Saturday, October 15, 2011


Searching for the Center.
 IT'S A RAIN-ISH DAY, AND WALKING TO CAMPUS FROM MY CAR IS LIKE WALKING THROUGH A MIST.  I have a rain jacket in my bag, but it's not even worth pulling it out. I am enjoying the cool dampness on my face and on my hair. I cross the street and the dark pavement is slick and shiny. Golden and orange leaves are flattened against it like Autumn stickers. I'm on my way to teach, and I should be planning for my classes, but instead I'm thinking about last weekend's retreat at Lake Sara.
Shag-Bark Hickory

 I got to sleep in a luxurious room in a lake house called “Sara's Sanctuary.” The next day, a dozen or so women would join me to write, draw, walk around the grounds, eat, and share tales and strategies. They arrived around nine, and I tried my best to introduce them to Birdland through stories and pictures. Since I write these letters regularly, the act of writing has become a practice for me, something that gives my life rhythm and rhyme, and a reason to slow down and take a careful look at what is going on around me. Through this writing practice I have begun to create a quiet center in my life, one that nurtures and sustains me. I tried to share that with them and encourage them to locate their own centers. We did some childhood drawing exercises, and seeing all the different riffs on childish landscapes was fun. One woman grew up in the Pacific Northwest and drew the same snow-capped mountains I used to draw, with letter “m” birds in the distant sky. Prairie girls have a similar picture vocabulary, it seems, but I don't remember drawing saugaro cactuses, as another woman drew. One woman drew a big, smiling sun and edged the page with intricate borders and ribbons of text. Another asked for pink crayon, and drew what looked like a Seusian truffula tree, with pink, windswept foliage. We shared our drawings and talked about the personal connections we each felt with these archetypal worlds.
The surface and the depths.

After a delicious box lunch (mine was a hummus wrap) we split into small groups and went out to walk around in the woods and down to the lake, letting our cameras lead us to colors and textures and shapes: the unruly bark of the shaggy Hickory tree; a tan acorn in its brown cap, nestled in a bed of leaves; blue rippled water with trees, clouds, sky reflected in the depths, leaves sailing on the surface, stones beneath; women on the dock, talking about travel; a Hobbit hole in the base of a tree, the ancient root flowing out in brown ripples, like a river; the three leaflets of poison ivy, turned yellow and more virulent; my retreat journal laid on the dock, manilla colored poplar leaves surrounding it; a martin house on a tall pole, caught in a prism of sunlight.

Martin House

We walked and photographed and talked and then went back inside to write, each finding a private nook to record our reflections and write our own letters. The day was sunny and warm, and we found ourselves in pockets of conversations, spread around the big house, on the porch, in the living room, in the kitchen. I am grateful for the sharing of ideas and artistic communion on such a lovely day, with such a lovely group, in such a lovely space. I taught a few “parlor tricks,” ways to strengthen our writing, easy to do once you know the trick. They taught me that the simple act of gathering together with the intention of creating and sharing can help us carve out a space in our lives to fill from the center. That center can gently spread outward, like ripples on the surface of a pool.

Center in Beauty; Ripple in Peace; Blessed Be.

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