Hollyhock 2010

Hollyhock Journal 1

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

After returning from Japan in early April and completing my account of the trip, I thought it might be time again to write to Ruth, who’d never returned my November’s email telling her about the recent Michael Pollan incident at Cal Poly. Before doing so I checked out her blog and discovered that she was offering a five-day “Writing and Meditation” workshop together with a Zen priest/poet at Hollyhock on Cortes Island in June.  This striking combination appealed to two of my interests. Her postings about an address she gave to the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment and about grappling with internet overload dealt with subjects I cared about. And her dual residency on Cortes Island and in Manhattan mirrored my upbringing in New York and forty year association with Lund, B.C.

Even though it was expensive and too close to our recent international excursion and our upcoming family trips to Idaho and Canada, it was hard to resist such a perfectly taylored educational opportunity.  Adding to the appeal was the workshop’s setting at Hollyhock, a legendary place I’d never visited that could be reached with a six hour kayak trip across the Georgia Straight from our place in Lund. Three years ago I’d considered making the trip in November, but concluded it was imprudent.

Ruth wrote a welcome email to the registrants, inviting us to bring our favorite writing instruments and any projects we were working on. My previous writing workshop experiences–NEH seminars at Berkeley in 1989 and Yale in 1993–took their enduring value from the clearly formulated topics and publication goals I’d come with, but this time I have no such motive in mind. “What,” I ask, as the plane finally gets airborne at LAX, “do I want to bring back from this quest?” Hints of answers coalesce and dissolve like cream on the surface of coffee. A poem or two, some experiments with forms I’ve never tried, a sense of future direction, a commitment, an adventure story?

Hollyhock Journal 2

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Peter meets me at the Powell River airport. We stop at Hindles so I can buy four Pentel pens, necessary tools since the computer’s not with me, first time in years. Over Margaret’s dinner of salmon, rice, his garden spinach salad and assorted fruit from their treasury of jars, Peter says, “There’s been quite a bit of wind lately. My friend Bob might be able to come down and pick you up at the Comox ferry and take you to Campbell River and the ferries to Quadra and Cortez.”


That would be at least a ten hour trip from here. Peter sends me off with his Tracker.  I’ll return with it tomorrow for our hike.

Arrival at Knoll House after my long day in transit from California has the perennial numinous feel. The steep ascent of the bumpy driveway through a high green tunnel, the grassy clearing at the top, the small, windowless structure, taller than wide, roofed with a four sided pyramid. I find the key under the rock, climb the stairs, cross the lofty living space, draw the curtains on the sliders and gaze: low-lit cloud-filled sky, snow-topped mountains, expanse of water, Mace Point on Savary Island across the passage, treetops below the bluff, the opening in the woods glowing yellow and green.


In the middle of the mossy path a softly shaped black bear returns my gaze.

I open the slider and the bear ambles off into the forest.  I head down the path to the larger clearing we’ve made on the bluff, and the prospect widens to include the Ragged Islands to the north, Hernando and Twin to the west, and at the end of the passage between them my destination on the coast of Cortes.

Water pooled in tiny terraces under the moss flows downhill. It starts to rain and I retreat under a canopy of large firs to protect my camera.  A rainbow arcs from the sea over the house behind me. As background clouds darken, its colors intensify.


Next morning I take the Tracker over to Michael’s new homesite. Big signs on Pryor Road advertise Evergreen Creek Estates, five lots marked SOLD! The road he agonized over for years now a pleasant drive, especially that section raised fifteen feet above the creekbed. He comes out of his motor home in underwear.  I can hardly get my arms around him for a hug. Inside I ask him for a cup of coffee. “Ive got high speed internet, straight from Twin Islands,” he crows pointing out the window to the big view. “Look at these plans for the house.” A forty-year dream approaching fulfillment.

I drive down to Lund for breakfast and provisions at Nancy’s Bakery.  The sky is complex, weather changing.  At the Water Taxi office, I set up plan B.  It would cost a hundred twenty five dollars to drop me off at Cortes Bay.  That’s about equivalent to the kayak rental, for which I’ve already made a sixty-five dollar deposit.  Fifty-fifty chance I’ll be paddling.

By 11:00 I’m back at Peter’s. Up Wilde Road we park and hike on the Sunshine Coast Trail along Appleton Creek. Our endless conversation continues. He’s recently attended a retreat where they worked on detaching the busy list maker in the mind from the quiet observer.

The ground is springy.  Cascade after cascade roars through the canyon, runoff after weeks of rain.


The underlying  ground bass resonates in my diaphragm.  We drop down to the edge and I cup my ears.  We couldn’t be here unless Eagle had created this trail, along with hundreds of miles more: finding the routes, marking them, cutting them, maintaining them, publicizing them and defending them against the pillagers.


When we first came there was only bush-crashing and logging roads. One or two people’s vision, grassroots power.  The Powell River story: Kathaumixw, the world choral festival, dreamed up by the high school music teacher, the local Malaspina College campus, the Lund Theatre Troupe, Lund Farm Day Camp. The B.C. story,  Hollyhock.

