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, 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.

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.

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.

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.

More Stories of Used Books Finding You!

book stack 2“In used book stores it truly is Ask and you shall receive. Even if you don’t ask, the old books know, not just the words within, but so many of the thoughts of those who have read before you.” (Robert Mumm)

Thanks to those who’ve sent me their own tales of being called by used books. I’m starting with stories by Mark Jokerst and Robert Mumm.  Hope to hear more stories from the rest of you!

“My favorite book finding me story came from reading a Wendell Berry piece where he mentioned Sir Albert Howard as one of the sources of today’s organic gardening. Soon after, poking around at Bay Books in Concord, an old but crisp edition of “An Agricultural Testament” caught my eye. Thanks. It never dawned on me the book was reaching out for me; I thought I had found the book!”  . . .  Mark Jokerst

And from Robert Mumm . . .

In a used book store in Maryland, a book was waiting for me.  I didn’t know it, but it was and it took but a very short time for it to catch my attention.  It wasn’t a bright new book in great condition; rather it seemed a bit tired and dowdy. It was a well-used old book and the only book I really looked at.  My son and daughter-in-law had wanted to show me their favorite book store, and there was just time for a brief stop on our way to the airport for my return flight back to California.

I have been working to put together some family background for my kids and found there is really a lot I don’t know about my father and almost nothing about the family before that.  My father came to this country from the district of Schleswig in Northern Germany on his own when he was fifteen, so in a way the chain back beyond was broken.  He did tell many fascinating stories about his childhood, but there was just too much detail for me to understand then, because it was so beyond my own experience.  Later on there never seemed to be time to go back over some of those old things, and they faded and became confused.

Pieter and Katie never knew their paternal Grandfather at all, so I wished to get inside and reconstruct the person he was so that they can know him a little.  I soon realized that religion played a big part in his life, although when I knew him he had no religious affiliation at all.  To understand him I needed information on that part of his childhood.

So I had begun to work on this facet of his life when I walked into that used book store and reached for the first book that caught my eye. This book was between others, so I couldn’t read its title, but when I pulled it out and saw what it was, I knew why I had come there.  It was The History of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland, published in 1847 and written by J.H. Merle D’ Aubigne.  I subsequently looked him up and found that he is a very well regarded source in religious history and fun to read because of the writing style of the time. This book has become a source that not only illuminated religion, but also many attitudes pertaining to the raising of children at that time.

I’ve also been able to learn something of the physical setting, for instance, the Elbe River where he played is about five miles across.  Far different than the river I envisioned as a child, for all the river I knew was our little Middle Fork of the Yuba.  Dad had an extensive knowledge of the rigging of sailing ships, those old Windjammers of an age when the bulk of cargo still moved under sail.  He made a wonderful model ship for each of his sons, with all the stays and rigging of those great old Windjammers, and his love of tall ships has come to me as a sort of nostalgic undercurrent.

In my father’s telling of his early life there came to me a subliminal dread of the North Sea.  From what I have researched so far, I now know why, for my father was close to it – very close.  My grandfather was a Pilot Boat Captain and many times must have gone out to meet ships when he was not at all sure of coming back.  Even today the transfer of a Pilot and Helmsman from pilot boat to an incoming ship in the turbulent mix of river flow and storm driven waves where the Elbe meets the North Sea is a hazardous undertaking.

In used book stores it truly is ask and you shall receive. Even if you don’t ask, the old books know, not just the words within but so many of the thoughts of those who have read before you.”

. . . Robert Mumm