July 1 to 7 2018 – For a while now, it has felt as if our place and our micro-community have been ready to invite more guests in to enjoy the peace and beauty of this land. The garden is burgeoning with multihued (predominantly green) goodness, the trees are groaning with ripening fruit and our faces are stained with berry juice. There has been no rain for weeks, the skies have been blue all day with ecstatic displays of colour around sunset, serenaded by orchestral swellings of birdsong – punctuated by the tones of the wind chime as it is stirred by a cooling breeze. All this is leaving us in a state of aesthetic arrest, with minds without words, peaceful hearts and nourished souls.
Into this paradise, Nadine and Anna have joined us for a week-long writing retreat. Nadine is sleeping in her tent down at the bottom of the land, and Anna is ensconced in her old bed in the front room, which has now been done up to offer guest accommodation. A few days in, we can see a pattern to our days together – predictably structured by mealtimes! After breakfast, those of us participating in the writing retreat circle up for our morning check in under the wild cherry tree by the pond. How are we doing? What intention do we hold for our writing? What do we need from each other in support of that? We scatter to the four directions and do our own thing until lunch time, when we come together around a table laden with deliciousness lovingly provided by Chrisje. Afternoons are for writing – or for napping! – with a sweet treat at four (the famous Flemish ‘vieuruurtje’), culminating in a light, early dinner with good conversation, followed by a gentle slide down into contemplation of the sunset and sleep.
It is fascinating to see that what might appear to be a single pass-time (writing) has manifested in such different ways in each participant in this retreat. Creative expression in the context of the ‘transformative writing’ of fan fiction (Anna); calls for tender, portfolio pieces and blog posts (Nadine); editing book chapters, journaling and blogging (Helen); shaping articles and blog posts (Ria); global communication (arranging logistics and travel arrangements) and avoiding writing altogether (Steve). Each according to our needs and predilections.
One evening we had an after-dinner online conversation with veteran writing practitioner Christina Baldwin near Seattle (in her morning). Rather than talk about what we were writing, we touched into many different aspects of the why’s and how’s of the art. We covered quite a vast territory: from the notion of leaving traces (on paper) for the future, to how to dance with writer’s block, to journaling as a daily practice, to the power of storytelling. Above all, it was sweet to reconnect with a distant friend for a meaningful conversation.
Retreat as pop-up community
One thing has become abundantly clear from this experience: the preciousness of having time and space, in simplicity, in nature, to align ourselves in the practices of community. Being together, sharing certain activities – checking in in circle in the morning, preparing and sharing meals (here in the Dorpsstraat we have the added bonus of Chrisje’s generous offering of her culinary gifts to the community), collective inquiry into whatever is the calling question for our retreat – with ample room for individual autonomy in between.
This beloved place has again shown its delight to be hosting people into the community of all beings – so much life is present here, comfortably alongside the human. All those who come here are nourished, humbled, awed and bathed in the beauty and abundance of well-stewarded nature. Perhaps this practice of pop-up community will be a more regular feature of our life here on the land, as our Home Place grows into its next level.