You will come to Tigg’s Pond to get in touch with your story. And maybe it will become part of your story over time. Perhaps, while you’re here or before you come, you’ll get curious about Tigg’s Pond’s story. This entry is sort of a combination backstory of the property and those of us who have interacted with it in the process of making it a retreat center. I hope it enhances your next visit or inspires you to make your first.
Fresh mountain spring water cascades down the spillway by the barn, rushes gurgling past moss covered rocks alongside the garden and under the footbridge, and spills out into the pond. Our resident kingfisher sweeps across the pond hoping for a bass to appear on this ‘unseasonably warm’ January day. This fertile land in front of me, this ancient foothill area of the Blue Ridge and Smoky mountains, is as full of the energy of life in the dead of winter as it is in the middle of a summer day.
This small hollow has absorbed a lot of changes in the past six years. They march out in front of me like markers across the landscape, in chronological order interestingly enough, although it wasn’t planned that way. I am sitting in the most recent addition to the Tigg’s Pond ‘campus’, the Event Barn – which has just finished being built a month ago and is still in its settling in period. The farthest building in my view is the Guest House, where it all began for me and Tigg’s Pond, in 2007.
The ad in the paper was for the land, for 54 acres of forest and streams and a pond. The house was an afterthought in the copy – “Grandma’s tear down” it was called. No one had lived in the house or done much work on the property for years. The grown children were selling their parent’s place. They had all moved somewhere else. Their father, James Osteen died in 2002. Their mother, Eugenia Osteen died in 2005. The property, as I came to know it, was peaceful, beautiful and utterly overgrown in the fall of 2007. I would drive down from Flat Rock with Tigger and we would walk the trail and she would swim in the pond and chase the crows. We came every afternoon for almost two months before I realized that this was where we were meant to live. It’s a good thing I finally put in an offer because someone else had too. But the family didn’t want 61 houses built on the land they grew up on, so they accepted my offer because they knew I wanted to maintain the land the way it was. They understood that I would treasure the door molding in the kitchen that traced their heights in pencil lines and dates all the way up one side.
I officially became the steward of this miniature hollow in April, 2007, and spent the first six months discovering: the lawn carpeted with violets, the ring of hemlock trees up the mountain behind the house, the three streams that came together from different directions, the arrowheads in the field on the other side of the pond. I hacked away at rose bushes gone wild and thicker than the handles of the loppers, cleaned endless garbage from the stream beds, met my first crawfish and black snake (not together) and tried to master the art of setting a good fire in the woodstove, which was the main heat source for the house. Places around the property acquired the names of friends who came to help clear (Alcott Alley) and build (Anderson’s Crossing).
By the end of that first winter here, I knew never to end the fall without a large pile of wood for the stove. And I had bought a sturdy snow shovel and a pair of warm boots. That winter the pond froze over good and hard and Tigger (my Pound dog from Galveston Texas) discovered the perplexing reality of walking on solid ice where she normally went swimming. Watching the seasons change and the pond transform from dead still and green in the summer to riffled and dark blue in the fall, to gray and frozen in the winter, was more magical than I could ever have imagined. From the beginning that small, almost round body of fresh water has been Tigger’s personal domain. She would chase ducks and geese away in the spring, swim after the heron and kingfisher all summer and pounce on the frogs in the fall. Even when she had to break through the thin ice at the water’s edge, she swam in the pond every day of the year. When she wasn’t in the water, she was on the dock or up at the porch, surveying the goings on with deep interest. It became clear that it was Tigg’s pond. And so the name for the entire property came into being out of sheer obviousness. From that winter on, everyone referred to the house and the property and the pond as Tigg’s Pond.
I needed more help than I realized to get the place under control and in some semblance of order, but I hadn’t lived here long enough to know very many people and I was working full time in Hendersonville. In the spring of 2008, my church – St. James – had a mission trip to Jamaica and I joined in. I met a wonderful group of people who have remained good friends ever since. One of them was Sandy Lastein. She joined the mission team as a friend of one of our members, a Lutheran in a sea of Episcopalians. But she held her own and did more than her share of hard work and having fun. At some point, I remember asking her what she did. “I’m a landscape architect”, she said. ”Do you know someone who could fix my driveway?” I said. “Yes” she said. And that was the beginning of both a great friendship and a wonderful working relationship that has resulted in the development of the Tigg’s Pond Retreat Center as you can see and experience it today.
