Day 1 – A Personal Writing Retreat

The Old Pendola Ranch
The Old Pendola Ranch

As I turned off Highway 49 onto Pendola Road, traveling to the Skyline Harvest Retreat Center, it was like traveling through time.  I followed what was once a narrow dirt road that early Gold Rush settlers had carved from the hills,  scanning the downslope for vestiges of old mines and water ditches while staying alert for on-coming cars around the many blind curves.   Further along, the woods opened up into the pastoral Pendola Ranch  – where hillsides were once covered with vineyards until Prohibition stepped in and hacked the copper stills to pieces.

.Road into Skyline Harvest

Passing through the gate to Skyline Harvest

Bullards Bar ReservoirBullards Bar Reservoir is to my left.

I settle into The Hermitage.  It’s too perfect!

The Hermitage

 A corner table for eating and writing, a futon couch, meditation chair and kitchen fill up the main room.  The single bed is in an alcove tucked behind a folding wooden screen, and a modern bathroom with shower is in a separate room. Two chairs wait on the deck for watching wildlife in the small clearing outside.

Work Table

Bedroom AlcoveKitchen

11 AM.  Food, books, laptop, clothes all in place, I fix a bowl of soup and watch the rain drizzle outside.  After a short nap and cup of coffee, it’s time to write.  I’ve decided arbitrarily to set a goal of 7,500 words for these 48 hours.  Let’s see – that comes to 156 words an hour.  Can I write in my sleep?

I plunge ahead, not knowing where my story is going next. Though I know the general arc of my novel, The Desk, (Note: “The Desk” was the former working title for “Heart Wood” before 2020), I’ve learned to quiet my mind with meditation before starting, then have faith that the characters will surprise me.  And they do. Like today, Hummer appeared.  I’m mid-way through the future section – Year 2088 – my prospective  great-granddaughter Amisha’s story of struggling to survive on a planet irreparably damaged by man’s impact.   Hummer and his woman, Rapalini are one of the old folks who fled to the hills early on.  What do they know?

3:30 PM.  I’m startled by a knock on the door. It’s Diane Pendola who (along with Teresa Hahn) founded and is Director of Skyline Harvest.  I’ve asked for some of her time to help me think  things through – drawing on her experience with indigenous wisdom, Gestalt Therapy, theology, The Enneagram and her mentors, Ramon Panikar, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, to name a few.

I’m interested in the questions raised in my story –  not so much the answers.  Diane asks if mankind can move  from an era that’s been shaped by man’s ability to circumvent the natural checks and balances of nature,  into one that recognizes that we are part of a universal consciousness? If not, what kind of world will Amisha live in?  That’s where my story goes.

We jump up two hours later – time has flown into the dinner hour.  Diane departs, and I take a cool walk along the firebreak road to watch the golden sun set into the departing clouds.

Skyline Sunset
Skyline Sunset

A fox scurries past as I return to The Hermitage and prepare my dinner, heating with the wood stove instead of the gas range.  My gourmet husband has sent me here with a chicken cacciatora, a beef stew, garden salad, and a bottle of red wine.  He’s amazing and I’m so lucky!

After dinner, I check my word count.  Yikes, only 366 words!!  This is going to be a long evening!  But then, that’s what I’m here for.

But my cello also calls me.  I unzip its case intending to practice a few scales, but  instead, I  play for an hour – improvising in  C minor harmonic – a moody, searching key. Crickets add a chirping accompaniment, though I’m too tired to see if there’s any correlation with my playing.

10 PM.  Off to bed.  Got lots of words to write tomorrow!

September 30, 2013

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

A Personal Writing Retreat

Image
The Hermitage at Skyline Harvest

I’m excited.   Next time you hear from me, it’ll be from a personal Writing Retreat I’ve set up for myself at Skyline Harvest Retreat Center, north of Bullards Bar Reservoir.

I’ll spend several days living and writing in The Hermitage, a small, woodsy cabin built specifically for personal retreats – like meditations, dissertations, art and writing projects, or just a place to get away from it all.

Best of all, I don’t have to travel far.  Skyline is only 45 minutes from Nevada City or 2 hours from the Sacramento airport for guests who fly in.  (Skyline Harvest Eco-Contemplative Center)

As a writer, I feel it’s time to explore the deeper currents in my novel, but as disciplined as I try to be, it’s hard when the phone rings, laundry needs hanging, the garden calls me to linger – actually, it’s more like my husband calls me to linger. . . .    And then there’s that familiar feeling of being stuck.  How to get across the 40 mile desert of my mind?

