Retreat and re-entry: coming back from Fishtrap


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Two weeks ago today, I had just arrived at Fishtrap, a weeklong writing workshop at Wallowa Lake, near Joseph, Oregon. Sleeping in yurts and tents in a Methodist campground, we spent our days attending workshops, writing, thinking, making new friends and listening to great writers read their works.
Fishtrap is really a retreat combined with a workshop. I often think I don’t need a retreat. Why go somewhere else when I already live alone in the woods? I don’t need to go into isolation somewhere else. But Fishtrapoffers things I don’t have here, like great teachers and other people to eat with, talk with, and write with. It’s like finding a whole bunch of people to play with who like to do the same things I do. In the outside world, we might look like geeks sitting around writing, but not at Fishtrap.
It also offers me a chance to unplug. Literally. Normally I’m online all day and watching TV all evening. It’s a major eater of my time and a huge distraction. I also play a lot—too much—Spider Solitaire (don’t start, you’ll get hooked!). We had no Wi-Fi, no cell phone reception, no TV. Without them, I suddenly had lots of time to write, read and play music.
Back home, people ask “How was your trip?” I say “Good,” which doesn’t begin to describe it, and then we move on to the business at hand. In fact, yesterday my boss didn’t even mention my trip. He just started barking orders. Fine. He can’t disturb that peace inside me.
Imagine sitting by a river in the sun, with only other writers, deer, squirrels, Stellar Jays and robins for company, writing with paper and pen until a soft gong calls us back to the patio to talk about our poems and, by extension, our lives. Fishtrap was not a total retreat. We had classes and homework and a schedule, but we left everything at home behind. I could take the time to meditate on the bark of a tree for as long as I needed to truly see it. And then I could write a poem about it.
Of course there are inconveniences. Every time I went into town, I discovered I had book orders that I needed to fill before I got home. (I don’t know why I’m suddenly getting so many orders, but keep them coming. Visit http://www.suelick.com/Products.html) I had plenty of books in my car, but filling an order away from home meant finding a computer connected to a printer to print out the paperwork, putting together books, packaging, mailing labels and tape and getting the packages to the local post offices. It’s easy at home, but quite a challenge on the road. I’m thinking of recruiting someone to manage my Blue Hydrangea Productions business while I’m gone on future trips. Any volunteers?
Aside from the books, nothing else from home mattered. If something major happened, my family knew where to reach me, but otherwise, I could forget about everything. I didn’t have to cook; I showed up three times a day for fabulous food— French toast, pancakes, eggs and bacon, lasagna, fajitas, fried chicken, salads, fresh fruit, cookies, brownies, strawberry shortcake . . . and I got plenty of exercise to work off the calories. I didn’t have to take care of my dog, wash dishes or clothes, or deal with the massive piles of unfinished work that nags at me. I could just read, write, play music, do yoga, explore, eat, and sleep.
Before I came home, I went to Montana to do some research. I did turn on the TV, radio and Internet, but I kept that peaceful feeling and was conscious of not filling my mind with junk. I could and did turn them off and continued to write.
As I got closer to home, I started feeling the pain of reentry. Time to face all those things I put into the “after Fishtrap” category. I had hundreds of emails to deal with, tons of photos and pages of writing to process, meetings coming up, music to prepare, company coming, bills to pay, the dog wanting all my attention, and of course the need to come up with my own food. But I came home with a clear mind and thoughts about how to make my everyday life better. I’m looking at everything with fresh eyes. That’s a value of a retreat.
I long for the simplicity of my yurt, one room with only the things that fit in my car, and only the Fishtrap schedule to control my time. But I’m also enjoying sleeping in my own bed, snuggling with my dog, choosing my own food, reconnecting with my friends, and getting back to work. The challenge is to keep that peaceful, pared-down feeling at home every day. It is possible. I’m sure of it.

Writing my way across four states


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Pondering the river during Fishtrap poetry workshop
This week I drove through four states in one day. Twice.
Sunday I woke up in a yurt at Wallowa Lakenear Joseph, Oregon. Outside my window, deer grazed on dandelions and a covey of quail chittered in the bushes. I dressed, walked to the lodge for a breakfast of homemade coffeecake and cantaloupe, said goodbye to my Fishtrap writer friends and drove away. That night I went to bed in Missoula, Montanaat a Howard Johnson’s on a busy highway lined with motels, restaurants, casinos and car dealerships. To get there, I had driven over 200 miles of winding roads from Oregon through Washington and Idaho and into Montana. I went from the vast farms and cowboy hills of Eastern Oregon through the Blue Mountains and along the Lochsa River until I finally reached the rolling hills and suburban landscape of Missoula. Seventy-five mile-per-hour speed limit and no sales tax. Woohoo!
  
