Tag Archives: adventure

Montana Ode to Spring– A Walk In The Woods

…in honor of all mothers of every kind everywhere…

“If it’s wild to your own heart, protect it. Preserve it. Love it. And fight for it, and dedicate yourself to it, whether it’s a mountain range, your wife, your husband, or even (god forbid) your job. It doesn’t matter if it’s wild to anyone else: if it’s what makes your heart sing, if it’s what makes your days soar like a hawk in the summertime, then focus on it. Because for sure, it’s wild, and if it’s wild, it’ll mean you’re still free. No matter where you are.” ― Rick Bass

Sandhill-Crane-good

Sandhill Crane

f7eb64b5e98f225f86c0aa8f63aa3474

photo credit: fwallpapers.com

There are days in Montana when you feel like you are actually dancing with flora and fauna. On just a regular Saturday drive through the woods, in addition to countless critters, today I saw some rare ones:
A Sandhill Crane
A Black Bear

A Loon
A Trumpeter Swan
A Bald Eagle with a fish in its talons

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

arnica

Arnica

And some springtime favorites:
Calypso Orchid (Fairy Slippers)
Glacier Lily
Oregon Grape
Arnica
Wild Strawberry

And my very favorite NW Montana tree: (the only conifer to lose its needles each fall) The Larch, so new and green among its fellow soldier conifers

calypso

Calypso Orchid

 

larch

Larch

lily

Glacier Lily

 

strawberry

Wild Strawberry

grape

Oregon Grape

loons

Loons

6341760037_390a9ee7c5_n

I would love to share my Montana Muse with you at a Haven Retreat
2015 (now booking)

June 3-7 (full with wait list)
June 17-21 (full with wait list)
September 9-13 (almost full)
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
–John Muir

2 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Haven– Los Cabos– one “E” away from Heaven

bruno_3We hear the phrase “if you build it, they will come.” I take that to heart. I’ve built a lot of things in my life from scratch. Sometimes the soufflé doesn’t rise and the cookies burn. But sometimes my raw efforts meld into a delicious concoction, and last week in Los Cabos, Mexico, I swallowed it whole at the Hotel El Ganzo.

This hotel is dedicated to promoting the arts and artists, offering residencies, as well as being a fabulous boutique hotel gem in the more quiet part of San Jose del Cabo. (about 40 minutes from Cabo San Lucas)

I came early to have a personal writing retreat after a long Montana winter, and then lead a Haven retreat there with an intimate group of inspiring retreaters who swallowed the experience whole too. Ocean breezes coming through our modern, clean-lined classroom, lunches at the beach club and Container café with complimentary boat shuttle across the marina, a roof-deck infinity pool and bar, and our opening and closing ceremonies in a state-of-the art recording studio in the womb-like basement of the hotel.

It is rare to meet people who can combine top quality service with a commitment to promoting the Arts without it being underground/indie or exclusive, and El Ganzo delivered in spades. I’ve been leading retreats in all sorts of places in the last few years, mostly in Montana where I live. This was a truly rare Haven locale and whether or not you are interested in attending one of my retreats, I encourage you to build what your dreams want to build. And to believe that if you build “it,” “they” will indeed come.

Here’s a Q & A which might inspire you, replete with local, off-the-beaten-path info for your next trip to Baja:

Q: Welcome to El Ganzo, Laura! We are honored that you chose to lead your esteemed Haven Writing Retreats with us. Tell us how you found us.
A: I have been leading my Haven Retreats in the US, mostly in Montana where I live, and after working with hundreds of people in the rugged wilderness of the mountains, I wanted to take Haven to the ocean. And I wanted to do it at a place that would offer comfort as well as inspiration for people who are doing this powerful work. A local friend told me that El Ganzo offers a truly unique boutique hotel experience, and immediately in my research, I knew that with El Ganzo’s commitment to supporting the arts and artists, this would be the perfect place for Haven Mexico. I also was looking for a place that was relatively easy to get to, and even from my remote part of Montana, I still got here faster than it takes to get to New York!
Q: Tell us about the Haven Retreat experience.
A: Haven retreats are NOT for writers specifically. They are for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their creative self-expression. We have four intensive days of class, workshops, and activities that encourage people to go places they might never go in the realm of expression on the page. This sort of work causes deep personal transformation. I’ve seen Haven change lives over and over again!