After we swim in Sliammon Lake, Peter drops me off at Knoll House. I disassemble and clear the deck’s clogged downspout, wander along my trails,  read some talks in the Suzuki Roshi book Jan once left here: life/death, present moment, breath in and out.  She calls. It took her five hours today to get medical attention for Claire.  Ultrasound reveals something like a ruptured cyst on ovary.  Not clear what’s next.

Hollyhock Journal 3

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I wake up at 6:00 and sort gear into three drybags, the small red one to be available in transit for camera, phone, map, compass, and snacks. Along with tent,  Thermarest, and a heavy-duty anorak left in the mudroom by a previous lodger, I load it all into my backpack. The overcast is breaking up as I walk down to the highway. This is the day.

A couple with a dog in a pickup offers a lift to Lund. The sky has cleared over the water riffled with a slight northerly breeze.  When the kayak rental place opens I’m ready, and Arlen, the boy in dredlocks, pulls out a long blue boat and shows me how to reenter it using paddle and float in case I capsize. I punch the numbers of water-taxi, search-and-rescue and coast guard into my cell phone.

Blue overhead, exuberant billowing clouds on the mountains east and west. I fill compartments, secure hatches, stuff the anorak behind the seat, put on life jacket and spray skirt, slide in the cockpit, and push off.  I try to follow the instructions I printed out from the Paddler’s website and studied on the airplane: get power not from your arms but the muscles in your core”the abdominus tranversus I’d once been taught to isolate by a physical therapist; push more than pull; alternate between sides in a single motion like peddling a bike; find the momentum of your flow through the water and maintain it.

Sooner than expected and less tired, I’m around the point and in view of the Raggeds, and beyond them, Townley, Powell and Cortes. My course angles toward a cruiser heading for Thulin passage. They’re not slowing down, so I do and wave.  They leave a fat wake that’s fun to tumble over.  I’ll stay on the outside of the islands, no need for shelter now.  The breeze dies, the surface flat and polished.  A gentle swell produced by a distant boat, the only one in sight, rocks me in its bosom, the back of my neck warmed by the sun, hands cooled by water dripping off the moving paddle. I steer further off shore, a moving point on this fluid expanse that I’ve stared at from many directions and heights for over 40 years, anticipating, remembering, and returning from other worlds.  Now only swivel-breathe, push-pull, dip-lift in a sideways figure-eight motion.

Then a muffled ringtone from inside the drybag clipped to the deck cords. I unroll the seal, grab the phone and hear Jan’s bell-like voice. “Where are you,” she asks. I hesitate, finding it hard to speak: “Outside the Raggeds headed for Powell Island.”  “Great,” she says. “I just called to reassure you about Claire.  She’ll have surgery on Tuesday.  I’m headed to Solvang for a League of California Cities meeting.  Dennis is watching both kids.”

I turn off the phone, stow it back in the drybag and take out the camera to record this moment. Instead of returning it, I leave it in the pocket of the life jacket. The straight course is shortening the trip, and my smooth forward motion is occasionally accelerated by mysterious surges from behind. Sure I want to get there, but not too soon or too easily.


The need to pee and eat lunch along with curiosity about the view beyond the island ahead closes the reverie. I scan the rocky shore in search of a place to haul out and spot a shelf a few inches above the waterline.  Up close, I paddle along it and find what looks like a lower shelf just a few inches under the surface. I undo the spray skirt, slide my butt up on the deck and reach down, expecting a firm footing.  Instead I’m suddenly in the water, floating in the life jacket, holding the edge of the kayak with one hand and the shore with the other.  I let go the shore, swim backward a stroke and now my feet hit bottom.  I drag  the boat up by its handle, and then remember the camera, pull it out from the pocket and push the on button.  Of course it’s dead and the LED screen is fogged. I remove the batteries and card and set it in the sun to dry.  Then I pee and remove several layers of clothing and spread them on the rocks.

So, I tell myself, pride comes before a fall. The minute things go my way, on to the next thing, off the attention.  Just like last week, after the problems with the slide construction in the backyard were solved, when I hastened to install it and chopped a hole in the irrigation pipe.  Well, no point in beating myself up.  Maybe the loss of the camera, along with the lack of a computer, will strengthen the focus on writing.  I enjoy the lunch of a leftover empanada from Nancy’s smeared with goat cheese from Hatchabird Farm and afterward climb up the rock bluff wearing only crocs to have a look.

Around the point, in the direction of Cortes, the wind has picked up considerably. There are whitecaps on the waves, a sign that would have sent me to the water taxi in the morning. My confidence shaken by two mistakes, I recognize that there’s no longer a plan B. But I’m not feeling fear or the approach of panic or even an impulse to pray, just eagerness to get on with it. On the way back to the picnic spot, from high on the bluff the kayak and my drying clothes look small next to the calm water in the lee of the island. I clamber down, pull on my merino  longjohns and slip into the heavy windbreaker, which feels like armor before battle. With my socks, I sponge out the water left in the cockpit, pack the camera ruefully into the drybag and carefully seal all hatches. I slide the paddle under the elastics before dragging the boat into the water, telling myself there now can be no excess of caution. But as I tighten the sprayskirt over the lifejacket, I remember Arlen saying you don’t need to bother with the suspenders, so I let them hang.

