Day 2 – A Personal Writing Retreat

The Bed Nook
The Bed Nook

I reluctantly leave my cozy down comforter,  knowing I have miles of words to write today.  After yesterday’s drizzle, the sun is invigorating.  First, a tall mug of black coffee and a bowl of hot oatmeal, then I open my laptop to where I left off in the Scrivener program.

Hummer and Rupalini pop up on the screen to greet me.  They’re the old couple who escaped the growing dystopic world of the mid-2000’s and settled in the hills.   He’s saving his last 2 bullets from his now empty stockpile;  her mind long gone, she’s obsessed with finding out when the world turned.

After that chapter, I return to the present day narrator, wondering what will move her from feeling overwhelmed and hopeless about the state of the world and get her motivated into action.

Skyline Meadow
Skyline Meadow

Scott knocks at my door with a refilled jar of brown sugar and the most recent copy of Yes! Magazine from Diane.  I’m drawn into conversation with him, and write down his blog,  The Rambling Taoist.  He came to Skyline Harvest for a short visit and stayed. Skyline attracts such interesting people!

I write all morning, take a break for lunch and a short nap, then continue into the afternoon.  My word count is mounting, but not fast enough.  I console myself that the time I spend thinking through larger aspects of this project doesn’t show up as word counts.

There’s a lot of good stuff in Yes! Magazine’s Summer 2013 issue.  Here’s a few notes I took:

  • Will we turn against one another in a struggle for the last resources, or turn to one another in cooperation and community?  (Sarah van Gelder)
  • How to create new cultural stories and what we consider sources of true happiness? (van Gelder)
  • Definition of Revelation (Latin) and Apocalypse (Greek) is “A lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden; coming to clarity.”  (Robert Jensen)
  • It’s an illusion we can maintain an extractive economy indefinitely.  Our planet is not just a mine and a landfill. For some, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning! (Jensen)
  • “Prefigurative  Interventions” – Playful Protests, Pranks & Serious Works of Imagination.”  Look it up!   Beautiful Trouble, a Toolbox for Revolution at  http://www.beautifultrouble.org
The Ranch House
The Ranch House

The afternoon sun beckons me out to pick some figs from the huge tree next to the Ranch House.  I also explore the other buildings for future stays.  Each one is cozy in a grandmotherly kind of way.

The Cabin's Livingroom
The Cabin’s Livingroom
The Cabin
The Cabin
Gazebo
The Gazebo

Next time I come to Skyline Harvest, I might stay at the Cabin with its multi-level outside deck.  Or if I had a group, we’d take over The Ranch House.  I probably won’t have time to spend writing in the screened Gazebo, but maybe next visit.

After dinner and another session with Diane, then an hour of cello practice, I’m revitalized to write again.  Work Table -NightThe moths check in on me against the lighted window, wondering how I’m doing.

When I close the laptop at 11:30 pm, I’m at 2,159 words for the day, for a grand total of 2,525.  Not as many as I’d hoped.

As my Grandma Moffett would say, “Well, it is.”

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

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.

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.

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.

 

Great-Grandmother Emily’s Vision of Universal Peace -1915

I was awestruck when I read this 1915 article about my Great Grandmother Emily Hoppin (the inspiration for Eliza in “The Desk”) after she was elected President of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Mrs. Hoppin 1915

“Mrs. Hoppin is an optimist . . . even in the face of the greatest war of all ages (WWI), she still hopes that work for peace, which she feels must be largely woman’s work, will not – cannot – be in vain. She anticipates that the condition we pray for, the prevalence of an effective sentiment for universal peace, may come about suddenly and unexpectedly, likening it to the movement for the abolition of slavery, which seemed a far, Eutopian vision in the minds of its supporters. Practically all they dared hope for was the restriction and limiting of the traffic – and then, of a sudden, Emancipation! – more glorious than their fondest dreams! And so she prays it may be with the peace sentiment.”                                               (The Overland Monthly, 1915 – “The New Executive in Feminine Clubdom”)

Though I also consider myself an optimist, I get easily discouraged by what feels like a tsunami of greed and self-interest. I lose hope. Think of today’s big issues: gun control, the Afghanistan war, reproductive choices, the right to marry, genetically-modified foods, etc. (obviously reflects my liberal perspective). Sure, I sign internet petitions, donate to causes, make an occasional call to elected representatives, but I recognize a little voice that says, “I’ll do what I can, but it’s probably hopeless – too much money and corporate interest backing it.”

