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Eric Botner of the River Canyon Retreat

by Boyd Martin

As the days have grown warmer, thoughts of the summer vacation begin to percolate. Wouldn't it be great to do a retreat? Better yet, how about a health retreat? Maybe a juice fast retreat? And thus, we discovered Eric Botner at the River Canyon Retreat, Grass Valley, California. "I want to be a destination where people who would like to experience eating 100% raw food, even if they had a challenge doing that somewhere else, can come here and do it comfortably, eating really good, tasty foods," declared Eric. "My mission is for them to know that that is possible."

Very candid and open, Eric is a delight to talk with. Obviously deeply inspired from his experiences with raw fooding and living close to the land, Eric decided to make a complete break from his previous lifestyle about three years ago. "I had between a 15 and 20-year business career in wholesale distribution in fruits and vegetables--a very fast and intense business. I felt like, OK, I'm 40 years old--I'll just step out of this and step into another life. But it was almost like I was frozen, and it took me almost 10 years to really shift and create a life from a totally different paradigm. So it's not something that happened automatically."

Eric's first glimpse of his new life came through his friendship with Linda Star Wolf, a shaman, who specialized in what she calls Shamanic Breathwork. "It ended up being such a powerful process that I use it as part of my current practice," says Eric. "I was in the first group of people that she trained. It was a very incredible training and a close-knit group. A lot of the people in that group are still very involved in her organization. I felt a different calling. I got the calling to go start this retreat."

Eric pursued his calling, leading him to Native American teachers who exposed him to sweat lodges, ecstatic dance, and a true connection to Nature. "I had come out of a vision quest with a native teacher I brought down from Canada, and had this vision about starting a center."

Eric says the acquisition of the property of the retreat was a miracle. "The retreat land was for sale for three years before I ever came here. They never had a real offer. Nobody ever lived here before. I had called a contractor who had done some repair work for me and asked him if he knew anyone who was a good realtor for a recreation/retreat property. He gave me the name of a man named Jim, who I called, and who wasn't a realtor. But he said he would look for the property. I gave him the whole description of everything I was looking for. When he called back, the only thing that was missing was the hot springs. Everything else on the list was there. I then went into, interestingly enough, a nine-month escrow. It came through, and I ended up purchasing the property--565 acres."

Eric soon went to work building his dream. "I built a straw bale house, I'm on solar power, off the grid," enthuses Eric. "I'm actually looking into putting in wind power now, since that can have some interesting applications. Then we have a yurt building that we use for yoga and other activities. I'm in the process of building a bamboo open shower house--a shower kind of like from Gilligan's Island. There's a small cob cottage with a living roof, and outdoor bathroom facilities, and there are a couple little cabins that I shipped back from Bali; a little gazebo I shipped back from Bali. Those are some of the buildings, but mainly people who would be coming here would be camping, although we do have four or five little cabins. I might build more over time."

Eric offers special event retreats with expert guest teachers, such as raw foodist Len Watson, firewalker, Andrea Shanti, Tantra teacher, Caroline Muir, and others; but the retreat is also open to urban-weary naturalists who need to connect back to Nature and prefer a personal retreat. "It's an absolutely incredible experience, especially for people who are living in the city to be able to spend some time lying down on the earth. It's a healing. Here the earth if full of gold and quartz, so it's a really very powerful healing, and people who have been camping here have really been enjoying it. So I do encourage that people have that opportunity to embrace the earth."

Keeping his retreat groups small (8-18), Eric is able to offer gracious personalized attention, and caringly individualized agendas for solo retreaters. "I like to ask people why they want to come here, and then offer my recommendations," says Eric. "Sometimes that is to join one of the fasts. If people want to come here for a personal retreat and juice fast, I really need to offer them the information about the 'Ultimate Cleanse Fast' that Len Watson does here. I can make the juice, but there's a lot more that he offers than that. Part of it is really understanding what you're doing--understanding what's happening in your body, understanding how different foods behave in your body. Also, when you're fasting it really seems to help to have other people around who are fasting. If they're wanting to do a shorter fast--some people aren't ready--they've never done ten days--and maybe they want to experiment, and do three days before they do something more major. I'd welcome them to come do that. We want everyone to have a personal experience and not feel like part of a herd."