Q: How has El Ganzo and this part of Cabo inspired you so far?
A: I’ve been to San Jose del Cabo before, and I love its vibe with its historical village, art galleries, great restaurants— from a small taco stand to fine dining, organic Farmer’s Market, Thursday night Art Walk, fishing culture, beautiful beaches. I like to stay off the tourist track and find more local things to do. In just the first few days here I’ve found deep inspiration both personally, and for my Haven retreats:
• I took a bike ride from El Ganzo to an incredible Sculpture Garden which inspired me to create a writing prompt to use on the Haven Retreat inspired by the surrealist Leonora Carrington.
• Went to the beach-front fishing pavilion where fishermen were bringing in the catch of the day, so fresh that the color of the Dorado still had some of its vibrant blue and yellow. I’ve always thought it such a powerful metaphor that as the Dorado is hunting, and/or fighting for its life, its color becomes more vibrant—almost electric, and then as it dies, it loses its color. To see the fish in the midst of this process inspired another writing prompt to use at Haven.
• Spent the morning at the local organic Farmer’s Market, reveling in the color of the produce—the tomatoes, squash blossoms, radishes, zucchini… We don’t have a lot of color in Montana in the winter, and this was a techno-color feast my eyes dearly needed. Sipping on Mango juice felt about as decadent as anything I can remember in recent history!
• Bought two pieces of art: one at the Farmer’s Market, a print of a 57 pound Dorado on a long swath of muslin, created by local artist Lyle Brunson …which seemed almost like a totem experience after my time at the fishing pier. (we will also use this fish print at Haven!) And at the Art Walk in San Jose, a painting of a woman surrounded by vines with a feather nest crowning her head. She is painted over the text from an ornithology book. It looks so much like my logo and what it feels to be a retreat facilitator, creating and holding the space for people to gain greater self-awareness by digging deeply into their self-expression on the page…that I’m calling her our Haven Patron Saint, Sister in Words. She will sit on our Haven classroom table for inspiration from now on.
• Enjoyed the velvety voice and soothing guitar of the local singer/song-writer Jaimie Martinez at the INCREDIBLE El Ganzo Sunday brunch! I bought all three of his CD’s and have been writing with his beautiful songs in the background. He’s like the Mexican Cat Stevens. Hung out in the El Ganzo basement state-of-the-art recording studio with its creator and curator, the musician Mark Rudin. We shared notes about how to ride the wave of creativity—they might take you places you never dreamed. Mark, a classically trained musician from California, and me, a writer from Montana…both of us, in addition to doing our own work, find ourselves in the powerful position of shepherding other people’s voices and styles. It’s work we both hold dear. You can enjoy this talented musician at El Ganzo on Thursday nights.  And met with the talented film-maker, Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro from Mexico city who kindly shot a Haven video on premise.  (to be shared soon!)


Q: What you are doing is very unique, especially for a New York Times best-selling author. Tell us more about what it’s like to lead your Haven retreats, as a writer.
A: The writing life can be very insular. Writers, as with all artists, deal with a lot of rejection and it can be gut-wrenching. I’ve been writing for my entire adult life and I have lived in the trenches of “failure” and the altitude of “success” and I have learned that it’s all myth. The only real thing is the work. I know how to do my work. I like to say that writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life and sometimes my way to life. I think that creative self-expression should be up there with diet and exercise as far as lifelines go…and I want to help other people find this lifeline. I’m on a mission to help shift the tortured artist paradigm, to the empowered creative person’s reality!
Q: We are looking forward to hosting your Haven retreats. They are perfect match for the El Ganzo mission. Thank you for finding us!
A: I couldn’t be more thrilled. The staff here is so generous, kind, present—all the things people on retreat need to nurture them as they embark on this intense journey of self. The work we do at Haven requires courage, vulnerability, honesty, open-heartedness and much more. It is sacred ground when a group of people who might never meet each other in their regular lives, gather to take this stand for themselves through their creativity. I am careful with this sacred ground, making sure it will provide the nurturing and inspiring climate for my retreat attendees. El Ganzo and the people who breathe it alive are perfect for Haven. Dare I say, one “E” away from heaven!
Q: How can people learn more about your writing, speaking, and retreats and specifically who are they for?
A: Go to my website: www.lauramunson.com! I’ll see you there!

Testimonial:
Haven was more than I expected. I knew I’d get so much out of it. I got that and more.

My intention in attending Haven was to free myself as a writer. Wow did it loosen the chains! I’m working on a book and am experiencing all the attendant self-doubt and stymie, having never written one before. I’d never even shared my writing before Haven. I’ve never in fact admitted to myself I am a writer. Through Haven I have a confidence I’ve never had, and renewed motivation, not to mention some insightful technical and industry guidance. I can now say with assurance, I am a writer, no matter if I’m published or if I just write for enjoyment.

Above all, the one-on-one time with Laura was priceless. To have someone of Laura’s accomplishment and talent read my work and offer feedback was a rare and invaluable opportunity. It is a ‘must-do’ if you attend Haven. From structure, to voice, to engaging the reader, Laura helped me find my way. The insight she offered informs and energizes my writing even after Haven.

The class exercises helped free my writing and encouraged me to actually share it with others. What a fantastic way to help you get out of your own way. Those group exercises were a safe and free zone to just play, as were the evening readings. Not everyone at Haven considers his or herself a writer, so there was a wonderful diversity of work and commentary in our group sessions. The different intentions, perspectives, and life experiences made the time together that much more powerful. Everyone brought and left with something different. As Laura once said to me, “Haven meets you where you need to be met.” She couldn’t have been more right.

I don’t know how long Laura will continue to offer Haven and especially the one-on-one time, but I count myself lucky to have benefited from her total generosity of spirit, talent, counsel and passion. Thank you Laura! Thank you Haven!– Heidi Knippa, Austin, TXIMG_0995

Top photo credit:  Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro

Leave a Comment

Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts, Retreats

Haven Winter Series # 6

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the sixth in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

Silencing the Head Noise by Lindsay Henry

Everything in my life felt cluttered:  My bedroom, my desk, my stack of Things to Do.