I came to western North Carolina wanting to start a retreat center. It’s what I did in Texas. It’s my life’s work. It was in the back of my mind when I bought the property. But I didn’t know how to renovate my house or’ fix up’ the property. Sandy, and her husband Ed, did. So the three of us began working together designing and creating the ‘rustic Lodge’ look of the Guest House. This meant that we did a lot of trekking through the woods and picnicking alongside streams and waterfalls, a lot of staring at the pond from different vantage points and a lot of talking about the proper feel and ambiance for a retreat center.
Sometimes wine was involved. Sometimes kayaks. Usually sketches on the backs of envelopes and frequently chocolate and dogs. Ed, I came to understand, is really an architect and Sandy is really a project coordinator. Both of them are really artists, outdoor sports enthusiasts and longtime residents of Flat Rock – community people who are passionate about preserving the pristine quality of the land and water in this area and who have developed a fine esthetic sense of both building and landscape design that feels like a natural extension of the environment. They teach me daily about living here, about enjoying life in this special place and about bringing out each area’s special qualities with the gentlest of touches.
I had an idea of the space I needed and the feel I wanted. They understood my vision right from the beginning and translated ideas into buildings and outdoor spaces that exceeded what I could imagine. They have also had wonderful ideas about how to make visitors here feel a part of the environment and how to provide a sense of adventure and surprise to the landscape and the retreat experience.
Sandy and Ed introduced me to Mickey, who has lived here all his life and is a plantsman par excellence. Mickey introduced me to all the native trees and plants on the property. “This is an Elaeagnus tree. You can make jelly out of these little berries” he would say. “Uh huh” I would say. “That there is a witch hazel”. And that night I would look up all the names on google and find out more about them because they were all new to me.
One day, Mickey came over with a pleased looking grin all over his face. We sat on the terrace of the Guest House taking in the pond and the birds and the flowers. He reached into his shirt pocket and brought out an old black and white deckle edged photograph from a Brownie box camera. The picture was of a young girl, standing waist deep in the water, with two thin men in suit pants, button down shirts and ties, standing up to their leather belts in the water on either side of her. I recognized the body of water immediately. “That was my wife” Mickey said softly, “getting baptized in this pond when she was fifteen”. Every year I make some Elaeagnus jelly for his biscuits just for showing me that picture.
I knew so little about building that I thought I would be able to live in the Guest House while the renovation work was going on. Needless to say, the builder disabused me of that fantasy right away. “There won’t be any water or electricity in the house and we have to begin by taking the roof off” Eric said. ”And it’s getting to be winter”, he added. I got it. I moved out. For the first six months of construction, Tigger and I (and a field mouse) lived on the other side of the stream in a thirty year old airstream trailer that I found on Craig’s List for $1,500. You get what you pay for. There was no water or electricity in there either, but somehow we managed. That was when I first realized the most common reaction to coming to Tigg’s Pond is that you don’t ever want to leave.
The Guest House project started as a fairly simple renovation because the roof was leaking in its oldest part, the back one story 1940’s cabin. It became a major rebuilding effort when we discovered that the wiring and plumbing needed to be replaced, that many of the studs were actually just trees cut to fit and inserted at random places inside the moldy sheetrock walls, and that there was no insulation anywhere. And so it went. We were committed to creating a green building and recycling everything we could – and we did.
The old oak flooring became the kitchen cabinets. The old kitchen cabinets went to a church on Cherry Street in Hendersonville. The old doors and windows went to Habitat and the terrace and car port were embellished with wood beams and pillars made from hemlock and locust and rhododendron found on the property
While the Guest House reconstruction was finishing up, Ed was drawing plans for a new dock and a rustic looking gazebo to replace the stern little pile of planks that served as the entrance to the pond. A friend of mine from the Bahamas came with his son to extend the driveway around the house side of the pond and back to an old barn at the edge of the woods. He ended up making a bridge across the stream too. Somewhere in there, we also had two fabulous stone stairways built, one from the house to the new road and the other from the new road to the dock area. And the old barn back in the woods got a cement floor, more Carolina siding like the Guest House, plenty of windows and a new tin roof. We christened it the Art Studio, I imagine because we thought there would be so much free time to sit around and paint.
