A chorus of birdsong and frog croaks echoes around me as I follow the wooded path through Earth Sanctuary, a privately owned sculpture park on Whidbey Island, 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle, Washington State. In the distance, a family of wood ducks glide across a pond and a great blue heron peeks out of the marshes. I deposit my $7 fee in the honesty box at the car park (you can also pay in advance online) and head past the trailhead, where a bell sways from an old fir tree. Nearby, a prayer wheel turns in the gentle breeze.
Earth Sanctuary founder Chuck Pettis is waiting to guide me through his 29-hectare reserve. An author and environmental artist, Pettis designed this private park with wildlife preservation in mind. Since founding the Sanctuary in 2000, his vision has been to create a place where spirituality and nature converge.
“Earth Sanctuary is a refuge from the constant chaotic onslaught of a world in transition,” says Pettis. “It’s a protected ecosystem for birds, insects, trees, plants and fungi, and it purifies the Useless Bay water table. Earth Sanctuary is preserving, protecting and sustaining what we most love about Whidbey Island.”
Landscape art inspired by ancient monuments
A practising Buddhist, Pettis is a spiritual man, with a particular interest in ley lines, the networks of energy that some believe weave around the planet. He believes that Whidbey Island possesses the largest collection of ley lines and spiritual nexuses in the world. This inspired him to create spaces and art pieces on his land that “honour these energies”. He takes inspiration from ancient monuments such as Neolithic dolmen, stone tombs and stone circles, structures from various faiths such as the Buddhist stupa and Native American medicine wheel, as well as physics and mathematics.
Following delicately stacked stone cairns, we reach Ley Line Sculpture, an arrangement of charred driftwood that marks what Pettis believes to be powerful earth energies that inspire spiritual experiences. In the distance, a bald eagle perches on a red alder. All around me, the lush woodland’s native flowers exude a gentle fragrance.
Even if you don’t share Pettis’s beliefs, the atmosphere he has created at the Sanctuary is a healing balm that encourages you to connect with nature, slow down and forget about life’s stresses.
“My hope is that when people come to Earth Sanctuary, they feel relaxed, more mindful. I want their worries to fall away,” he shares.
Honouring Indigenous culture
We amble across the 3km dirt trail that loops around Earth Sanctuary and pass a medicine wheel created from a consecrated baby grey whale skull by shaman Klaw-osht of the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe of Vancouver Island. I follow Pettis up to the wheel and remove my shoes as a show of respect. I appreciate that Pettis asked an Indigenous artist to create this, honouring the cultural heritage of the Snohomish, the tribe on whose land I now tread.
A sanctuary that protects wildlife
Pettis is working to restore the land environmentally as well as spiritually. He has planted 70 native species of trees and well over 100 other plants and shrubs in Earth Sanctuary to date. His goal is to combine the best in ecological management with art and spirituality to create a sanctuary for wildlife as well as people.
“My hope is that when people come to Earth Sanctuary, they feel relaxed, more mindful. I want their worries to fall away”
“I’ve done a lot of work with non-profit environmental groups and I know bad things are going on with the environment everywhere that I have no control over. I decided to focus on Earth Sanctuary’s 29 hectares and design with nature rather than against it,” Pettis says. “I hope to restore an old-growth forest, making space for art and spirituality, to create a magical and peaceful place that uplifts its visitors.”
Pettis and I climb the trail to the Buddhist stupa monument with its long line of prayer wheels spinning in the breeze. We make our way back out to the parking lot through a winding trail, where Douglas firs reach to the sky and bigleaf maple trees create a canopy over ferns, mosses and mushrooms.
I end my walk back where I started, at the car park. Although I’ve gone full circle, I’m somehow not the same.
Visiting Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island is an hour’s drive over the iconic Deception Pass, or a 20-minute ferry ride from Seattle. The Whidbey SeaTac shuttle takes you directly to the island from Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.
Where to stay on Whidbey Island
Comforts of Whidbey is a six-room bed and breakfast in a winery. Overlooking Puget Sound, it’s just 13km from Earth Sanctuary’s peaceful environs. The ample breakfast fuels you for island adventures.
Captain Whidbey Inn, 30-minutes by car from Earth Sanctuary, features Scandinavian décor in its Lagoon Rooms, rustic but cosy rooms in its Historic Lodge and whale-spotting views from its Penn Cove Cabins, all nestled along the shoreline amid old-growth firs.
Whidwood On Whidbey Island has a charming sun-filled apartment and cosy cabin, 40-minutes’ drive north of Earth Sanctuary. Both are filled with books which you can borrow and read in a pleasant corner of Whidwood’s beautiful gardens.
Where to eat on Whidbey Island
Orchard Kitchen, a few minutes’ drive from Earth Sanctuary, sits in the middle of a farm. This supplies most of the ingredients for Chef Vincent Nattress’s creative fine-dining tasting menus, which change every night and are never repeated.
Seabiscuit Bakery, a short drive from Earth Sanctuary, lies hidden in the woods. But once you find it, you’ll want to stay a while sampling their decadent pastries, cookies and quiches. Grab a freshly made sandwich for the ferry ride back to Seattle.
Saltwater Fishhouse and Oyster Bar, in downtown Langley, is where you’ll find the famous local Penn Cove mussels steamed in Seattle’s Rainier beer. Don’t leave without trying their local clams and oysters too.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines’ flights to Seattle, visit the official website.