A green and gray gauze drapes the hillside of our retreat grounds in a cool April mist. Horses and lambs graze on a meadow not far from where white dogwoods and a catfish pond lead to marshlands. The retreat house has wooden rafters, and a basketful of old birds’ nests gracing the kitchen countertop. What might have been the shell of a snapping turtle leans up against a wall and above that a sign with faded lettering Pennypacker Farm. The smell of a wood-burning stove adds a Thoreauvian-like ambiance to our Writing in Nature Workshop.
If people can take home at least one useful thing, a dab of inspiration, a writing prompt that gets the pen moving, or a conversation to remember then the day is a success, I think.
But you never know if what you like and admire in a writer is another writer’s cup of tea, so to speak. I’ve selected the Cat Stevens recording of Where Do the Children Play and excerpts from the May Sarton journals on living a life of solitude among nature’s quietude and splendor.
And this quote from Esquire Magazine: Nature writing—in which the beauty of the natural world is used as a way of exploring inner turmoil—has enjoyed something of a commercial and critical renaissance in recent years. It’s not hard to see why. Our obsession with technology has started to feel more like a trap, making the great outdoors seem like an appealing balm. Meanwhile, the encroaching disaster of climate change is forcing us to reevaluate our relationship with nature, and maybe even stop taking it for granted.
In her blog Wings, Worms, and Wonder, author and nature journalist Kelly Johnson explains, “Nature writing opens us up to creative flow. It makes us slow down and become quiet observers. It gives us a place to assimilate our experiences and to ask questions for later answers…And it clears a way for our senses to wonder and bloom.”
I ask the group who have braved pretty lousy weather to come to a rather remote and rural location and devote a day to their writing: What did you bring today? What are you hoping to take away? It’s standard writing workshop fare but it never fails to elicit some pretty nice responses.
- I wanted a day to focus and write and I found it.
- I love being around other writers and hearing what they have to say.
- I find being around other creatives energizing because it gets my juices flowing.
- I’ve learned many ways to write about nature and share it.
For my part, as a former journalist, I share a piece I wrote that contains a nudge of activism to stop egregious development and ruination of the landscape where I live. Activism is good when it comes to writing, I think. So are the memories of why nature plays a part in who we are. Childhood memories, the woods behind my house, and the black snakes that swam in the meandering creek leading to swampy marshes come back to me.
We begin the read-around.
Memories of a parent carefully tending his tomato garden, a young wife and mother raking leaves in the fall, and an old woman cherishing her flowerboxes resonate as we sip coffee and eat delicious homemade brownies.
“I haven’t taken a writing workshop in years,” someone says. “I’m taking away being inspired by all of you and continuing to write about nature.”
I think about that and I feel inspired too to keep on writing. I am now entering my 13th year of this creative writing journey. The Women’s Writing Circle coupled with publishing and marketing my novels and memoirs has proved fruitful…what they call an “encore career” although sometimes I think ministry is more accurate. So much more is behind me than in front of me, but that doesn’t stop me.
When we take a break, I walk outside and reflect in the rain, which is pretty much a drizzle now. How much longer? How many more workshops?
For now, I listen to the writers share their nature stories through haiku or memoirs … I listen to the conversations and trills of laughter at lunch … observe them as they return from a stroll through surrounding marshlands, and hear how they loved it.
In an isolating world, I take away the fellowship and community. And, always, the writing.
10 thoughts on “Takeaways From Nature and Writing”
I continue to enjoy your writing and your thoughts.
div dir=”ltr”>Sent from the iPhone of Boyd Lem
Thank you, Boyd. I appreciate it and it means a lot coming from an author of your caliber.
Like a bird building a secure nest, you have collected all the features I enjoy in blog posts: vivid description, treasured memories, and close-knit friendship. Of course, I agree: “In an isolating world, I take away the fellowship and community. And, always, the writing.”
Today in my writers’ group, I was introduced to a first-class comedian/story-teller, Mama Marge, along with readers of lovely haiku poetry and spicy stories. Also, I did a presentation of My Checkered Life with handouts of my PowerPoint slides (no-tech meeting room). It’s always good to have a friendly audience the first time around. ;-D
Your writers’ group sounds excellent, Marian. I have no doubt they enjoyed the presentation of your new memoir and were lucky to have an author of your experience in attendance. Glad to hear it went well. If you ever get back up this way, we would love to have you do a presentation for the Women’s Writing Circle.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Today one of my Elizabethtown High School classmates informed me that our class (the few who are left) will gather for a reunion in April 2024, imagine that!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Susan, thank you for the lovely description of our Nature Writing retreat. Reading it helped me to relive our special day, reminding me of the friendship and inspiration that comes from our group. I agree that your work with our Circle is a form of ministry. We can leave the outside world behind for a few hours, enjoy the company of fellow writers and share our thoughts.
Yes, a ministry and a love of creative writing… and what a beautiful setting to bring it all together. Thank you for introducing our Women’s Writing Circle to the Great Marsh Institute. I know many of us will be making a return visit to partake of all they offer.
The workshop was really a special day. Even with the mist of rain and clouds, the marsh has a lovely, wild atmosphere. Walking down to the pond made it even better, but the time inside our little building with the sharing of creative people was a joy. Thank you, Susan, for leading and for Marilyn for recommending this place.
Thank you for those lovely reflections, Susan. It was terrific having you there.
Great stuff, Susan. Together you are changing the world. And that’s a good thing.