That summer, I had found two large white marble slabs half buried in the woods. Thinking they might be tombstones, I uncovered them and brought them back to the house, only to find they were smooth and untouched. I took them to a local cemetery/funeral parlor and had them cut into brick sized pieces engraved with the fruit of the spirit, the Biblical attributes of spiritual health outlined in Galatians (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control). We inlaid them into the risers for the stairs going up to the Guest House from Cyril’s new road. Wouldn’t you know we had the last one left over and had to put ‘self control’ face up on the top step. I’m thinking God did that on purpose because a year later, when we put the terrace and the outdoor fireplace there, we actually had to add another step on the stairs to make it all level. I’ve never moved ‘self control’ from the top of the second step to the riser of the first though. Being the last and hardest ‘fruit’ to acquire, I think it’s fitting that it’s more noticeable than all the rest. Sometimes things tell you where they want to be put.
The hardest work we had to do was to practically drain the pond to get the pilings for the new dock done and for Ed to place the large rocks around the edge (scientifically, by laser level) so the pond would look more naturally a part of this stony mountain environment. Everybody working on the house commented that something had gone out of the place once most of the water went out of the pond. And we all felt similarly relieved when the dock was done and the water could build up in the pond again.
There is no question that the pond, with its inviting gazebo seating and large uncovered deck area, is the center – the beating heart – of this whole property, not just visually, but spiritually as well. People can’t stop looking at it when they first come to the retreat center. It serves as a magnet for everyone as they wander the property. Eventually, when it’s time for a group to reassemble indoors, people have to be called from deck chairs and rocks and perches all around and in the pond and under the gazebo. It is a tribute to Ed and Sandy’s design that this area can accommodate so many people in a host of nooks and crannies as well as open spaces, all of which have their own attraction and sense of comfort and personal space.
I’m glad to report that we didn’t lose a single fish in the process of draining and refilling the pond and building the dock and gazebo. In fact, over the next year or so, Ed and Sandy’s youngest son Kelton added a few more bass to the school from his fishing exploits at Lake Summit. Because no one fishes in the pond and because we are always bringing choice worms from the garden for them to eat, these bass come to the surface and follow people as they walk around the pond. Sandy likes to sit on the large meditation rock that juts out into the deeper water, and she can get them to come to her just by putting her fingers in the water. Apparently they’ve also gotten used to Tigger jumping in and out of the water at least once or twice a day every day. And when groups assemble on the dock or go swimming or paddling on the small kayaks, the fish just seem to retreat to the deepest part of the pond and wait them out. The resident kingfisher has never caught one of them in six years.
During the time the Guest House was renovated, the road was extended and the dock and gazebo were being built, the garden on the land beyond the pond had been growing in size and complexity. Ed figured out a wonderful, simple water system that pumps from the pond directly to the four corners of the garden. In the process of installing this feat of engineering, the surrounding landscape gained a lovely rustic wooden bridge across the stream and a small wood-clad pump house next to the garden.
Now, the whole garden area is brought together by a locust log and rhododendron fence with arbors at both entrances [see the entry on The Garden for more on that project]. I won’t go into the fact that we thought putting a fence around the garden would keep the voles out.
The Guest House, with its new wider porch and expansive flagstone terrace, has worked well as the center for retreat activity for the past four years. I’ve had a lot of different groups come there for classes or to learn spiritual disciplines and even several individuals who spent one or two nights there on intensive silent retreats. The open space inside and the expansive outdoor areas next to it worked well for groups of about twenty people. But the groups kept getting bigger, so finally Ed and Sandy and I got together to plan a larger building to accommodate all of the retreat oriented activities (from group instruction to hosting speakers, holding weekly classes and evening lectures to providing open flexible space for other groups to have their activities there). The obvious choice of location was across the stream, beyond the garden, just up the hill from where that poor old Airstream was first parked.
The Barn, as we started to call it, was a far more complex project than the renovation of an existing house. For one, we had to comply with federal, state and country regulations for a commercial space. And it had to be designed and engineered from the ground up. Because Ed had undertaken a comprehensive land use plan for the whole property, we knew where the most favorable location for the barn was. It would warm and light itself with south facing windows and have a great view of the garden, the stream with the small rustic footbridge, and finally the pond and dock. And it would be relatively hidden from the Guest House so that visitors there would feel secluded even though they were part of a larger complex.
