Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Big-leaf maple

Big-leaf maple

I just returned from five days at the Nature Bridge conference center in Olympic National Park near Lake Crescent where I joined 12 other women on retreat.  As check-in was at 3:00 p.m. on Monday and I left after breakfast on Friday, we had just three full days there — not really long enough for me to completely relax and rejuvenate — but still a true vacation from my city life.

The definition of a retreat is “an act of moving back or withdrawing,” especially from what is difficult, dangerous or disagreeable.  Or it can be a withdrawal for contemplation and meditation.  I found my experience at Nature Bridge way too stimulating for that.  There were all these interesting and wise women to meet and be friendly with.  The immediate surroundings offered walking trails and swimming.  Every day a few of the group took off on day trips to the ocean beaches, longer hiking trails on the other side of the lake, or other destinations on the peninsula.  The choices!

The Nature Bridge campus.  All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The Nature Bridge campus. All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn.  (I felt at home.)

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn. (I felt at home.)

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“The time for it is always with us though we say I do not have that kind of time.  The kind of time I have is not for this but for that.  I wish I had that kind of time.  But if you had that kind of time — would you do it?  Would you give it a try?”
— Lynda Barry, What It Is

This retreat was a chance for me to have the time for “it,” and I decided that my “it” would be devoting myself to painting.  It was hard to stay focused on the goal with so many appealing alternatives.  The lovely thing about these days was that all meals were provided and I did not have to spend one minute thinking about the state of my cupboards, meal planning, or cooking.  We met as a group at breakfast and dinner, but other than that, our time was completely self-directed.

And although I did manage to make a painting each of the five days, I found I did not create as many as I had expected.  The free days were a gift, but somehow the hours disappeared far too quickly.  For me, this was a revealing taste of what life might be like in retirement.  I think I will have to develop a rhythm and structure to my days — with a regular few hours sitting down with my paints — in order to settle my mind and feel some sense of growth and satisfaction.  I never did find this kind of rhythm at Nature Bridge.

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

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The first afternoon I walked the “Moments in Time” loop trail through a stand of old growth forest.  And I made my first painting there.  This Western Red Cedar was completely burned out at the bottom, but still managed to live, with green on its upper branches.

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Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

I am still transitioning back to city life, but I will share more of my Nature Bridge experience in the next few days.  Stay tuned!