Each of five authors took their turn explaining the creative process, their workflow, their experience as writers at the Lost Coast Writers' Retreat last week. We campers, there from as far away as Pennsylvania, absorbed the quiet wisdom available to us in talks, workshops, one-on-one discussions and in small-group response sessions.
Each of the five days of the retreat was structured to allow for didactic instruction but made plenty of room for us to disperse and soak up fresh air and the warm sun, especially the lovely, peaceful atmosphere of the river flowing softly nearby.
On the very first evening, after hellos had been exchanged all 'round, it was immediately and totally apparent that magic was afoot, and it would be due to the deep commitment to the camps' success by each staff member.
After I unpacked my things, claimed a bunk and had a quick look around, I found myself looking into turquoise blue eyes and listening to a quiet voice asking me a question. "Is there anything I can get you or help you with?" So sincerely did Linda ask that I thought, "Well, if I tell her anything but the absolute truth, she will evaporate and go straight back to heaven, and I will be banished to a dark closet for a long time."
Mike Bickford ("Bick") sat with me at dinner and we talked sports, teaching, camping, baseball, and generally chewed the fat for a while. He used to be a staff member but elected to simply join in this year, bringing his brother-in-law Jody ("The Kitchen Wrench" - there used to be a Kitchen Wench, but she bowed out this year) to man the stoves, much to our worshipful delight. Man, can that guy make a mean scone. Bick proved to be funny, kind and seemed immensely pleased to be back at the camp. They all did, and all fell into a comfortable routine born of contentment and satisfaction.
Will handed me his hand-made travel-sized guitar with beautiful inlaid mother-of-pearl decoration on the fretboard and said I could play it any ol' time I wanted. I did once, but my fingers were not callused nor limber. I was happy just to hear him practice and get to know my fellows as the evening faded into darkness.
I was bunking in the main building and found myself sharing the room with Maggie, an impish and quiet 60-something lady from Warren, PA, who was there after Kathleen (friend and former college roommate) convinced her this would be the perfect camp to attend. Maggie writes a newsletter for a nature group she belongs to and hadn't been able to explore Northern California up until now. Kathleen was bunking in one of the small cabins and brought two kayaks, two bicycles and her car filled with her things. They'd already been to Yosemite and the little town of Volcano before this camp.
Early next morning, about the time the earliest birds were peeping in the trees, Jody clomped to the kitchen and began to corral breakfast foods and baking something that set my mouth to watering. I believe the first day brought us tender blueberry muffins, country-style potatoes stirred with onions, summer fruit, gallons of rich coffee and toast. We chatted and wrote, sorted ourselves out here and there, some taking walks and others wandering in later with sleep in their eyes.
Bob, a tall man with a neat beard and a quiet demeanor, taught us how response groups were to work, how to listen to work read aloud and supportive ways to give feedback so as not to traumatize the hearts of our fellow neophyte writers. It was, like the entire week, a valuable and generous tool.
Stephen Most was our first speaker ("River of Renewal," a book and documentary film). Steve, as we came to call him, talked about how he had faced 200 hours of film material about a long contentious fight over the Yakima River as he began to work on his script. His challenge was to make a story that entertained, engaged and educated his audience, was accurate in its perspective, he said, and lasted one hour.
After lunch, we spent several hours writing, in small groups with Steve, by ourselves or in response groups. I felt like I'd begun a quiet float down a river with 16 mellow and peaceful friends, but we were all using writing implements to travel with. Dreamlike, quiet, tranquil; the real river provided a soft, gurgling white noise that was punctuated by birdsong and murmuring voices.
At dinnertime we bellied up to the kitchen's counter for more delectables and out to the deck to eat together in the gathering twilight. "Do you always eat like this here?" we wondered. "It's one of the main things we all agree on and insist on," they laughed. "We come here because we love it here and want to be together and share what we have." Pinch me, I thought, this is amazing.
Guy sang and laughed, guitars and a drum came out, we rested and then dispersed again, rejoining each other later after evening chores. We watched Steven's dramatic film, felt a fine kinship and sense of having spent a stimulating yet restful day.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way