Writing Retreat

The snow crunches under the wheels of my car as I move slowly down the drive.  Pulling up in front of a rustic building, I exit my car to find chickens pecking the frozen ground and horses neighing across the way.  Surrounded by crisp cold air, I hurry into the office to confirm my reservation and pick up keys to the Tree Lodge.

The cluttered office and scruffy environs matter little.  This is a retreat after all, and I intend to install myself in the cabin for some serious progress on writing my book.  I am soon joined by Kristina, and we quickly make ourselves at home in the two story dwelling.

Molly by Tree Lodge

Billed as a place to retreat from the busy world, Shire in the Woods hosts 7 cabins in a square mile of woodlands in central Minnesota.  Although it’s possible to see bits of the other cabins through the leafless trees in winter, the environs exude seclusion.  We are self-sufficient with the food and supplies we have brought, and stock the cabin with firewood to fend off the winter chill.

It doesn’t take us long to get down to work.  Despite the simplicity of the place we welcome the modern wifi, plugging in laptops and tapping away on our keyboards.  Kristina graciously helps me navigate the murkiness of my material, teasing out themes and probing my purpose to help me organize my stories about bicycle touring.  In time, my premise statement evolves – an elusive concept I have been pursuing for months.

Molly and Kristina on writing retreat

Kristina pursues her own project, finding an agent for her heart-tugging book for infants and nursing mothers, Sweet Moments: Celebrating the Bond of Breastfeeding.  It’s amazing to find we can work in isolation right across the table from one another.  The camaraderie furthers our work, rather than inhibiting.  Warm meals of whole foods and sharing our passions flavor the progress.

Morning brings clear skies, below zero temperatures and restorative sunshine.  Huddled by the fire, sipping tea and coffee, we labor on.  Keystrokes are punctuated by periodic conversation, questions and diversions.  When my work drifts off course, Kristina gently guides me back into focus.

Kristina walking the trailNoontime takes us out for fresh air and an explore.  Totally confused by the hand drawn map of the trails, we strike out for ourselves choosing the most obvious straight path.  When it becomes as twisted and convoluted as the map, we just go with the flow.  The sun warms our faces and the blue sky outlines the tall trees that make wispy shadows on the new dusting of snow.

Kristina’s departure to meet the afternoon school bus and resume her motherly role leaves the cabin empty and quiet.  So I bury myself in continuing the work I started.  Soon I am plunking down post-it notes on a poster board, positioning and moving them around to find order among the chapters.

Storyboarding

I’ve never spent time alone in a cabin in the woods before.  Not even our own cabin.  I tend the fire, listen to the clock tick, eat my dinner while perusing other peoples’ memoirs and sip my cold white wine.  The wifi is just strong enough to allow me to listen to Pandora music, with periodic pauses to buffer.

My final morning is cozy and warm.  I have finally mastered the wood stove and heat pumps out faster than my work.  Still I putter with my storyboard, certain that I have not yet found the right flow.  But I’m infinitely farther along than I was two days ago.  I haven’t written a single word, but I’m finding the glue.

I have Rich to thank for this writing interlude.  He found the Shire and presented it to me for Christmas.  Perhaps he sensed I was losing my way on this book.  I haven’t solved all its mysteries, but I’m ready for forward momentum again.  Taking time out to retreat from the world with the help of the right writing partner has put me back on my path.

Gliding Again

Fickle winter.  It teases us with cold weather but fails to deliver on the snow.  It wreaks havoc with my motivation and my love of the outdoors.  My identity as a cross-country skier is in shambles.

For weeks I have been unable to get excited about skiing.  I can’t drag myself across the street to ski on trails that are barely covered, and I convince myself that I’d rather go running anyway.  Despite slipping and sliding on the icy or snow-clogged Lakewalk, I take refuge in the familiar.  I just can’t get over the hurdle to embrace skiing instead.

But the recent snowfall engineered a shift.  It actually looks and feels like winter.  Distant memories return.  Suddenly I feel the draw of the trails.  The pull of a new blanket of snow.  The sun filtering through the trees and glinting off the soft white powder.  The crisp air brushing my cheeks.  It is mine for the taking.  This time I can’t help but answer the call.

On mySkiing ungroomed Lester first foray into the woods I discover that I beat the groomer to the trails.  Instead of crisp firm corduroy, I find soft untouched snow with a packed base not far beneath.  All sounds are muffled by this new fallen splendor.  The hush quiets my mind as the powder slows my skis.  I am moving in slow motion, but it makes no difference.  For once it’s not about the pace, it is all about the experience.

Lester on groomed trails

Day two and I’m eager to return.  The groomer has worked its magic in my absence.  I am early enough to enjoy some virgin terrain, cutting my own diagonal slices through the sculpted surface.  The tall pines still wear their mantle of white and the forest floor is a series of soft undulating mounds pocked with occasional animal tracks.  Whether real or imagined, the air feels fresher than ever.

I knew there was a reason I loved winter, I’d just forgotten what it was.  I’m glad to be out gliding again.