They came to this place for the simple life.
To live among the trees, along Kannah Creek, in this valley sheltered in the shadow of Grand Mesa. The hills around the property hug it in a way that gives a feeling of safety.
They came to escape the outside noise of the city, but to allow those who yearned for that escape to come, too, and experience a spiritual respite. This place helped them heal, realign and send out roots again to stabilize themselves.
And now, the women who established this sacred, special place are preparing to leave.
The Whitewater Sisters, as they have long been called in western Colorado, are ready to move on. Sister Anne Brost and Sister Mary Glenn, who have lived at the Whitewater Community since they first came to the valley in 1971, have decided to sell the property, relocate to Colorado Springs and live with their fellow Sisters at the Benet Hill Monastery.
The next owners will inherit the house they built after living in a trailer next to the creek when they first arrived there. The concrete steps that used to lead to the trailer still stand, firmly, next to the creek, though they don't lead anywhere in particular. The squirrels have overtaken it as a stage for their antics and will continue to perform in their absence.
The buyers will also become caretakers of a land assured to be left largely as is, protected from development by a conservation easement the sisters arranged in 2001. It would be harder to leave if the prospect of building condos or a mega-mansion were possible on the parcel.
"It's a comfort to know that as we see it now, it will remain the same," said Sister Mary.
Knowing that the property is under conservation is a relief to both of the Sisters as they prepare to leave for Benet Hill Monastery. Living a communal life will be an adjustment, as there are more than 20 Sisters at the Colorado Springs monastery.
The sisters joined the Benedictine order about 10 years ago when they realized it was time to join a larger community again, to connect with others and be part of a bigger organization.
But they asked if they could stay here a little longer. Until they shouldn't, or couldn't anymore.
"Last year, we started talking, and said maybe it's time," said Sister Mary, who is 75. "Right now both of us are in good health and we're able to make decisions and that makes it much more enjoyable."
"We can be part of this transition instead of having it imposed upon us," said Sister Anne, who is 82.
That doesn't mean she won't miss this place, where she can see almost the whole sky at once.
Both the sisters have spent most of their adult lives on the 94-acre property after establishing it as a monastery as visitation nuns in the 1970s. Because of the changes that were happening in religious life then for women, they had other options besides wearing habits and only interacting with other nuns.
They wanted to practice hospitality, welcome people to come visit with them in a more normal setting to learn about spirituality. They didn't want to be cloistered, hidden away from people in the outside world.
There was only one visitation community in the West at the time, the one that Sister Mary had belonged to in Tacoma, Washington. They asked bishops around the region if they would be open to helping them establish a community. Pueblo Diocese Bishop Charles Buswell was welcoming, which led them here to establish a different way of leading a contemplative life — inviting people to come visit and experience the divine in nature and sharing their acceptance and hospitality.
"We came here to live a simple life and to share that life with people," said Sister Anne.
After choosing the high desert of western Colorado, they enlisted the help of Levi Lucero during the summer of 1971, driving all over the remote areas and looking for an affordable, just-right place to locate the community.
"We looked at the end of every road," joked Sister Anne.
They found this place above Whitewater, along Kannah Creek Road, and the owner, Mr. Gill, was happy to sell his place to them, as the nuns at St. Mary's Hospital had been kind to his wife. They replaced the one-plank bridge Mr. Gill left behind and began their lives as the Whitewater Sisters.
Since then, they've begun each day the same way, in prayer together and eating breakfast. And every day ends with evening prayer, after a simple homemade meal. The hours in between are filled with work, bringing in wood, keeping the house in immaculate order, making bread, long walks with neighbors and themselves. In the summer, there are peaches to can for winter guests to enjoy. In the winter, there's snow to shovel.
It hasn't always been easy. They lived in a 540-square-foot trailer for the first six years, and there were some cold winters. One year the peaceful, babbling creek running through the property roared to life with spring runoff, flooding the new house. Neighbors helped them with projects and chores over the years, and will be one of the things they miss most about leaving this place.
They'll miss their annual Christmas parties when they invited all those neighbors over, setting up folding tables in the living room and having their potlucks with cider and Carellis, the Stelters, the Alexanders, the Wallaces and others.
They also will miss the visitors who came for retreats on Saturdays and for spiritual programs, silent retreats and church groups. Over the years, they've tended this place and served the visitors who came for spiritual guidance, for meditation and silent retreat. Sometimes they came in groups for weekends. Other times, they came alone, to be alone with their thoughts.
Sister Mary made the fires in the main house, and Sister Anne brought in the wood. Sometimes they collected dead cottonwood branches and used them to fuel the fire.
The sisters always serve homemade bread, soup and dessert, sometimes canned fruit the sisters put up in the summer for year-round enjoyment. The nourishment fed their bodies and their souls.
"They come for spiritual direction," said Sister Anne. "I guess we help people … we've looked at ourselves enough and see that we're OK, and that everybody else is OK, too, and we just have to recognize that in ourselves and go on from there.
"I think a lot of people come for assurance that who they are is fine."
Others came to center themselves, to recalibrate, "To be more aware of the presence of the divine in their lives," Sister Anne said. "And this is an easy place to see the divine all around us."
"We'll miss this place but it isn't like we won't be back," said Sister Anne. "We have standing invitations in the neighborhood."
The property is represented by Realtor Jeptha Sheene and will be listed March 1.