It feels good to be afloat again, and soon I’m bobbing, a little out of control. I yank the cord to lower the rudder, but it doesn’t give. Time to steer with the paddles, to really dig with the muscles of the core. Clearing the point, I’m going perpendicular to the wind, parallel to the waves, which push me sideways faster than my forward motion. Nevertheless I’m making progress away from the island, breathing hard, pumping adrenalin. Without a rudder, I need to angle away from the direction of the swells and keep on course with extra strokes on one side or another.  A wave breaks gently across the bow and covers the deck with a couple of inches of water, but the boat feels stable, and the spray skirt keeps it from filling up. Then, another one creeps up beside me, leaks into the cockpit soaking my pants, and makes a pool in the sag of the skirt. I stop paddling to tighten and hike it up, and try to attach the suspenders, but they’re snagged.

I’m well out into the channel now and realize that despite the additional two mishaps, this is what the kayak is made for.  Whitecaps are fine, at least at this size.  I give another yank on the cord and the rudder drops.  The pedals slide, the bow turns in the direction I want, I’m no longer breathing hard and I have options which way to go. I’d planned to make the shortest crossing, toward Mary’s Point, but that’s not in the direction of my destination and it’s where the wind is heading, so I pick the longer crossing toward Twin Islands, which will put me in their lee and be both safer and quicker.

Feeling the second relief and triumph of the day, I reach the narrow channel between Twin and Cortes and greet flocks of geese on the shore and wood ducks afloat. I fantasize approaching Hollyhock and being welcomed by people at the beach.  But where is it? It’s not marked on my chart and there are places all along the shoreline that look like they could be retreat centers. I’d only glanced at the map on the website and once spotted it on Google Earth. I paddle up to a sandy spot in front of a group of houses and yell, but nobody’s home. I pull back into the channel, continue another quarter mile and ask two people building a new house, is this Hollyhock? One answers that it’s the neighboring property, just across the fence.  I leave phone messages for Jan and Peter reporting safe arrival, tie the boat to a rock, climb over driftwood logs to a path up the hill, pass through an amazing garden and enter the office. Ruth and her co-presenter are coming through another door.

Hollyhock Journal 4

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

After greetings and introductions I’m assigned a host to help me get settled. A kindly gray haired woman takes me back to the beach in a golf cart. I unload the kayak and bring it up on logs, and she shuttles me to a quiet campsite at the base of large cedar.  She’s retired to Cortes from Salt Spring Island and knows Jeanne L., a sculptor and midwife we visited there recently who once lived in our barn in Lund.

I pitch the tent, change into dry clothes, and return through a wood-latched gate and across the great garden to the porch of the lodge. The request to leave shoes outside is familiar after Japan. The building’s wood interior is immaculate, graced with local artists’ watercolors on the walls and large windows oriented toward the water. Through them I see the southern peninsula of Cortes on the right, beyond it Mittlenatch Island and beyond that Vancouver island, to the left the channel between Cortes and Twin through which I paddled, and in the center the passage between Twin and Hernando opening to the wide water outside Lund. In the middle of the prospect, crouched on the horizon, I recognize Mace Point, eastern tip of Savary Island, the center of the view from Knoll House on a sightline shifted 120 degrees.

In the buffet line several people ask if I’m the guy who came here by kayak. Dinner is gourmet vegetarian, largely supplied by the garden, the tables adorned by its flowers. Afterward we hear a welcome talk by Dana Solomon, Hollyhock CEO.  She tells us a little bit about the place: “Hollyhock exists to inspire, nourish and support people who are making the world better.” It offers programs on spiritual development, nature study, corporate and non-profit capacity building, bodywork, photography, environmental activism, gardening, cooking as well as writing”well targeted to my demographic.  Hollyhock was created in the early ˜80’s on the site of the Cold Mountain Institute that I knew about in the ˜70’s, but at the time wasn’t confident or prosperous enough to visit.

The first session of the workshop convenes in Kiakum, hardly distinguishable from the surrounding forest on the outside, but inside a spacious dome with a transparent central peak above which tree branches are silhouetted against the sky.  In the middle of the floor stands a vase of flowers surrounded by a circle of burning candles and cushions with seatbacks for the six participants and two leaders. We begin with brief introductions, Carol from Victoria, Fran from Vancouver, Brenda from Calgary, her sister Laurel from Courtenay, and Michelle, who works in the kitchen and is here on a long-term retreat.  She’s the only one that’s not retired. I’m the sole male.

Kate and Ruth make sure that everyone is appropriately seated, two of the group in chairs, the others on cushions with the pelvis tipped forward, shoulders back and spine erect, in a half lotus or supported by pillows under the knees to provide a stable and relaxed three-point posture.  With eyes closed, I follow Kate’s instructions, uttered quietly but forcefully, punctuated by long pauses.