Eric likes to be interactive when it comes to personal retreats. "I would design the personal retreats with them. Although they are not living on the property, they're right in the community here. There's always hiking, and cycle riding in the area available, and then there is always food. And when I say food, that means raw food, otherwise I don't really think of it as food! Or someone might want to come and actually bring their own. Maybe they want to bring an ice chest with some food and stuff like that, that would be just great."

The retreat is open for its regular season from May to October, since other months are unpredictable weather-wise, and Eric is generous and reasonable on fees. "The way that I work on charges is a $25-a-day fee as a camping and land use fee. Then if somebody wants to take care of all their own needs, or they want to come here and do a six-day water fast, and they bring their own water, then that's all the fee that there is," says Eric. "If they want me to make them juice, or they want me to make food, then we have a fee for each thing they want. If they want a massage we have someone for that. If they want Shamanic Breathwork, then we can offer that. If they want to do things in the area, there are quite a few interesting opportunities for historical sightseeing, or the Nature, or the towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City, just depending on what a person is looking for. There's quite a lot available here."

"We also do concerts," says Eric. "There is a beautiful area down at the Yuba River where we do concerts. I'm planning another one with a good friend of mine, Angelika, an award-winning recording artist. She's played a few concerts at the river before. We ferry her and her equipment across the river on a little dingy, and then there are steps cut into the stone wall that you can ascend. It's a 60-foot granite cliff going up a thousand foot mountain. And here at the bottom is a shelf at 30 feet off the water, and she sits up there. We power it from the other side of the river, and people sit on the beach on the other side of the river. The acoustics--we never knew this till we actually did a concert--the acoustics are as astounding as one of the best recording studios you might find."

For the last firewalk Eric had arranged for a Qawali Sufi music group to perform, who'll be doing some concerts this coming summer.

I mentioned to Eric that my diet was about 75% raw, and that I was shooting for 100% at some point. "Whatever percent you are, it's all good," he said. "There's a huge bonus that people don't realize. When you just go 100%, all of a sudden you're feeling so good and joyful, you just wonder, Well, why was I resisting this for so long? And then it becomes much easier, because it's just not a question of what's the percent. But the point is I want the retreat to be a destination where people who would like to experience eating 100% raw food, even if they had a challenge doing that somewhere else, can come here and do it comfortably, eating really good, tasty foods. My mission is for them to know that that is possible."

Every raw foodist was "cooked" before making the change, and the changeover is a process. Eric believes the retreat can reinforce what's great about raw fooding. "I had to develop from cooked to 90%, and then from 90% fairly quickly to 100%. For other people, maybe they just want the experience of coming here for a few days or three days and eating 100% raw food just to know what that feels like in them; and get the inspiration that they can survive and not be hungry all the time, or feel like they're being deprived. That's often one people have a hard time with. They want all those little delicious goodies other people are eating, and their mouth starts watering so furiously that they've got to start eating those things. They'll go, Well, just for today--tomorrow I'll go back to raw!"

I told Eric that a lot of times, because of my busy musician schedule, I just don't have access to raw foods, and this is what contributes to most of my cooked-ness. "You know what, I learned how to deal with that," interjected Eric. "And how I deal with that is just like simple secrets. You watch successful raw foodists. I carry a bag of food with me everywhere I go--food and/or juice. When I'm on a juice fast, I carry a veggie juice and a fruit juice in those quart canning jars. I carry them in a soft shoulder ice-pack thing with a couple of ice packs in there, and when I've got to go into town or go somewhere for the day, I try to have a few pates on hand in the 'frig--just make some sunflower seeds--take a little dish of that, maybe some crackers, cut-up vegetables, maybe a banana, a couple of apples, carrots, peppers, whatever it is that I'm feeling I want to eat--seaweed, nori--I just keep a reasonable mix."

Most raw foodists, if they want a social life at all, end up being accidental evangelists to the cause. "A lot of times I'll take this right into a restaurant," Eric says. "No one's ever said anything. I just ask them very pleasantly, Listen, I have this food, I have a special diet, I eat only organic foods. If you have anything that's organic and raw in the restaurant, I'd be happy to order it. They look at me And if they have something better, I'll put mine away."