At Skyline, I’m hoping to drop down into that quiet, meditative place and linger where the underground streams of consciousness flow.   Or at least get lots of pages written!!  I’ll be using my next Blog Posts to share my Writing Retreat experience and to hold myself accountable. Wish me well!

Photo courtesy of Skyline Harvest.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Planetary Compassion Fatigue

Morning emailsEleven political and environmental emails today.  Ten deleted.  I’ve got planetary compassion fatigue.  How to do the right thing when I’m buffeted between hope and cynicism ?  So many people working on urgent causes trying to elevate awareness, concern and of course, money.  But it’s too much.  I snap my laptop closed with a decisive click.  Time for the river.

My Honda knows the way to my favorite river trail.  It glides down the north fork river canyon, following the intricate twists and switchbacks of the mountain road until the road flattens out and parallels the shallow, trout-filled waters of the north fork. Shallower than normal for this time of year, I notice.  Every year’s different, but I can’t help feeling a smidge of concern.

 Middle Fork Yuba RiverSandals off, hiking boots on, I find the dusty trailhead.  The first part is rocky, but I know it will smooth out around the bend and I’ll strike up a cadence.  I pull off a handful of manzanita berries and pop them in my mouth.  Crunchy, slightly sweet. My husband and I made manzanita berry sugar last week, experimenting with what’s edible in the wild. I hope I never have to live on them, I think as I spit out the granular seeds.

My steps fall into a rhythm against the soft dirt, sending waves of vibration up my spine.  Thump, thump, thump – base notes to the river’s wavering alto.  Hermit Thrushes fill in the soprano voice.  My mind lifts off and floats along.

I’m troubled with information overload, I think.  There’s so much to be concerned about, but what can one person do?  Sign the next email petition, press the “Donate Now” button, listen to the phone pleas, call my Senator?  What actually makes a difference? I kick a rock from the trail, watch it tumble down the bank and splash into the river.

Thanks to technology, I know what’s going on almost as soon as it happens. Great-Grandmother Eliza only had telegraph, newspapers and back fence gossip, I muse.

“Hah! But it was sometimes a week after it happened.” I’m aware of Eliza’s voice and let it come through. “You want to do the right thing,” she continues. “You’ve got the whole world literally at your fingertips. I had to use my feet – hitch the buggy, go house to house.  Except Sundays – one more reason to go to church.  Oh, and letters.”

“Snail mail,” I snort.

“It’s all we had until telephones became common.

“But you made some important changes.  You got the saloons closed; got land set aside for state parks.”

“Did it through face to face persistence. You’ve got to look them straight in the eye, see into their soul.”

“Video conferencing,” I think.

“Someday you won’t even have that.”  My future Great-Granddaughter enters the conversation. “Just voices inputting information in your head. And even that will die.”

I pull off the trail to make way for a hiker from the other direction.  He smiles, nods, and passes through.

I pick up the thread of conversation. “I wonder sometimes if information overload is intentional. I get so distracted and overwhelmed: public drinking water privatized, elephants wiped out for tusks, tax breaks for corporate “farms”, oil spills, bee-killing pesticides, sex trafficking, GMO’s, fracking….  After a while, it all becomes background noise and I stop caring enough to do anything.”

“Then you should stop listening,” Amisha cuts in.

“Don’t let her get away with that,” Eliza says. “I did what I could with what I had … and what I cared about.  Think of the power you have with your Internet and what you all call “social media”, she says.

Is it power or illusion? I wonder.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Flap, Flap, Rest

Rod's-TwoOspreysCrp_110421_10
Moonshine Road Ospreys **

I meant to write today, but an Osprey outside my window kept calling me to play.

“Look, I can fly . . . I can fly!”

It circled round and round above the pines outside my second story window.  “Come out! I’m flying!”  I checked my timer (more on that later).  Fifteen minutes of writing to go.  I’m on a creative roll . . . Can’t stop now.  Sorry.

“But I’m flying!”

I paused. Several years ago, I saw an Osprey through my bird scope when it first ascended from its nest.  Perched on the outer edge of its spindly woven branches, it flap, flap, rested.  Over and over.  Flap, flap, rest; flap, flap, rest; until one set of flaps lifted it straight up from the nest.  Oh my. Back down to rest, then flap, flap again.  More height.

Each lift-off took it higher, until the wind beneath its wings gently drew it forward and away from the nest.  At first it glided motionless, then instinctual pull of muscles set the wings in motion.  I knew I was witnessing the first-steps-of-a-toddler moment.

