inspiration

Highlights Nature Retreat Highlights.

Nature Retreat for ALL Writers & Artists 2018

This summer, I applied for and was granted a full scholarship to the Highlights Foundation’s first ever Nature Retreat. It was magical.

To try to write about the entire experience would be to fill volumes. I decided to focus on ten highlights instead.

 

1. Jo, travel arranger extrordinaire, sent me my welcome e-mail with this little note at the end:

“I see you live on the West coast, and I recommend flying into Newark perhaps—we provide complimentary shuttle service…and if you need to arrive a day early, we can make that work.”

I responded:

“Could you let me know what coming in a day ahead of time would cost? Thank you!”

Her response:

“Chris,

No charge this time for coming a day early…know you have long travel time.”

The very first communication I had with this wonderful organization made me cry.

 

2. Linda, of the complimentary shuttle service, picked me up at the airport.

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“Oregon.” I answered.

“Wow! I lived in Oregon in the early 80’s.”

“Small world! Which part?”

“Salem.”

I break out in goosebumps. “No way! That’s the biggest town close to where I live.”

“So, where exactly do you live?” Sharon asked.

“Between Salem and Silverton, little community called Pratum,” I answered.

“Hmmm. That sounds familiar. You know, there was this Mennonite farmer who had a basketball court in the top of his barn. My husband and I would go out there and play, sometimes.”

By now, I’m one big goosebump and I’m racking my brain, trying to figure out if there could possibly be two basketball barns near Pratum.

“Linda, that’s the farm I grew up on.”

“NO!”

“YES!”

We fist bump like kids, grinning from ear to ear.

 

3.   Sue Heavenrich, there with her critique partners doing an unworkshop, after I tell her I saw a millipede, immediately says:

“Don’t eat it!”

You know, I’ve never in my life looked at a bug and wondered if it was safe to eat. 

I do now. 

 

4. In each cabin is a notebook full of notes from previous occupants. I’m flipping through, reading their testimonials, and come to this page.20180805_163333

Ingrid Sundberg, you will never know how much this means to me. How, all my life, I’ve struggled with feeling like I was enough. How I’ve gotten so much better at feeling like I’m actually plenty, but lately have been questioning if I am enough as a writer, and how this trip is partly to help me figure this out.

And here is my answer, in writing no less.

I am enough.

 

5. If you ever are so lucky as to get the chance to meet Kate Garchinsky, ask her what the owl says. Because this lady speaks their language. And she showed us how it’s done on a walk straight out of a fairy tale. A forest concert with katydids on percussion, fireflies in charge of the light show, and Kate and the owls in a full on call and response song that filled the air.

20180806_201911

Now, when I walk in the woods and darkness is falling, I listen for owls. Better yet, I’m learning to talk back.

 

6. Chip took us out for a walk around the grounds and talked about taking pictures. It was a lesson in slowing down, paying attention, and being persistent. 

 

 

7. Mike and I have often bemoaned the fact there is no barn on our farm. We drive the countryside, looking at barns and saying, “That one! That one would look great up on the hill!” But none of them have ever compared to this one.

20180806_092112

 

8. Dairy farms have cows, and cows only give milk if they’ve given birth. So, dairy farms also have calves. Do you know how much fun I had introducing my city friends to the slippery, slimy joy of a calf nursing on your fingers? Sometimes I forget that I’m living a pretty amazing life on my little farm. After all, it’s a lot of work and that part sometimes overwhelms me. But this was a good reminder.

20180808_10400820180808_093851

 

9. I’m not a water person. (Well, except for showers. I can stay in the shower until the hot water runs out.) But deep water, flowing water, water that is WAAAAY bigger than me? Nope. I’ll stay on dry land, thank you.

However, one of my stories is about fear, and how it can both stop you from doing things, and drive you forward into doing things. So, in the name of research, I went kayaking on the Delaware while it was the color of coffee and just below flood stage. I saw eagles, dodged a rock, managed to let go of my paddle long enough to dip my fingers in the water, and, most importantly, I didn’t drown. Am I a kayaking convert?

