Two weeks ago I attended the ‘Dwell’ writers’ retreat, held at Grunewald Guild near Leavenworth, WA – a journey which is profoundly affecting this season of my life. What follows is the first of my reflections about this time, which I will release weekly. Enjoy!
A Pilgrimage Launched
Awenatchela, “People at the source”, Wenatchee—(Native American) Sahaptin word for ‘River from the Canyon’ or ‘Robe of the Rainbow’. The moment I heard the name of the city into which my husband and I would be flying, on our way to the writer’s retreat in Washington state, I harbored a deep anticipation that the meaning of the word would hold a special point of significance: What are writers if not ‘people at the source’ ? First peoples poured so much meaning into names, and this land was already proving to be eloquent with creation’s cries.
My spiritual senses were already heightened since I found out, months after registering, that the name of the town where the retreat would be hosted was Leavenworth—the same name as that of our first hometown in Kansas! Leavenworth: the place of many first and new things for me—marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, foreign landscape, climate, food, church, friends…foreign world, working through me, changing me, like leaven.
But we had flown hundreds of miles over, above and beyond that Leavenworth, on this flight, going further west than either one of us had been before. My Dear-heart had his Master’s course studies to ensure that the trip would be worthwhile for him one way or the other. But as for me, I was a bit nervous.
Of the intimate number that would be in attendance at the retreat, I knew only one lady—the visionary behind the event. ‘Know’ being relative, as we had become friends solely through her writings, both printed and emailed. Meeting Kimberlee Conway Ireton, writer of The Circle of Seasons, in person, would be the anticipated highlight. This aspect also, presented a pre-sentiment — for just as my relationship with my husband had progressed, Kimberlee & I would be meeting each other face to face for the first time, after almost two years of written communication and exchange of one, maybe two photos online. Would this be a onetime event or would lasting friendships be established among the hearts gathering at Grunewald Guild?
Driving up from the Wenatchee airport, visually trying to come to terms with the stark semi-desert landscape of the foothills of the Cascades, I was surprised by the sight of sunflowers, of all plants! I had adopted Kansas’ state flower as my personal ‘avatar’ the day we flew into Leavenworth, on our way from our wedding and honeymoon in Jamaica, to start life together. The flight path had taken us over fields of sunflowers, providing an assurance to my heart, from that time forward, that I would survive & thrive in this new temperate clime just as they did—facing the ‘Son’. Now here we were, in the Pacific Northwest, 25 years later, taking advantage of the opportunity to also celebrate our silver anniversary, encountering sunflower garden after sunflower garden on our way to another Leavenworth, just in Washington!
The last thing I grabbed before heading out the door from home in Richmond, VA, was a file folder containing pieces of my writing, about my earliest impressions & grapplings with adjusting to life in the Midwest. These are what I felt oddly compelled to read, as the plane approached to land at Pangborn Memorial Airport, Wenatchee, Washington. I did feel called to this quest but found myself questioning, like the captain of the Jamaican bobsled team, from Disney’s Cool Runnin’s,
“Coach, how will I know that I am enough?”
Was there enough to this dream to write, to have justified this long journey? I wondered. It wasn’t quite a ‘plummeting’ but the Air Alaska plane was not the only thing losing altitude in that moment, however well-managed or controlled I may have appeared to the casual observer.
It was difficult to not also find metaphor in the geo-political and historical facts of the western movement, which helped develop this part of the country, especially the gold-rush. As we left the flattened desert foothills, driving by sparkling river and ascending alpine slopes, I continued to worry about the retreat. Would this prospect pan out? Have I been deceived about my writing capabilities or is there really gold ‘in them thar hills’? I was never one to waste good money, and I had had enough time to prepare my heart so I fixed my eyes on the hills and leaned forward, determined to not miss out on one iota of this ride.