Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!
You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats for 2018: Click here for more info!
Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?
Happy Hour With Chickens
Katherine Cox Stevenson, RN, PhD
Three favorite things: happy hour, writing, and my chickens.
“Cheers, chickens! Thank you for being a key to getting my life back.”
Peony, Lady Violet, Marigold, Boots, Lavender, Periwinkle, and Splash don’t acknowledge my raised glass of red wine, instead focused on mealworms, a daily favorite treat. Scratch, scratch as they dance. Left foot, right foot, left again. Pause. Head down to check out what tasty morsel might be revealed. Peep. Cluck. Peck, peck. Poofy lacy bums up and down.
Comfortably seated near their coop, I sigh in contentment on this mid December lovely late afternoon. My body registers a nice ache from a solid day of gardening, finally getting the garlic in. The chickens helped me, giving new meaning to pleasant company. Their intense curiosity with everything I do often makes me laugh out loud. The air smells fresh with a hint of the newly changed coop straw bedding. Total quiet except chickens and an eagle call.
The chickens and I share a serene refuge on our little homestead on a tiny island. My robin egg blue colored little house sits high on a hilltop overlooking the vast Salish Sea. Before I put pen to paper, I think about how far I have come since my husband Matt died last year. So ill, heading for a wheelchair, having lost myself for over eight years to Matt’s rare and horrid type of dementia. One morning, as I hung onto the bed and dresser trying to walk to the bathroom, my soul said, “Get chickens to heal and live again.”
Chickens!? I always wanted to be a farmer but knew nothing about chickens. I doubted my stamina to take them on, but my soul kept nudging. I talked with women chicken experts, found an online resource, and took the plunge. Got a coop built with all the necessary safety barriers and purchased heritage babies from an off-island farm. As I cared for them, getting to know their unique personalities, I began to emotionally and physically heal. We are good for each other.
Lately, I say, “I love my life.”
A far cry from the years I said to my counsellor, “The best way out of this is to just die.”
Flashback! Waiting for Matt to join me on the front deck. The sliding glass door opens, and he stomps out carrying my suitcase. I watch in horror as he hoists it high, throwing it over the fence, rolling end over end down the driveway. His facial expression one I had never seen before: clenched jaw, eyes flashing, and evil looking. Yelling, “See that, fucking bitch! Do you see that!? That is what I am going to do to you. I want you out of here!”
Then he locked me out of the house. I get a lot of PTSD flashbacks about Matt’s behavior and my fear. Being with the chickens and their gentle togetherness allows me to stay present, take a deep breath, and let the flashbacks pass through.
Back to the chickens. They are preening now, grooming important to keep feathers oiled and clean. Light is fading. Then suddenly like flipping a switch, they are still in a trance like state. After several minutes, Marigold leads the single file procession into the coop and up the ramp into the safe night roosting area.
Darkness is upon us. I finish my wine and journal entry, lock and double check all three coop bolts. I can’t wait to tell the chickens about the puppy soon coming to live with us.
“Good night, darlings. Sleep well. Thank you.”
Along with countless other writers, readers, list makers and thought provokers, I’ve found solitude in tiny coffee shops. I’ve written in a booth at the diner, and even while sitting on boulders with mallards at the edge of the Hudson River. I’ve found inspiration driving the winding road of the Eagle’s Nest on my way to a lake in Port Jervis, as well as developing plot twists with my toes in the sand where land meets the Atlantic in Chatham.
Yet, my Haven is my home.
This IS where the story began, although ideas will present themselves unexpectedly anywhere, or a person’s face in the checkout line at the grocery store becomes a character I’ve been searching for. My creativity as a writer, my permission to be vulnerable, the chapters building one on top of another, happen at home.
Home is not just where I keep my memories, but also my treasures: my mother’s artwork, the voices of my grown children passing by, our three dogs singing the songs of their people, and my husband. Which I’ve learned after more than thirty years of marriage is not always about that loving feeling. It is the ability to live together and support one another as individuals. We are very different people than when we first met. It takes a lifetime to truly understand another person. Warren has given me a shoulder to rest my weary head on, an arm to give me the strength to keep going no matter how many rejection letters arrive, and his ear along with his heart–which has listened to the drafts and rewrites as the story grew, always encouraging, never doubting that this is what I should be doing, even at times when I doubted myself. I recognize this is a gift, and I cherish it.
All of these parts built my Haven. Past the tears and sorrows, the grief and joys, it is not just my castle in the shape of a 1942 Cape Cod, it is much more complicated, and it is very, very simple. My Haven is my place to be completely me without explanation or judgments. From the kitchen following my grandmother’s biscuit recipe, to the hammock between two trees in the backyard to my overstuffed chair facing the fireplace. My Haven is the Japanese maple outside my window, the scent of the lilac bush in spring, the flox outside the laundry room. It is all interwoven to become my sanctuary.
In some respects, I’ve grown stingy. I want and need to keep my private life private. It is important to me, maybe it has something to do with security in this internet world. Perhaps it is due in part to modesty. What would photographing my stuff tell you about me when the dialog is missing? Maybe that’s just too risky. So here I am in my office; it is where I close the glass-paneled door without shutting life out, where I can type the fastest and watch the light change as the day ages or the night tucks in around me. Where my NaNoWriMo challenge in 2013 gave birth to my first novel “Northeast of 80” and where each rejection letter is stacked, bringing me another step closer, anticipating success as I continue this journey as a writer. On the path, Laura pointed out in her Montana Haven.