Thursday, November 09, 2006
Hedgebrook Farm lies on a country road on Whidbey Island, WA. I had the rare privilege of spending three weeks there recently working on my writing. It's an astonishing residency. The competition's stiff. This year they had close to 500 applications, for the 40-odd residencies offered. Once you're invited, the gift they give you is time, and space that is magical in its beauty. A handcrafted cottage in the middle of misty cedar and maple forest, organically grown food served up with loving care, and the perfect blend of solitude and community.
So what was it really about? Was there something to be gained from secluding myself (with limited cell and Internet access) from the world, building fires in the woodstove, walking through the woods, basket in hand to collect thoughtfully packed meals catering to my individual needs from the farmhouse,reading journals written by women who had been in Cedar Cottage before me? What was the point? Ursula Le Guin had been in Cedar some years before. I got to read her delicate observations. So what?
I wrote through the first tangle of a new work. It's not complete, but I did the sort of verbal brush-clearing in three weeks that would probably have taken me a year in "real time." I came away with a clearer sense of all that I didn't know about this story. All right, a lot that I didn't know. I revised another story that I'd set aside earlier and didn't quite know what to do with. A new picture book manuscript featuring Josie the resident cat came purring down the trail and planted itself in my brain. Who knows where it will go?
But it was the intangibles that really made this an otherworldly experience. Here's one.
I'd gone to Bellevue with Anjali Banerjee one weekend for a Diwali/Tihaar event at the Barnes & Noble (thank you Brenda Gurung, for a lovely evening). The event featured Anjali's books and mine, dancing, theater,kids, families. Coming back to the quiet of Hedgebrook afterwards was more difficult than I'd anticipated. I was sad to be away from home during Diwali. My head was full of the buzz of the evening. The forest felt very quiet. On my way back to my cottage, an owl swooped down from the trees and flew ahead of me, with great flapping wings. Later that night, it visited the cottage, flying by, then flapping down to perch on the open window for what seemed like a very long moment. The owl in Hindu mythology is considered to be the companion animal of the goddess Lakshmi.
There were other such Hedgebrook moments, when the deer came to visit, and when the eagle screeched by overhead. I'm deeply grateful to be part of this amazing community.