My mind.

My mind was constantly cluttered. Cluttered with thoughts. Ideas. Dreams—dreams of hardcover books with my byline telling tales buried deep within me.

When I learned my new favorite author Laura Munson hosted writing retreats in Montana, I decided to go. Maybe this will help me get out of my chaotic mind’s way, I thought. I wanted to take my writing seriously, to be amongst others like me, and, at 25-years-old, do something adventurous. Step out of the box. You know, really take the bull by the horns, carpe diem and all that.

It was the end of February when I breathed in Montana’s fresh air and stepped my boots onto melted snow, ready for this retreat. I set my eyes on Laura Munson and we embraced in a hug that felt more sisterly than first–time-meeting.

The next few days, I bonded with my fellow Haven retreaters over writing activities and green tea, conversation and quinoa. Laura was lovely, gently guiding us as we stepped out of our own ways to get thoughts on the page. The writing activities, the feedback, the friendship ….It was exactly what I needed.

On the second day, my brain was bursting with inspiration. Then I went into the yoga studio, and my mind was blown.

I signed up for yoga as one of our non-writing retreat activities. Joined by two other retreaters, we walked into the gorgeous yoga studio with glass windows overlooking the Montana landscape. A petite woman with a calm, kind face named Arlisa was our instructor.

Clothed in sweatpants and uncertainty, I stepped onto the studio hardwood floors, my socks sliding as I grabbed a yoga mat. My brain chatter was already going: “Don’t fall on the floors; don’t forget to finish that writing sample; are you going to read it to the group later? Maybe you shouldn’t; it’s not very good.”

As soon as Arlisa spoke, though, my brain quieted. I was surprised. After years of listening to my constant stream of chaotic thoughts, I welcomed the peace as we stretched.

Near the end of the session, Arlisa instructed us to lie on our backs. She spoke in a calm voice. “Picture a ball of light,” she said. “Send that ball of light throughout your entire body.”

Half-asleep, I lay still on my yoga mat. Suddenly, a small voice whispered, “You are seeking approval. Let it go.”

The voice wasn’t like my normal brain chatter. It wasn’t commanding or stern, nor matter-of-fact. This voice was kind and gentle. Familiar.

My heart’s voice.

Yoga allowed my chaotic mind to be silent long enough so my heart could speak up. And when she spoke, she spoke clearly.

I carry that lesson with me to this day. Despite the brain clutter and chaos, my heart has a voice, too. Since that day, I try not to forget to sit still and listen.

 

Upping the Ante by Mary Novaria

“UP THE ANTE ON EXPOSING YOURSELF” was scribbled across the back of page seven.  Oh, I felt plenty exposed already, having dared to share snippets of my fledgling memoir, the quintessential work in progress that was nowhere near finished and, in fact, was scarcely begun. But it’s hard to ignore a command given in all caps and Laura Munson had dared me to bare my soul. She may as well have asked me to go skinny-dipping off the dock. Could I possibly expose myself as audaciously as those geese that declare dawn each day at the ranch? Where, before the moon has even set, they honk and flap and skitter in a vee knowing full well it’s their job to rid the morning fog from the surface of the pond?

I fear exposure. What if I’m exposed as a fraud? Revealed as one who merely pretends to be a writer, but who isn’t one… not really? Beyond the writing, what if I’m exposed as someone who is, well, a rather flawed human?

My mother once asked how it was that I became so close to my best friend. “We got naked together,” I said, meaning we’d bared our souls, shared our secrets, confessed all—especially the not-so-nice things that are unworthy of a Hallmark card. We’d stripped down to the barebones truths and that gave our friendship an authenticity born of trust.

Exposing one’s self can be dirty business. Even if I could spin a fairytale like silk or cloak an adventure in a superhero’s cape, the fabric wears out eventually. Then, there I am with my remorse exposed and the ante upped in stories that are ugly and raw: I slapped my teenage daughter… I was embarrassed by my mother’s dementia… I binged and purged… The truth will be written in drops of blood, for to expose myself is to pierce my heart.

 

8 Comments

Filed under Blog Series-- Haven, My Posts

Haven Winter Series # 5

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the fifth in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

While I’m focusing on my own writing…this year, I’ve asked Haven alums to write a short piece describing something they learned or a way they were transformed through Haven.  I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks.  With huge love to your muse–  Laura

Donna Bunten and Shannon McDonough.

Haven by Donna Bunten

River stands before me solid, unmoving.  My throat constricts as fear rises like a choking fog above a swamp on Halloween night.  Not from fear of the horse, a beautiful Arabian chestnut who stands 14.2 hands, a 1,000-pound animal able to stomp me to dust beneath his hooves.  No, fear of something much scarier—that River knows I have no will of my own, that I’m a chameleon, unable to be “real” because I don’t know who I am.  That I so desperately want him to like me and I’m afraid he’ll reject me because I’m not good enough.

“Donna,” Bobbi’s clear voice penetrates the fog.  “What’s happening, what are you feeling?”

“That I don’t really need to make him move around the arena, just for me, just to prove something,” I say out loud, my voice quivering.  The inner voice finishes the thought:  “You’re not worth it.  He doesn’t like you, what were you thinking, coming here?”  I want to cry.

