Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 4

Haven Spring Blog Series

Erika Putnam - The Last and Best Chapter

As I creep up one stair after another in my slippers I can feel the gradual rise in temperature from the warmth of last night’s fire. From the kitchen window I see the pasture below is glistening with fresh snow lit by what’s left of the moon. That means my morning routine will change from meditation, to the sound of my shovel scraping rhythmically across the deck. Before I venture out to breath natures chill I stoke the embers in the wood stove and brew a fresh cup of coffee. The routine itself is the companion I have crafted to allow a shift from the life I had to the one I want.

A bit chilled, I settle into the left side of the love seat and pull my coffee cup close. A new flame flickers in the fireplace and casts an eerie light on one half of the face of the Dall sheep mount perched above me. It’s before dawn and the Montana mountains are sleeping in the distance. The tall pines envelop my cabin from all sides and offer me the secluded privacy that gives my thoughts the space they need before I commit them to the page.

I have been writing a book for 8 years, and the ending has eluded me. Before the idea solidifies it evaporates like morning fog. Some things can’t be forced! At long last, a concept has emerged from the shadows of my spirit. The ending has needed the last two seasons of bear grass, huckleberries, and golden birch leaves to infuse what was then with what is now. Living here with nature’s raw edges has roused my desire to let go of a long lost love. My resistance has softened and the last and best chapter has condensed into a solid vision.

I am eager to pick up where I left off and open the Word file titled “Book Edits.” I am surprised to see I haven’t opened this file for almost two years. With a wince, I open chapter 3 and begin to read.

IMG_5314I loved my husband but our home life was making us both miserable.  It was 2010. The economy was assaulting our investments and we were both failing step-parenting.  To cope I buried myself in my computer with my mouth shut. He had withdrawn into guilt, shame and fear. Our battleground was set.  We were not talking. Not talking leads to fanaticizing about things being different, which leads to obsessive thinking about a way out. Which leads to looking deeper for the truth about what I really wanted if I would get really honest with myself. I started writing a lot, looking for answers, waiting for my heart to speak up and speak up loudly.

One night I couldn’t sleep. Despite my insomnia, I was more willing to spend time with my computer than I was lying awake in flannel sheets of sorrow.  It was two AM and I had perched myself on the leopard skin fainting couch and tucked myself into a writing nest with a blanket. My heart was as frayed as the grey sweatshirt I was wearing.

I was writing because I was searching for answers. I was giving myself permission to trust my truth. I was frightened to be completely honest but I had a desire and passion to find clarity. My motives were good. I meant no harm.  My truth in this moment did not exclude my love for my husband or our marriage. What I was writing was not meant to be time stamped forever. My thoughts had been fleeting and irrational. I was writing to discover my intention as a way of self-exploration without confinement.  I wanted to stop my own suffering.

I heard him roll out of bed. The bedroom door opened and my husband walked past me to the kitchen. He didn’t reach to brush my shoulder or kiss my head or even peak at my computer screen. I know he wasn’t thirsty, he was checking on me. He asked “what are you doing?”

I was cheating.  I was cheating on him.  I was writing, and it was about a man of my past. The one that got away, long, long ago.  I looked up, said “writing” and looked back down at my computer. I felt like shit.

My husband wandered back to bed but left the tension in the air.  The words started spilling onto the page.

Painfully, I recall that moment. I absorb the words and look outside to the gently falling snow. At last, the ending of that story makes sense. Moving on has closed the chapter of past suffering. Now, my fireplace has become a friend, my dog a companion, a sheep a reminder of my perseverance and winter the inspiration to finish eight seasons of waiting. I take a deep breath and begin typing the ending.

The story flows out and the sun comes up.  I reach over to my dog, Zen, and rub her soft copper ears and say “Hey beautiful girl, writing time is over, let’s get to work.”  I add a log to the fire and feel the deep understanding that my last chapter is now becoming my first.

