Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Harbin Hot Springs as real life field site
Harbin Hot Springs, as an anthropological field site, at the end of a road in a rural California county, gives expression to a way of life that is unique and that emerges out of counterculture. Its remoteness and separateness, as a field site, gives rise to “the Harbin experience” that centers around the pool and Mainside areas, with a discourse which is hippie-minded, developing over the past 40 years. With 150 – 180 residents, and 200-1000 visitors on nice weekends, and a lovely valley, Harbin Hot Springs gives rise to an ethos, a sense of community through time, which is uniquely 'Harbin,' both as discourse and practice.
Harbin is a hot springs retreat center. The time I’ll write about ethnographically dates from 1972, when Ishvara – Robert Hartley - bought the land, and then gave it to the Heart Consciousness Church, which now owns and runs Harbin, as well as Sierra Hot Springs, in the Sierra Valley in northern California. Only a few residents have lived at Harbin since 1980.
Harbin’s successful approach to business as a hot springs retreat center, situated in a beautiful valley on 1700 acres of pristine land, 2 hours by car northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area, has made it sustainable, both as a community, and financially. And Harbin residents and visitors have created a kind of fabric of life that doesn’t exist anywhere else that I’ve seen.
The pools as one center of this community, in combination with the option to not wear clothes in the pools, reshape sociality here, compared with most places I know. Life is relaxed and easy, especially around the pools. There’s a meditative quality there, that is, people generally have relaxed, quiet minds at Harbin. I'm interested in examining aspects of minds anthropologically vis-à-vis Harbin. And people are attractive when naked, and Harbin's clothing-optional, bohemian, Beatnik-like culture, especially in such a beautiful place as the Harbin valley, becomes normalized here. Sexuality is also more present 'in the air’ and and in people’s minds – as a consequence of Harbin's culture, - here more than in most places I've ever been, partly as an expression of alternative, hippie culture. This adds . . .