Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hambidge Update: Goodbye!

Oh, the dreaded last day of the Hambidge residency…alas!  But don’t cry too hard for me, as now I’m embarking on a short driving tour of Georgia that will include a visit to Flannery O’Connor’s house and the Civil War site of Andersonville.  (Yes, an odd combination.)  I’m guessing some barbecue and southern food will get thrown in there as well.  Then it’s off to the big city, Atlanta!

I had such a wonderful time here, finding my Inner Nature Girl out on the hiking trails.  Being here makes me feel as though I should more purposefully incorporate nature into my daily life.  While I was typically terrified every time I ventured down a trail (refrain: is that poison ivy-what’s that noise-snake or stick?-boulder or bear?-don’t fall and break your leg because no one knows where you are-look up dummy and admire the beauty-look down dummy and watch out for mud-look for animal tracks-look for mushrooms-is that poison ivy-is that poison ivy), I was drawn back in and went venturing up more and more distant trails.  I never saw a bear—or anything else for that matter—though there were moments where I felt certain that something was watching me, that unexplained neck prickle, a certain musky smell.  What I liked is that no matter how familiar I was with a certain trail, there was always something new to see—mushrooms, the light through the leaves, water jumping along stones—and I was always aware that nature is in charge.  I never conquered; I was only there to witness a neutral, impassive force.  (Whenever I felt the tiniest bit confident, then I would do something dumb like realize that I had just put my foot down one centimeter away from a snakehole.)  Nature will win in the end, and there is something majestic about realizing one’s one insignificance in the bigger picture.

I guess that’s how I viewed my writing here, too.  While I moan and complain a lot (!!), I will say that this writing here has been more hard-fought than usual.  I can’t tell if that’s because I’m at the beginning of a longer work and I’ve just forgotten how challenging that place is, or if this material is particularly difficult for me emotionally, or because I haven’t found the right place to enter the material.  And always there’s the concern that the material simply isn’t right for a book and I’m wasting my time.  (Fun!)  Whatever it is, I tried to use my experience on the trails as a metaphor for the writing, to just move forward despite the fear, to trust that I will find my way out and through and onto the trail.

A final food note:
--I hate lima beans, but the succotash here was incredible!  I think the fresh lima beans made a huge difference.

What I won’t miss:
--damp humidity that turns everything limp and soggy: crackers, paper, hair, books, dollar bills
--thinking about poison ivy to the point of dreaming about it
--the hornet that showed up from time to time with a buzz as loud as a dentist’s drill (NO exaggeration)

What I will miss terribly:
--the call of the wood thrush on many mornings and evenings (listen here)
--fireflies twinkling in the bushes and trees outside my deck
--sitting on the deck to watch darkness gently settle in
--spring water coming out of my faucet
--editing my work while sitting outside on the deck
--rhododendron growing wild
--the variety of otherworldly and amazing mushrooms growing in the woods
--a certain patch of ferns glowing in filtered sunlight
--reading a Flannery O’Connor short story every morning, being immersed in her brilliance
--drinking a glass of wine or a Bobcat* on the oh-so-southern screened in porch, enjoying the smart conversation while waiting for dinner
--amazing and inventive vegetarian cuisine four nights a week that I didn’t have to cook
--the light rush of raindrops dusting the canopy of leaves before thickening and drumming my cozy cabin roof
--perfect stillness; utter darkness
--the seesaw of cicadas calling to each other
--frogs croaking at night
--the six-inch wide, yellow imperial moth that came to my window two nights in a row
--thunder rumbling across a clear sky
--mist blanketing the mountains
--the large orb weaver spider who set up ten days ago directly outside my desk window, spinning its web night after night: always showing up to do the work, to sit and wait, reminding me that the biggest and hardest job in life is simply to be present…showing me another metaphor for the writing process

And, perhaps more than anything, I will miss the leafy view from my cabin, nestled here on the side of a mountain, in the treetops, which filled me with joy the moment I first set eyes upon it.  Here’s a quote from one of the books I read that captures my feelings, though Mary Gordon is writing about her writing room on Cape Cod, so I don’t think she had such a thick forest to watch as I did:

“And above all, I was grateful to the window for providing me the view over the tops of trees, the old locusts with their mobile leaves that were responsive to the wind even when words were obdurate, that always gave me something to look at: a perfect view for writing, lovely, but not great, suggesting community rather than grandeur.  I would never want a view of a mountain whose intractability would only replicate the shape of my own mind; a view of water would be either too beguiling or would convince me of the futility of my task: for nothing I could make of words could ever be so satisfying or so various as the movement of sun on water.”
~Mary Gordon, Seeing Through Places

If you’re interested in learning more, here’s the Hambidge website: Note that the next application deadline is September 15, 2013, for a spring residency…what could be more beautiful than these mountains and this forest in the springtime?! 

*The Bobcat was the official Hambidge drink during part of my residency.  It sounds weird, but trust me:  it works!! An easy recipe:  Bourbon (we liked Buffalo Trace) and Fresca over strong as you like.  Try it, and as they say in the churches down here, you’ll become a true believer!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.