Family creates community in nature of rural Tennessee

Driving into Sweet Hollow Lane, it is the shalla — a round, open wooden shelter with a high-angled roof – that greets you as you emerge from the woods. High on the hill, visitors practice their Warrior One poses, meditate, watch the sun rise in morning. Nestled between miles of woods of the Smoky Mountains below it, are six yurts, an outside kitchen area, bathrooms and a lot of open space that brings people together.

“The purpose is to build community within East Tennessee,” says Mary. “Not just traditional community, but any kind of community. We open it up to any kind of group that wants to come and get away from all the noise, disconnect and reflect.”

Mary and her family — husband Herman, daughter Jessi and her husband, Zack, live in a house at the far end of the property. This summer at Seven Springs Holistic Retreat Center, Jessi and Zack have held yoga, art, creative movement and other retreats. Small groups of people can also come to be married, share knowledge of, say, horticulture or traditional Cherokee culture, and have quiet time in this clearing within the Smoky Mountains. Caregivers of wounded veterans in Tennessee have also come in support of each other, and for an overnight stay. Amazing networking has occurred between people here, to help each other.

“There are so many people searching for a place like this,” says Mary. “They are everyday people who come through, with an amazing love for the earth and other people. The setting lends itself to people who are seeking something or are open to learning by listening to the trees and peacefulness.”

They stay in the yurts, named for the style which they are decorated — Bali, Mexico, Peru … Everything is hand-built, by family and friends.

The midwife and her newlywed husband who are here delivered Jessi and Zach’s baby in the Peru yurt two months ago. Herman and Zach built the shalla with cedar wood cut off the land. The kitchen countertop was made by a friend who wanted to give them something beautiful; he layered in rock in the shape of a feather and the Seven Springs logo.

The labyrinth — an oblong path that winds around to a middl and takes walkers back out so they can think (or not) — was made a few summers ago by a friend, with help from many. Mary loves the photos that capture the small kids pitching in, and having a good time.

“Many hands created this,” says Mary. “It’s like that Chinese proverb: Many hands make for light work. It’s true.”

The family has a long history building up communities, and conservation, here and abroad. Herman once drove a school bus full of supplies donated by Maryville-area residents from this small town to Nicaragua, following Hurricane Mitch.

“It was a blast!” he says.

Jessi and Zach, have been involved with economic and community development for years, especially in Guatemala. Jessi set up nonprofit businesses, including Global Just, which sells handmade clothing and provides fair wages to the Mayan artisans who create them.

The family has owned the land outside of the larger town of Maryville for decades. Mary worked with the forest service and after they retired, she and Herman wondered what they would do with all this land.
Jessi came up with Seven Springs.

As I depart after my overnight stay, Michael and other instructors, and Chef Wendy, are preparing for a yoga retreat.

“It’s humbling, how it has come together,” says Jessi. “how everyone made it happen and how everyone who comes here feels it with such energy.”