The only imperative that nature utters is: ‘Look. Listen. Attend.’
C. S. Lewis
The only imperative that nature utters is: ‘Look. Listen. Attend.’
C. S. Lewis
I’ve never felt so old!
Of course, I’ve never been so old, but then everyone can say that, even a six-year-old. We are always, on any day, the oldest we have ever been.
The difference, I suppose, is that today I know I’m old. I know it in my bones. And I understand in a way I never have before what knowing something in my bones means.
The reason for this surge of new understanding? I’ve just moved.
Age precipitated the move. For most of the last decade I have been renting a lovely, two-story house with a tuck-under garage which made it a three-story house when I carried groceries or laundry up from the basement.
I’ve never had a problem with stairs. I saw stairs as good exercise built into my day. My partner’s and my bedrooms and my study were all on the second floor and the laundry room was in the basement along with the garage, so I was happily up and down those stairs many times every day.
Or at least I was happy until some stress in my lumbar spine began to cause occasional leg weakness. When I found myself holding both banisters and pulling myself up the stairs very slowly, I began to reconsider.
We looked at senior residences, but I didn’t feel ready. Yes, I know I’m eighty. I should be ready, but I’m not. Even though I began my career in the corner of a bedroom, I couldn’t imagine giving up my study, and senior residences with two bedrooms and a usable study are almost impossible to find. Besides, giving up a house is giving up having my own private patch of the outdoors on the other side of my door. And that patch of outdoors feeds my soul.
So we began looking. We began more than a year ago actually with a very patient realtor. But we couldn’t get on the same page and nothing that we saw was quite . . . it. Until, finally, it was. The house we’d dreamed came onto the market in the afternoon. We let our realtor know we wanted to see it now. We spent twenty minutes walking through. Then we leapt.
And we’ve been landing ever since.
We got the house, the loan, the movers. We got the boxes and the tape and the enormous rolls of bubble wrap.
And we started packing.
And sorting. I spent two days sorting through the files in my study, more than forty years worth of professional files and personal ones, too, such as a forgotten treasure-trove of letters surrounding my son’s death. Then I spent more days sorting and culling books.
Until the day came when everything went onto a truck except for us and Sadie, our one-eyed sheltie.
It all came off the truck and we were here!
And we were so, so tired.
And I, at least, suddenly knew myself to be old. Very, very old.
But today, at last, my study is up and working. No pictures on the walls yet, but I sit here at my familiar keyboard with three yellow tulips in a purple vase at my side and a new yard yet to be explored stretching beyond my window. And I am so glad to be 80 and looking ahead to the all-on-one-floor future, however long or short it may be.
And I am glad, once more, to gather words and see them appear on the screen before me. This is it, my heart says. I am home.
And I am.
Had I gone looking for some particular place rather than any place, I’d have never found this spring under the sycamores. Since leaving home, I felt for the first time at rest. Sitting full in the moment, I practiced on the god-awful difficulty of just paying attention. It’s a contention of my father’s—believing as he does that anyone who misses the journey misses about all he’s going to get—that people become what they pay attention to. Our observations and curiosity, they make and remake us.
William Least Heat Moon
This is my fourth year to write about, LoonSong, the unique Writers’ Retreat on Elbow Lake in the wilderness of northern Minnesota.
It is coming up again this fall, from Thursday, September 5th, through Monday, September 9th. And once more, it will be magical.
Or at least it will be magical if it happens.
The lake will be there for certain. And the singing loons. And the beach. And the kayaks waiting for paddlers. The lovely old lodge will be there and the cabins. The hushed woods all about.
The question is whether we will be there.
The faculty are in the wings and filled with enthusiasm. Meg Medina, winner of the 2019 Newbery Award and author of other award-winning young-adult and middle grade novels and picture books. Elisabeth Partridge, one of the most preeminent nonfiction writers in our field and winner of many awards. Varian Johnson, author of nine novels, including The Parker Inheritance which was named a 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book along with many other honors. Holly West, editor at Felwel & Friends and the YA imprint Swoon Reads. Brent Taylor, a literary agent at Triada US. Sarah Aronson, Carol McAfee, Debby Dahl Edwardson and me.
This will be my fourth year to attend and teach at LoonSong, and it has been magical every time. There are other writers’ workshop/retreats around, of course, but two things make this one unique.
One is the place. You couldn’t find a more serene and heart-filling location than the edge of a lake, surrounded by forest, a few miles from the Canadian border. The very air will give you hope from your first breath.
The second is size. Because our facilities have room for only a small group, the entire workshop/retreat could better be billed as a long conversation. There is no line between attenders and presenters. We are a wide spectrum, some just beginning, others who have published for a long time. But we are all writers together.
And once we’re there, we’re all in it together, playing and talking and listening and eating and learning from one another.
LoonSong is sponsored by Vermont College of Fine Arts, and if you’re interested in learning about the VCFA Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, there will be opportunity for that. Some VCFA folks come just to be with other VCFA folks. But those from VCFA comprise only about a third of our group. Many from the Hamline MFA program here in Minnesota also attend and we’re grateful for their presence. And many come with no connection to any MFA program at all, nor is any needed, because LoonSong is most profoundly place to be with other writers.
The work of writing is the most blessed I know. But it is also deeply isolating. All of us, whether we’re just wading into the cold water of our first manuscripts or have been writing long enough to sometimes feel a bit weary, need the stimulation and the encouragement and the understanding of other writers from time to time. It’s what keeps us writing.
LoonSong offers that and so much more!
But I’ll be candid. I’m not here to say, “Hurry to sign up while we still have a few spots open,” because the truth is we have more than a few spots open. Sign-ups have been slow this year.
It’s a hard thing to come up with money for a conference. Conferences are expensive. They have to be expensive, because everything about making them happen costs big time.
But it’s also financially challenging to put on a conference, and if we don’t get full enrollment we’re going to have to close down this year. We are nowhere near full enrollment yet. In fact, last I heard there were still some of those highly prized single rooms available.
If you’re already signed up and want LoonSong to happen, then beat the bushes for friends who might join you. If you’ve been watching our postings for a long time and thinking, Someday I’m going to do that, then make 2019 that someday. If you’re hearing about LoonSong for the first time, then explore www.loonsong.org . . . and join us. We would be so delighted to meet you there.
This gathering of children’s and young-adult writers is too good to miss. And it is much too good to see go under.
The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome, And say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was yourself. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.