The Vendanta Retreat – A Spot Out of Time and Space

By Stephanie Patterson

At the end of a side road on the outskirts of Scappoose, past a myriad of gentleman farms, sets one of the most unique and serene spots in all of Columbia County – the privately owned, Vedanta Retreat. While Columbia County boosts many great hiking locations with terrific scenery, the Vedanta Retreat offers something extra along its twisting trails. It offers serenity, and an opportunity to contemplate and meditate as you feel guided. Along the densely paths of foliage you discover pilgrimage shrines for all the major religions and philosophies of the world.

Vendanta is a Sanskrit word meaning, “The conclusion of the Vedas” – the Vedas being the oldest sacred writings of India. These writings provide the foundation of Hinduism. Vedantic teachings affirm three tenets: The oneness of existence, the divinity of the soul, and a harmony of all religions. Nowhere is the last tenet so visible at the retreat than in its shrines to various faiths which are scattered throughout the property.

The Vedanta Retreat is located on a 120-acre parcel of land that has been privately owned by the Vedanta Society of Portland since 1936, but visitors and pilgrims are welcome to hike the trails and visit the shrines. There is a gravel drive that stretches through the trees beyond the main gate where you leave your car. Almost immediately you understand that this place in different. Speech becomes quieter, less frequent, as if you automatically comprehend that this is hallowed ground. During spring, the forest floor is covered by wildflowers and new vegetation – white trillium, ferns and Dutchman’s britches to name a few. The paths are well-marked and by bearing right you soon find yourself walking up a long hill. The cries of birds and the patter of rain on leaves and needles are the only sounds you hear. Suddenly, through the tops of the trees you spy a golden, onion-shaped dome. You have found the main temple, or perhaps more correctly, the temple has found you.

There are benches along the edge of the glade housing the temple – places where you can sit and take in the calmness, the sanctity of the site. There is a garden plot with a sign proclaiming it ‘Mother’s Native Garden,’ filled with plants indigenous to Oregon. From the temple, you can take a trail marked, ‘Mothers Trail’ that leads you through the forest to the Karma and the Biblical Trails. Along this way you visit the Shrine of the Holy Mother (Sri Sarada Devi) and the meditation seat of St. Francis of Assisi. Farther up a steep hill, the Christian shrine holds a picture of the Madonna and Child inscribed with the simple words, ‘Amazing Grace.’ From there you can travel a world of beliefs – Sikh, Judaism and Native American, as well as many others. The natural forest, the wildlife, the trails and shrines all serve to make the retreat feel as if it’s a place out of time and space from the modern world.

While the retreat is located on private land, the general public has always been welcome to use the trails and visits the shrines. There are only a few requests the Vendanta Society makes of its visitors. Be respectful and remember this is sanctified ground for many religions and philosophies. There is no alcohol allowed on the property. There is no hunting, or firearms permitted. It is a ‘noise-free’ zone, which means it’s a space designated for quiet contemplation and meditation. This is not a place designed, or intended for running and playing, or climbing trees. Children are welcome, but some of the constraints on them may be difficult for them to follow and it may not be the best choice in a hiking location for them. There is a trash receptacle at the front gate, but none through the trails. If you pack it in, you must pack it out. This property is pristine and the Vendanta Society asks all visitors to ensure it remains this way. It comes down to one thing – be a good guest with good manners. Please check the Vedanta Society’s website for more information at

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The 1st & 3rd Saturday of every month – Writers Write

Come join your fellow writers for a twice-a-month write-in at the St. Helens Public Library. Participate in silent word sprints, encourage each other, exchange ideas, and most importantly, do what writers do:  WRITE!
Open to writers of all ages, background, and introvert levels.
Auditorium, 1st and 3rd Saturdays, 6pm-8pmsthelenslibrary

Hot Topics – Sand Island sets up camp

Hot Topics – Sand Island Sets Up Camp


  • There are currently 37 campsites planned with additional spaces for dwelling on the island. The island can easily accommodate this number with plenty of space for additional day use by guests.
  • Once the island “opens” there will be an onsite camp host 24 hours a day. This person will transport people to location and ensure they have any questions answered and be available 24/7. This person will call for help in emergency situations if necessary.
  • The island will be available for all typical day use by boaters. Boaters can use the docks as they always have. Gatherings for specific boat activities will proceed as normal.
  • The island will have garbage and recycling service.
  • The shuttle for transport to the island is free to anyone overnight camping or for day use guests.
  • There will be a charge for overnight camping or rental of future temporary dwellings.
  • The beach access will always be open for boaters.
  • The island will be patrolled daily and any transient dwellers will be advised of the rules on the island and given information as to services available. Any situations which could arise will be left to the police department if necessary.
  • Guests that take the free shuttle to the island for day use may not stay overnight unless they have reserved camping. Guests may return on the free shuttle based on day use rules similar to other camping areas. Campers will need to be checked in by a specific check in time.
  • Camping will be available electronically for guests who wish to reserve a location. They will be able to choose spaces and all the normal things related to the camp grounds.
  • Parking will be available via valet as well as locations downtown such as next to 2C’s Vendor Mall or at new paved parking lot planned by the Sand island managers.
  • Currently boaters can stay 5 days every 30 days at no charge at all docks. A discussion of limiting the stay to 72 hours except by permit is being discussed.
  • Sand Island is being managed by St. Helens Campgrounds LLC an affiliate of St. Helens Marina. The City of St. Helens Councilors will provide oversight. St. Helens Campground is expecting to spend the necessary moneys to provide a vastly improved outdoor location for both the community and guests.
  • Camping, dwellings, adventure experiences and community activities are all part of the plan for use of the island.
  • Out of town guests can camp for $30 per night while locals get a $10 cash back deal. In the future this will be done via gift cards for use at First & Strand Businesses.
  • Check back for further updates as they become available