Breath awareness is fundamental to meditation practice, to awareness of body and mind, to cultivating the stillness to see into the true nature of existence. Once you have settled into your sitting posture, bring your attention to the sensation of the breath passing in and out of your body. Once you have located and settled into that sensation, begin to follow the breath for its entire duration, coming in the nostrils, filling the lungs, lifting the diaphragm. Note the moment the in-breath turns into the out-breath, the diaphragm contracting, emptying the lungs, air flowing out the nostrils. You may want to use phrases like, “Breathing in, Breathing out,” to support your practice, letting them quiet as the mind quiets. Follow the breath with ease, not forcing the breath to be other than it is, experiencing each breath just as it is. In this noble posture of stillness, the mind naturally quiets, and the breath naturally deepens and slows. [text provided by Kate]

This is somewhat different from my habitual 20 minute morning practice, when I sit in a chair  and maintain focus with a mantra.  The voice, the presence of the group, the space, my sensation of passing from one stage of a voyage to the next another heighten the energy.

Afterwards we each talk about our experience with meditation and writing and our purposes in attending. One has written small town newspaper columns, another has done public relations and journalistic work, three people belong to meditation groups. Everyone wants to work on memoirs and poems. I mention complacently that I’ve written three books, but haven’t published anything in ten years, preferring to write regularly on my blog without further aspiration. As I say it, I sense this may be changing.  An appointment schedule for individual consults is passed around and I sign up.

Ruth introduces a talk about the interplay of meditation and writing by distributing little two-by-three inch pads with the black and white mosaic covers of old fashioned school books. They are to keep handy for jotting down ideas and phrases worth saving before they float off on the stream of consciousness. Writers are always trying to snag thoughts.  In meditating though, we observe them floating by. Each complements the other, both are grounded in the awareness of the body, sharpening the senses, paying attention. Both are cultivated habits.

This place and mood take me back to a rainsoaked week on a mountainside above the Slocan Valley in 1976.  I was crammed into a tipi with ten other people and an open fire for warmth in a Gestalt workshop led by another inspiring teacher, Bethal Phaigh, a disciple of Fritz Perls.  Richard Weaver, also his disciple, founded Cold Mountain Institute.

Ruth says that it’s crucial for writers to maintain a questioning attitude rather than looking for answers, just as it is for practitioners of meditation.  She reads part of a poem by her teacher, Norman Fischer, a Zen master and disciple of Suzuki Roshi. A few lines pop out for me:

Why are you and I both “me” to ourselves
Though we refer to different people?
How is it we don’t get mixed up about this
Or are we mixed up about it
But we don’t know we are
And if we don’t know are we?

I say, “That reminds me of something I once wrote for an English class on grammar”:

In the mirror
I see me.
How can the subject
Object be?

I feel like a kid in grade school hoping to please.

The session ends at 9:30. In my sleeping bag, by the light of a headlamp, I jot reminders of the day’s events into the little notebook.

Hollyhock Journal 5

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I wake up at 5:00 A.M. less achy than expected after yesterday’s paddle. No one is stirring this early though it’s already light–northern summer solstice time.  I investigate the hot tubs overlooking the water.  More reminders of Japan: elegant, spare design, immaculate condition, swimsuits not required.  After a soak in the sunrise, I enter Kiakum alone and sit on the cushions, comfortable with the new method. Later I walk back to the tent through the woods and carry yesterday’s wet clothes to the Laundromat and the camera to the lounge to dry it on the mantle.   The morning workshop session begins with Kate’s guided meditation, a “body scan” isolating parts of the anatomy and their sensations.  I like being back.

Ruth and Kate offer tips on how to start writing: draw upon memory, tap your juiciest material, mobilize unconscious energy.  As a warmup exercise we’re to set down two words without thinking, and for ten minutes write whatever they call to mind through the body.  “At School” pops into my mind–followed by the names and images of teachers from grade one through college attended to by an eager pupil from a seat near the front of the classroom

Miss O’ Shea
Mrs. Victor
Not Miss Lynch
Not Mrs. Holme
Not Miss Rasmussen
Miss Bernholz
Not Miss Barbagli
Miss Lyons
And again, Miss Lyons
Mr. McConnell
Dr. Bernhardt
Mr. Caraley
Professor Mazzeo
Professor Smith
Professor Marcus
Professor Dupee
Dr. Sidorski
Professor Randall

I raise my hand to read first.  I’m allowed to take chances here, even say things I might regret. I soak up some positive feedback and I make myself listen to the others’ work: a musical riff on the sound of the two words, an elegy for a lost mother,  a chance-generated list.

Next exercise is to write a memory of childhood recalled by one of these phrases:

a bedroom you slept in
something you broke
a special body of water
something you lost
something you used to wear

I broke the camera in a special body of water.  That will be a central incident of the journal entry I’ll start in on now. Fortuitous conjunctions, says Ruth, stimulate creativity. It wasnt during childhood, but she’s assured us that her rules are there to be broken.