Bobbi’s deep blue eyes meet mine, and quietly she says, “Well, someday you might really need to make someone move away from you.   You might have to take a stand for yourself.  Take a deep breath, center your intention towards River.  Now, try again.”

I inhale slowly, trying to breathe in strength and resolve, to shush the cacophony of voices in my head.  Then, in the growing stillness, I feel something stir in the core of my being.  Something warm, firm, solid.  Something dense, yet crystal clear.  Something that’s been there all along, even though I’ve forgotten.  I sense, rather than hear, the words, “You are enough, just as you are.”  I extend my arm and walk calmly towards River, holding his gaze.  “You need to move aside,” I tell him silently.

And he does.  Just like that.  “Horses aren’t comfortable around tentative people,” Bobbi tells me.  “Their survival depends on being able to sense danger, and to know their place within the herd.  You need to show the horse that you are in charge, that he can trust you to lead.  If you don’t know your own place, you just confuse them.”

Her words echo Laura’s from that morning’s writing session.  “Get clear with the voice telling your story.  The reader wants authority.  Hold the torch, show her you know where you’re taking her.  Stop camouflaging.  Take a stand for yourself.”

Back in my room at Haven, I sit weeping on the edge of my bed, doubled over as sobs bubble up and wash over me like a melting river escaping the icy grip of a very long winter.   The heavy energy of holding fear and shame begins to shift, to lighten, to dance.

River reflected back to me both my vulnerability and my strength.  Deep within my heart, the veil lifts, and I glimpse my true nature.   I see pain, fear, and doubt, but I also see courage and the infinite capacity for love.  It was enough for River, and it is enough for me.

I Am One of Them by Shannon McDonough

Why did I come here? I asked myself as soon as I got back to my room that first night of Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat. I don’t fit in. This isn’t what I was expecting at all. I needed to breathe into a paper bag, but it turns out paper bags aren’t as easy to come by as you might think on a remote ranch in the woods of Montana. I felt like I could vomit. I wanted to leave.

The next morning I slogged through the group writing exercises, fighting back tears and the urge to run from the room. You’re doing this wrong played in my head like a skipping record. Again and again…that same tired old song I’d heard all my life. I was so trapped in my own mind the only thing I could write about was that I didn’t know what to write about. Brilliant.

When the morning session was finally over I let out a long, slow breath.  But before we broke for lunch, Laura asked who would like to read from their own work that evening. In a moment of what I can only describe as pure insanity, I raised my hand. I had known we would have this opportunity and I thought I was prepared to do it. But that was before I heard all these talented writers and flung myself headlong into a bout of compare and despair. Still, something deep inside me took over and I could only follow its lead.

That night we gathered on couches and chairs and beanbags in the cozy living room of the lodge overlooking the lake. With candles lit and cups of tea we settled in for the evening session. When it was my turn I took a deep breath and read my previously private work to these women who were strangers just a week before. And it was magic. Suddenly, in this safe and sacred space, enveloped in pure acceptance, I became a storyteller.

Later, as I looked around at these extraordinary women willing to bare their souls and share their stories, I understood why I had taken this journey to the woods of Montana. In this quiet place so far removed from the rest of the world, I came to know these beautiful souls who didn’t seem to see just how magnificent they are. That astounded me. Why can’t they see their own light? I wondered. And then I realized…I am one of them.

2 Comments

Filed under Blog Series-- Haven, My Posts

Haven Winter Series # 4

This is the fourth in a series of guest posts, written by Carolyn Hopper and Eden Royce. For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. 

Haven by Carolyn Hopper

“Go braless.”

I flick a glance at my chest. Up at her face.

“I can’t write about that.”

“Yes. You can.”

“My daughter might read it.”

One eyebrow arches. A conspiratorial smirk passes her lips. I trace circles with my toe in the breeze.

“I can’t write about my orgasm on top of a mountain during my Vision Quest. Not in the book I am writing about my mother and me.”

“Yes you can.”

I stop moving my toe.

Sitting beside Laura during my one-on-one session in the last time slot of the last day of the Haven Writing Retreat, I swat a mosquito, listen for cranes, inhale the  tang of rain-soaked pines.  Look her in the eye again. The gleam in her eye ignites mine.

“How?”

Laura holds her edited copy of the beginning of my story about my mother and me begun before she died—two months ago. I’d planned to use my time at the Writing Retreat to refocus on writing, take time for grieving, and relax.

“Just write it. The way you told me.”

“Sounds like porn?”

“Write it.”

Heat rises inside me at the memory of my Nature induced orgasm.

The next day I hear those words as if spoken while I stalk the lush, fertile plot of the Ranch garden with my camera. As I crouch beneath curlicues of squash vines, inhale the aroma of gleaming mahogany onion globes, finger puckered frills of kale.  Attempt to catch the perfect drop of rain in a photo for a magazine article about permaculture gardening and our chefs.

“Go Braless.” That was unexpected! Certainly not what I thought would be the outcome of any editing of the piece I’d sent in a month before the Retreat. Yet, it fit. Is this what happens when you leave home to spend a weekend with 11 other women at a writing retreat in the woods, eat Vegan food for four days, curl around a body pillow at night, give yourself to Place instead of Time? I know what was meant by those two words—be bold! Okay then, I will!