Working the County Beat – A View from the Top with Sheriff, Brian Pixley

By Stephanie Patterson

There are three things you notice immediately when meeting Columbia County Sheriff, Brian Pixley, elected to his first term in November 2018. He has a warm smile, a hardy handshake and he sports a large tattoo based on Disney’s Nightmare Before Christmas characters that he wears with pride. All these things have one thing in common – they are who he is. The tattoo symbolically represents his family, all three of his children, his wife of twenty-five years, Annette, himself and even the family dog, immortalized in a colorful arm display. There’s a genuineness and a satisfaction in his voice as he gestures to his family tattoo. “We’re a Disney family,” he explains with a grin. “We’ve been to Disneyland and Disney World many times. We don’t do (a lot of) pictures, so we do this.”

In 1994 the Pixleys moved from Newport Oregon, to the Portland area. It was a return of sorts for Brian, a graduate of David Douglas High School in Southeast Portland. In 2003, the Pixley family relocated to Columbia County and since then, Sheriff Pixley has worked for the City of Scappoose Police and for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), working his way up the ranks, culminating in his successful bid to be elected as sheriff in last year’s election. He’s met the challenges facing the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office by carefully blending both optimism and pragmatism.

“We’re in a real ‘Catch-22’,” Pixley says, referencing the phrase from Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel by the same name for a paradoxical dilemma. “Businesses would like to relocate here (in Columbia County) but there’s a lack of services due to our tax base.” Without an expanding tax base, Pixley notes, it becomes difficult to introduce innovations to services and programs that would keep Columbia County competitive with other locations vying for business growth opportunities. Sheriff Pixley is a strong advocate for agencies working together to accomplish jointly beneficial goals that once had to be sidelined due to the burden of costs. He states that, “Here in Columbia County necessity has had to become the mother of invention to find a way to get things done.” One of the prime examples of interagency cooperation can be seen in the Life Lessons life skills program taught and managed through the Columbia County Jail.

In Life Lessons, inmates receive life skills training, parenting and anger management classes, as well as drug and alcohol treatment. All participants reside in a particular pod while in jail to enhance support and the feeling of community. “The program tries to give them the skills to choose rational thought over acting out,” Pixley explains. “We have our third class of inmates graduating soon.” While he’s proud of the Sheriff’s Office’s track record with their inmate graduates, Pixley recognizes that nothing assists an inmate’s success like witnessing the success stories of other inmates firsthand. “I’d like to start a mentorship program to encourage the next group,” he states.

In response to citizen’s concerns about the treatment of the incarcerated mentally ill, the Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with Columbia Community Mental Health (CCMH), opened an office inside the jail to make certain there were mental health services available to inmates as well as a resource addressing the concerns of the jail staff. While cuts hamper the ability to staff the office for a full, forty hours per week, Sheriff Pixley is working to increasing CCMH’s hours of operation inside the jail to full time. The deputies in the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office have completed training that assists them in their interactions with inmates suffering from mental health issues. Pixley sees this as the best of ‘stone soup,’ where one agency brings what they have to the mix, helping to create more long-term solutions than each agency can accomplish on their own.

While Sheriff Pixley has no immediate plans to completely overhaul existing programs and departments within the county sheriff’s jurisdiction, he does have a list of new ideas and modifications to current programs and procedures that he’d like to enact. Youth outreach is one of his prime areas of interest he explains, and he would like to begin that outreach by involving area young people in a search and rescue corps that could eventually work into a cadet program. He also has nine action items written on the white board of his office that he can miss seeing every day. It’s an impressive list which includes the formation of a Cell Extraction Team – deputies specially trained in negotiating techniques as well as physical policing skills to safely extract a combative inmate from a cell when they pose a risk to other inmates, themselves or to jail staff. The sheriff will also assign liaison deputies to work with specific citizen watch groups in their assigned patrol area in the outlying parts of the county.

Cross training is a key component in a sheriff’s office with staff and funding issues. Sheriff Pixley intends to see that all his deputies complete FBI hostage negotiation training, and is also working to develop and implement professional standards reviews for his staff. These are just highlights from his list. When asked how many of the nine items he believes he can accomplish, he gives his trademark grin and says confidently, “All of them.”