As many of you know, Holly and I wrote the first draft of The Pen and the Bell as letters to one another. We wrote these letters from wherever we happened to be: in our homes, at the doctor’s office, or waiting for a car to be fixed in the auto shop. Once, we were able to work together at a wonderful retreat center, The Helen R. Whiteley Center, on San Juan Island, and we even wrote letters to one another while working in the same room!
Holly is on retreat this week, solo this time, at the Whiteley Center, and I was delighted to receive a letter from her; it reminded me of that year when we each had a ready audience for our thoughts as we moved through the days. I’d like to share this letter with you, since you are now part of the The Pen and the Bell family:
February 17, 2015
Letter from Grandma’s Cove, San Juan Island
I’m writing you from a sandy beach in Grandma’s Cove, where I’ve finally landed after walking the trails along the edge of the bluffs at American Camp, past the laundry, past the meadow where I once caught a glimpse of a black fox. Something kept me moving down the hillside, wanting to sit where the sea murmurs to the sand, listen to her steady breath. A few seagulls glide past, checking me out, but otherwise, the beach is all mine as the sun slowly drops behind the jagged ridge of the Olympics. I can just barely hear the low grumble of a boat making its way west, a silhouette on the horizon. All the stones shimmer at the tide’s edge, open to the sea’s blessing, palms up.
How is that I forget that I need this, too? This quiet time in the warm sun with nowhere I need to be, nothing on my to-do list, no plans needing to be made. Just here with the sand, seagulls, and stones. I go on retreat to write, at least that’s what I think, and that’s what I tell colleagues, friends and family, my cat MC who’s pouting because I’m not there to feed her the way she likes. But I go on retreat for this, too, for the chance to be reminded that I need to listen to that voice that says, at 3 pm, OK, you’ve done enough for today. Let’s get outta here—I don’t care where—let’s go!
I listened, hopped in my car and drove south out of town by instinct, following the sun south and west on Cattle Point Road. I’d intended to go on to Cattle Point, where we once went together, but something called me here and I listened, pulling over in the American Camp parking lot, then walking until my feet found this path to the beach, slipping down a steep trail to reach it.
And now I’m here, watching the ship become a speck on the horizon, feeling the welcome February sun on my face and arms, bones soaking in Vitamin D. Soon, I’ll rise, walk back up the trail, keeping a lookout for the black fox I once saw on this trail. Each time I return, I hope I might see it, though I know it’s unlikely. But that’s what these days on retreat give us, isn’t it? The belief that anything CAN happen: the words might flow effortlessly, the black fox trot up the trail, rounding the next curve in the path.
May these warm, sunny days remind us that spring’s ahead and anything can happen…
yours in blissful retreat,
Maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve written a real letter—not a text, not an email, not a note. Perhaps you can take a half-hour this weekend and write a short letter to a friend, letting her know you’re there.