The Stunning Beauty of Sea Ranch

Up at Sea Ranch again, on writing retreat with my AROHO sisters, eight women I met at the 2011 Room of Her Own Foundation's retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. This is our fifth year of coming together to write and commune, our fourth at Sea Ranch, on the far Northern California coast just south of Mendocino. It is a stunningly beautiful stretch of sea coast, with magnificent cliffs and thundering ocean and abundant wildlife. We've seen many groups of deer (bucks and does with lots of spotted babies), foxes and jackrabbits. Bulbous sea lions lolling on the rocks. Pelicans skimming over the bluffs. The deer are protected here, so they have no fear, and graze contentedly throughout the Sea Ranch. You can almost get close enough to touch them.

The tiny burg of Gualala (wa LA la) has a lovely little market, and a gas station and a couple of restaurants. And a bookstore! Which we will be appearing at this afternoon to talk about writing retreats and writing. The Four-Eyed Frog bookstore was recently purchased by a group of community people to keep it open. There's a lovely lesson there about the importance of books to community.

Here are some photos I've taken this week and in years past. May your day be filled with the peace of nature.

In the Willow Cabin, Day Seven

I go home tomorrow. And all I can say is one week at Hedgebrook—or really any writing retreat—is never enough. One barely gets settled into a new routine (and catches up on her sleep) before she has to head back home to reality.

Nevertheless, it’s been a lovely experience. I have gotten some writing done, perhaps not as much as I wanted, but enough. I have met some amazing and talented women. And we have been blessed to work with the poet and social justice advocate Carolyn Forché, whose keen insights and encouragement have allowed us to see the ways we can improve our own work while at the same time being inspired.

I did not get to see an owl (at least not yet). Though several of the women here have. We have seen the bald eagles drifting on the winds above the fields across the street. We had a terrific storm the other night, complete with pounding rain and howling winds and a power outage—that was fun. I did take a walk down toward the sound, but turned back when the chill wind started to blow so hard I had to lean forward to walk.

There are journals in each cabin (my cabin is Willow), where women who have stayed here over the years have left little bits of advice or encouragement or poems or, even in one case, a CD with recordings of the frogs at night, which I downloaded. I was delighted to discover I know several women who have stayed in this particular cabin over the years: Hope Edelman, one of my mentors at Antioch Los Angeles and author of, among other books, Motherless Daughters; Marsha Rosenzweig Pincus, poet, teacher and one of my AROHO sisters whose one-woman show “Chalkdust” was produced in Santa Fe last year; and Wendy C. Ortiz, another Antioch peep whose memoir, Excavation, came out last year to rave reviews.

Other women who have stayed here include Kathleen Ross, president of Heritage University (1999), and the poets Amy Pence (1989) and Sharon Hashimoto (1996). Another woman from Santa Barbara stayed here in 1990: Kate Smith Passy, whom I don’t know.

The sound in front of Hedgebrook Farm is, inexplicably, called Useless Bay. Somehow, I know I will write about that someday.

A Blustery Day on Whidbey Island

I woke up early—5 a.m.—to driving rain and pounding winds, and lost power. For a fraction of a moment I panicked, but then remembered I had my flashlight, my cell phone, and a wood stove to keep me warm.

I stayed in bed for another hour or so, and when the power returned, I sprinted downstairs to start water for coffee.

I wrote for a little bit, then showered and went out for a walk in the sunny but blustery morning. It was gorgeous and ominous. Trees and branches down everywhere. But I loved my walk out to the sound. Here are some photos of lovely Whidbey Island and Hedgebrook.

In the Willow Cabin at Hedgebrook

The past few weeks have been by turns exciting, sorrowful, grief-filled, stressful and exhilarating. From flying to Paris for a two-week holiday, only to find out my younger sister had died suddenly during our overnight flight, to coming home to a house still filled with unpacked boxes from Rob’s move to Santa Barbara over Christmas, to preparing for a week at Hedgebrook, it has been a tumultuous time.

