I’m here through the generosity of long-time friends—river friends, former guides like me. When I arrived at their empty home yesterday, I entered the clean, open space and took time to orient myself. All around, on every wall, are the photos of their rich, happy lives. Out the window, the American River flows far below, at the bottom of a deep canyon. My friends offered this unique, spacious, hand-built home to me as a writing retreat. They have done so before and, a few weeks ago, offered it again. They are private people, yet unfailingly giving and kind.
They are on Safari in Africa, a heartland they’ve always wanted to explore. While they travel they’ve trusted me with their custom California foothills home and dog named Creek.
At first, the silence of the hundreds of unpeopled acres all around threw me. What was I thinking? How would I work away from the familiar views out my own office window? How would I sleep at night without my husband and cat resting near me? Would I remember to eat regularly, drink plenty of water, and take stretching breaks, or would all my self-care fall apart?
Even more important, how would I spend my time? As I roamed the house, distracted by the good books, fine art, and alluring magazines, I wondered what the bleep am I doing here? Was I here to sleep, perchance to dream? To write, perchance to read?
All this light. All this space, upland air, and beckoning nature. Who could say whether I would actually get down to writing anything new, or editing the short story collection I’m finishing, or dream about my next work?
After some false starts and pacing, the rain came—the summer rain that had been predicted and that I had doubted would come. The rain that had been building as cloud cover for twenty-four hours and that was threatening to just disperse into blue sky. The rain came with a seriousness unheard of after solstice, and it’s still falling. It’s soaked my friends’ gardens, is dripping from their rain chains, is dampening their forest of fir and oak. It’s raised clouds of mist from the river.
And so I stopped gazing across the river, stopped pacing among the fine art and photographs, and got down to work. I opened the collection of short stories I’m completing, threw a blanket over my legs, and deepened into the silence from which creativity arises.
It’s not so much a retreat, this time and space given to me in friendship and love. As Gloria Steinem has said about a similar, gloriously generous place, Wellspring Retreat for Women Writers, it’s an advance.