Only a warm-up. Not enough time.  The next exercise starts with her reading part of a poem by Mary Pipher:

I am from Avis and Frank, Agnes and Fred, Glessie May and Mark.
From the Ozark Mountains and the high plains of eastern Colorado,
from mountain snowmelt and southern creeks with water moccasins.
I am from oatmeal eaters, gizzard eaters, haggis and raccoon eaters.
I am from craziness, darkness, sensuality, and humor.
From intense do-gooders struggling through ranch winters in the 1920’s¦

We are to complete the same introductory phrase.  Another convergence.  Whenever I visit B.C., the places I go or remember chart nodes of my identity over time.

I am from the satanic Powell River Mill I see from the deck at Hollyhock, where I worked during 1972, next to the hospital in which my son was ripped from his mother’s womb.

I am from Sarah Point at the mouth of Desolation Sound, which we canoed around in heavy seas with our two young kids and prayed for deliverance in 1982.

I am from Lund, at the end of highway 101, which I drive on for 28 hours to get back to San Luis Obispo, where I met Ruth in 2007.

I am from the Slocan Valley, where I spent a week in a tipi during 1976 doing Gestalt therapy with Kahuna Bethal Phaigh.

I am from Knoll House, our family retreat, where I wrote Shakespeare and the Bible during 1997 and 1998, often looking out at Mace Point, which I now see at the center of the view from Hollyhock.

I am from New York City, the birthplace of fellow emigrants whose children live there now, and Ruth’s home away from Cortes Island…

We break an hour before lunch.  I sit at a picnic bench chainsawed out of large slabs under an apple tree inside the garden, furiously recording details of the kayak trip with my nicely flowing Pentel pen. I ignore the perfectly weeded lettuces, chard, peas, beans, and garlic patches arranged among flower beds in beautiful patterns, and I refrain from exploring the inviting paths that lead into the forest and along the beach.  I will not join the naturalist’s evening kayak excursion, or the trip to Mittlenatch Island or the gardener’s tour of the greenhouse.  Every minute here belongs to writing and meditation.

To begin the afternoon session Kate tells us to experience the interdependence of our selves and the universe by contemplating the four elements within and outside of the body: earth, water, fire and air.  She sends us out in the woods with instructions to walk very slowly, observing the elements there and our sensations of them. I wander off the trail into a swamp where I sit on a log. Twenty minutes later Ruth walks down the trail ringing a bell to summon us back. Once inside Kiakum, we record our impressions for 20 minutes and afterwards read them aloud.

Ruth tells us to spend the next ten minutes reworking one piece of something we’ve written so far.  I start to mold the four elements exercise into a poem, probing for a beginning, middle and end. I see a shape emerging, but there’s no more time. Another project budding?  How many can I handle at once?

Ruth talks about the role of writing in our lives: first process.  In reply to Carol’s lament about her boxes of journals that haven’t yet issued in any finished products, she says that writing’s a messy business, the journals are compost, necessary ingredients and forerunners of the creative projects that will grow from them.  Search through them for recurrent themes, find your central issues and start from there.

I’m reminded of my bewildering search for  a dissertation topic during graduate school. I canvassed all the papers I’d written and my journals and dreams to isolate the personal concerns I’d sought to explore in books. Finally I decided to research the link between longing for innocence that haunted my twenties and the literary theme of  pastoral retreat. It took thirteen years to finish the job, nine  living on the B.C. coast.

Ruth’s next discourse is on intention and commitment.  “If you want to write, you must create space in your life to do that, a regular time and a place, a schedule, even a ritual. Keep a process journal, set long, medium and short term goals, stop at a place that you know you will start again the next day, decide what you are willing to give up to fulfill your commitment, remind yourself that if you don’t pursue this path, on your deathbed you’ll regret it.”

I’ve relied on similar precepts to get me through rough spots in a project and to overcome the sense of failure I feel whenever I’m not writing.  But how different my present situation. I’ve already proved myself, citations of my published work and royalties keep dribbling in.  I’m retired from a short full career as a professor earned largely by writing, and I write regularly now on the weblog simply for personal satisfaction.

On the way out of Kiakum, I say to Ruth that this last subject is what I hope to talk about during our consult.  She says why not now, at dinner?  At the table, I sit with my back to the windows. I feel enveloped by her attention. It  surfaces an urge to confess. The story I’ve been telling myself since publication of Shakespeare and the Bible ten years ago is losing credibility.  Her challenge makes me fear that I simply lack the courage to set aside the time, put out the effort, and take the risks to go for it.

Ruth says one of her alternate careers was literary criticism.  Not surprising, I say, given the skill with which you interpreted that sonnet by Elizabeth Bishop to frame your essay on Death and Writing. Her aspiration, she continues, was to write about Shakespeare.  She’d like to read my book and also pass it on to her teacher Norman, who has  been lecturing on Hamlet and on the Bible. I admit that I’ve brought along a copy for her.

Now I’m pushed to further admissions: since 2000, I have started  and left unfinished three critical essays: one on The Winter’s Tale, another on the film Rivers and Tides, and a third on Ruth’s novel, All Over Creation related to Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, the book of Genesis and literary Darwinism.