Paddle

No. The fear runs too deep. That’s me in the background, death grip on my paddle, so focused on going in a straight line I forgot to kick back and have fun.

Smile!

But I did it. And the next time I am faced with doing something I fear, I’ll remember kayaking. And how I lived to talk about it. And hopefully it will make moving forward into that fear a little easier.

 

10. My fellow Nature Retreaters. There are not enough words to describe our short time together, but I’ve tried to capture just a few that, for me, describe the gift each of you gave me while eating and playing and laughing in a magical place in the Poconos. 

Carol: Maybe being a farmer and a writer isn’t so weird after all.

IMG_20180807_120413140

Deborah: Find a way.

20180806_110451

Chuck: Do what you love. (Like going fishing instead of visiting a flower farm.)

Chuck

Nicole: See the world and all its wonders.

20180806_102217

Sharon: Live out loud, laugh out loud, and sing with your whole body. (How I wish this photo was of you singing about a moose drinking juice.)

20180806_110329

Myrna: Speak out.

20180806_110403

Kate: Ask. The answer might be yes.

20180806_202200

Kim: Yes. It is real.

20180806_110406

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

2018-Nature-Group-Photo-Fun

Peace and Love,

Chris

 

You Had Me at Light

I’ve been working on a story about loss. The story is going well, I think I’m getting good words on the page. But in order to find the words I want, I’m going back into memories that bring up a lot of sadness.

Yesterday, I finished a really good revision. The story is close. Very close. And writing it brought me close to tears. So I did what I always do when I need to remind myself that life is also a part of death. I took a walk.

“C’mon, world. Make me feel better. Make me remember joy,” I said.

The day was grey, but not so wet I needed to wear rain gear. Cola, as always, was thrilled to go and immediately found a stick, found a puddle, found a gopher hole. A dog is a good companion when you are looking for joy.

As I walked, the sun began to peek below the clouds. The tops of the bare trees became gold. Light seeped around the edges.

“Nice, world,” I said. “Thanks.”

And then I turned the corner.

And cried. And laughed. And cried some more.

Because I asked for a reminder that life is good and I get this. The most amazing fucking light show I could imagine, complete with a sprinkle of rain on my upturned face like tears from heaven.

I always feel better when I get off my butt and take a walk. But this? This was ridiculously healing.

Peace and love,

Chris

Working Two Jobs at Once

13669838_10208482278153544_5244428867736681454_n

It’s harvest time and I’m sitting in a combine, going ’round and ’round in circles at a whopping 1.75 mph. Meanwhile, my brain is going ’round and ’round in plot circles, untangling knots, smoothing transitions, justifying twists.

The first gives me focused time to think, the second keeps me from going fruit-loopy bonkers from boredom.

Planting a Garden

P1080512

The summer of 2012 ripped me open like the plow rips open the earth. The death of my father and the near death and subsequent incarceration of my son tore through me, digging up long buried rot and fear. For awhile I lay open and exposed, pounded by storms, barren and dark.
Into this dark, cold place monsters crawled. Anxiety. Depression. Panic. Insomnia. Everything they touched turned to shit. Tons of shit.
But that summer also brought into existence a new sun, bright and warm. The birth of my first grandchild. Her smile chased away the fear, lit up the darkness and warmed my soul.
And in that warmth I found the strength to go talk to a very wise woman. A woman who gave me seeds of light and love. Seeds that took hold and sprouted. Grew. Flourished.
My garden needed all of these components to come into being. Fresh soil, fertilizer, sun and seeds. My crop? Stories. Many stories. After dreaming for most of my life about being a writer, I am finally making that dream come true.
I may have waited until my Autumn years to begin writing, but Autumn is harvest time. And this harvest is going to be a bumper one!
Anyone else out there who needed a swift kick in rear to get started writing? I’d love to hear your story!
Love, Chris