I began to digest that new recipe for stirring some spice into an otherwise straight forward story about two women and their connections or disconnections—my mother and I—one living and one dead, during my drive home.  And I thought of the message from hummingbird as he flew around me and in and out of my tent every day during my Vision Quest—love, joy, celebration.  Maybe he watched while I danced naked for the full moon.

Now, before I tackle the next chapter for my book, I’ll dig out my old CD and rock to “Celebration!” Uh huh! With my figure, however, I think I’ll wear a bra. Black lace.

 

A Not-so-Hasty Retreat by Eden Royce

In early 2013, I had a challenge with my writing. I not only felt uninspired, I felt that my vision exceeded my skill level. While a little of this is normal for a writer—or indeed any artist—it drained me. I was recovering from a health issue and I’d promised that I would charge forth once I was 100% again. But it didn’t happen.  I returned to normal life—slowly—but I didn’t create with the fury of a life restored. My typical inspirations didn’t work. My head wasn’t where it needed to be.

I needed to get away. Press reset on my writing. But the little negative voices chattered at me: You don’t have time. It costs too much. You’re still recovering, you need rest…

I ignored them.

A search of the Internet revealed there is no shortage of writer retreats. Some of them are minimalist. You get a room with a desk and three meals a day are left outside of your door. For others you are on your own in a new city and you have to shop, cook, create, and if you want to meet someone interesting, it’s upon you to start a conversation.

Neither of those was for me.

I must admit if I weren’t still on my I’m-so-glad-to-be alive high, I may not have booked the retreat. I may have let my chattering voices get in the way. But I didn’t. I made my way to Big Sky Country: Montana and the Walking Lightly Ranch.

During my Haven retreat I felt cared for. Not just physically, but emotionally and creatively.

Sitting on the edge of that lake I felt a connection with beauty of the land and a profound peace that meant acceptance of my new life. Something that I craved more than I thought.

Laura and my fellow retreaters were supportive and helped push me beyond my normal boundaries.  There was a part of me that I held away from my writing—a part too tender to be shared. Deep hurts and cherished memories that I feared would overwhelm me if I set them free. But these women—I call them my sisters now—allowed me to put down that burden I held so tightly.

I’ve never had a sister. As an only child I was denied that bond, that feeling of sisterhood that meant I could be as silly, shocking, or sad as I needed to be and it would be okay.

Haven gave me sisters. Sisters in writing. In life. It opened my heart to sharing and writing more powerfully as it brought bittersweet memories and tears of laughter. Most of all, it gave me the knowledge that there are people that want to hear my words and my voice.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Blog Series-- Haven, My Posts

Haven Winter Series #3

For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. This is the third post, written by Katie Crane and Sharley Bryce.

Haven by Katie Crane

As I remember it, Laura asked us to write two pieces, one fictionalized, one true, in the manner of diary entries written the day the events occurred. After reading our pieces aloud, the group would guess which story was real and which fabricated. At the retreat’s outset, I decided to use as many exercises as possible to write about my father, who had died five years earlier. I still harbor grief about his death, and I figured writing about him might help me process it. Of the two pieces I wrote for this exercise, the first could have occurred but did not. It involved my dad driving in a violent rainstorm trying to disguise his fear of the conditions by telling me a story about one of his life insurance clients who had undergone a sex change. My dad actually had such a client, and he actually did revise umpteen documents to note the change from Dale to Deborah. My dad also drove through his share of rainstorms, and when I was present, he always would try to mask his anxiety by acting calm and distracting us both with a story. But my dad didn’t tell me about Dale/Deborah while simultaneously driving through a rainstorm. Could have happened but didn’t.

My other piece—well, that’s a different matter entirely.

I wrote about my dad’s final night, as my older brother, his wife, my husband and I stood vigil in the hospital. That night was one of the most poignant experiences of my life; I remember it with unparalleled clarity. What struck me most was his sense of acceptance—of his life’s accomplishments or lack thereof, of life itself and thus the necessity of death. My dad always had feared his own mortality, so much so that he’d had a nervous breakdown five years prior at the prospect of radical surgery for his prostate cancer. Yet I believe my dad, by that final evening, had achieved a measure of peace with death. I like to imagine it was because he had two of his four children by his side and possessed a sense that his life, however it had turned out and regardless of his successes or failures, was enough. I will cherish that night for the rest of my days, because it allowed me to see a man formerly plagued by fear—a man I resemble in many respects—achieve peace. It showed me serenity is possible, and that is the greatest gift he ever gave me.

Everyone in the group guessed that the latter story was true.

I was able to realize the meaning of my father’s gift through writing about it at Haven. Haven allowed me to crystallize the experience and turn it into a narrative. Further, it highlighted that by learning to translate one’s experiences into authentic narratives, there is a way to achieve peace and freedom in this lifetime. That, dear Haven, was your gift to me.

Haven by Sharley Bryce

Circling memories come and go of times and places and companions.  One memorable experience came to me recently. To this day, I ponder just how it all got started.   After reading a book I couldn’t put down, but didn’t want to finish either; at the end, I held it in my hands in total reflection. The author, Laura Munson, was pictured, and my sense was that she was someone I already knew.  I think I emailed her to thank her. Some time passed. What stayed with me was how honest the book was. When I decided to attend her writing retreat in Montana, I was filled with the anticipation of meeting someone as honest as I think I am, and finding out how to put real life thoughts into words and down on paper.