She says she’s just emerged from a somewhat dormant period. Ten years since her last novel, she completed the first draft of her next one during a recent a six week retreat.  Such a retreat is what I’d need to produce anything for publication. Before her as witness I proclaim that I’ll schedule it as soon as possible after the coming November election. Until then I’ve committed to supporting Jan’s mayoral campaign.

I’m favored we’ve talked for an hour and a quarter.  She has another consult waiting and I want to get back to my projects.  I head upstairs to the library, where I continue the journal of yesterday’s kayak trip and fill yellow pages with drafts of the four elements exercise.

Hollyhock Journal 6

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Another early awakening next to the big cedar, a soak under a pink sunrise above the sea, a sitting in Kiakum. The pastoral of solitude: Marvell, Wordsworth, Thoreau.

Before breakfast I call Jan to hear news and report in.  She says, “you went for that workshop like an arrow to a target.”

The theme of the morning session is awakening the senses. Kate guides the group meditation.  “Move your attention now from posture and breathing to sound: sounds of the body, the room, the outdoors, the silence surrounding the outdoors, and then back step-by-step to the body.”  Then we write:

Breathing quiet after settling, throb of heartbeat in the temples, the room silent, distant woodpecker rattles outside, then speakers on inside my head: a buzz, like soft, high pitched crickets, steady current, ringing.  Spare me from tinnitus.

Kate says that the senses are the gates to awakening and being present; meditation is about awakening, being present.  We can train ourselves to extend that presence and awareness to the rest of the world.

Ruth says that the sense gates are the interpenetration of the self and the world.  Breathing involves taking in and putting out to the world; so does writing.  Open the sense gates; ground yourself. Move from meditation into writing; when you’re confused or tight while writing, move back into meditation.  Sound is essential to writing. Read what you write aloud to make sure it works. Sound bridges the gap between what I think I said and what I really said.

I’m stirred by the teacher’s presence, flickering between girl and wise woman.

The next exercise: let the memory of a sound be the trigger of what you write. Make a list of sounds, choose the most vivid, try to recall it, its beginning, middle and end, the effect on your heart rate. My list: chanting on acid in 1970, her cry, “So Strong,” Appleton Creek Waterfalls, chainsaw and falling tree. The writing:

He pulled the ripcord on the old Homelite. It sputtered and fizzled.  Once again, this time harder, still nothing.  “Flooded,” he said the to the child from the city who wanted to help with firewood.  He pushed back the choke and waited. Then he yanked again. Now the roar filled his ears with pleasure: the fury of a lion he held in submission with bare hands.

Not enough time to tell the rest of the story: his directing her to take the weight off a branch he was sawing from below, the bar lifting as the branch fell, the moving chain touching her soft forearm, the scar still there.

Ruth lectures now from a three-hole binder with typed notes for each session separated by dividers. “If you get bogged down or bored with where the writing is going, stage an intervention.  Say ‘What I really want to say is¦’.”  Not my problem, I just want to get back to the writing.  She moves on to an explanation of synaesthesia, a way to make sensations sound fresher and reads us a poem by Donald Lawler, “With Amy, Listening to the forest.”  Very appropriate, but I’m thinking about how to convert my little four elements project into a sonnet.  Her talk is interrupted several times by the noise of a rat rapping in the wall.  I feel unsettled by the sense that she is struggling to stay in character, no longer priestess but vulnerable colleague.  This frees me from a thrall but heightens my empathy.  I recall the flush of fatherly love I experienced for her two novels’ pained protagonists.

The next exercise is to go back outdoors and this time write in situ. I’m relieved. My own immediate task is to plausibly describe the growing ends of cedar branches, the destination of water sucked up from roots in the ground. There’s a large boulder just outside Kiakum surrounded by saplings. I scramble up it and find what I’m looking for, “tough top tips.” I sit on the rock and start arranging the sentences on my yellow pad into quatrains, discarding material, redoing lines from the rhyme end backward.

The hours after lunch are unscheduled. I walk to the Sanctuary back behind the orchard.


[picture credit]

From the outside it looks like an awkwardly designed set for a hobbit house, but the interior space feels sacred.  The thick walls are contoured white plaster, the window frames and beams irregular unmilled wood. The light descends from a transparent cupola at the top of a dome that’s both circular and tilted, creating two focal points–one at the center, the other at an altar extending from the perimeter wall, above which a small window opens on dense forest.  I’m here alone.  A dozen round pillows and mats are arranged in a circle on the carpeted stone floor.  I sit on one for half an hour. This is how it’s supposed to feel.

I walk back through the blooming orchard to the library in the lodge and grapple with the sonnet.  By three p.m. it’s finished, the couplet almost writing itself, and in the last minute, an epigram popping out of nowhere.  A voice inside says “These could be published!”  With beating heart, I walk downstairs and see Ruth in the dining room still in a consult with another workshop member. I imagine she must by now really need a break. Nevertheless I wait until she heads back to her quarters and thrust the yellow pad in her way.  She reads the poem and asks me for a copy to post on the workshop website she’s in the process of assembling.  Placing my arm around her shoulder, I declare “You’re my inspiration.” She makes her escape, and as I walk down the path to the shore, I’m stopped by the fragrance of wild roses.