And then I read my Great-Grandmother’s words and come face to face with the paucity of my vision. Remember Ken Keyes’ book, The Hundredth Monkey? He wrote: “When only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people. But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness reaches almost everyone!”

I return to Great Grandma’s vision that “universal peace may come about suddenly and unexpectedly, likening it to the movement for the abolition of slavery, which seemed a far, Eutopian vision in the minds of its supporters. . . then, of a sudden, Emancipation! – more glorious than their fondest dreams!”

I realize now my work is to join with others to hold a strong, clear image of the world I want. A world where guns are registered like cars, and users are tested for skills and safety. Where any committed couple can marry. Where the earth has a sustainable population because women can control conception. Where we learn to live with less energy … and so on. I encourage you to think about the images you hold – and how they can add to the tipping point.

 

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

Nature Forced into Unnatural Acts.

Row of trees cut for powerlineIt’s such a common sight near power lines, but every time I see this, my heart aches for the beheaded tree.

It was growing there long before man ran his electricity in straight lines and chopped off anything that got in his way.

 

Driving across the Sacramento Valley to Woodland where my ancestors settled during  the Gold Rush, I took lots of photos.

Most were scenes of vibrant mustard flowers carpeting the ground of cloudy pink fruit orchards. But some Mustard in fruit orchardorchards were bereft of any ground vegetation.Furrowed field I thought the fields of dark earth all furrowed and ready for planting were stunning at first, until I noticed the absolute absence of weeds.        Hmmmm.

Man’s need supersedes that of  nature most times.  I’ve learned recently that oil companies are hovering like bees a bit south in the central valley in one of the richest deposits of oil in the United States called the Monterey Shale.  Get ready for the next Gold Rush made possible by hydraulic fracking.

Fracking creates fractures in rocks thousands of feet below the surface by injecting them with water laced with chemicals and sand, allowing oil or gas to flow out.  Fracking received a specific exception from the Clean Water Act in the 2005 Energy Bill, so oil companies don’t have to reveal what chemicals they use.

Again, with no regard to Mother Earth, some 30 chemicals including hydrochloric acid, are injected into her body to extract oil. Fracking and disposal of fracking waste has been linked to groundwater pollution, drinking water contamination and earthquakes.

How long until Earth fights back, like an abused woman who’s finally had enough?  In the meantime, as Dick always says, Go Gently.

Links to read more on the Monterey Shale:

http://earthfirstnews.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/fracking-boom-looms-in-californias-monterey-shale/

http://www.newtimesslo.com/cover/6555/californias-silent-oil-rush/

Thanks Debra!

The Year 2088?

357What would your world be like if you lived in the year 2088?  As my novel goes 75-100 years into the future, I’m imagining the details of my great-granddaughter’s existence and that of the planet.  I was struck by a recent report in Nature magazine:  Approaching a State-Shift in Earth’s Biosphere. An international team of scientists concludes that our planet’s ecosystems are careening towards an imminent, irreversible collapse much sooner and much worse than currently thought.

Lots of novels and films have depicted a dystopic, future world:  Soylent Green, Day of the Triffids, Feed, Waterworld, 2012, The Day after Tomorrow, On the Beach, Logan’s Run, the Matrix, The World without Us, Wall-E, The Great Bay, Canticle for Leibowitz, Andromeda Strain, the Stand, and my favorite written in 1949, Earth Abides – to name a few. Causes vary from rogue viruses, aliens, asteroids, technology gone amuck to nuclear disaster.

