We had the tremendous pleasure of sharing Merna Hecht and Rob Crawford’s company for several weeks this spring. We loved their stories about life on a blueberry farm in Washington as well as learning about what experiences made them both who they are today. Both Merna and Rob have participated on a number of writer’s retreats and I asked them to share their reflections about the value of ‘time out’ and how the process works for them.
Merna: In retrospect, after two weeks at Bordeneuve , I understand the importance of leaving the press of the familiar behind. The new landscape widened my thinking and nourished my work as nothing else could. I knew I wanted time and space to write an essay and that I wanted to pose difficult, provocative questions within it. I also felt a longing to get back to my own work as a poet. I imagined that leaving home for a completely different setting and rhythm to my days would allow me to turn to my writing and rekindle my ability to focus and concentrate. Even though we live on a sweet little blueberry farm on an island in Puget Sound outside of Seattle, work life, family life and social life were over-full and far too busy; I was yearning for a time and place of rediscovery and renewal.
Now, back home, I realize how essential it is that after arrival at Bordeneuve one must immediately learn to befriend long periods of solitude and learn to treasure them. The idea is to take full advantage of the deep quiet and to go into it with the awareness that you will live with yourself and your work in a different way. It seems important not to have expectations of what solitude will ask of you, but to trust that a balance will emerge that becomes as essential as the need to go into yourself and your work. There were many aspects of the retreat that provided a lovely pattern that both Rob and I learned to embroider into our days. After the quiet of a work day, always punctuated by a walk or bicycle ride, there was the evening and with it came a glass of wine, an aperitif, and often a beautiful shared meal with rich, enlivening conversations with Noelle and Karl.
Both Rob and I are writing about challenging topics. The expansive workspaces and surrounding beauty helped us settle into a willingness to take on the difficult subjects of our respective work—mine about working with young refugees and other young people who have experienced loss and trauma and about the failure of public schools in the U.S. to provide children with meaningful and applicable education as it relates to our complex world. Rob’s work is about human rights abuses and he also researches and writes about political ideologies that promote war—all toward understanding how we might possibly resolve conflicts and achieve peace. Though our topics were indeed somber, every once in a while a poem would surface which was a delight. I also returned to the pleasure of writing in my journal or drawing the contours of a nearby pebble beach where the stream swept in like the arc in the middle of a fairy tale. I heartily recommend to any and all residents that they take the time for journaling or sketching. Rob wisely took time out from his writing to search for the Golden Oriole and play his jazz piano and a few times with Karl on saxophone.
Rob: I imagined and hoped for a place in an uncommonly beautiful setting, where I could stay put, write for five to six hours on a daily basis and then go into the countryside and discover a new environment. From previous experience I knew and expected that a writing retreat would be a refuge from the daily demands of our house and our small farm and all the rest. I hoped the space would provide individual solitude and a good work space. Bordeneuve exceeded all of these expectations, with the additional surprise of our generous and kind hosts—and free ranging conversation. Noelle and Karl are exceptional and I have every intention of returning to this unique place and part of the world. I feel deep gratitude for my time here.
A few recommendations: Eat a late dinner; savor the wine, don’t expect to work later in the evening, get up early for work; rise with the dawn for the birdsong and go outside as soon as possible.
Merna: Finally, I think it’s of utmost importance to mention and Rob agrees wholeheartedly, that the retreat does not end upon one’s return. Therein lies both the gift of Bordeneuve and a great challenge because it is easy to slip back into routines and old, established patterns. Yet, it is far more compelling and energizing to be as mindful as possible about holding onto what was gained during the residency and to keep insights fresh and change in motion as best as one can.