Cynthia Urquhart - Those Words

It has always bothered me how my notes, words that I choose, cold and professional, would be the only vessel used to capture the circumstances of tragic incidents.

I reached for the little black notebook in my uniform pocket. For a fleeting moment, I tried to think about how many of them I might have filled, during my many years of policing, but lost the thought as I heard the ambulance pull away. The bright moon gave off enough light for me to write and with pen in hand, I was finally able to record the details of the night’s tragic accident.

I looked at the wreckage again, making sure my notes would be accurate.

Writing is something I do, all police officers do, every shift, in all kinds of circumstances.  My words flow easily, as they do at every incident, but they are harsh, empty, and detached. Businesslike with lists, descriptions and facts. I am used to it…well, I tell myself I am. I start writing: time, date, place. Information that is straightforward, rote and methodical. Head on collision, thrown from vehicle, one dead, two injured.  Disturbing, but manageable.  Names, dates of birth, next of kin make it real.  What I don’t write is this:  Anguish.  Their anguish, or mine.

I hate that words like grief and sorrow and despair are kept locked inside me by policies and procedures. No notations, no references, no freedom to be me, no place for my heartache in my notebook. How I want to release my pain. My sorrow. Words. Inside my head, they form, they flash, they bounce, searching for a way out. Looking for validation. I see them. I feel them. I fight them every day and every night. Until I can’t.

Same time, different day. I opened my eyes, panicked, turning towards the dimly-lit clock on my bedside table. I had been waking up at night for months, my therapist stating this was normal for someone suffering with PTSD. She said my brain was trying to process the years of buried trauma, that I was fighting it and that it would take some time. I often wondered how long “some time” might be, considering I had been in treatment for 2 years. I shifted my eyes to the journal sitting on the bedside table, purchased over 3 weeks ago, never opened, nothing to write. Or so I thought.

I stared ahead into the blackness, feeling a little more awake, but something wasn’t right. I could see the words. They were black, illuminated in white, in my head. Words like urgent and dread, calls, cold and cries. There were so many and they kept coming.

My panic rose and nothing made sense. I need to get up, I thought, and as I did, my eyes caught the journal and pen again. I wondered if I wrote the words down, got them out of my head, then maybe they might go away.

I grabbed the pen, picked up the journal, and opened its cover. I can’t explain what happened next, nor for the next 20 minutes to be exact, but I can say that the pen wouldn’t stop.  The words flowed like water from a tap and revealed the stories from my world. The pain lay on the paper like shattered glass. Pieces of it here and there, big and small, sharp and jagged.

As quickly as it had started, it stopped. My mind was blank. The words were gone.

What just happened?

I sat there for a minute, turned on my reading light, grabbed my glasses, and began reading.

The call came in, I filled with dread

Who would be the next one dead

A child, a man, the dog next door

Cause someone needed to settle a score

There were words of sadness and pain, anguish and hurt.

The dispatcher said the news is bad

A child is screaming, she’s lost her Dad

She’s all alone, just 12 years old

She says his skin is growing cold

Memories I had buried so deep.

I walk to her, I hold her tight

I tell her it will be alright

My tear slips out, then two then three

The grief engulfs the whole of me  

Those words made me see my pain and feel the hurt. Those words, in that instant, changed my life. I had fought against all of it for so long. Words, writing, stories and emotion. I smiled as my tears began to flow, thinking how ironic life could be. Words…the very thing that had closed me up and shut me down were now setting me free… .


Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thingBut on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)







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13 Responses to Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 4

  1. Carol Marsella

    I am enjoying these writing blogs! Thank you for sharing your fellow-writers work Laura. I am thinking if some of these ladies write a book, I would love to read it. Brave souls to put their heart on paper, and share with us. Makes us all better I think.