Participants’ names and email addresses were sent to us, so, I picked one and wrote her to meet up and arrive together. At the airport, I heard my name and turned, and there was a younger woman with sparkly eyes so happy to meet me!  We went to the grocery store to select snack items.  I wondered if you can tell anything about a person by what snacks they enjoy.  Was I worried I wouldn’t relate to the people?  It wasn’t fear of the unknown as much as it was curiosity about just what the next four days were going to be like, and the reach for myself.

Once at the ranch, after getting settled, there was a unique mix of individuals watching and waiting.  The ambiance was comforting: wood paneled walls, a fireplace, comfortable chairs, a sun porch, and another long narrow room with a wall of windows looking out to a lake, and… a piano!  Amazing smells came out of the kitchen overlooking a tended garden of vegetables, herbs and flowers.  I was struck that my feelings were more of excited anticipation than of expectation.  This was going to be interesting!

The ensuing days were devoted to writing prompts that were timed, sharing around the circle reading aloud to one another what we wrote, and spending time outdoors.  Reading my most heartfelt piece, about loneliness, I looked up to find three women sitting on the floor just near me, quietly weeping.  Little did I know this kind of connection could happen because of something I wrote!

Growing up, I had done lots of horseback riding, but nothing and no one had prepared me for the special experience of being in a field surrounded by horses that had never been ridden.  Unafraid, they would approach and stand, majestic, seemingly grateful for the closeness.  My very first thought was, these are animals, but they are spirited just as we are, and capable of so much love and connection!  Unbridled, they were calm but totally aware of our presence.  Up close, their eyes looked human and their soft nostrils were like velvet!  With a wand in my hand, my chosen horse followed me!  For those amazing minutes we were in tandem, and all was right in our world. Parting with the horses that day was sweet sorrow….

The following day was the next to the last day. By now people knew each other. We would share stories, drink wine,  enjoy healthy food and stand around the piano together. That morning we all went outside to take group pictures.  The weather had turned misty and it seemed fitting for the mood of our departure from this magical place. We took our shoes off each time we came inside.  On the last morning, I went outside for one last look around.  There were all the shoes on the top step, nine pairs of them! Each was different, some of them boots, some of them running shoes, different colors and sizes.  They were just there the way they were left, some upright, some on their sides, still and quiet, waiting for the energy to fill them and move them on.  I was going to miss that energy, that relating to me in my life. And I was going to miss the hearts and souls of the women whose quiet trust and confidence had inspired me in ways I would continue to discover.  Their love of honest expression in words we shared in common, and we shared much more than that.

2 Comments

Filed under Blog Series-- Haven, My Posts

Haven Winter Series #2

For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. This is the second post, written by Erika Putnam and Patricia Young.

SSSssshhh! by Erika Putnam

Winter’s first soft snow is falling outside.  I am in a remote town on a solitary retreat determined to finish the final edits on the memoir I have been writing for the last four years.  Doubts creep in as I am re-formulating the story arc.  Shortly after my second cup of coffee the critical writers committee starts in my head.  They sound like a cluster of grey haired librarians who have the tone of laying hens in a chicken coop.  The old one with wire rimmed glasses says, “Who do you think you are to write this book?”  The skinny one with the chin hair pukes out, “No one wants to read your droning stories, honey.”  The pecking at my sacred writing heart goes on and on amongst the hens.  Their nasty voices have me pushed right up against my quitting edge.

The last time I wanted to quit being a writer was a year ago, September 2012, at the Haven Writing Retreat.  We were nine strangers sitting in a misshapen circle reading out loud from pieces we had written.  Cindy read a play about a feisty teenage daughter fighting with her cranky mother and refusing to get out of an old car.  Our erotica writer started stumbling, blushing and gasping for air when she got to the part in her story when the buxom blonde was making a move on the business man.  Mid-sentence she abruptly stopped that story and began reading to us about a pair of trouble- making hooligans in the Deep South.  Sweet Emily delighted us with a children’s book complete with cheerful watercolor paintings of dainty butterflies.  Then, there was me who was reading about my, oh, so broken heart.

“No, don’t quit, keep going,” said our facilitator, Laura Munson, in a soft and encouraging voice.  From the right I felt an encouraging hand touch my back.  With hesitation I took a deep choppy breath and began again.  It was the chapter and scene where I was shamefully telling my husband I had filed for divorce.   It was challenging reading my work to strangers but as I read my own story and gave voice to my unfolding sorrow, the emotion began filtering back through my bones.  I was the exposed woman depicted in this memoir and I wanted to stop reading her life out loud. I didn’t want to be that messy, that vulnerable, that woman who had lived this scene.  Surprisingly tears turned into sobs.  This was not like me.  Tissues came from all directions.  Again I heard Laura’s voice compassionately pressing, “Keep going.”  I shook my head “no” as raw emotion had taken over reasoning.  She encouraged me further, “We want to hear. We are right there with you. We want to know what happens. Please, read on.”