I looked down at the timer on my desk, then at my laptop. “Oh hell.  I hit “save” and flew downstairs in time to watch the white streaked underbelly fly low overhead.  I followed the squeals as it circled the house then flew west, its calls fading into the distance.  I stood, bare feet on a wet lawn, binoculars dangling from my hand, and laughed.

Back at my desk, mind now up in the trees, I reset my timer and try to refocus.  Distractions:  How does the Pomodoro Technique address them? My writing friend, Heather Donahue, introduced me to this time-management system that’s immensely helpful for staying focused and productive in writing.  Set a round, tomato-shaped ticking timer for 25 minutes. ( Pomodoro = Tomato in Italian).  Write until it dings.  Set for 5 minutes and take a break.  Return for 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes off.  Flap, flap, rest.  Flap, flap, rest. I get a lot done that way – writing, cello practice, long projects, etc.

Being focused is good, but I realize I live in a world surrounded by mystery. If I don’t allow myself to be distracted by nature, I miss out on the sheer joys of life.  I can always reset the timer later!

** Thanks to my neighbor, Rod Bondurant of Camptonville, for permission to use his beautiful photo of the Moonshine Ospreys.  While Ospreys aren’t an unusual bird near bodies of water, the Moonshine Road nest is in the Tahoe National Forest, half-way between Bullards Bar Reservoir and Middle Fork of the Yuba River.  Neighbors have been watching this Osprey family return since 2006.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

“Our Foremothers” 1915

Emily's 4th July Speech 1

Hey, enough about our Forefathers this Independence Day!  Back in 1915, my Great Grandmother Emily Hoppin gave this speech about “Our ForeMothers” to a Fourth of July celebration in Yolo County, California.

I’ve transcribed her words from my copy of her handwritten notes.   To read her full speech go to  Emily’s Speech.                      Here are some excerpts:

“OUR FOREMOTHERS”

For over a hundred years, on this anniversary of our nation’s birth, men have written and poets have sung of our forefathers.  Today, for the first time in the history of – well – I will not say our nation, but will say of Yolo County, you are to hear not only of your forefathers but your foremothers, and I wish I had the eloquent tongue to tell of them.

Neither do I today expect to give a small meed of praise to these foremothers of ours – but I would try to win for them some of the gratitude we give our forefathers.

 Often women are the leaders and organizers of great enterprises.  Our own country owes its discovery to the masterful mind of a woman. (note: I assume Queen Isabella of Spain, who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World.  She also took an unusual interest in the Native Americans he brought back to Spain as slaves, by ordering the Indians returned to their homeland and freed.  However, she and her husband, Ferdinand, also started the Spanish Inquisition!  Now back to 1915).  

In the history of this beautiful state of ours where the pioneers of ’49 were enduring their hardships – the women were by their side and endured with them the hardships and lessons of the plains. 

Women have however been content with no praise at all, or the praise such as the old pioneer settler out west gave to his wife when an old grizzly bear came into his cabin one day.

          Perhaps you recall the man’s scream to his frau. 

         There’s a bear in the kitchen as big as a cow. 

          And how she advised him to murder him then. 

          And how his reply was, Yes! Betty, I will if you’ll first venture in. 

          So Betty leaped up and a poker she seized. 

          While her man shut the door and outside he squeezed 

          And then you remember, she laid on the blows. 

          While her man, through the keyhole kept shouting with din,

          Well done, my brave Betty.  Now hit him again.

           So with rapping and poking, poor Betty alone

          at last laid old Bruin as dead as a stone. 

          Then when the brave man saw the bear was no more,

         he ventured to poke himself in at the door.

          And off to the neighbors he hastened to tell,

          all the wonderful things –that morning befell. 

          And he published the wonderful story afar,

          How “Me and my Betty we just slaughtered that bar.”

Now my dear friends there is nothing personal in this story – nothing that is applicable to you – for you have never said to us in regard to taking hold of work.  Yes!  Darling we will, if you’ll first venture in.   We all know how energetic you men of Yolo County are, and how anxious you are that our county shall be well governed.

How glad you are to give due praise to women today, we who are proud to stand beside you and tell of the grand women of the past. Tis like stirring living embers when one calls to mind “all the achings and the quakings of the times that tried men’s souls.”

(Her speech continues with descriptions of women’s roles in the major events of America’s history.  The complete speech is on my website:  Emily’s Speech).

We who live in these days of railroads and telegraphs and books cannot realize the lonely days and nights of these women.