I could paddle back to Lund now, I tell myself, trophies in hand.  As a reward, I’ll break my five-day computer fast.  In the basement of the lodge is an ugly cinderblock cubicle known as the Chat Room.  It’s equipped with a few older machines and high speed internet. When I enter, a woman on one of them asks for my help.  She can’t download a Word document that she tells me contains some divorce papers that she came here to try to get away from.  After I succeed she strokes my arm. I log in to my blog’s posting page and copy out the sonnet, but when I press “publish,” the machine crashes.

I arrive early in Kiakum for our workshop and find Ruth and Kate conferring about their presentation at the upcoming evening program that’s been advertised all over the island. The session begins with reading the products of our afternoon’s labors. The response to my sonnet is muted. The topic moves to publication strategies. Ruth says that blogging is easy to do and a good idea, and that these days self-publishing in hard copy with a company like Lulu or Trafford no longer has the stigma it used to.  She reads “Berryman,” a tribute to the suicidal alcoholic poet written by his healthy disciple W.S. Merwin.

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips ¦

I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write.

After dinner, Kiakum fills with “Islanders,” the residents of Cortes. Some settled here when we did in Lund, during the late sixties and early seventies. Others are later immigrants of succeeding generations. A number are Hollyhock staff.  They seem like invaders to the space we’ve claimed for two days, but of course we are the outsiders and Ruth is more theirs than ours”a celebrity member of a remote community of artists, environmental activists, and back-to-the-landers, akin to the one I belong to peripherally over on the mainland.

Ruth appears energized by the crowd that packs the room. She and Kate are introduced by Dana along with the editor of the island’s arts and ecology magazine, Howl, who thanks her for contributing a poem headlined in the current issue. They explain the format of our workshop and lead everyone in a meditation. Dressed in her monk’s robe, Kate reads some of her own poems”reminiscences of an alienated childhood in New Jersey and elegies for a lost sister”and Ruth presents a section of her powerful essay on Writing and Death that I’d read twice before arriving.  The audience is invited to participate in a writing exercise of the kind that we’ve been doing, and most people seem deeply engaged, but I’m pleased that my appointed partner wants to talk about kayaking instead.


Thursday, July 1st, 2010

“You get what you pay for,”
My momma used to say.
But shopping for bargains
Was how she spent her day.

Walking Meditation: Earth, Water, Air, Fire

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

This flattened trail gives softly to my tread
As cedar trunks suck water from below
Two hundred feet high where new shoots are spread
And, pointing to the sun, tough top tips grow.

With winks of shade and light the slovenly bush
From off the beaten path calls me to turn
I stomp on brittle twigs and logs of mush
I stroke slow swaying fronds of unfurled fern.

Up and down the dance of feed and kill
To music of the robin, jay and gnat
Warble, squawk and buzz. Then all is still
Till shattered by woodpeckers’ rattatat.

Summoned to return, as from a dream
My offering left: a sparkling golden stream.

Hollyhock Journal 7

Monday, July 5th, 2010

In her welcome talk, Dana mentioned that group meditation is available every day from 6:00 to 7:00 A.M in the Sanctuary for all Hollyhock visitors. This morning for the first time I feel ready to attend, but I arrive late. From a distance I see a candle burning on the porch. Inside under the dome sit Brenda, a fellow workshop participant, and the leader, a trim gray-haired woman in black workout garb. During our workshop sessions I’ve felt shy of looking at other people meditating.  Now, as I settle on a cushion, the sight of her body’s perfect alertness and repose clicks me into emulation.

I’m aroused from stillness by two tolls of a small bell. Brenda and I follow suit when the leader stands up. With eyes open but blank, she moves slowly around the circle of cushions and speaks in a hypnotic monotone: “In walking meditation, we take a deep breath and lift the left foot from the heel first and place the toe in front of the right foot. We exhale while placing weight on it. We inhale while lifting the right foot and placing it in front of the left and exhale while placing weight on the it. We make our breathing and walking into a smooth continuous motion.” After a few awkward missteps I’m able to relax into the rhythm, observing my body’s method of locomotion, reminded of learning the flow in paddling a kayak.

After several circuits, she rings the bell once, signaling the end of the hour.  At first, I find it difficult to talk but not to bow.  I greet Brenda, apologize for being late and thank the leader for a powerful experience. Her face changes, features animate, eyes sparkle. I introduce myself and I tell her that Zen practice is new to me after several decades of doing TM, but that my wife is a member of S.F. Zen Center and goes to its Tassajara California monastery for annual retreats.  Her name is Martha, she says. She was once cook at Tassajara, is a shareholder in Hollyhock, lives on her adjacent property, sells real estate on the island. She likes to conduct these sittings to balance the pace and stress of her daily life.

Back in Kiakum, our workshop resumes. The theme is emotion. Kate defines it as turbulence, the opposite of stillness, impermanence. In meditation, she says, we cultivate the ability to become intimate with intense emotions, experience them and let them pass. We become mindful of the modulations of the mind and how they are grounded in modulations of the body. We find release from their sway, a spacious place to work with them.