Selecting this location meant that we would have to take down some thirty trees which formed the front lines of the forest. It was a hard decision, even though the result was a vastly more open feeling to the whole property. But thanks to the use of a local portable saw mill, we were able to turn all of the downed trees into planking for the barn siding and beams for the covered deck.
It is satisfying to know that these pines and red oaks and poplars haven’t moved more than a couple of hundred yards or so from where they originally grew and that they have a new life in the Barn. There is something special about being inside a building built from the trees that stood in this very place, and in eating produce from the very land we walk on and drinking water from the streams that cross this land on their way to Lake Summit and beyond. Wine people call it “terroir”, a special set of environmental characteristics experienced by the senses as an embodied sense of place. This unique quality is very powerful at Tigg’s Pond. It ‘works on’ people when they have a retreat here.
Ed designed the Barn building and contoured the landscape to make both the structure and the land around it look like they had always been that way. This is a difficult and painstaking art and he does it well. Sandy and I focused on the interior spaces, how they would be used, how they would flow together and what we needed to do to make each area look like part of a barn as well as a functioning retreat center. She was the project manager and chief budget keeper and she performed both difficult jobs with grace and humor and great success.
Again, we were committed to recycling, repurposing, using green materials, sourcing locally and above all, making the space look simple, inviting and serene. Having assigned these working areas to each of us on paper, I have to add – after four and a half years of working together – that it is difficult to say any one of us did one whole aspect of the project alone. Ideas flowed freely back and forth between all of us and everyone we worked with, all the time. As a result, the project reflects the best thinking of all of us. It is a wonderfully creative and energizing way to work. The finished product is a well-built building that runs economically and safely, that is welcoming and functional as an event space and that fits into and is gentle on the environment. It’s also a really beautiful space.
There is still work to be done on the grounds in the spring of 2013. The old Retreat House has morphed into The Guest House and is rented out on a year to year basis. The parking lot needs to be finished and plantings around the barn need to be installed. The labyrinth is yet to be put in by a local Episcopal youth group. We need a nice entrance sign by the new driveway that feeds into Old Mount Olivet Road. And there will be some tweaking to the interior spaces as retreats dictate needs we had not anticipated. But on the whole, the property has absorbed buildings and architectural elements with the grace and beauty that was intended in their design and placement. The special aura of the land and the pond has, if anything, been increased by these careful additions. Vistas unfold with a sense of surprise and pleasure and anticipation as you move through the landscape here. Everything is inviting, pleasing to the eye and works to open the heart. Sandy and Ed and a host of subcontractors, electricians, plumbers, painters and plasterers have done their job well.
Now, as we sit and plan programs for the future (I say ‘we’ because both Sandy and Ed have become involved with me in the running of the place as well as in the casting and living out of its vision) we are applying the lessons we’ve learned from the work of building up the property:
- do as little as necessary and then sit and see how that fits in
- let the spaces and elements in the environment say what they have to say
- keep the integrity of the whole by right action and right spirit
- plan for the unfolding of new vistas and visual surprises to move people through a space
- above all, listen to God(Nature) and follow God’s(Nature’s) direction
Working with the property is constantly teaching us how to live conscious, grateful and informed lives. It has worked on us as we have worked on it. What we are coming to know is also available to you. The land, the plants, the seasons – the whole experience of Nature – can become an ongoing classroom and demonstration area for anyone who seeks it out and opens up to it. You can learn to see and listen to and understand both the reality and the complexity of your interconnectedness with all things here. The beauty of this landscape, both natural and embellished, can help you calm down, breathe deeply and become more aware of your inner self. Over time, this awareness makes you more respectful of nature as your sustainer, healer and teacher. And it helps you to profoundly experience the Creator behind and within all things.
Tigg’s Pond gives you space to reflect, write, play, rest, wander, climb, swim and interact within a balanced and harmonious whole that by its very nature works to balance you and make you whole. There is a deepness to the time spent here which helps you think about who you are and whose you are. There is a softness to the time spent here which helps you fully relax and open up your heart. There are numerous special places all over the property to hunker down in and feel safe and cared for while you process your thoughts and feelings. And there is a sense of peace here that stretches out and envelops you in its source.
This place, which we call the Tigg’s Pond Retreat Center, can teach you to nourish and heal and know yourself and to connect more deeply with your soul, and everything in our natural world. We invite you to come experience all of this, just by spending time here, and to use us and our presentations and this special place to help you on your spiritual journey. (You can read more about this process in What we can learn from Nature)