Speak of (women’s) brave words, their true hearts, their noble deeds.  Tell of their purity, their faith, their heroism, and let this fourth of July celebrate their deeds, as well as he deeds of our forefathers – and if between the living and the dead, is stretched, as some believe, a spirit wire, let it signal to them the words we speak today, and may their spirits – our guardian angels watch o’er our  country and may the God of our fore fathers and mothers, who through the gloom and night has guided our people. 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

A Community Of Jays

Jay BirdI’m trying to write, but birds are squawking outside the window. Not just a few chirps.  These guys are upset.  OK. I press “save” on my computer and head outside to find six Steller’s Jays flapping about in a heated conversation. On the lawn is Obi, my sweet old Animal Save dog, his mouth slightly open with that evasive “I’m not going to show you” look.

Ignoring my demands to “drop it,” he heads downhill accompanied by an aerial Greek Chorus.  He has his prize and isn’t going to relinquish it to me or the worrisome birds swooping overhead. I follow and corner him by his invisible fence, pry open his mouth and extract a bedraggled fledgling. Yes, it’s still alive.

Now the jays turn on me. Like the procession in Peter and the Wolf, I hold the bird high and head for home – dog leaping at my heels, ten birds now circling overhead.

With Obi locked in his dog yard, I set the soggy fledgling on the grass and watch from inside the house. I count twelve jays now. One lands next to little bird and gives him a poke, causing him to topple over, feet upright in the air. Another joins the poking.  Parents, probably.  I set the fledgling in a safer place and return to my computer.

After two hours of non-stop squawking, I realize the birds are now obsessed with my caged dog who is huddled tightly in a corner. They vent and dive. Obi’s eyes plead. I suggest he apologizes.

The Steller’s Jays continue their diatribe for four hours solid.  They seem to have no scruples about raiding other bird’s nests and eating their eggs, but they watch each other’s back more than any bird I’ve seen.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Into the Silence

Walking alone in the woods, I’m hardly aware of the cacophony of chatter in my mind .  . .  Ah, a new wildflower . . . deer tracks . . .  clouds building to the east.  I’m also processing the day before, or day ahead, or re-visiting past emotions that disturbed or delighted me.  I’m a bubble floating within myself, while all around me, the world swirls with its own awareness and stories.

I’ve been reading Becoming Animal by David Abram. He links the interior chatter of verbal thought with the advent of silent reading – a fairly recent acquisition in man’s development. A tight neurological coupling arose in the brain between the visual focus and inner speech, he posits.

Frankly, I’ve never thought about the ability to hear the words in my head as I read them on the page. It’s only natural, right?  Yet Abram relates that before the twelfth century in Europe, the written word had to be spoken out loud to make sense of it.  Greek and Latin writing had no spaces between words and little guiding punctuation.  Semitic writing had no vowels and had to be sounded out loud to hear the meaning.  Starting in the seventh century, monks put spaces between each word as they copied texts, making it easier to read the words without having to sound them out.

I’ve thought about this in the novel I’m working on, “The Desk.”  Amisha has fled San Francisco in 2088 to find the family homestead and the desk that’s haunted generations of family women.  She has gouged out the chip implanted at birth in her neck – the only communication device humans should have or need. Her mind no longer filled with HumanaCorp’s constant messaging, she wanders in silence.  Without a cloud of inner dialogue obscuring her awareness, she is drawn into the animate and inanimate world surrounding her.  She becomes a listener.Firgure Pictograph

“Our intelligence struggles to think its way out of the mirrored labyrinth, but the actual exit is to be found only by turning aside now and then, from the churning of thought, dropping beneath the spell of inner speech to listen into the wordless silence.”  (David Abram, Becoming Animal).

Toe First or Whole Body?

 Middle Fork Yuba RiverWhat’s your style?  It’s a hot day and you know the river is still winter cold. Do you dive in head first, or wade out slowly, letting your body accommodate to the creeping cold until it feels OK?  I’m decidedly the last.  Cautious, I guess.  Let others test the waters. I’ll follow soon.

I’m now seven days into the free trial of Scrivener, the novel writing program I mentioned last post.  Twenty-one more days to decide.  I could have plunked down my money, bought it out right, but that’s not my style.  I was afraid I’d feel overwhelmed learning a new program, so it seemed sensible to test it out first.  But as I inch deeper into the program and learn a bit more each day, I find the water’s just fine!  In fact, in one week I’ve organized my outline to the end of the book.