On days like today, when my committee is speaking harshly, I do consider quitting.  I don’t want to write words that make me vulnerable and I don’t want to feel the fear that comes with choosing brave sentences.  I am lucky to recall being supportively held by the other writers at Haven.  We were a community of writers hearing our own voices, relating to our individual writing journeys and collectively fanning the same embers of desire to create books that should be written and read.  Those tears, on that night, with those writers remind me to daringly SSSssshhh the dream stealing librarians and “keep going.”

 

Haven – August 2013 by Patricia Young

My journey to mindfulness in writing began when a woman I had never met, never heard of before reached out to me one night, when I sent an email I never expected to be read.    I can hear her voice now when I read her book and blogs.  She mentioned a possibility – a balm perhaps to sooth the soul which in turn heals a shaky spirit and worn out heart.  This writing retreat was SO much more than what you will read about.  Haven becomes a part of you, and you it.  You will walk away with something rekindled, or something completely new – but you will carry home something intimately personal and very powerful.

I mentioned to you the email:  not once did she ask me then or now to buy her book or a mug with her name on it, containing tea made in Whitefish that promotes good grammar!  Not once did she fill me with false hope or expectations that ‘THIS retreat will launch my professional writing career! This is exactly what I needed to succeed!’  Haven is not promising enlightenment – you must find that for yourself.  Montana is where I found my courage.

Going to Haven was an invitation to come and experience something uniquely personal.  To do this in not only a safe environment, meaning you could say what you wanted to, what you needed to without judgment or ridicule,  but you did this within the support of a circle of writers while  immersing  yourself in the surrounding beauty.  I was changed simply because I was there.

My “ah-ha” moment was during my one on one session. I could not ask for a more amazing gift than to have her all to myself for an hour, pouring over writing I didn’t know I needed to write.

I’ve always LOVED to read silently, but especially out loud.   Yet never have I poured out anything so unfiltered, opening myself to possibilities way more powerful than anything ever allowed before!

Laura read my writings.   She actually gave a crap about something I had to say!  And then she did something else wonderful.  She wrote comments on it!  Yep, she did and not in red ink – but with recognition and inspirationally bold and in capitals with arrows and excitement! It was golden, it was tangible, it was honest.  This was real.

She called me “A woman creating her life”, then read her comments out loud – “lightness & depth & playfulness & wisdom all together is rare” and circled them, telling me, I CAN WRITE!!   If there was any doubt before, it vanished!  She took my hand from over my mouth and allowed me to take another step in words.  The shadows faded to dawn for me at Haven.  I have no doubt they will for you too. Be brave.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Blog Series-- Haven, My Posts

Taking Love to the Tundra

Mat and Maureen Mosteller

Matt and Maureen Mosteller

If you need a new adventure in your marriage…check THIS out. These are two friends of my husband’s and mine and we are so proud of them and sooooo inspired. Just not sure this is in the mix for us, per se. Maybe a day hike in Glacier National Park.

By Matt Mosteller
The Globe and Mail

The ad could have gone like this: “Wanted: Eight couples to explore 1,600 kilometres of Canada’s last frontier, meet friendly locals and survive gruelling challenges while camping in tents for 10 days in -40 temperatures.”

When most Canadians go south to warmer climes in January, I chose – for my unsuspecting wife and me – the Yukon Challenge, a 10-day race across frozen tundra. Though Maureen (who, thankfully, is a good sport) has the sleek and muscular build of a national water-skiing champion, mine is that of a former athlete toiling as a desk jockey. Nonetheless, on Jan. 15, we departed Calgary, leaving our encouraging children behind, to meet up with seven other couples for what many say is the world’s toughest winter adventure race. It entails a 1,610-km journey from Whitehorse to Tuktoyaktuk on the wildest roads in North America – the Dempster and Klondike highways, which are sometimes barely wide enough for one vehicle.
We would have to run, snowshoe, ice-climb, dogsled, car-pull, quinzhee-build, ice-drive and harpoon-throw on the gut-wrenching route to Tuktoyaktuk, an ice-encrusted village above the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. We were psyched.

Day 1

Leaving Whitehorse, we headed north for our first challenge: Dance lessons, to prepare for dogsledding. ..

To read more go here.

1 Comment

Filed under My Posts

Gratitude on Ice: A Montana Lesson (ode to a crampon)

I’m going to bullet-point the last hour of my life, just for shits and giggles. Mostly the former.

• 10:00 Depart house to drive teenaged daughter to bus for state-wide speaking competition. Discuss adrenaline and how you can utilize it when on stage.

• 10:02 Experience how adrenaline can help you if your truck doesn’t want to go right when encountering Zamboni-ready vertical driveway, decides to continue toward cliff, inspires you to consider yelling, “Bail!”

• 10:03 Experience gratitude for icy snow bank.

• 10:05 Console freaking-out daughter who doesn’t want to miss bus, never mind what almost just happened to truck, mother, and said teen.

• 10:06 Call neighbor and beg for ride to town. Begin descent.