Today is my fourth day among the quiet cedars and oaks of Hedgebrook, a retreat center for women writers on Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest. In January, I was accepted into a Master Class with poet Carolyn Forché, and so far it has gone beyond my every expectation. There are six women here, from all over the country: Chicago, California, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Washington, D.C. We each have our own cabin, with practically every convenience. There is a tiny half-bath, which means one has to go to the shared bathhouse for showers, which was my only small concern. But the bathhouse turns out to be a warm and inviting spa, with heated floors and lovely showers and a claw-footed tub for long, luxurious soaks, lit by candles, if one so desires.

We meet in the afternoons for lectures and to share work, and Carolyn has insisted that each of us write for three hours every morning—uninterrupted. This has been my greatest challenge, of course. It helps that there is no Internet in the cabins (unfortunately, my cell phone and iPad work great, which makes it very easy to cheat, and I have—just a tiny bit). I have tried to follow the directive, though, and after three days I’m pleased with the work that has resulted. Raw, unedited, emotion-laced, my writing these past days is nevertheless exciting if only for the fact that I have long stretches of time to decompress and go deeply into it. I’ve written about my sister, and added pieces to a novel I started years ago, and I’ve written new scenes for my memoir.

I have also managed to post something on my blog each day, and hope to continue. We’ll see what happens when I go back to real life next week.

I am in the cabin called Willow. It was randomly assigned to me, but the willow has special significance to me, and so the selection seems to have been divinely wrought. I grew up in Michigan, where weeping willows are both abundant and inspiring. I have always loved them, and over the years the willow has appeared in nearly all of my stories in some fashion or another. When one of my clients independently published his memoir last year (Dick Jorgensen’s lovely O Tomodachi), I created an imprint under which to publish it: Weeping Willow Books.

Carolyn has given me some very helpful suggestions on my memoir, Face, and so I have decided to stop excerpting pieces of it on the blog—for now anyway. I want to revisit it with her advice in mind, and then will decide what to do from there.

I also have two other book projects on the front burners, including an anthology for women writers. More about those in coming weeks and months.

Meanwhile, I will keep writing about our travels, and my life, and books. I hope you’ll continue to join me here. If you’d like to receive my posts in your email inbox, you can sign up at this link. I’ll also see you on Facebook and Twitter. As always, keep writing!

Writing on the Stunning Northern California Coast

Near the Sea Ranch Lodge

Near the Sea Ranch Lodge

I've just returned from a week up at Sea Ranch, north of San Francisco on the rugged Mendocino coast. It's stunningly beautiful there, and a balm for the soul. For the past three years a group of women writer friends and I have decamped together for a writing retreat, and two of those years have been at Sea Ranch.

It was once a sprawling working ranch, but was developed in the sixties with homes on vast plots with weathered siding and surrounded by natural grasses. The ranch stretches for about 13 miles along the coast, with homes scattered from the coastal bluffs and up to the hills across Highway 1. We stayed in two houses near each other, and walked on the beach and hiked through the tree-studded property. We wrote and talked and read each others' work. It was just what the doctor ordered, and I came home refreshed and relaxed and ready to tackle all the work I had left behind.

I also dropped my daughter off at her friend's tiny studio in Oakland. The two of them have plans to work and pursue their music and art, with a brief break to go to Burning Man in August. It is the first time she has struck out on her own when I have felt that she is prepared and ready to create a new life. I am very proud of her. For those of you who know about her blind kitty, little Maya-Roo is with her and Anna in their tiny place. So far all is well and they are happy. And so am I.

Deer outside our front windows. They visited us every day. This couple had two babies with them.

Deer outside our front windows. They visited us every day. This couple had two babies with them.

We had several days of fog, but mostly it was sunny and warm.

We had several days of fog, but mostly it was sunny and warm.