Once 100% raw has been achieved, the process continues to evolve. "My diet has evolved over the last three years," says Eric. "I'm not the raw foodist I used to be. When I started, I ate a lot more varied. My deal with myself was I could eat anything and as much as I want as long as it's raw. While I did that, I lost 40 pounds eating like a pig, basically! I was way overeating and losing weight. I thought, Whoa, this is a piece of magic. Then there are other aspects that I needed to catch up to. Now the most important things in my diet are, 1. Greens. What I have every morning is a green smoothie that Victoria Boutenko is promoting: 60% fruits and 40% greens. So I'll have parsley and cilantro, or kale and parsley--I like the darker greens where the real chlorophyll is--and wheat grass. And the other thing that I'm focusing on now is the ocean vegetable--all the different seaweeds. Three years into the detox, my body is still detoxing acid, so I need the minerals from the sea vegetables, because many of the earth-grown veggies, even organic, are mineral deficient.

As the transition to raw foods process continues, issues around eating in general begin to loom, and a lot of that comes from family culture. "At one time in my life food meant just putting fuel into my body, and if it gave me the energy to go from here to there, be awake, do my thing, then it was the right thing. I had food," says Eric. "I go back historically in my family to the Great Depression--my grandfather lived through that--and they didn't know about fasting. All they knew about was hunger. So the whole orientation that I was brought up with was that eating more is better. Not hungry! Our whole culture is centered around this. If you're going to go do something special...let's go to a good restaurant. What else are you going to do? Then came along all the junk food and take out, and the fast food and the frozen food and microwave, and all of a sudden what you have is a nightmare. It's not even about food--it's about what kind of additives you can put in there to get people addicted to the product you're selling, so they come back and want to eat more of it. That's stunning!"

I was a raw foodist for nearly five years, but ended up going off the regimen because I felt my energy level was suffering, and feared I was showing signs of protein deficiency. Eric gave me another way to look at this: "One of the things I've heard from Len Watson is that there are many people who have been raw foodists for three years, five years, six years, and all of a sudden they go off of it--it doesn't work for them anymore. What he says is why that happens is people are not doing their cleansing. His message is: You know when it's time to cleanse your body when you being wanting more complex food. You're not being satisfied by your simple salad without a whole bunch of spices and things like that. But, as soon as you go on a juice fast, you clear out your palate, and even the most simple things taste totally delicious."

Although it's a hard pill to swallow, Eric points out the all-too-convenient unholy alliance between food vendors and the health care industry. "Many people had down through the years the thought that the government was looking out for their interests. I don't think so," declares Eric. "I mean, if they were, I don't think we'd be in the situation we're in now with health care. The government seems to allow that whatever's good for business, must be good. And probably if we do enough research, we start to find out that some of the companies that are serving the fast food to people are also involved with health care, because they're helping to make the people sick! We need to go in a different direction--expose people to a different IDEA of health. I like to use this as an example: To me what 'cleansing' meant was taking a shower with soap. I never thought about the inside of my body. I just thought it was some complicated area where all the organs and the other parts--the blood and guts and everything--are all kind of inside there. And when you eat food, whatever your body doesn't use or doesn't need, you just poop it out. A piece of that is the truth, but a piece of this is, No, we need to learn how to cleanse the inside of our body, even if we're eating an excellent raw food diet. This is something everyone needs to do."

Visit the River Canyon Retreat website and check out the events page for the latest scheduled Cleanses, as well as a great photo gallery, and fascinating information about raw foods, Shamanic Breathwork, and Vision Quests. (

[Ed. Note:   Photos are at ]

About Boyd Martin

Boyd is the webmaster of and the Vibrant Living Newsletter writer, and manages several commercial websites. He enjoys a wide range of experience both in the ways of the Internet, alternative health modalities, environmental issues, and in freelance writing. He published the Portland Live Music Guide for five years in Portland, Oregon, and was assistant editor for a Portland weekly for ten years. An active, professional drummer, Boyd performs in the Portland area with several area blues and R&B bands, and has toured internationally. Boyd is also an avid, daily practicing Bikram Yoga student. [Ed. Note:   Photo is at ]


Boyd Martin

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