The Biggest Sky

I’m back from living under the biggest sky ever. Playa,* a retreat for artists, writers, and other creatives, granted me precious time in silence in the midst of a stunning landscape. I have to say, Oregon is my new favorite state (next to Indiana, of course).

My first morning at Playa, I walked this mown path through the grass.

Morning walk in the high desert.

Morning walk in the high desert.

To my left was Summer Lake, the “playa” (defined as “a temporary lake, or its dry often salty bed, in a desert basin“). To my right, beyond the road, was a smallish mountain range known as Winter Ridge. The vistas pretty much gobsmacked this Midwestern girl.

This was the view from my deck. I ate, read, wrote, and practiced yoga outside, shaded by two friendly trees.

My deck looked out over a pond. Who needs TV when you've got birds, dragonflies, jumping fish, and the occasional muskrat to watch?

Who needs TV or Internet when you’ve got birds, dragonflies, jumping fish, and the occasional muskrat to watch?

Pond life provided constant diversion, fodder, and entertainment. The jingles of my avian companions kept me humming all day. (I decided the redwing blackbird says, in French, Bon, vas-y! and in English, Look at meee, yeah!)

Every day I explored my interior and exterior worlds.

Walking on the mud flats.

Walking on the mud flats.

I was (and still am) overwhelmed with gratitude for such a gift.

An unexpected bonus  was connecting with so many incredible people, all in love with the natural world, all devoted to seeking, listening, experimenting, creating. In an upcoming post I will share a little bit about my co-residents, who inspired me almost as much as the wide-open space.

*Are you a writer, artist, naturalist, or researcher who would benefit from time away from routine demands? I would encourage you to apply for a residency at Playa. The program offers a combination of seclusion and conviviality in an absolutely gorgeous desert landscape. You won’t regret it, if you have the chance to go.

Respite

I’m back from Mesa Refuge,* where I had 10 days to write, read, reflect, and draw inward. It was heavenly to leave the smartphone in a drawer for most of that time, and to let my social media accounts languish.

It was a time of exploration. I explored through my writing every day, starting early in the morning and working late into the night in my private writing shed. From this window I spied deer, quail, rabbits, hummingbirds, juncos, redtailed hawks, vultures, egrets, white pelicans, and many other waterbirds and songbirds I couldn’t identify.

My writing shed  overlooked a Tomales Bay tidal estuary, where San Andreas fault lies.

The shed overlooks a Tomales Bay tidal estuary. San Andreas fault runs through this wetland. Mesa Refuge is “a place for writing on the edge”–and this shed is situated on the edge of the North American Plate, looking across to the Pacific Plate.

I explored the nearby town of Point Reyes Station. Not one but two yoga studios serve the tiny populace, and the farmers market brings everyone out each Saturday.

Point Reyes Station Farmers Market

Point Reyes Station Farmers Market

And once I ventured out in a borrowed pickup truck to one of the many wild places near the refuge.

Path to Abbott's Lagoon, Point Reyes National Seashore

Path to Abbott’s Lagoon, Point Reyes National Seashore

This was one of my favorite days.

Abbott's Lagoon

Abbott’s Lagoon

I relished the solitude and quiet that are so rare in workaday life. It felt like a privilege.

Beyond Abbott's Lagoon: The Pacific.

Beyond Abbott’s Lagoon: The Pacific.

But there was conviviality along with the solitude. I spent many of the evenings in conversation with the brilliant writers who were in residence with me. In coming weeks I plan to feature each of these writers and their crucial work.

I also decided to spend some time sitting in nature each day, now that I’m home. Here in my city, the hummingbirds are long gone and there are no dramatic cliffs or hypnotic ocean waves, but the leaves are turning and the songbirds are still as vociferous as ever. Heartland beauty may be subtler than West Coast beauty, but it still fills me.

*Are you a nonfiction writer whose work touches on nature, economics, and social justice? I would encourage you to apply for a residency at Mesa Refuge. It is a phenomenal place to write.

To a Young Cicada

I looked for you today. There on the trunk of the maple tree, surrounded by the carapaces of your siblings, you’d been left behind. You were still unzipping your old skin and squeezing out. I saw your convulsive twitch, your jointed limbs, your staring eyes. Your struggle to be born. Your excruciating vulnerability in the moment of leaving your armor.

top viewI know you from your song, the vibrating sine wave soundtrack of every August of my life. Your evening crescendo drowns out human words spoken under the trees.

cicada shell

I know you from your shell, the source of childhood torment. Yesterday I picked one off a raspberry with shivering fingers, reliving the horror of such husks left by a prankster brother: on my pillow, my bookshelf, my lightswitch.

I know you from your rare jittering bounce on the ground, a curiosity for the dog, an opportunity for the cat. And once you turned up at my back door after I wrote a poem in which you starred. You looked at me as if to say, You rang?

cicadaBut I’ve never seen you like this, in the act of slow-motion vaulting into your new shape.

for blogDoes it hurt, this freeze-frame backflip into airborne freedom? It looks like it would hurt.

Maybe it hurts like a numbed limb awakening, the flow of blood returning. A rightness in the pain. A sensing that what comes next is flight.

Do you look back at that exoskeleton that used to house you, once you’ve finally juddered free? That hull too small to contain you? No. The buzzing symphony pulls you up to the treetops. You ready your instrument.