Sunday, April 08, 2018

A Short Retreat Makes For A Great Afternoon

Looks nature-like, doesn't it?
I spent this afternoon at a nature writing retreat sponsored by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and run by Katherine Hauswirth. It was not what I’d expected, and yet a very good experience. Because I’m in to that mind-of-the-beginner thing. I can be open.

So Here’s What Happened

I heard about this nature writing retreat that would start with some sharing of nature writing, a brief group discussion of writing approaches, themes, and formats. Then we’d spend time in nature (going for a walk) and engaging in the writing process. I jumped right on this because I hear “nature writing” and what do I think? I think “nature essays.” And I write essays!  I have a couple of nature-ish essays on my hard drive! I have those blog posts I’ve done about snowshoeing! This retreat was only 4 hours long, it was a half hour from my house, and it cost $20. Seriously, who wouldn’t jump on this?

Well, the first thing I figured out during the brief group discussion was that “nature writing” does not automatically mean “nature essay.” It can be poetry, journals, almanacs… We were not talking a straight essay retreat, I just thought we were, because that’s how my mind runs. Essay, essay, essay. 

The second thing I figured out was that I was way over my head with this crowd as far as reading nature writing is concerned. To me a nature writing book is Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit, which is, obviously, about walking. I got it at the library, maybe eight years ago. These people were reading books about spring and mushrooms. They own these things and have just read some of them.

But There's Always Something To Take From Every Experience, Right? Right?


We had about two and a half hours between the 45-minute intro and the 45-minute wrap-up. During that time I:

  • Went for a walk with the group. While out in the woods I learned that Connecticut has fairy
    The trail I used.
    shrimp in its vernal pools.
  • Got an idea for the framing I need for another, totally not nature essay.
  • Went back to the meeting room.
  • Read Katherine's terrific handouts.
  • Looked up Ron Harton on-line; Katherine referred to him in her handouts.
  • Read some nature poetry.
  • Had a revelation that nature writing may be observational while the two nature-ish essays I have on my hard drive are more in the area of recollection, even though they do involve recalling natural situations. That might make them memoir, rather than nature writing.
  • Used some of the points Katherine makes in her handout to try to come up with some changes for my nature-ish essays.
  • Decided one of my nature-ish essays needs a different tone, which has nothing to do with nature writing.
  • Bought a copy of Katherine Hauswirth's book, The Book of Noticing.  
  • Ate some pretzels and listened to some George Winston on my phone.
Katherine's book

Spending a Sunday afternoon reading about and talking about writing, even a type of writing that I don't actually do, was...both relaxing and stimulating at the same time. I would appreciate a retreat like this about travel writing and food writing. Oh, yes. Food writing. 

I'll jump on something like that.


Katherine Hauswirth said...

Gail I wrote to you on FB too--thanks for this! It's funny how this model, which I gravitated toward in part because I wanted a change from facilitating workshops and wanted a more relaxed atmosphere with plenty of time to muse and wander for the participants, DOES turn out to be something that might really be useful for other subject matters. Maybe you can host one yourself in one of your other interest areas! :)

Gail Gauthier said...

Now that you mention it, the NewEngland SCBWI sponsors meet-ups, which are organized by members, and are, I understand, primarily networking gatherings. I wonder if it would be willing to sponsor afternoon retreats. The retreats could be built around some one aspect of children’s book writing.

A lot of organized events for writers aren’t opportunities to write.

I’m going to run this idea past my writers’ group, which is a NESCBWI group.