I slept restlessly Sunday night. I always do before I take a trip. I had to get up by 3:00AM to be ready to leave by 3:45, and so I went to bed by 9:00PM. Woke at 11:30 thinking I’d overslept, cascading out of the bed onto the rug feet firm, head woozy, rushing to turn off the alarm I dreamt I heard in the kitchen, then pulling the phone back into bed with me so that I really wouldn’t miss the darn alarm. 1:30AM my eyes darted to the clock, and finally the notes from the phone that really signaled rise and shine! First day as a real writer!

Because, you see, though I’ve flirted with the notion of being one when I “grew up,” it wasn’t until I came here to Tennessee and pushed the numbers for the gate code swinging the big black rod iron gates open welcoming me that I had allowed myself to actually call myself one.

Mentally I tried it on throughout the trip, sitting in the rigid airplane seats wearing my KN95 mask and adjusting my glasses, imagining a gentler time when strangers maybe looked at you and took you in, maybe even asked you where you were going. That was before the terror, the dirty looks that a simple, single dry hack cough could elicit from all quarters around you.

“What brings you to Nashville?” the kind, flawlessly skinned twenty-something in the trucker hat would ask. And without missing a beat, heart swelling with new pride, I would say, “a writer’s colony retreat.” But alas, no one gave me the slightest bit of notice, nor did I strike up a conversation with the two Spanish teens sitting next to me, hands clasped, leaning into each other with a giddy intensity that made me hungry. Hungrier than I’d been in a long time. Hungrier than the blessed intermittent fasting has left me at 9 o’clock at night. And so I went to sleep for most of the trip, neck falling forward with a jerk, spittle oozing from my lips into my mask. Solo, I was going solo with this one.

Houston’s Airport was a blur, featuring a moment of panic that I was on the wrong train to Terminal B when it stopped at Terminal C. I really need to get out more. How many trains could there be? Think it through, dear.

Rental car, trip to the grocery store. There really wasn’t a soul in the parking lot wearing a mask. What had I done? Well it was over 90 degrees and humid. Who would want to wear a mask? Driving through the most beautiful scenery, dramatic highway adjacent cliffs decorated with their greenest finery. As I drove, I spotted three raptors soaring above the cliffs. They were bigger than our hawks. I love going to new places and experiencing unfamiliar terrain – I’d spotted a quarry near the airport as we landed, it’s orderly stones like a mason had laid them, rather than providing the stone for the mason’s project out in the world. I wondered as I drove along the highway toward College Grove, whether the locals no longer saw them for their beauty, like I no longer really see or appreciate the San Gabriels visible on a good air day from downtown Los Angeles.

I arrived at 4:30, greeted by the gracious founder of this writer’s colony, Sandy, who instantly made me feel welcome, toured me through the ample farmhouse, the original part of which was built in 1853 from hand hewn red cedar, my breath expelling (still inside the mask) with the beauty and serenity of each space. My retreat space this week is the Rockvale Cabin, depicted below. It was also built about 150 years ago, originally as a smokehouse. Its charm is undeniable. Sandy may need to pry me out on Sunday.

I met about four of the other writers in residence last night, gathered around the center kitchen island talking about what they accomplished that day – I learned about two of their projects more deeply, but wondered to find myself within the rarified talk of the work.

By 6:30 or so, I went to park myself on the porch on what had been the front of the farmhouse. I admired the hills opposite, and the view to the side. I got truly excited about the possibilities ahead for me this week. But by 7:00, I was exhausted, and retired to my little cabin, where I slept contentedly until 6:30 the next morning.

One thought

  1. Sooo wonderful that you’re doing this , Els – and in such a truly beautiful part of the country. A treat of a retreat, for sure. Enjoy every minute (as I know you will).

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