Monday, November 9, 2009

Retreat to Nature

by Joan

It’s the weekend we’ve all been waiting for. Four days of writing, reading, and rejuvenating our literary souls in Hill Country. Aside from a few of the bigger cities, I’ve not explored much of Texas.

I like to say I love to be outside, despite my behavior to the contrary: endless stretches at my computer behind closed plantation shutters, hours browsing a library or bookstore, movie marathons with my son. I get an incomparable lift from spending sunny afternoons surrounded by a crashing ocean or ancient ruins, a sweeping breeze reminding me of how large the world is. But really, I’m a city girl. A run-in with a lizard in my own home sent me on a mini-retreat to Haggard Library.

To enjoy outdoors, I don’t have to be playing tennis, rock-climbing, or gathering blackberries (in fact, I’d rather not!). But I love to walk. When I was in high school, my best friend Chrissie and I would meet after school and walk for miles, solving the world’s problems, complaining about our own, laughing, sharing our tragic poetry and planning our futures. We traipsed our neighborhood so much, we probably could have found our way home blindfolded.

In new territory, though, my sense of direction is pathetic. Worse, I’m one of those people who thinks her sense of direction is much better than it actually is (kind of like my love of being outside). I once went on a stroll with a dinner party acquaintance in a neighborhood neither of us had visited. We got lost (pre cell phones) and had to stop at a stranger’s house for directions. If it had been on my Maryland family’s watch, the matter would have been dropped. But no, in my husband’s family, they tease mercilessly and I still hear about the breadcrumbs they should have sent with me.

The beach has always been my favorite place to walk, an infinite stretch of sand, lapping waters to comfort, sun to warm the journey. And no matter how far you go, once you turn around, you’ll always get back to where you started, sans breadcrumbs.

But when it comes to hiking in woods, I’m petrified. It’s one of those things I want desperately to like, to spend a day around jeweled leaves, musical footfalls, earthy smells, and good friends. But every time I head into a lair of viney trees, I panic about snakes and scorpions and all manner of unfamiliar creatures. I follow the others, sick pretend-smile on my face, and count the minutes until I return civilization. Maybe my fear stems from growing up without brothers and being raised by an over-protective creature-phobic mother and a bookish father.

For our retreat, we’re going to a fairly remote cabin, surrounded by woods and a lake. I want so much to join my writing partners for long walks during our breaks from writing. But how much fun will they have if I’m jumping on their backs at the first sign of animal or insect life? As a writer, it’s my job to seek out new experiences, get out of my comfort zone, like Susan says. But what if a snake coils around my leg or takes a bite of my ankle? What if I get separated from the group and end up at the Big Bad Wolf’s house? Sure, I’ll have a great story to write, but will I live to tell it?

It might be better for everyone if I let them enjoy the woods without me. Better if I curl up on the couch with my laptop or a novel. But with my luck, I’ll stay inside and a lizard will show up in the cabin.


  1. "The beach has always been my favorite place to walk, an infinite stretch of sand, lapping waters to comfort, sun to warm the journey."

    The above is lovely.

    Glad to be forewarned. I promise not to let any snakes get you. If that won't do, can you please have the hot chocolate ready when I get back? Extra whipped cream, please.

  2. Joan, you would not have survived the camping trip I took in Killarney Provincial Park (Ontario) this past summer. Let's see - foxes, snakes, otters, loons, and entire family of raccoons. Oh, and we had to watch out for bears, but never saw any.

    I had no idea you were frightened of the forest. And here I was thinking about bringing my laptop with me into the woods on the retreat. Who knows, it may actually help me focus...

  3. Elizabeth - I'm right there with you. I can't get out of the city fast enough...

  4. I have night-before-Christmas anticipation and can hardly sleep. Be prepared for a succession of emails, reminding you guys what to bring. (I've already made a list!)

    Joan, bring boots, wear tight pants (to keep critters from climbing up your legs) and hold my hand. I won't leave you out in the woods to fend for yourself.

    btw, was raking leaves this weekend with my daughter and felt a tickle on my thigh. Went inside and discovered a gorgeous (albeit sizeable) moth had found its way up my pantleg. Thus the advice about tight pants. :)

  5. Thanks Elizabeth! Yum-hot chocolate, is that on someone's list? I'll bring it.

    Kim-I only need to run faster than the one holding the laptop.

    Pamela-check on the boots and long pants. Gorgeous and moth in the same sentence? Hmmm.


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