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The Accidental Refuge

The sanctuary is located at an elevation of about 2500 feet, amidst ranch land and forests on the Hamakua Coast on the north side of the Big Island of Hawai'i, between Waimea and Honoka'a.


For two decades the land sat nearly empty. There had been murmurings of plans for a retreat center; an extension of a psychiatric practice in town. From time to time, visitors - humans and animals - passed through. Some stayed longer than others, but everyone eventually moved on. I had been out to the property many times since 2005, but I too never stayed long. The land felt abandoned and barren. Pastures were overgrown and sat empty. Trees were overcrowded, and struggling with disease or were already dead. The land, despite its lush and fertile location, felt sad.


In 2019 I sold my house on the other side of town. I needed time to think about what I might do next so I moved to the property, initially not sure I'd stay. Despite the uncertainty, I immediately began taking steps to bring the property to life.

In January 2020, I purchased ten sheep with the idea that they would keep the 30-acres mowed. That vision was crushed as soon as they were released. They ran to the bottom of the tree-lined edge of the property and hid in a small, shallow, forested gully. Frightened, wary, and huddled together, they appeared as a speck on an enormous green backdrop; I realized they'd been given an impossible landscaping task. But I had fences put up, creating smaller pastures, and in time they began to feel at home and confidently spread out, fulfilling their intended purpose. They gave birth to nine healthy lambs that first year.

Around the same time, a neighbor temporarily moved his cows to the property. When they left, seven adopted rescues from Big Island Dairy permanently replaced their much-missed presence. The number of animals needed to naturally and efficiently maintain a property this size was growing, and the results were beautiful.


Day and night, the sheep, cows, and birds quietly landscape their surroundings, nibbling the grass, pruning the trees, and fertilizing the soil. I began to understand that they are the real stewards of the land, and we are their caretakers.

They are sentient beings with emotions, thoughts, desires, memories, preferences, and distinct personalities. And because they are free of vice, motive, and deception, these precious, gentle, and humble creatures make perfect teachers in the art of Being, and other matters of the soul. With that in mind, each one has been given the name of a Saint. They are here to not only teach us about nature and the land, but about ourselves, and each other. And our job has become to provide them sanctuary, a safe place to carry out their mission. It is a blessing and an honor to sit quietly with the flock as they rest in the shade on a warm sunny day, chewing the cud, eyes half-closed, fully present in the moment. Although they are useful landscapers, teaching us the art of living simply is their gift to us and their true purpose.

~ Elaine



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