The silence was a gift. So, too, was the view from our kitchen window at the cabin. The smell of pine I haven’t experienced in years hit me as soon as I stepped out of the car. The discovery of fiddleheads on the five kilometre walk with my cabin mate Lindy Mechefske one morning. Late night chats with Lindy and my other cabin mate Susan Scott. Did I mention the king size bed, the croissants and other accoutrements delivered to our door each morning? This was my five days at the Lodge at Pine Cove on the French River, a writing retreat that reminded me how much I needed this gift of time.
Our exquisite three-bedroom cabin at the back end of a cluster of cabins, where we sat in the screened porch the first night, then a few days later when the weather turned, huddled around the wood stove. Sharing a cabin was a gift as well. I resisted at first, my shy self worried about having to be too social. But, what was I thinking? This was the land of introverts—respectful distance and meaningful conversations is our stock in trade.
I haven’t even mentioned the writing yet have I? That’s because before I could get started I needed a clearing or filtering of all that I’d brought with me from work or home. I needed a clean sweep of the clutter before I could settle into the writing. It was the sensory balm that was the entry point into my writing self. The luxury of nature, and blissful silence that might be interrupted by birdsong or the wind soughing through the trees, or the rain that ran like marbles on the roof, that only served to underscore the full immersion needed to get to that empty space. I had entered a world where isolation was mixed with just the right amount of social interaction.
Let me talk about the company I kept. Dinner was served in the lodge in an arrangement of tables of four, which, it turns out is just the right number for a group conversation. Each night I met with a new combination of writers. The conversation was also a gift. Imagine a dinner party where you can speak about authenticity of character, the emergence of nature writing, the ease or challenge of plot, and on and on and on. These were interesting people, and their own stories, in some cases the ones that mirrored their life, were coloured with pain, desire, success, a sense of activism.
I could talk about the instructors—clever, kind, always available, and the lodge itself which had that “lodge” feel, complete with stone fireplaces—and yes they were in use as it was a cold and wet week, the wonderfully accommodating and collegial staff. But it was the sense of being part of something that was the truly surprising gift here. Even working on our own there was a sense of a collective, creative impulse. The permission to speak, think about and finally wrestle with language.
So, the writing. I had something very specific I wanted to work on, a problem let’s say, that required pencil and paper, but also time to think. That came early each morning, later in the afternoon, and again later in the evening. In between those times were long walks, sessions with the instructors, and of course, food. By the end of my stay I had worked out the “problem” and forged ahead into places I hadn’t expected. That too, was a gift. A chance to limber up and stretch my writing side.
When it came time to think about returning home, we promised ourselves that we would carve out the time in our regular lives, we would push our projects forward, we would maintain this sizzling urge to keep writing because, really, it is life-giving, or sanity-making, or calming, or enlightening, or whatever fundamental attribute we assign it. I think we all realized that the retreat itself was a gift. A gift we give to ourselves. And one we should give more often.
And laughter, did I mention laughing my way into tears one night…
For more information on the Lodge at Pine Cove Creative Writing Retreat, check out their website here.