Where scenery or time or companions or mentors motivate
My writer’s retreat cabin was perched on the edge of a large pond in the high desert. We were a small group, and joined twice daily in meetings in the lodge, or once in a bar down the road.
Why would I go on a writer’s retreat when I am now retired and have the luxury of time to write and read and learn from others in my living room?
I have attended a few workshops locally, and a variety of readings. Some were great, some not so much. I am immersing myself in writing and learning from writers.
I wrote thirty, forty years ago, and published in literary journals, but the rules of the game have changed.
The notice for the retreat came across my email, and the price was reasonable and the location was in a part of this state I had not visited. Oregon has dramatic coasts and mountains. The high desert is a long stretch of sagebrush, interrupted by volcanic rifts.
I went out of curiosity.
A writer’s retreat is framed by expectation. The bare beauty of the landscape was searing. The content was inevitably influenced by context. The group both discussed our writing and Writing, aspiration, and occupation. We discussed the desert, the creatures, and the archeological sites.
I learned brine shrimp inhabit a lake here, and migrating birds use the lake as a feeding stop. Brine shrimp in an inland lake.
I have decided to include writers’ retreats as part of my travel plans. I enjoy new locations, the camaraderie, and the opportunity to learn from peers and those with more experience. The inspiration reveals itself through new poetry, new essays, and new authors to read and maybe be read by.
The mystical part of the experience is more difficult to describe. I drove through miles of sagebrush, questioning this decision. The highway signs said I was on a scenic highway, “Oregon Outback.” I might take issue with the description of scenic.
I was not expecting the rifts of black lava, the volcanic outcroppings, and the showers of grasshoppers that smeared my windshield like a snow squall by the Great Lakes.
The John Day Fossil fields were over that away. Wild horses ran in the other direction.
Our cabins were on a small pond, an oasis filled with birds and small critters, and hosted a world unto itself. A hawk watched for snakes and gophers. A woodpecker drummed on the metal roof. Aquatic birds, a pair of different varieties, made homes in the pond. A mother duck squawked nervously at me as she shooed her ducklings back into the reeds.
The Paisley Bar appeared to welcome all comers.
Patrons included local ranchers, sun-burnt bikers, student archeologists, cowboys, hippies, us, whatever category we were. We were different creatures at different watering holes, making space for the others, some in pairs.
The water here is what falls here, and what little stays here. It doesn’t flow from anywhere else.
We were in the Great Basin, part of the same geography as the Great Salt Lake. Rivers don’t drain to the sea but are contained. The sun beats down and the wind blows dust devils from millenial-old lake bottoms and the position of the sun changes the nature of the light and surrounding color.
That’s part of the mystical experience I can’t explain.
The notes immediately preceding mine, in my cabin’s logbook, which records the words of previous occupants, were written by a novelist whose name I recognized. Words had circled the air in this cabin before.
I sat on the deck and watched the operatic view.
The drama offered by the small pond was close, with cranes stalking, fish jumping, and predator becoming prey. Beyond the pond was the playa, an old lake bottom desert, and beyond the playa were low mountains in the east, hiding the rising sun or reflecting the setting one.
I used the lodge’s Wi-Fi to look up a list of worldwide writers’ retreats. There are many resources to choose from. I might be called again to a location in the West, writers’ retreats I learned about from fellow attendees, comrades in arms carry yellow pads and pens.
Writers’ retreats are aspirational. Motivational. Mystical.
They might just be productive.