Writer’s Retreat in Minnesota

The birds outside my window are not the ones I am accustomed to hearing. The regular drizzle of all-day rain is unlike the storm bursts that come and go in my high desert home. The ticks are certainly not at all a familiar hazard. I’ve come to Minnesota to be with other writers, to talk, to think, to create words. Yet when I’m alone with my thoughts I am distracted by difference that my brain wants to notice, evaluate, understand. I don’t mind. I’ve learned that for me writing retreats are rarely my most productive moments if you’re measuring in word count. I’m too drawn to the newness of being outside my regular patterns, to the oddity of only consulting my own schedule rather than considering the entwining net of habit and obligation that holds me fast at home. I always accomplish things, but they’re rarely what I expected to accomplish when I packed for the trip. I’ve learned not to judge myself for that. And I’ve gone on retreats often enough that this is a familiar flavor of unfamiliarity. I know how to approach it and when to retreat into the comforts I brought with me.

This retreat is in Minnesota at a location with miles of walking trails and a small marshland lake. I’m on staff in a supporting role that hasn’t been particularly heavy because everyone is taking care of each other. This means I can sit off to the side and observe as our little pop-up community connects and coalesces. I love when they self-organize around activities, some of them playing games that they packed along, others gathering in groups to read aloud to each other. I am not the only one pulled out of her usual context. We all have the opportunity to experience something different, to collect new thoughts, new connections, and new ways to interact with the world around us.

Yesterday I spent sunset hour at the marsh sitting on a bench. I’d doused myself in mosquito spray, but my seat on a floating dock was in full sunshine and the mosquitoes weren’t a bother there. It is not often in my life that I take an entire hour to just watch birds and the changing light on water. I listened to frogs drumming and even was surprised by a raccoon who got within five feet of me before either of us noticed the other. Once we did, the racoon immediately decided to have business elsewhere. I was impressed with how healthy and fuzzy the critter looked without the harried and desperate look that I see in city wildlife.

This evening I plan to go in search of fireflies. I’ve seen a few, but I went out too late in the evening to see their full show. Today I’ve set an alarm and I know where to go. I’ll spray against mosquitoes, defending against one bug while deliberately seeking another one. I have two and a half days left to experience new, then I return to familiar.