WHIDBEY ISLAND — It’s like a 72-acre theme park where the rides are spiritual.
And if you want, you can stay eternally at Earth Sanctuary.
What’s up with that?
Chuck Pettis made a bundle in the stock market around 2000 and used it to create a destination to uplift people’s consciousness. Or to allow them to RIP.
Chances are you’ve never heard of Earth Sanctuary, a mere 15-minute drive from the Clinton ferry terminal and a half-mile off Highway 525, somewhere between Langley and Freeland.
About 6,000 people a year visit. Admission is $7 for a self-guided tour of 14 secluded sites in a nature preserve.
“We aren’t Disneyland,” Pettis said. “There’s a certain kind of person interested in these kinds of sculptures and sacred spaces.”
Instead of a funhouse mirror, the “Veils of Reality” sculpture lets visitors see themselves in an introspective light.
The grounds have two miles of wooded trails with environmental art and reflective ponds. And birds, so many birds.
Circle the labyrinth to meditate and cogitate.
Find calm and feel centered inside the 20-ton dolmen, a megalith of upright stones with horizontal slab top.
A 40-foot stone circle with an outer ring of 12 stones standing 11 feet high will make you wonder how in the world Pettis got those gigantic pillars here.
The stones were trucked from a rock warehouse in Issaquah. Heavy equipment brought it from the road, where sounds of distant traffic can be heard at points in the thick woods.
Mostly, though, what you hear are warblers, wrens, owls, hawks and waterfowl. And the occasional bullfrog.
Light filters through the forest canopy of sequoia, redwood, pine, maple, fir, aspen, cottonwood and other trees.
“It is contemplative, peaceful and magical,” Pettis said.
It’s a place to chill, even if you aren’t spiritual. On a visit last week I saw a woman lying in the tall grass in a meadow reading a book.
Pettis showed me around while greeting the occasional guest along the path.
He’s 73, with ball cap atop hair past his shoulders and the gait of a man half his age. He could easily pass as the groundskeeper, which he is.
Pettis comes daily to walk the trails. He lives with his wife, Claudie, a painter, in a waterfront home several miles away.
The property was an overgrown mess when he bought it.
“You needed a machete to go anywhere,” he said.
His two sons helped build the dolmen structure in 2002, the same year as the labyrinth and a small stone circle.
Pettis, a longtime Tibetan Buddhist, added the dome-shaped stupa with a row of prayer wheels in 2011. Make sure to spin each wheel. “If you’re into the power of prayer, this is really a good thing to do,” he said.
Every site has a meaning for Pettis, even those cracks in the circle of small stones (weighing only 600 to 1,000 pounds) shipped from a quarry in his hometown of Ithaca, New York.
“A couple of the pieces had broken and were glued and pinned back together again,” he said. “That reminds me of a couple times in my life where I goofed up and had to glue myself back together again, hopefully stronger than before, and wiser.”
He has degrees in psychology from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and in design from Southern Illinois University, where he studied in Buckminster Fuller’s design department. Pettis was inspired by the famous visionary.
Pettis was able to make his own visions come true.
“In the late ’90s, I did some branding work for some internet companies and I got paid partially in stock. The investments popped and made me modestly wealthy,” he said. “My wife said, ‘Do something good with your money.’ I’m not into boats or anything like that.”
Pettis said he has plunked well over $1 million into Earth Sanctuary, which also houses a spiritual retreat center.
There’s a lot more to come.
Earth Sanctuary is 22 years in the making, with about 480 to go.
“It’s part of a 500-year masterplan,” Pettis said.
He hopes to be there spiritually through the centuries. He envisions Earth Sanctuary to be an old-growth forest. He has planted over 3,000 trees.
A memorial tree program was started by request in 2020. More than 60 people have since paid $500 to $1,500 for a tree with a small personalized marker. Ash burial is $250.
“People come here and walk around and find a tree that speaks to them,” Pettis said. “They find a tree with a connection to a loved one. A woman found a tree for her and her pet.”
Artworks he designed include the “Infinite Tower,” a 24-foot column of interlocking triangles, a driftwood “Ley Line,” and the latest, in 2021, a bright red metal 12-foot “Compressed Cube Tensegrity” sculpture.
It takes at least an hour for a quick tour.
“I was fascinated by the whale skeleton,” said Ava Ferguson, a visitor from Bellingham.
The skull of a baby gray in the authentic “Gray Whale Medicine Wheel” is a shrine for all water beings. It was added and blessed in 2012.
The labyrinth is more than going around in circles.
“If you are cogitating on a problem, you can pose that problem going into the center and then coming out again,” Pettis said. “It is like going to your higher self and maybe you’ll get insight you wouldn’t get otherwise.”
I didn’t have a problem handy to cogitate on. My cares were long gone.
Visiting Earth Sanctuary
Earth Sanctuary is open daily until dark.
Entrances are at 2059 Newman Road and 5536 Emil Road.
Payment, $7, is on the honor system, by cash, check, Venmo or PayPal.