Nine hours after laying my head on the pillow, I awoke to the same magical surroundings I had closed my eyes to. The whitewashed ceiling over the bed drew my eye toward the window, whose gaily patterned curtains cut out the view until I pushed them open to greet the morning.
The window in the cabin is its most beautiful feature. The sinewy trees sidle up the left side of the “canvas,” the yellow lamp in the center of the field grounds it. The gardens here are complex and well tended. Every space has been curated with the writer in mind. It is such a privilege to be here.
Having showered and dressed, I left the cabin, crossing the driveway, and pushed open the kitchen door to discover undisturbed quietude. I put on the kettle, made my tea and then took my cup onto one of the reading porches, where I sat on a welcoming yellow sofa, picking up a copy of the Writer’s Chronicle, which featured an article by Barbara Miller entitled “The Fine Art of Containment in Creative NonFiction.” I had just been thinking about what I brought to work on, and knowing the first job was to define its scope, its possible shape and eventual audience. This article was precisely what I needed – so well written, so specific about the structure a good container for your work can provide. She provided many specific examples of writing that used the effective container. Her own for this essay was the Ikebana lessons she had taken for years at the local library. Truly inspiring and directional writing. Many people had asked me about the format of this week’s retreat – will there be people there you can share your writing with? Will there be speakers? To which I had responded, no, it’s more monastic than that. But I hadn’t anticipated the environs being replete with work like this to refer to. The library houses books on writing, as well as books written by denizens of the Rockvale Writers Colony.
.I returned to the Cabin, fortified and purposeful, bringing the magazine with me. I spent the morning revising my introduction, defining for myself what this vessel was intended to hold. All in all, a very productive morning.
Hunger struck at noon, and I returned to the farmhouse to make a salad, deciding I’d take a walk on one of the trails after lunch. I started up the hill aiming toward a blue bench at the top of the hill, seating myself at the base of the Oak of Seeking.
What am I seeking?
The breeze under the massive oak blew away the soft warm mantle of the late summer sun. I noted that this bench was only visible to the writer in the Cabin- that’s me this week. What, I wondered does the writer at that window see on the hill? And why had I come all the way to Tennessee to give myself permission to do what I love to do?
Off in the distance, I hear a motor that sounds like a saw, or a motorbike. It only barely exceeds the throbbing, rhythmic whir of the cicadas – so tantalizing and audible, yet so frustratingly invisible when I tilt my neck back to try to spot them in the tops of the trees.
Looking for meaning is me looking back down the hill I just climbed. Spotting the window where I imagine the writer sits gazing out, seeking the purpose for her words.
I stand, continuing on the trail, thoughtfully marked with yellow paint on a nearby stone.
What lies ahead?
In a short distance, I find the red beacon of another bench, with its telltale “believe” emblazoned in yellow on one end. The motorbike/saw is fainter here, the cicadas more insistent. The path ahead beckons, purpose ahead. I find myself wishing for a broader tree vocabulary, the evergreen branches directly in front of me, sturdy needles and delicate blue balls clustered like tiny elfin Christmas ornaments. Might this even be one of the red cedars from which the farmhouse was fashioned?
This is what if feels like to have time to form thoughts into words, day to day pressures gone.
The Fern Moss Trail lures me into the forest, it’s red markers and short .25 distance encouraging in the heat. At its head, a sign dedicating it to Jeff, husband, father, musician, gives me a glimmer of new understanding as to why I might have been accepted to come this summer. Could there be an unacknowledged sister in grief at the helm here?
The next red bench, this time decorated with white letters has a back. I’ve hacked my way through multiple invisible cobwebs to get here. The sun beats down but the cool forest’s recesses pull me back towards meaning, forward toward purpose. I move on to shed toward purpose.
Eventually, the path hardens and I turn to retrace my steps, fewer cobwebs on the way back, so effectively had I cleared them during my blind stumble up. Their purpose as metaphor forming itself in my head on my way back down, first past the red dots, merging again with the yellow trail markers. I thought about my physical response to encountering the cobwebs – comically flailing my arms, each time emitting a guttural harrumph sound, while attempting to clear the sticky tendrils wrapped around my head and glasses. Much the way we process grief. Sometimes we don’t see her coming up quick, right in our faces, unexpected, surprising and most times unpleasant. Often we’re unable to clear her easily; though we urgently tyr to shed the sticky tendrils of loss so that we might move forward.
By now, my hands were sweaty and I could barely hold the pen I’d brought. Back at the Oak of Seeking, somewhat the wiser, I made my way down the hill, the writer in the window within my sights.