Crystal Water is the daughter of India Supera and Laughing Water and a loving mom to Ilan, Luna and Zia. She’s an entrepreneur, life-long traveler and the Executive Director of the Feathered Pipe Ranch. Last week, Crystal sat down with Andy Vantrease to reflect on her upbringing on this land, her understanding of the Feathered Pipe’s magic, and the lessons she continues to learn from her mom even after she’s passed. Stay tuned for a Part Two, as this excerpt from our rainy-day conversation is far from complete.
Let’s start at your beginning. What’s your first memory of life here at the Ranch?
I have a clear memory of being about four years old, dressed in a Superwoman cape. At the time, we were living in the main lodge—we were always switching between accommodations here—and I have this distinct memory of me really flying across the yoga room. I was completely convinced, and a couple of us kids would play around with the yoga ropes that were connected to the walls, and use them to feel like we could fly as they swung around.
I also remember walking out on the lake when it froze over in the winters, with Katherine Smith’s son Jed. We had plenty of ways to have fun and test the limits. For me, I never thought of my upbringing as anything unique, of course, because that’s just what I was experiencing. My childhood was really public, in a way, because India was so open. As the story goes, India gave birth to me at the Lake Cabin with about 25 onlookers after an out-of-body workshop, and that kind of exposure was pretty normal. People still come up to me and say, “Oh, I was at your birth!”
What was it like to have your home be such a communal space?
It wasn’t always easy having big groups of people around at all times, but I was really raised to believe that, even though the Ranch was our home, it wasn’t a private residence. This land is better when it’s open for whoever wanted or needed to come. I remember getting frustrated when I’d go into my toy room in the basement of the lodge and find out that all my Barbie dolls’ hair had been cut off by a visiting child who had been told to go play with the toys. It was a real lesson in sharing and letting go. Eventually, I decided I did need one small closet with a lock, so that’s where I put my art supplies and things that I wanted to keep private. I needed at least a little slice of my own private space, you know.
But especially in those earlier days, India would invite teachers that she and the staff wanted to learn from—teachers who were doing cutting edge, experiential healing modalities—so I grew up around some incredibly interesting and unique people. Visitors would pass through and next thing you know, we’d be having a big dinner with them and they were staying for weeks on end. My mom was so committed to people that she would drop what she was doing to help someone, to cook or put them up, take them to the hospital or facilitate a healing ceremony. That was who she was and the Ranch was a place for everyone. Because of that, a lot of times I don’t even really remember being aware of where my parents were most of the time, and I had a real freedom there as kid, but was simultaneously looked after by a village of people.
I imagine those people became your first customers as you began your entrepreneur life?
Oh yeah, I started doing foot massages for the guests. I’d sit down on the porch of the chalet and charge 10 cents for a 30-minute foot massage. I had a little sign up sheet. I was maybe eight or nine years old then. I also got really into art and a guest taught me how to do splash paint—a real 80s style—so I had a little painting studio in the garage and would sell them out on the lawn. My mom would buy art supplies for us—me, the Lasater kids and some others—and we’d just spend all day creating and playing and sharing. At the Ranch, it was always, “The more, the merrier.”
I was around 14 when I officially started working at the Ranch and at my dad’s Real Food Store, learning about natural foods, nutrition and cooking. I consciously became a vegetarian during that time—even though I had been raised vegetarian for the first several years, I always liked to sneak steak at other people’s houses. I also started Shanti Boutique later and have had my fair share of jobs and business ventures.
It sounds like you really embraced the lifestyle that you were raised in. Did you ever have that classic rebellious teenager phase?
There were times when I wasn’t quite “into it.” My mom took me traveling a lot, beginning when I was two years old, and I’d go with her to Sai Baba’s in India, Egypt, Turkey and all over. She’d take people to the power points all over the world and also travel in the US to promote the Ranch with slide shows and Indian dinners before the days of internet. Some of those trips, I remember not loving it because I wanted to be with my friends, but at the same time, I thought she was so brave for doing that and for sharing it all with me. She seemed so fearless out there, giving endlessly but also knowing how to ask for help and fundraise. I remember really admiring her and thinking, “Wow, that’s really cool.”
In middle school is when I began getting surgeries on my leg—I was born with one leg shorter than the other and some missing bones in my foot and ankle. I think that would traditionally be the time when kids go through the “embarrassed by your parents” phase, but we actually went to live in Minneapolis for a while because that’s where my doctors were. I had to take months off of school for the procedures, and looking back on pictures from that time, I looked healthy and vibrant and my mom looked exhausted. You can just see it on her face, as a mother, how hard it was for her to go through that with her child. I got more surgeries when I was 15, so it was a long process of healing, and we really figured out how to get through that together as a family. It changed how I could work because I couldn’t be on my feet as much as the store and the kitchen required, so I transitioned to the office more.
Now that you have three kids of your own, is there anything that stands out about her mothering that you recognize in the way you parent?