After checking in at Howard Johnson’s with Indian desk clerks whose English was unintelligible, I drove down the street to Applebee’s and suffered culture shock after a week in nature at the Fishtrap writer’s workshop. No wi-fi, no phones, no TV, no news. We sat by a river talking about poetry, wrote songs under the trees, and told secrets by the campfire. We ate healthy cafeteria style meals. Suddenly I was in a noisy restaurant with an over-solicitous waiter named “Luc” who was waiting for me to choose from a menu of over-seasoned high-calorie entrees. As I settled for a plain turkey sandwich, my cell phone rang for the first time in over a week. No!
Why was I in Missoula? The main character in the novel I’m almost finished with lived in Missoulabefore she came to Oregon. Toward the end, she goes back for a while. Because I was so close to the border at Wallowa Lake, I decided to see Missoula for myself. I’m glad I did. You can’t really get the flavor of a place from the Internet. I was able to visit the places where she and her husband lived, worked, worshipped and shopped. I ate in the restaurant where she ate. I had a great time following my fictional character through this real setting.
But it got hot, very hot, and I needed to get back to my own nonfiction life. So Tuesday I headed west, taking a different route this time. I drove through C’oeur d’Alene, Idaho, stopped for lunch in Spokane, Washington (great food at the Timber Creek Grill Buffet), and crossed the Columbia River into Oregon near Umatilla. I honked my horn in glee. Hello, Oregon!
Four states in four days. Twice. I bunked in Arlington, Oregon Tuesday night, woke up yesterday at 5 a.m. to the roar of truckers starting their engines and a freight train blasting its horn and set my GPS for “home.” After 1,600 miles, the only state I wanted to be in was a state of rest.
Stay tuned for trip highlights and pictures in the next few posts.

Home, home in my yurt

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     When I signed up to stay in a yurt at Fishtrap, the wonderful writers’ gathering in Eastern Oregon where I spent July 9-15, I pictured a glorified tent. Canvas walls, two little beds, a rustic toilet, no privacy.
     I was so wrong. When I slogged into the camp at Wallowa Lake that broiling hot Monday afternoon in my  ailing Honda, I didn’t care where I stayed as long as I could stop driving. But after I checked in and got my little wooden name tag on a string, I was pleasantly surprised to find my yurt, named Coho, was a charming round cottage in a village of other round cottages circling a larger round building where we’d have our classes.
     Up the steps and across the deck, I opened the unlocked door to a pretty kitchen complete with table and chairs, sink, microwave, coffeemaker and refrigerator. Looking up, I saw trees through the big round skylight. There were two bedrooms, one to the right and one to the left. I took the left one while another writer, Judith, would take the other. The bedrooms had double beds, and ladders leading up to lofts that remained unoccupied that week. Towels, sheets, thick blankets and handmade quilts waited for us. We had places to hang our clothes and plenty of electrical outlets. No TV or Wi-Fi, but who needed it?
     If you picture the yurt as a pie, with kitchen and bedrooms being three slices, the bathroom and shower room made up the other slices. We had carpet and linoleum, everything clean, all smelling of fresh-cut wood. It just felt good in there.
   As a bonus, deer wandered the grounds, completely unafraid of us. In fact, a doe and a buck bedded down right outside my window the last night.
    I wanted to stay in that yurt forever.
     What about the writing part? Oh, that was every bit as magical as advertised. In a world where most people don’t understand what writers do, Fishtrap provided an oasis where we didn’t need to do anything but write. We had meals and workshops and readings, all fabulous. I did a lot of singing and guitar-playing. But everywhere one looked, people were hunched over their notebooks or computers writing. We writers had finally found our tribe.
     One day in our songwriting workshop, our leader, Hal Cannon(love him!) had us write parodies of “Home on the Range.” Of course, I wrote about my yurt. I’ll give you just a taste:
Home, home in my yurt,
in my black and red Hawaiian shirt,
where the deer eat the grass as we mosey to class
and leave us their gifts in the dirt.
    Love that yurt.