• 10:06-10:16 Slide, fall, slide, fall. Decide to take the rest on ass. Hope truck won’t disengage with snow bank and careen down on top of you. Slide to side of driveway. Try to walk in snow bank where there’s traction. Punch through snow and almost knock knee cap off. Go back to ice on ass. Slide. Yell at dogs who think it’s a game. Try to stand up. Fall. Yell at daughter who is yelling “hurry up!” as you’re sitting on ice, crying like a baby. (Daughter has somehow navigated the whole thing in Converse sneakers with a roller bag behind her, all whilst on cell phone.) Rue the fact that you failed to put crampons on your boots.

• 10:16 Arrive at base camp and flat terrain. Decide to pick up pace past .01 miles per hour.

• 10:17 Fall and hurt wrist. Daughter yells, “Hurry up! We’re gonna miss the bus!” (She’s usually a peach, I swear.)

• 10:20 Neighbors within view.

• 10:21 Wave at them and fall. Hurt other wrist. Cry. Get yelled at again.

• 10:22 Scramble to get to neighbor’s van so to give daughter kiss and hug, look her in the eye and say, “You’re going to do great. Just remember, people want you to do well. They’re on your side.” And hear in return, “I know. You’ve told me that about a thousand times.” Reveal soaking wet backside to neighbors. Get looks of pity.

• 10:22 Watch as they drive off on icy roads with your daughter. Cry some more because you will miss her and plus you’re scared for her life because she’ll be on a school bus navigating brutally icy roads for the next five hours. Pray the driver has been screened.

• 10:23 Sigh, let go, and realize that you are totally screwed. There’s no going back up that driveway. There’s no cutting up the ridge—the snow is too punchy and impossible. You’re going to have to walk to the end of the road—at least it’s flat, and hope that your neighbor’s road is better, and that there is hard packed snow up in the woods with decent deer trails to follow home.

• 10:24 Stop and soak up the sun, so rare this time of year. Try to find humor in all this. Wonder why you don’t have Triple A anymore. Berate yourself for being irresponsible.

• 10:27 Road gains altitude. Fall.

• 10:28 Call golden retriever. He comes. Grab his collar and say “Let’s go.” He gets behind you, as if he thinks you’re going to pull him. Curse the fact that you don’t have claws, never mind crampons.

• 10:30 Stop and realize: it might be a long time before you get home. Even though, as the crow flies, you’re only about a hundred yards away from it. Try to be open to the lesson. Ya gotta be honest—you’re not. Realize your back is tweaked and your butt is ice and your left knee is bruised.

• 10:30-10:40 Decide to take it step by step. Get five feet forward, lose traction, slide backward. You look like you are learning how to surf– hands way out in front of you– butt hanging way out behind you. You are glad you live in rural America.

• 10:40 A crow dive bombs and you see a very recent deer kill up ahead—right in the middle of your neighbor’s driveway. There are blood and guts everywhere. And iced paw prints like those ceramic hand prints you did as a kid in art class. They are feline. And big. You realize that this is a mountain lion kill. And now there’s that to think about. Funny though—seems like the least of your worries.

• 10:42 Slip and fall…on top of entrail pile. Now you’re too freaked out to cry. You call your dog who is even freaked out now. You hold on to his collar and get up and make for the snow bank which has flattened out in this section of road and looks like something you could safely navigate.

• 10:42 Take two steps and punch through up to your thigh and grab the wooden fence and feel a bolt of lightning go through you and realize you’ve just grabbed hot wire. “Are you freaking KIDDING ME?” you shout.

• 10:42-11:00 Step, slide, fall, punch your way home. In the woods, you are grateful for packed snow and deer trails and chickadees in the trees and the warm Chinook wind on your face and the sun in your eyes. When you jump across the ice on your front porch step, and your bloody hand wraps itself around the door knob, you want to kiss it you are so grateful to be home. Funny how that door knob will just be a door knob again in a few hours, or however long this gratitude lasts. For now, it’s the loveliest thing you’ve seen in your entire life.

  • 11:01 Call tow truck with smile on face.

9 Comments

Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My Posts

Seasonal Depression No More


This time of year people go a little bit crazy around here. It’s been grey. REALLY grey. For a long time. And we live in a place where just about everyone knows their way around horses or skis or both.
And everyone knows their way around snow.
Some lovely lunatic decided to put them all together. It’s called ski joring. The history of ski joring dates back several hundred years to Scandinavia as a way for people to travel during the harsh and snowy winter months. Towed behind reindeer on long wooden skis, these early travelers found ski joring or “ski driving” a useful and practical mode of
transport and communication.

On February 12, 1928 at the 2nd Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland competitors held a ski joring demonstration. This style was performed riderless with the skier driving the horse from
behind and racing head to head with the other competitors.

Apparently, that lovely lunatic’s ancestor lives in our town because every year our town dumps itself alongside the Burlington Northern railroad tracks at the base of our ski mountain and watches as the bravest of us jump on horse or skis and motor around an icy gnarly track, skier holding a rope attached to a saddle.

Horses fall, skiers fall, riders fall, and the fans go wild. Half the time I can barely watch.
The train engineer toots his horn, the children drink hot cocoa and cheer from plastic sleds, the parents have a Bloody Mary or a pulled pork sandwich, and we all wake up a bit against the mid-winter sky, dripping in grey.

This is our idea of good clean mid-winter fun. And I have to say, it is one of my favorite days in our small mountain town in Montana (as long as nobody gets hurt!).

7 Comments

Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts