Writing Retreat at Hindman Settlement School

This weekend I went to my first writing retreat ever.  I’m an addict now!   The retreat was held at the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, Kentucky.  I met a fellow writing group member and a Facebook friend there.  I’m not adverse to walking into groups where I know no one but it was nice to have a friends in attendance.

If you write and if you have never been to a retreat, you owe it to yourself.  I am renewed, reinvigorated and re-examining my writing life.

I have a million reasons not to write.  It’s time for that to come to an end.  I enjoy it.  I possess some talent and it’s a crime that I’m not doing what I want to do for all sorts of nonsensical reasons.  So here I am.  Blogging.  Get used to it.

The retreat was led by Dana Wildsmith who can be found here.   We had read-arounds and group discussions followed by a one-on-one with Dana.  She worked with me on my one and only poem that I’ve written as an adult.  (That dreck one writes as a teenager doesn’t count.)

I wrote this poem at last year’s Allegheny Echoes.   Allegheny Echoes is a fabulous event focused on old-time music but also offering a writing track.  Kirk Judd led it and insisted I could write a poem.  And I did.  But I don’t have the tools to evaluate it, so Dana’s help with shaping and clarifying it was invaluable.

The retreat, for me, was the proverbial kick in the pants that I’ve needed for a long time.  Not only am I motivated to write, but I am motivated to garden.  These two things I’ve struggled with for the past several years.  I don’t know if it was part of the grieving process for me to not garden and to not write, or what, but I haven’t been.  Both activities are ones that caused my very soul to sing and I’ve been mystified as to why I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do them.

The magnolia in the photo was taken at the Hindman Settlement School.  The grounds were nicely landscaped and I wandered around one afternoon with a camera, but didn’t take too many pictures.  I was busy writing.  As it should be.

I’m back!

The Year Without a Spring

a lot of workLenora Swann felt a great wave of sadness while in the midst of the downward dog asana. She tried to breathe through the stretch while straightening her legs and arching her back, but the sadness threatened to overwhelm her balance.

She strengthened her resolve with self-talk and successfully walked her hands up to her feet, wrapped the fingers of each hand around its respective ankle and brought her nose to her knees. The burn in the back of her thighs was intense yet satisfying.

She straightened up, brought her hands into position and silently said Namaste to her reflection in the mirror. With that, her yoga was done for the day.

The sadness persisted, however.

The rain wasn’t helping. Today, it was freezing rain and chilling winds. Tomorrow would be 85F and humid. It was the year without a spring.

Lenora sighed and embraced the sadness while hugging herself.

Lenora delighted in spring. That season in Appalachia was almost unbearable in its sweetness and beauty. The sky would be a crystalline blue, the greens magnificent in their intensity, and the daffodils, Lord the daffodils, could make one weep with their joie de vivre.

Yes, the daffodils bloomed at the appropriate time on the calendar. And the rains provoked the greening. But without the blue sky and mild temperature, the beauty of it all was subdued. The rain beat the peonies to the ground and the humidity wilted the green leaves.

Her feelings were similar to those of an unrequited love affair. She simultaneously hoped for mild zephyrs and brilliant sun while mourning their absence. To hope, to mourn. The sadness threatened to overcome her.

Lenora fought against the tears and braved the chilling rain to cut irises to put in a vase. With disgust, she picked a snail off the bright yellow bloom and wielded her shears to cut more. She would fill the house with blooms. She vowed to beat the sadness.

There was green. There were flowers. The scent of the peonies was no less intense for the weather.

She moved through the garden like a human combine. Peonies, irises, roses and mock orange. Ferns, Lily-of-the-Valley. She would requite the love affair through her own efforts. If spring couldn’t be bothered, she could.

The cut glass vase an old lover had given her was quickly filled. Lenora pulled more vases from underneath the sink. Yes, she would fill the house with the colors and scents of spring. While the weather outside belied the calendar, it was comfortable in her home.

Soon her jeans were soaked from the hem to her knees. Her hair was ropey from the freezing rain. Her shoes muddy. She was cold and shivering.

She did fill her home with flowers in each of the rooms. She took the teakettle off the stove and brewed hot, strong, sweet tea to sip from a flowered Wedgewood teacup. Another gift, but this one from an old friend who had since died.

She filled the old clawfoot tub, took off her clothes, turned off the lights, lit a candle and slid into the warm bath. She listened to the rain on the old tin roof.

The candlelight lit the white petals of the fragrant peonies and Lenora’s spirit soared.

It was going to be okay. It was. She stood in the tub, turned and positioned herself in Namaste and bowed to the flowers. She whispered, “The spirit in me bows to the spirit in you.”

The year without a spring couldn’t kill the hope in Lenora’s heart. The year without a spring taught Lenora the power of resiliency. The year without a spring provoked Lenora to bloom and create beauty out of the mundane routines of a cold, rainy day.

Lenora, wrapped in her robe, wandered through her home visiting the flowers. She felt a quiet joy that replaced the sadness. Lenora, once again, was enjoying the season.

Plants

plantsThis time of year always provokes an intense longing for spring in me.  It’s about now that I turn my attention to my otherwise neglected houseplants. This is especially true as this is the time when the amaryllis bloom.

hyacinthThis year, I bought hyacinth bulbs and forced them into bloom.  I brought them pre-chilled so  didn’t need to do anything but put them in the spiffy hyacinth forcing vases and wait.  They didn’t disappoint.  The scent is almost overpowering.  I think I will make this an annual event.  I had to buy  8 lbs., so I can do another round or two.  Or maybe I should plant the remainder outside.

peace-lilyI’ve managed to keep alive the peace lily that was given to me for my dad’s funeral.  It’s a beautiful plant, big and lush although it doesn’t bloom much.  I’m hoping it just needs warmer weather to begin blooming again.  I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to fertilize it.

I’m trying to start a plumeria but it’s being cantankerous.  It may rot before it sprouts leaves.  I’m hopeful as my dad had a big plumeria he nursed for years before it succumbed to an early frost one year after it got so big they couldn’t move it any longer.

amaryllisThe amaryllis were given to me years ago as a Christmas gift.  I can’t remember from whom.  They’ve divided and grown to where I have several of them now.  A few years ago, I bought a pink and white one and it now blooms every year.  They’re overcrowded and I’ll need to separate them this year, but they do make my heart sing.

Sucker Punched

tuckered emmylouA few weeks ago, I fell for no good reason and landed on my knees.  The impact was such that I’m quite sure I left an impression in the concrete sidewalk.  One knee was torn up and developed a horrendous scab; the other swelled to the size of a softball.  Both of them astonished me with their cries of pain.

The pain took my breath.  For a good four days, I couldn’t stand or sit or walk or lie down without pain so intense I was reminded of labor.  The pain wasn’t baby-producing intense, but it did provoke the same sort of awe.

This week, I got news that sucker-punched me.  No.  Nobody died.  My relationships are all intact except maybe for the relationship I have with myself.  For several days, my self-esteem has been crying out with the same level of pain as did my knees.

I have decided to get over it.

Today, I spent my time in the much neglected garden doing triage.  I didn’t get as far as I had hoped due to the electric lawnmower dying, but I accomplished much in getting my equilibrium (and self-esteem) back.  The puppies frolicked in the warm spring air and I tended to tender plants while guiltlessly executing weeds and banishing leaves.

Gardening season is upon me.  I much prefer the awe of an Appalachian spring over the awe of surprise pain.

This lawn chair is mighty comfortable, y’all.

I have waxed rhapsodic about an Appalachian spring many times.  I won’t bore us by doing it again.  However, suffice it to say that I’m glorying in today’s weather and trying to create order in what passes for my yard.

daffodilskyLast year was the Great Garden Palooza of 2013.  HMOKeefe was mighty sick and I took off work to be here with him.  He slept a lot and during his naps I started two big garden projects:  leveling the back yard and creating a kitchen door garden.  He worsened and died before either project was finished, but he was excited about what I was doing.  He would sit on the daybed by the bay window and watch me move retaining blocks, dirt and mulch.

There was no need to go to the gym last year.  I moved enough wheelbarrow loads of stuff to surpass any gym workout.  Unfortunately, I need to move as many as I did last year plus a few dozen more.  I’m finding it hard to motivate.  Instead, I sit in the lawn chair with the warm sun on my face and fantasize about how great the yard is going to look when I’m done with it.

I have a plaque that looks like a rock with the words it takes a long time to grow an old friend engraved on it.  It’s really going to take a long time if I don’t get out of this lawn chair and get moving.  Never mind that the house is also a mess and my to-do list is in volumes. . .

While I won’t wax rhapsodic about spring, let me just say that after the polar vortex, record cold and snow, and a generally sucky winter, I need this spring.  I need this warm sun on my face and I need the soft, new grass curling around my bare feet.  I need it all so much that in addition to finishing last year’s projects, I’m committed to restoring the front garden to its former glory.  Yes, I’ve said this before.  Yes, yes, I know.  . . but really, I’m going to do it.  Just as soon as I get out of this lawn chair.