Settling into the writing retreat

I wrote this essay on the first day of a writing retreat. I go on writing retreats two or three times a year. They bring me back to myself and to my writing self. They bring me back to nature.

By Mo Conlan

The air smells of mown grass with currents of sweetness – honeysuckle and flowering trees. It deliciously carries no odor of the city.

There are bird sounds everywhere – layers of bird song. It is May, nesting season. They are busy and loud – shrill chirps, scolding squawks, melodic trills. The owl hoots in its mellow cello voice.

I surprise a shiny black bird in a tree as I walk toward the lake, and it flies off, long tail like a kite.

A small battalion of turtles wallows in the mud at one end of the lake – shells about the size of saucers. I stop to watch one swim underwater, admiring its small paddling turtle feet and wondering how long it might swim without coming up for air. Quite a long while, as it turns out.

A robin hops along and dips its beak into the grass, coming up with a worm – as easily as I might fish with my fork for a strand of spaghetti.

How does it know the worm is right there? Smell, or sound? Blind luck?

At home I have a backyard full of birds and rabbits, sometimes, deer. But here I watch and wonder, as I did when I was a girl. A sense of having enough time – of forgetting about time – begins to slip over me.

Dragonflies buzz low over the lake, and some long, delicate flies that are neon-blue in color and that I think might be called bluebottles. Or maybe they are called fairyflies – that is what I would name them because they are a bit magical looking. These pretty little creatures light and feed upon something in the algae.

Small fish swim close to the surface of the lake, and finning its way across the middle what looks like a giant carp, two feet or longer.

This is like stepping back in time – to a time when the world felt safer, to a childhood when I felt closer to mud and grass and trees and turtles.

I sit on a bench by the lake and, after several minutes, take a deep breath – the deepest breath I’ve taken in many months.


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