When I lived in San Francisco for about a year, working for a company called Mr. Taiwan in 2001, I went there a lot, riding my single-cylinder Suzuki Savage from the city in a few hours, camping out overnight, soaking in the meditation pools, going from warm to hot to cold over and over again. Walking the trails. Hanging out in the library.
Once I went there to camp, but it was so cold I crawled into the library and slept. A no-no, more strictly enforced over the last few years, but nobody every bothered me. Other times I'd sleep in the dorm. Later, as my financial resources grew and I started going with other people - girlfriends, mostly - I'd rent out the dome cabins on the hill. Had some pretty awesome experiences, spiritual, sexual, magical. But mostly I went there alone. It was a good place to share with other people, but also a good place to just be.
In 2012 I applied for residency at Harbin, with the idea that since I was planning to give up travel writing and travel in general for a while, I might as well live at the place I'd been coming for years to ground myself.
The process involved my being interviewed by three Harbin managers. Two of the interviews were pretty straightforward. The third was with with a woman who had that sort of strong with the force way of looking right into people. At some point in the interview she asked me if I thought I was ready to actually stop moving.
You're always in motion, she said. You're moving right now, even though you're sitting still.
I had to admit that I was. I was planning an upcoming trip to Malaysia for Lonely Planet.
I didn't think I'd be accepted, but a week later I got an email welcoming me to come on board as a provisional resident for three months to see if Harbin and I would be a good long-term fit. I wrote back and told them that I'd contact them when I was back from doing my last round of guidebook gigs.
One book turned into two, which turned into an extended stay in Taiwan, and by the time I got back to America some priorities had shifted. I wound up putting my plans to become a Harbin resident on the back shelf for a while and moved to Portland, returning to Harbin Hot Springs only once since - a few months ago, in fact.
My partner and I drove down and spent three days and two nights, living in the dome tents, soaking, hiking. It was good to introduce her to the place. It felt like coming home, like it always had before.
This Saturday, Harbin Hot Springs was evacuated as a massive forest fire spread across the county, threatening to destroy everything in its path. By Sunday, reports and pictures were already starting to trickle in, and by Monday morning it was confirmed that Harbin Hot Springs - the buildings, at least, had all been destroyed.
|Photo: CBS News|