Aldermarsh Retreat Center
Whidbey Island, Washington
My most favorite childhood time was Girl Scout camp: two weeks every summer away from home, away from parents; sitting around the campfire singing our girl song and weaving our future womanhood. There were counselors, of course; but with names like Skeeter, Flame, Turtle, and Scotty, well, who could take that seriously. I went to writing camp this week. Six days away from home, away from parents. We didn’t have camp names, but we had camper spirits.
It was an unusually cold, crisp, frosty week on Whidbey Island at the Story as Source alumni retreat with Christina Baldwin and twelve other amazing sister writers, including three who joined me there a year ago for our first SAS writers’ retreat. Unlike last year, when only two of us besides Christina were PNW dwellers, half of this year’s group lives in western Washington. Which means I might get to see them from time to time. The others were from Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Texas.
Also unlike last year, when most of our days were spent together learning from Christina, this year we wrote alone on our own projects most of each day. I made a nest in the loft of my little Spirit House cottage, plugged a CD into my computer and “wrote like heaven.” Late each afternoon I sat in Circle with my sisters on the journey and we shared our sacred stories. I am amazed by the capacity of heart in our writings and for our writings, as our readings aroused tears and laughter, empathy and compassion in all of us; and in the commonalities of so much of our woman-story. In the safety of the Circle, we broke silence and cracked open our most closely held soul work.
I wish I could say I was uber-productive, but I was kind of like a kid in a candy store. Do I pick the dark chocolate orange peel or the Almond Roca; the truffles or the fudge? I walked the labyrinth, a hike through the woods away.
I wandered the property with my camera (mostly my iPhone because my “good,” one-year-old camera seems to be broken, and is definitely not a fan of the cold). I photo-documented the kitchen garden and the rabbit- and deer-proof fencing and got a little excited about my hypothetical garden of the future.
I created a Christmas card inspired by the frosty land, the soaring bare alders that exploded like fireworks against the sky, and the view through the skylight in my tiny house. I wrote a couple of new things. And I made a tiny start in getting the 250 pages of raw material of my story—that has not yet finished telling itself—headed toward something I can begin to work with, which I thought I would spend the whole time doing. One-on-one time with Christina was very helpful in working through the beginnings, though, and I am energized to get back to that overwhelming task now. “It’s a retreat,” I told myself, “Whatever I feel like doing in the moment is okay.”
Diana’s Bow moon aimed toward Venus graced the dark night sky the first night as we emerged from our Circle time around the campfire—represented by a candle and the sacred objects brought and offered by each of us. We walked back from the Marsh House along the boardwalk that curves through the uncharacteristically dry alder marsh, to the amazing dinner that had been prepared for us. The lights glowed like fairy lanterns through the woods at night; and the light shining through the round window of my little Spirit House silently welcomed me home each evening. The coyotes howled in the moonlight as we draw ever closer to the winter solstice.
Like camp, it had to end, and too soon. We pulled our objects back from the fire and extinguished the candle flame; we take our own ignited flames back with us into a world that needs our voices. We hugged and cried and said goodbye. In need of quiet space between the layers, I drove home by way of the Olympic Peninsula rather than I-5. As I drove up Whidbey Island, two eagles soared, swooped, and floated over the tall firs. I thought of my writing sisters as we each journey back to the places from which we come. May you soar, Sisters on the Way. Namaste.