    • Cynthia Hamilton Urquhart

      Hello Carol,

      Thank you for the kind comments to those of us that have written for Laura’s blog series. I feel so blessed to be one of her Haven Alums. It truly changed me by giving me the confidence to write and allow myself to be vulnerable.
      I hope one day to have a book for you to read… one that continues to portray that other side of policing that people don’t get to see.
      Kindest Regards, Cynthia

      • Carol Marsella

        Your perspective on the deep pain that you experience as an officer is so important – both for you to be able to share if that helps with the trauma, but also for readers to gain a better understanding of what it is you go through – not only as an officer, but as a woman. Thank you!

  2. Debbie Tinkham

    Cynthia Urquhart….I don’t know what to say…. it’s beautiful, heart wrenching and so full of emotion… tears are streaming down my face sharing your anguish. I have no idea how you were able to write such a beautiful honest piece of pure poetry. I am so proud of you and your accomplishment. Be proud of what you have put on paper!!! Omg, I’m so proud!!!

    • Cynthia Hamilton Urquhart

      Hi Deb,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. My dear troop mate, you and I have been through so much over the years. I feel honoured that the piece touched you as deeply as it did. Your response encourages me to continue writing and articulating that side of policing that so many don’t understand.
      Cynthia xo

  3. Cynthia Urquhart’s piece “Those Words” brought me to tears. Her portrayal of her in her policing duties facing unimaginable events that most of us couldn’t bear to face once, is a difficult read. As a strong woman coping with loss and grief on a regular basis
    means her life will be forever changed.
    Facing her fears shows how amazingly strong she is.
    I hope she will heal from her past, she is due that.
    A brilliant piece.

    • Cynthia Hamilton Urquhart


      Thank you so much for the very kind and supportive words. I feel very humbled that the piece affected you that much. It was scary to be so transparent with my emotions, yet at the same time, it was also freeing. Laura gave me to courage to be vulnerable and to let my words flow. My healing is therefore continuing.
      Cynthia xo

  4. Olive

    Dear Cynthia! Bravo! Bravo!
    Love how raw and honest your writing is. It takes a very strong and courageous person to open up and divulge such personal information.
    I am so very proud of you!
    Keep it up… writing is such good therapy!
    All the best! Olive

    • Cynthia Hamilton Urquhart

      Thank you for the words of encouragement Olive. It has been quite the journey, as I am sure you are well aware of yourself. It was quite the leap but now that I have done it, I feel I can keep going. It was great hearing from you.
      Take care,

  5. Philip mcfarlane

    Hi Cindy,
    So concise, but so expressive . I’m amazed how spontaneously it happened, as though your emotions just flowed out of your head onto paper, and then you had to read it to see what happened. Like all the suppressed emotions came together , got acknowledged, and put to rest in one brief poem. Incredible! I can relate to seeing terrible things happen to people, feeling grief, but having to stay professional and record the facts, not the feelings. I knew that writing things down helps , but still surprised to hear how it helped you in a way that I would hardly have believed possible. Thanks for sharing.

    • Cynthia Hamilton Urquhart

      Hi Phil,
      Sorry I did not respond to your post earlier. I have not been on the site for quite some time and didn’t realize you had responded. You certainly would understand the professional requirements to keep it together, always looking after others and not ourselves. I would agree that the way it happened was so amazing and at times I still can’t believe it. The other poems that came happened in similar ways as well and truly has been healing. Thank you for the feedback. Take care, Cindy

  6. Gordon King

    The writing of Cynthia resonated deeply with me. We can live as merchants of words. We fashion combinations of words with utilitarian purposes of giving orders or communicating information. The words and phrases pass through our fingers like spilled water. However, there are also words that open our lives to apprehend and to seek to understand in new ways, sometimes painful. Thanks Cynthia.

    • Cynthia Hamilton Urquhart

      Thank you so much for your words Gordon and beautifully written I might add. Words are such a gift and curse at the same time. This journey has been an incredible one for me and I can’t wait to see where it ends up.
      Kindest Regards,

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