Wildland Firefighter Retreat

Rest ~ Refuge ~ Renewal

Building a Community of Practice for Wildland Firefighters

Our Intentions

  • Strengthening and developing tools of meditation and mindfulness practice as a foundation for living
  • Let nervous system come back into equilibrium
  • An opportunity to connect in community with experiences that we carry through witnessing, active listening, and speaking
  • Time in nature
  • A space to grieve
  • Building relationships between the fire world and Zen Center

"If you have these two things - 

the willingness to change,

and the acceptance of everything as it comes,

you will have all you need to work with." 

~Charlotte Selver

 Your Facilitators

Lee Klinger Lesser

I lived at Tassajara as a Zen Student from 1980 - 1983. I have been leading workshops in the mindfulness practice of Sensory Awareness since 1976. My teacher of Sensory Awareness, Charlotte Selver, introduced me to Zen Center. She was good friends with Suzuki Roshi, the founder of Zen Center. For over 40 years, I have experienced how these practices enhance and enrich each other. I deeply trust in all of the life experience that is bringing us together for this groundbreaking work with you and I am grateful to be a part of it. 

Chris Fortin

Hi everyone,

I live in the Russian River watershed, in the redwoods of Sonoma County CA. We have a big garden and orchard, it’s paradise - and we’re in fire country. We've been evacuated twice, the Walbridge fire was just up the road last year. My sister lost her Santa Rosa home, actually the whole neighborhood burned to the ground, in the Kincaid Fire of 2019. So, what you do is up close and personal and I’m deeply grateful for each of you and the work that you do. I have been practicing zen since 1976 and am a zen priest and dharma teacher transmitted by Zoketsu Norman Fischer  in the Everyday Zen/Suzuki Roshi linage. I lead zen sanghas , retreats and workshops . I worked for many years as a licensed psychotherapist specializing in trauma and as a spiritual counselor integrating psychotherapy and spirituality .

Marc Lesser

I was a resident of the San Francisco Zen Center for 10 years, and was director of Tassajara, Zen Mountain Center. I'm a Zen priest and teacher with an MBA degree, and have launched and been CEO of three companies. I'm passionate about integrating Zen practice and mindfulness practice with leadership and business for the purpose of supporting positive change, internally and externally. I love spending time with my family, going for long walks, and watching almost any sport. I've written five books about mindful leadership, and wonder what's next - in writing, working, and living.

Vanessa Meade

My name is Vanessa Meade, and I live in Anchorage, Alaska. I've been facilitating mindfulness-based retreats, classes, and practices for ten years with veterans, at the University of Alaska Anchorage and in communities here in Alaska. I am a licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, and assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. My own journey to meditation and mindfulness practices came through my experiences as a U.S. Army paratrooper and combat veteran, and Alaska State Trooper. It's been one of the greatest gifts of my life to reconnect with life and living through mindfulness and meditation practices. I am grateful to be a part of this community of support with you.

Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin, and I'm a therapist and a Zen practitioner and teacher with the Zen Community of Oregon. I live at Great Vow Zen Monastery with my husband Patrick, and our Golden Retriever Louis. Most of my social work career has been in high-volume-and-intensity community mental health, and I learned about practicing and teaching mindfulness in this setting as well as teaching MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction). I've done crisis mental health work and in the past several years have been working with healthcare providers struggling with burnout. I am also noticing a sense of wonder and excitement for this process. I have much to learn about your world, and am so grateful for the opportunity. Thank you. 

 Your Team Leads (more TBA)

The Met -22.pdf

Connie Stickel

I am Connie Stickel and have been in some iteration of wildland fire since 1995. Working from Alaska to Florida, and from handcrews to helicopters, has been a great adventure. Since 2008 I’ve primarily worked as a helicopter manager for the Alaska Fire Service, and in 2014 I added ER nurse to my resume. Our ability to manage/cope with the stresses of work and life is similar to a helicopter, it works until it doesn’t. I find value in practicing mindfulness, meditation, and gratitude to help balance challenges and celebrate accomplishments.  Learning new practices is integral to continue moving forward and living gracefully. Culture change is important to the future success of fire. I try to advocate for change and for those who need help. In my time at Tassajara last year I learned a great deal, integrated new practices into my personal and professional lives, and have shared what I could with those who choose to embrace curiosity. 

Evan Sterling

Hi everyone! I'm Evan Sterling and I’ve been in fire and EMS since 2004, initially as a volunteer EMT and then structure firefighter. Since 2012, I’ve worked in wildland fire primarily as an advanced EMT on the fireline, as well as on engines and helitack for a number of years. Now I work for the BLM Alaska Fire Service in Fairbanks to help coordinate medical support for Alaska. Over the past several years, I’ve begun to develop a simple mindfulness and meditation practice, and attending the 2023 Tassajara Retreat really helped me to solidify this practice into something more consistent and significant. I’m so deeply grateful for the San Francisco Zen Center and the wonderful facilitators who have offered our community of wildland firefighters such an important and meaningful experience and I’m so happy to be helping out!

Mike DeLeo

I began my career as a First Responder in 1992 as a Volunteer Firefighter and was hired on as a Wildland Firefighter in San Luis Obispo.  Over the course of a career in the fire service I found myself struggling with the weight of the profession and inability to maintain a healthy work life balance. In 2011 I arrived at a crossroads and attended the West Coast Post-Trauma Retreat which introduced me to the world of first responder mental health and recovery. I became involved in our CISM / Peer support team and accepted a full-time position on our Behavioral Health and Wellness team providing crisis support statewide.  

I attended the Tassajara Wildland Firefighter Retreat last year to strengthen my meditation / mindfulness practice and left with that and so much more. I am excited and thankful to be a part of this amazing community of compassionate facilitators and responders and look forward to welcoming you. 

Olivia-Iniabi Collette

Olivia-Iniabi is a proud member of the Wahzhazhe Nation (Osage Nation). She has embraced humanitarianism since childhood. In 1995 a devastating flood left her home and community in despair. A special group of volunteers helped them rise and rebuild. Inspired by their service, Olivia-Iniabi joined AmeriCorps*National Civilian Community Corps (A*NCCC). It was during that time she became involved in protecting natural resources through all risk emergency and wildfire response. Olivia-Iniabi later returned to wildland firefighting and co-founded a non-government organization providing educational and humanitarian support globally. The discovery that many in her profession share a common ethos: that all human kind shall have the right to a life of respect and dignity, continues to be her motivation in serving and protecting our planet and humankind. The 2022 Tassajara Wildland Firefighter Retreat left a transformational impact and she is returning to continue her practice. Today, Olivia-Iniabi is an accomplished battalion chief and wildfire investigator/prevention program manager. She balances her career with her commitment to human rights, equality, spiritual growth and health of wildland firefighters, their communities and families.

Sue Husari

My name is Sue Husari.  I live west of Petaluma, California on a small rural property with my wife, our dog, and our four-goat fuel reduction crew. I studied Botany as a university student. This evolved into an interest in fire ecology, fire effects, fire science and fire behavior. I enjoyed a long career in wildland fire starting in 1975 in the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service, and I only recently truly retired at the end of my second term as a member of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. I have always loved Tassajara, starting with backpacking trips as a girl, as a hotshot during the Marble Cone fire and as a Fire Behavior Analyst on several large fires that approached the Zen Mountain Center. I attended last year’s retreat and reconnected with the valley and the people.   Meditation and yoga have been very helpful in reconciling my relationship with my experiences during my career and my present reality.