Springfield -- A dozen people, chanting in reverence for Earth and sky, beating drums and shaking tambourines while sitting in a circle on the lawn of a McKenzie River Valley farm, were part of a test Friday.
The ceremonial chanting was ordered by Lane County hearings officer Milo Mecham, who had arrived at the hillside property of Whitewind Swan Fisher and Ben Fisher, along with a group of concerned neighbors, to assess noise and traffic levels at the site.
Next week, Mecham will decide whether to grant the Fishers' request for a five-year temporary permit that would allow the couple to run educational retreats on the property, which is now zoned exclusively for farm use.
The Fishers must first convince Mecham that their annual World Dream Camps won't adversely affect their neighbors' livability through increased noise, dust, traffic or fire hazard, said Thom Lanfear, Lane County associate planner.
"It's a pretty broad consideration," Lanfear said.
The 12-day sessions, which cost $1,750 per person, will bring about 30 people to the property, according to the Fishers' request. Meditation, hot-tub soaks and group therapy are part of what the sessions offer, according to Whitewind Fisher's Friends Landing Web site (www.friendslanding.net/).
"What we encourage people to do here is follow their dreams," said Gene Tresenfeld, who is training to be a spiritual leader of the World Dream Camps.
But some say the activities of the Friends Landing organization go too far and include cultlike tendencies in how they treat participants of the summer retreats.
...[A] California dentist, alleges that Whitewind Swan Fisher, who has described herself as a shaman, has "performed some kind of mind control" on his 22-year-old son...who now lives with the Fishers.
[The father], who first complained to Lane County officials that the Dream Camps his son attended were operating in violation of zoning laws, made the trip from his Bay Area home to participate in Friday's site visit.
"I'm determined to get my son back," he said. "Everything I'm doing, I'm doing because I love my son."
[The son], a graduate of the University of Oregon with a degree in psychology, said he had made his own free choice to join the Friends Landing group and to live on the Fishers' property. "My parents just can't accept my choices," he said.
Ben Fisher, who tends to the tree farm on the property, blames [The father] alone for the zoning dispute. It's out of vengeance and anger over a broken relationship with his son, Fisher said, that [the father] continues his effort to discredit the family and Friends Landing.
"I had no problem getting along with my neighbors before his complaint," Fisher said. "I love my neighbors. And in no shape, way or form is this a cult."
Martin Starr, a therapist who first suggested Friends Landing as an option for [the son], also said it was the young man's parents who had created the rumor of cult activities at Friends Landing.
"This is a family squabble," he said.
Starr, now a counselor for Lane County's Youth Services Department, called the family's allegations "an unfair characterization based on fear."
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