A Dirt Road to Wellness: The Happehatchee Experience

By Scott Graison               

I lie on my back, with my eyes closed. I am perfectly relaxed in a state of tranquility. I find my mind taken to worlds I’ve never before experienced. I float in clouds. I envision Native Americans up close. I visualize grand fields of never-ending grass. I drift in shallow, calm waters of a stream.              

Am I in bed dreaming? No, I’m in the midst of a sound meditation session at the Happehatchee Center — one hour of phenomenal retreat. It carries me away from the worries of mortgages, job stress and even the seasonal traffic.               

Down a dirt road, just east of U.S. 41 on Corkscrew Road, lies an incredible, five-acre pocket of preserve land, offering peace, serenity and nature — resting atop a bed of crystals where Mayan Indians once inhabited the area some 1,200 years ago.

In 1972, long after the Mayans were gone from the grounds, a woman from North Carolina purchased the property. Ellen Peterson had a big vision. She saw something in the land that could be a community gathering place to provide spiritual wellness. In 2006, Peterson created the Happehatchee Center, Inc., a nonprofit organization to preserve this lush expanse of beauty on the banks of the Estero River.

Prior to my meditation session, I was given a walking tour of the property. I was invited to experience the museum dedicated to Ellen Peterson, a peaceful view of the Estero River, walking trails, a labyrinth, a bamboo-rich shoreline, a butterfly garden, a plant nursery, a koi pond and houses of caretakers (which were barracks during WWII). The sound meditation class followed.

“It’s one of the several mind-body wellness classes that can be such a benefit,” says Genelle Grant, president of Happehatchee’s board of directors.

Gazebo Yin Yang

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There are a myriad of sessions available, including sunrise yoga, shamanic healing, “mommy and me” yoga, reiki healing, drum circles and more. Most of these activities cost just $10, much less than a massage. According to faculty member Tara Mina, a massage can actually deter total healing because the body is moved and pushed, unlike the classes held at Happehatchee.

“There is a special kind of love I feel here,” says Mina, who conducted the sound meditation class. “I love learning stuff about myself, and I do learn every time I come here.”

The class I experienced included verbal relaxation cues, crystal bowls, a gong, chimes, a rain stick, and silence for a few minutes to let the sounds of unencumbered nature wash over the participants. What a fascinating, exhilarating, yet ultra-soothing experience it was.

And there’s an even more extraordinary thing the center does to promote healing; facilitators meet monthly with a group of women who have been victims of human trafficking to assist in mending of physical and emotional traumas.

The center operates with an extensive group of volunteers to help make healing experiences available to people in the area.               

“We have over 300 volunteers annually that help our cause and ensure that more than 10,000 yearly visitors enjoy what we have to offer,” says Grant, who has been on the board for 13 years.               

Happehatchee has recently been in the news regarding a lawsuit filed by Save Our Creeks, Inc., which argues the Estero property should be sold with proceeds going to Save Our Creeks. Peterson had connections to both organizations.              

“We’re going as usual, as we’ve been doing, and will continue to make things the same as we have done,” assures Grant.

Further, Happehatchee Center is exploring partnerships with surrounding landowners or other organizations interested in preservation. Grant has engaged in discussions with the Village of Estero regarding the use of adjacent land — 62 acres which was purchased by the Village in September 2018. Happehatchee Center directors would like to see that land preserved as a park, in keeping with the vision of Ellen Peterson, Grant said.

This month, the Happehatchee Center is hosting an Earth Day Festival on April 20. It’s a free, community event and an opportunity to experience this natural paradise.

“We are going to have local artisans, natural soap vendors, essential oils, crystals, wellness stuff; we’ll have live entertainment, mini-yoga classes, a drum circle, a vegan food truck, fresh raw juices, labyrinth walks and more,” Mina eagerly reports.

“The drum circle starts at 4 p.m. with Espiritu Maya performing on Mayan bamboo drums and a dance to Mother Earth,” adds Grant.

Even if you can’t make it for the Earth Day Festival, I recommend you consider taking time out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to head down that unassuming dirt road toward a little slice of tranquility.

EARTH DAY FESTIVAL

Date: Saturday, April 20

Time: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Place: Happehatchee Center, 8791 Corkscrew Road, Estero

Info: www.happehatchee.org

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