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.
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.
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.
Noontime 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.
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.