There are many silly things, like how I can remember asking for a quarter cup of water, ice cold, as I was getting into bed every night. She always gave it to me, and now when my kids ask for it, I get this deja vú feeling; my mom’s kindness comes back to me and I pass that on. My mom and dad were the kind of parents that sort of let things happen, let me learn my own lessons in a safe way. They had a real trust that I would be okay, and that I was capable beyond what I could even comprehend. I think that gave me an innate confidence to seek out adventures and take chances on what I wanted to do.
I’ll never forget: I was in my mid-teens, and my mom had me staying in town at VJ’s apartment because my leg was healing and it was hard for me to drive, plus she didn’t want me to have to walk on all this ice out here during the winter. There had been a shamanic workshop at the Ranch where they had done some plant medicine, and she called me up and said, “You know what? I just realized you are your own person, and I have to let you be you. I can’t be on top of you all the time, and I have to let you go and grow up.”
At the time, I was like, “Okay….” but now as a parent, I know what she was talking about. There comes this point where you realize your kids are full-blown people, and they’re going to grow up and have these full lives. When I was 17, I graduated high school early and went traveling around the world, and my mom let me go. I think about Ilan at 14 now—how will I handle it if he wanted to travel the world in three years? I guess I would think about how my mom handled it.
India really knew how to make space for people to come into their own, to develop on their own time. She was like this mirror for people to see themselves the way she saw them. I hope I can do that for my kids, too—and for other people. It came so naturally for her.
India really valued travel and adventure as a way of coming into one’s own, didn’t she?
Very much so. After high school and my semester of travel, I considered briefly not to go to college and to take my mom’s advice to “quit school and start my life.” I went anyway, although I still managed to take a lot of time off to travel during college and I managed to sneak in a year abroad to Ireland too. My Irish boyfriend and I flew back to the Ranch to get married at 19 years old—because a workshop canceled and there was an open week. It was a huge celebration, and India was in her element with planning the food and the party, and we had a great time.
After completing my Bachelor’s degree, I went through the whole process of applying for Naturopathy School. But soon after I got accepted, I had an epiphany that I didn’t actually want to be a doctor nor did I want to be married so young, so I did a complete 180 turn and went the route of backpacking around the world for months at a time each year. My mom supported that. We always joke that the open week made us get married in the first place and it was all worth it for the over-the-top party. (For my second marriage, we eloped in India, much to my mom’s dismay. She teased me that I was going to marry my way across Europe, but so far I just made it as far as the Netherlands.)
Weddings, parties and gatherings were always a big deal here. I remember one party was supposed to have fire dancers, and they canceled at the last minute, but somehow, we found a backup fire dancer. Like, who knows multiple sets of fire dancers? Only in the Ranch’s network.
It does seem like there is always some kind of force creating interesting alignments when it comes to the Ranch and its network.
There is! There are so many stories of magical things happening and people meeting in seemingly random ways that turn out to change the course of many lives. Even just this week, my husband Johnny and my family flew from our home in the Netherlands like we always do in the summer, and we were really stressed about how we were going to make this season work with the virus restrictions and cautions. It’s been such a long year, with my mom sick all of last summer, her passing in October then a winter working hard to get ready for this next big season. Numbers were dwindling and while we were thinking of all the ways to possibly make it work, we decided it’s safest and best for everyone to cancel the season, take a pause and re-open again in 2021.
I had made that decision the day after we arrived in Montana last week and I was really questioning whether it was the right thing to do. That day, just after the Summer Solstice, a handful of us were sitting out on the lawn, and all of a sudden a young moose appeared at the other side of the lake. He waded into the lake, swam swiftly across, and got out the other side by the tipi—I was totally waiting for him to emerge with an elk head like in my mom’s famous story—but he walked the path up through the yurt area and a bit later he appeared again near the dining hall, having circled the whole property! I felt like it was an omen from my mom, affirming our decision and saying that she was watching over us. It was too auspicious not to be a sign.
Plus, the last three days it’s been raining heavily here and Zia, my two-year-old, has been waking up saying, “It’s the most beautiful day! There’s magic in the air!” She loves the rain—and I think she’s been watching Disney movies. But her optimism at a time that felt heavy to me really reminded me of how many ups and downs my mom had to go through in the last four decades. How much pausing and visioning it took in the beginning to get clear on how this will work. This is somewhat of a new beginning for the Ranch; maybe this pause is exactly what we need as we figure out how to move forward.
How does it feel for you to be stepping in as Executive Director? Is this something you had planned or thought about prior to this year?
Originally, I don’t think I saw myself as being able to carry it on because India is this mythical figure and her gifts and vision kept this place going for 45 years, along with the help of many, many people. When I thought about it, I would just think, “There’s no way I can fill her shoes. I can’t be her.” As others came to me and we had conversations about the future, my eyes started to open to the possibility.
A lot happens when you lose your mother. Your understanding of reality shifts. It’s almost like I am figuring out who I am all over again, who I am without this person. And then who I am and who can I become for the Ranch. I can never fill my mom’s shoes; I know that. But maybe what I can do is use the foundation of everyone who has come before me and preserve all the good work that’s been done, while walking the path in my own shoes. It’s the only way I’ll ever be able to carry on, which, at the end of the day, is exactly what she’s always taught me.