweat lodge. Our teacher, Spotted Earth Woman, a Native American medicine woman, told us "Build a sweat lodge and ask the spirits of the land for help." We did and they gave us a special song about working, loving, singing, and dancing on this land. We sing it still in our sweat lodge ceremonies.

With much perspiration from Jonny's brow as the building contractor, our home was slowly birthed, but we faced yet one building challenge after another. We first discovered that the landlines were incorrect. We'd been advised that a formal boundary map was unnecessary to obtain. However, after we'd excavated the site for our home, our next-door neighbor Danny said, "Hey, nice spot for a house but did you know that it's not on your land?" We gulped.

This sent us on a mission of purchasing an additional acre from the original owners of this little mountain, the Cresaps. It was a difficult task. The grown son of Alva Cresap refused to sell us another acre. So, I decided to speak with her myself. She was an elder woman whose name graces our road—Alva's Road. With a giggle in her voice, she explained to me, "My husband, before he died, insisted on naming the road after me." I shared with her our dream of building a home and caring for this precious land. She explained, "Back in the old days all we did was walk off the piece of land we were goin' to sell and use the "witness trees"—trees that stood at the east, south, west and north corners of each plot of land—as our guide. We didn't need to involve the legals back then."

Moved by our conversation, Alva agreed to speak on our behalf with her son who'd been handling her financial affairs. We were immensely grateful when he called approving the sale of an acre from the next-door plot. We would get to keep our building site. Whew!!

The next challenge was dealing with an unexpected change in water supply. The creek and natural springs, which had been approved as our water source, went underground in unusual winter conditions that year, rerouting the water flow. Wells did not work in this region because of the significant rock formations of this mountain. Drilling was not an option. Our only choice was to bring public water in, but that would cost in excess of $16,000. We were beside ourselves. Our budget did not allow for that kind of expense. Now what?

Jonny researched many options and discovered a unique possibility. We could petition the few neighbors on Alva's Road to bring public water to all our homes, sharing the expense. Jonny went door to door and told each one the story. These fine folks all agreed to sign the petition that would bring water to Crooked Kitty Ranch on Bells Mountain.

Being stewards of this land called forth the warrior in each of us. It was not easy to keep a sense of hope, healing, and peace going.

Yet, with the help of family, friends, and neighbors, we persevered with our vision. We came to see how without that passionate fire energy (that burnt us at times) we might not have had the courage and strength to live here and to realize the Earth's emerging vision of a spiritual community that would honor all walks of life—People of the Heart: A Braided Way.

If you are looking for a place to belong, one that is inclusive and accepting of diverse beliefs, you are welcome to visit this special land and to attend gatherings.

Please call 360-666-4942 to speak with Jayna or Jonny Gieber.