October 3, 2023

Living the Hippie Dream

July 4, 2007
In an era that celebrates Donald Trump and corporate suits, there are still some folks who stop and smell the flowers —- and raise llamas and hold peace dances.
Betty Demers and Marty Jablonski are living the life they dreamed of when they were young and first met at a vegetarian restaurant in Hamtramck. They now live in Benzonia, a small town in Benzie County, and are at the heart of a small hippie culture that has thrived for decades.
“Years ago we learned the secret of positive thinking. What you think about is what you can manifest. We had dreams of a solar home and an organic farm. And 30 years later, here we are!” Jablonski said.
“The only problem is it’s hard to keep up with all we’ve started, now that we’re in our 50s,” Demers said.
The couple sat on a bench and sipped iced tea, down the hill from a meadow, where a white llama was napping. Before them was their most recent creation –a  beautiful labyrinth or what they call a “peace garden.”

Labyrinths are ancient tools for healing, prayer, and deeply meditating. It differs from a maze in that there is only one path to take: the way in is the way out.  
“It combines the image of a circle and a spiral whose path is meandering but purposeful. This path represents a journey to our center and back out in connection with the world again,” Jablonski said.
They built the labyrinth three years ago as a nature sanctuary devoted to love and harmony. They felt its beauty would help them and others slow down and heal from whatever is ailing them—physically or emotionally.
“This labyrinth peace garden is a place to unwind with no cell phones. We are all on a path of grace, and a labyrinth is a model of that very path,” said Jablonski.
The couple were inspired to build the labyrinth three years ago when Demers’ health was suffering.
“We asked for guidance, and we dreamt of labyrinths. For centuries people have walked labyrinths as a way of healing,” Demers said, adding that the peace garden now has over 1,000 perennials and herbs in and around the labyrinth.

Amazingly, Demers’ chronic health problems were “95% resolved” as she carried her “intention” into the labyrinth to be healthy and well. She also credits the video called The Secret, which talks about the law of attraction —- your thoughts, both positive and negative, act like a magnet for a very physical reality.
To create the labyrinth, the couple studied books and consulted designs on the Internet. The first labyrinth was constructed in the 12th century. Major labyrinths have been built in this country – the most famous one at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.   
The couple said it’s a particularly nice place to recharge your spirit during these times of war. Demers said she no longer protests the war, but walks the labyrinth and thinks positively about peace in the world. She hopes others do the same and then follow up their intention by urging political leaders to find real solutions to the chaos in Iraq.
“We aren’t anti-war, we’re pro-peace,” she said. “We focus our intentions on what we do want, instead of what we don’t want. Look at this garden. It’s a labor of love.
“Before we start down the path, we choose our intentions, or our prayers to walk with. We often walk with the vision of peace.”

The couple designed their labyrinth so they could move some flower boxes out of it in order to make full circles to allow people to dance. 
Years ago when they first met and considered themselves bona fide hippies, the couple was turned on to the
“Dances of Universal Peace,” also known as Sufi Dancing.
The dances were created by Samuel Lewis (Sufi Sam) out of San Francisco in the late 1960s. The dances are moving meditations or body prayers. They involve simple and sacred chants drawn from many religions to promote harmony between individuals and groups.
The dances are led by The Peaceful Sisters, a group of four women from throughout Michigan, who have a deep love for spirituality, music, friendship and dance.
“Their passion for peace brings a joyful energy to all of their gatherings and retreats,” Demers said.
One sister, Janet Sky of Grand Rapids, was a midwife with Demers in the 1970s. She and Demers met at a midwife conference in Traverse City and reconnected at a Peace Dance at Bliss Fest. That’s when they discovered that they were both leading peace dances in their own towns. They formed the group the Peaceful Sisters and soon invited two other dance leaders to join them – Susan Ashley from Ganges and Catherine Sugas from Kalamazoo. They now lead dances at special events, church groups, peace gatherings, music festivals and parties.