Sometimes I do jump.   I admit I’d wanted to play the cello for twenty years, but it took me only one week after playing with a friend’s cello, to rent a cello and start my first lesson.  The cold water was exhilarating!   Sadly, after inspiring me for two and a half years, my teacher, David Eby, is moving to Portland.  (Seems everyone’s moving there.  Before that it was Seattle; before that San Francisco).  I’m waiting to see where I go with my cello playing and whether I’ll dip or dive. ( I’m ready to dive!)

The truth I’m learning is that being cautious can be a waste of time.  The longer you live, the less time you have to do it all.  So I’ll stop writing here, purchase my Scrivener, and go full steam ahead into “The Desk!”

 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

To Scrive or not to Scrive?

My DesktopThat is the question. A writing friend recently introduced me to Scrivener, a writing management tool that authors use to compose and manage their novel or large projects.

Writing a novel is more complex and messy than I’d imagined.  My desk and computer files are bulging with historical research, character sketches,  plot outlines, articles documenting today’s environmental red flags and projected dystopic scenarios (I love people who forward these to me!),  photographs and art, downloads, inspirations, old and current drafts . . . you get the picture.

The thought of learning a new computer program, however, starts my chest tightening and forehead throbbing, until that familiar dread of it’s way too complicated for me takes over.  Just ask my husband and son-in-law!  They’ve helped me over the threshold into new electronic territories.  I now even have a smart phone now and love it!

Am I ready to spend my days on another electronic learning curve?  I’m undecided.  Scrivener Tutorials promise amazing tools to navigate and integrate all the processes of writing. I’ll have everything under one roof, all my stuff at my fingertips.  Quick, efficient.  Will this help me move my novel faster to completion?  I’m really ready.  On the other hand, what I’m doing works well enough. Will I just be adding new levels of frustration to my writing?

Let me know if you have pros and cons to add.   In the meantime, think I’ll just jump in and try their free 30-day trial.  Stay tuned.

 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Amisha Speaks: 2088

The Desk
The Desk

It wasn’t easy.  I had to materialize at my Great-Grandmother Shirley’s bedside one night to convince her to extend her novel into the future. The Desk should be more than a family history, I told her. It’s a story of women’s power to work within the larger arc of past, present and future as advocates for the earth.

I’ve been feeding her bits and pieces of my world as she writes. Since she’s going to be introducing me at the Women’s Writing Salon April 27th,  I thought I’d use her blog to tell you more about my world – some familiar, some the unchecked progress of bad ideas.

I enter the story as Dr. Amisha Hoplin, a 50 years old Pediatrician working at the University Medical Center in San Francisco. In poor health myself, I’ve just received devastating news for my patients.  I’ve also been haunted by memories of the old family homestead and whispers of an old desk . . . .

By 2088, Corporations have become a third branch of the Federal Legislature with the same vote as the Senate and House. Nothing gets through the impenetrable Corporate Coalition. Water, power, food, are controlled by HumanaCorps, and now everything’s falling apart. Medical research has stopped altogether. Forget finding cures–just find something to market that patients will need.  Like PharmFood, designed for the rampant increase of food intolerances brought on by genetic-tinkering.

No more electronic devices. Pebble-sized gel Chips, inserted behind the ear of every baby replace computers, i-phones, touch pads, GPS, televisions, etc.  Their fine micro-rootlets form neural attachments with the brain.   So much easier than carting around personal devises.  HumanaCorps monitors your interests and whereabouts to instantly inform you of consumables you should want.  In a nearly paperless world, search requests are fed to you through  Insta.Info, while transmissions of personal creativity are discouraged.

San Francisco has been re-arranged as people frantically respond to the rising sea and changing weather.  Here’s a excerpt from the novel.

As the Pedi-Cab entered Golden Gate Park at 19th Avenue though a thin perimeter of trees, a subdued silence and oily saltiness permeated the air.  Submerged structures at the end of the avenues made it hazardous to sail or row close to the shoreline, so the city had cut down a swath of trees through the park so boats could access the new city center.  The Golden Gate Channel.  Hah!  Two solar buoys marked the entrance. Amisha closed her eyes to avoid seeing the fallen trees, and drifted into a light sleep.  When the pedi-cab cyclist pulled up to her faded pink stucco house on 25th Avenue, he paused for a trembler, then nudged her shoulder and helped her up the front steps.

If you’re around on Saturday, April 27th at 4 pm, come by Tome’s Bookstore in Grass Valley for the Women’s Writing Salon.  Shirley will be reading along with Pat Miller, Sands Hall, Jan Fischler, Eleanor MacDonald and Jean Varda.

 

 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.