Given both the positive and negative trends already underway, suppose mankind is unable to do enough to ward off an irreversible, planetary-scale tipping point.  What’s the outlook for our great-grandchildren if the corporate bottom-line continues to lead us into the future, or GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) continue to alter the biology of our foods and bodies?   How will man communicate or move around the planet when there’s little left to extract from the earth for energy or manufacturing? Extreme heat and rising sea levels will probably eliminate traditional ways to grow food or live.    What if man himself has tipped the earth so far that it’s no longer hospitable to humans?

I’m looking for images, ideas, imaginings. Tell me how you think a person would get through their day 75-100  years from now. I’m curious about details. With your permission, it might make it into “The Desk.”  Leave a comment here or email me at sdickard@gotsky.com.  Thanks!

 

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

Migration

Swans in Rice Field
Swans in Rice Field

I was surrounded by a cacophony of swans and geese.  Such a perfect word for the exuberant conversation of migratory Tundra Swans, Snow, Ross and White-Fronted Geese that  arrive every winter to the flooded rice fields in the upper Sacramento Valley.  I spent the afternoon with them recently, amazed as I imagine people have always been at this seasonal flyway.

Two hundred years ago, a Patwin woman – one of the valley tribes I write of in my book – might have looked up at the first honks of returning swans, knowing it was the time for gathering acorns and manzanita berries.  Spanish, Mexican, then European settlers from the east probably saw the migration as the arrival of protein for their winter larder.  But for me, it’s the anticipated arrival of wonder.

People migrate – some.  Migrant workers follow the ripening of spring lettuce and winter squash.  As a rural school nurse, I knew certain families would show up in the spring when the weather was warm enough to camp out at the river.  They stayed until the first frost, then moved on.  Now it’s the seasonal folks who arrive in fall with their trimming scissors to work the local cash crop.  When the harvest’s done, they too move on.

I wonder how the long-term impact of climate change will affect the signals that trigger migration?    2012 was the hottest year on record – a recent report by NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Earlier springs, longer, hotter summers, harsher wildfires, droughts, crop losses. Will my great grandchildren tell their children of the days when swans used to overwinter where farmers used to grow rice in the Sacramento Valley?

Stone mileage marker hidden in rice fields
Stone marker hidden in rice fields
Mileage marker between Marysville and  foothill towns
Mileage marker between Marysville and foothill towns

I like my present-time roots.  I feel them deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but I also feel them across the valley where my ancestors settled in 1849.  I like making that trek. I feel the pull of my own winter migration when the returning swans call me to drop what I’m doing, and meet them in the valley.

Evolution of The Desk

Stone Portal 2Do we have the ability to influence our ancestors?  Or our future descendants?  On a restless night several years ago, I found these thoughts changing the course of my novel.

I started out inspired to write about my Great Grandmother Emily who settled during the 1849 Gold Rush in the Sacramento Valley.   But I didn’t want to write yet another biography of a head-strong, determined western woman.  The book shelf’s already full of those!  So I stepped back to look at the larger landscape.

3. Misty Autumn Back Road.Camptonville 11.07Of course…we’re all spirit, and if time transcends the here and now, we all have access to each other’s lives.  What if I could slip back into my great-grandmother’s life and tell her what she’d need to know that might ward off future ecological devastation?  Or hear my great-granddaughter imploring me to build now what she’d need to survive when she returns to our abandoned homestead in the far future?

PetroglyphAnd what if we’re all connected by the vision of an ancient woman of wisdom who saw it all?  Shima’a found a portal that transcended time.  From the heartwood of an oak tree (that as an acorn grew from her heart when she died), a small oak writing desk became her means of inspiring women to gather their power and create new ways of living together. The old, aggressive masculine constructs have run their course. If earth and humanity are to survive, the feminine has to ascend.

 

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