The couple first met in 1973 and committed to each other a year later. “We never got married,” Demers said. “A piece of paper from the government isn’t going to make our hearts beat any closer.”
Ironically, their daughter, Chandra is married and works as a wedding photographer and wedding planner. (Their son, Marley, 18, has one year left of high school.)
Demers was the first to move to Benzonia in 1986. She became co-owner with Deanne Loll, of Northern Delights Café which offered vegetarian whole foods. “It was a few years ahead of its time for northern Michigan,” she said.
Jablonski stayed in Petoskey a year longer. He bided his time with a good carpentry job, then moved down when a job opened up at Field Crafts. They bought 16 acres of land, and their friends bought adjoining parcels – like a commune, only privately held.
Demers said people often look at their farm and think that she and Jablonski are rich. They see a big house, the llamas, the peace garden, the rolling meadows and woods, and the barn. 
“We built everything ourselves. We are not your typical American family. We seldom go out to eat. We have shopped at food co-ops since the early ’70s, and we have been vegetarians even longer than that,” Demers said.

They own a TV for watching movies, but don’t have an antenna, so they don’t get any stations. Jablonski listens to National Public Radio, although Demers can’t. “The depressing news zaps my energy,” she said, saying she prefers to spend her time instead on her peace work—life coaching, mediating conflicts and teaching compassionate communication.
Committed to a simple lifestyle, they agreed early on they wouldn’t buy new cars, and only spend money they had. They are now building a new Healing Arts Center to give workshops on solar design, organic gardening, yoga, music and dance. But they are building it room by room, as they earn the money to complete it.
“We paid off the mortgage so we have one less bill. We used to only go on vacations to music festivals. We always volunteered so we always got in free. We work for the festivals. Because we are members, therefore, we own it,” Jablonski said.
Speaking of money, the couple has pieced together several different ways of earning money, all flowing from their interest in peace and folk music.
They sell produce from their organic garden and orchards. Demers has a home maintenance business—gardening, organizing rooms and cleaning, while Jablonski works at Field Crafts, printing t-shirts. Because of his involvement with the music festivals, he brings in extra jobs to the t-shirt store from the festivals and bands that play at them.
They sell felt slippers and hats made from the wool of their llamas (and use llama droppings to fertilize the organic gardens). They also sell prayer flags, designed by friends in Hawaii, whom they met at a peace dance on Maui.

Also on Maui, they discovered the theory of nonviolent communication, or compassionate communication, at a Maui Sufi camp. They now lead study groups on this philosophy at the farm.
Throughout the years, Demers hasn’t changed her fresh-scrubbed, no make-up look. Jablonski has kept his beard and hippie “look,” which can now scare people, he said, laughing.
“I was searched on an airplane once, because someone in first class was afraid 
of me,” he said. “But I talked to the flight attendant and was open and understanding about what was going on. Because of that, I think, she came back near the end of the flight and gave me a complimentary bottle of ‘first-class’ wine.”
“People think he looks like bin Laden because of his long, gray beard,” said Demers as she gently rubbed his face.
The morning was getting on, and there was a lot of work to do. Demers walked over to the meadow to hose down her hot llamas in a blue, plastic swimming pool, while Jablonski went to t-shirts for his new, favorite band—Donna the Buffalo. Another day in hippie land.

To get on the Llama Meadows mailing list, email Marty@llamameadows.com or call Betty at 231-882-4933 or email her at betty@llamameadows.com. There are two upcoming peace dance events at the Llama Meadows Farm: July 28 and August 25. The public is invited to eat, dance and pray together. Donations of $5 to 10 are requested to help pay for the peace garden. For more information and directions, email Marty at marty@llamameadows.com. Flyers of the event are available at Oryana Food Co-op.
Also, the Peace Sisters will host a retreat at Song of the Morning Ranch in Vanderbilt on September 28-30. Email Betty at betty@llamameadows.com for more information.


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