I taped a hopeful note to the fridge as four 12-year old boys slept upstairs and three 16-year old girls slept in the basement. “Please walk Millie and keep the kitchen clean.” I snuck into the pre-dawn Saturday morning fully prepared to arrive home later that night to a kitchen that looked like a dirty dishwasher had sneezed on it and a rambunctious terrier needing a late night walk. This day would be worth it.
After picking up Kelsye, a writing group friend, we drove onto an 8am ferry headed toward Whidbey Island. Desperate for some caffeine, we clanked up to the deck of the boat.Â We were headed to Hedgebrook, a writer’s retreat built specifically for women writers. The retreat, situated on a chunk of land overlooking “Useless Bay,” on Whidbey Island,Â is comprised of Â six “Amish” style cottages, a farmhouse kitchen Â and a long room for a day-long “salon” where a group of women were about to have the opportunity of being coached by master writers and teachers.
In the ferry’s “galley”, getting coffee (tea in my case), we bumped into Christine, one of Hedgebrook’s board members, her daughter and Storme Webber, a renowned poet, performance artist, writer, singer (I am sure the list is much longer than this) who was one of the teachers at the day’s salon. Her braided mohawk was tucked under a white cap which seemed to float above her head, giving her the jaunty look of a child actor from the 30s â€“ both innocent and street-wise. I expected her to have a loud, booming voice so was surprised by her delicate, quiet cadence as she told us of her recent trip to perform at another retreat on Martha’s Vineyard.
Just two days before, invited by Christine, I “observed” my first Board Meeting for Hedgebrook as a prelude to being considered (wooed?) for a position on the Board. I couldn’t be more thrilled by the possibility of making a contribution to an organization that welcomes, nourishes and creates a community for women writers.
Evidence of Hedgebrook’s “extreme hospitality” was found in the buttery smell of hot croissants and buttered bagels, fresh fruit, tea and coffee that were offered for breakfast upon arrival. The long room was chilly, but quickly warmed with the stoking of the wood stove and the warmth of the women who began to fill the room. Before I’d been there 15 minutes I’d been asked about my project several times and I found myself digging into my bag for my business cards, wishing I’d thought to pack more. I was equally entranced by the women sitting near me and quickly made new friends.
After an initial greeting from Amy, the Director of Hedgebrook, we eagerly headed off in small groups toward the tiny cottages that normally held just one, industrious writer. Paths were matted with pine needles, and we passed a large wood shed stacked neatly with kindling for the tiny wood stoves that heated each cottage. I felt as if I had escaped into an enchanted forest and was about to meet face-to-face with Frodo.Â I snuggled into the cushioned window seat of “Owl” cottage for my morning session called “Screenwriting Tools for Fiction Writers” and was likely the only person to notice the sprite who tiptoed onto the porch to leave a bundle of wood.
We settled in and learned.Â Were inspired. Made friends. Gained community. Breathed deeply in appreciation. Laughed. Ate beautiful, lovingly made food.
It was easy to feel the magic.
At day’s end, we gathered back in the longhouse once more, fulfilled, giddy, warmed. Storme led us with her ethereal voice, bending notes, bending words, bending minds. I looked around to see eyes closed, and heard those low belly grumbles of appreciation when she was finished. Other volunteers stood up to regale us with their stories, their voices, their bravery, their laughter.
That night when I got home, the dog had not been walked, the dishes had indeed been sneezed around the kitchen, and I walked into a teenage drama unfolding. But for the opportunity of becoming a “Hedgebrook alum” and all that entails, it was a small price to pay.