Ruth says that such mindfulness also allows us to write about emotions, find words to create characters with life and intensity. I don’t know about characters.  For now, I’m only interested in finding the words to articulate and understand my own experience.  That’s been a sanity saver for me since I started journaling in the ˜60’s and a way of validating my travels in retirement.

Kate says traditional Buddhism classifies the emotions as Five Hindrances to meditation, all of which cause suffering. First is Desire, a craving for the pleasure of the senses, or for that which is not in our possession; second is Aversion or ill-will, feelings of malice directed toward others, Third is Sloth and Torpor, resulting in procrastination, laziness, and half-hearted action, Fourth is Restlessness or agitation, which manifests as impatience and lack of concentration. Fifth is Doubt or loss of trust in one’s endeavor. Each has its traditional antidote. For Desire, it’s contemplating the necessity of impermanence. For Aversion, it’s kindness and forgiveness. For Sloth, it’s sufficient rest and curiosity. For Restlessness, it’s strengthening the powers of concentration and relaxation. For Doubt, it’s riding out the mood, finding external sources of inspiration and regularity of habits.

These formulations of the  Five Hindrances and their cures help release me from some of the agitation I’ve felt on this trip: anxiety and exultation about the sea voyage, nostalgia in returning to Lund, excitement from exposure to new ideas, hero worship of a teacher, the succession of challenge, frustration, triumph and disappointment attendant upon writing.

I’m intrigued with the two-part definition of Desire, the emotion by which I’m most driven and threatened, but not satisfied by it or the brief description of the cure. Despite its power to humiliate and harm, I believe the dangerous energy of desire can, with luck, be funneled into positive expressions: conjugal love, creative inspiration, self-sacrifice.

Ruth assigns the first exercise as writing about and from an emotion we’ve felt. We’re to depict its manifestation in the body, without naming it, to show, not tell. Her prompts: “A time when I was wrong or bad, someone you were afraid of, a birth, a lie you told or believed.” I select the first, about guilt, stemming from lust and betrayal.

1962, age 20.  I was heading from Stuttgart, my ancestral home town, to Paris on an old Lambretta I’d bought second-hand in London at the beginning of the summer. I’d said goodbye to Darleeen a couple of weeks before because the revulsion I experienced in hearing her talk started outweighing the attraction of her beautiful body. Now I wished I hadn’t.  I was rutting and lonely. On the big roadmap I noticed that one possible route lay through Besancon, where Leah, my former girlfriend, was living as an exchange student for a year.  During most of our sophomore year, we’d been soulmates and intellectual companions. Fellow children of Holocaust survivors, we read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and cried together at the movie Hiroshima Mon Amour. We’d exchanged virginities on New Years Eve while my mother and father were out of town and we’d weathered a horrifying pregnancy scare, but I felt entrapped by her baleful gaze and sombre temperament, and extricated myself from the relationship with no  explanation.  I knew she still loved me.

Next we’re to rewrite it in third person present tense.

He’s riding from Stuttgart to Paris on an old motorscooter after saying goodbye to the girl he’d met at the language school in Grenoble and convinced to run away with him to the Riviera.  She was 16, achingly beautiful, agonizingly dumb.  After a gorgeous week and a half of wandering in Provence and Savoie, he’d left her at the train station in Geneva to return to her mother in Rome.  They’d had nothing to talk about. Now, after three weeks by himself, he’s desperate with loneliness and desire. On the map, he notices that Besancon, the University town where his former girlfriend is an exchange student, lies in his path.

Finally we’re to tell the same incident from the other person’s point of view, using “you,” and introducing something made up.  Not what I signed  up for.  I’ve written many memoirs in first person and one in third, but this is a frightening leap.

You stole my heart at Camp Moonbeam, Nature Steve, the summer after freshman year. All the girls were after you then and you were after them, but in the Fall, I’m the one that stuck.  We talked of books and films and our heritage of the Holocaust. We went to see “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” and cried together afterwards.  We wrote letters every day, and at Christmas break, when I came back to New York, we agreed to spend New Years Eve together at your house while your parents were on vacation.

Ruth says we’re now getting beyond cleaving to our own truths, we’re moving out into the world, from self-exploration to an act of generosity.  She tells us the story of her own experience, one shared by many authors of fiction, when characters take on a life of  their own and escape control of the author, who becomes a kind of medium. This is what happened a third of the way through her composition of All Over Creation.  One day, the protagonist Yumi (“You-me”) started speaking in her own voice and forced her to rewrite everything that preceded.

In the next exercise, we’re again to take  another person’s point of view and add some dialogue.  The prompts: “an argument or a fight, a memorable kiss, the first person I hated, a separation or parting.”

The last alternative reminds me of  parting from S…. , which I wrote about in my journal during the airplane trip from San Luis Obispo to Lund, trying to convey some of the pathos of the occasion and my affection for her.

The day before my departure for Canada, I went to say goodbye to Diana. In the rickety old house with 12-foot ceilings and no right angles, she lay on a high bed surrounded by white flowers, a white comforter and pillows and little sleeping dogs. After three years of struggle with painful, disfiguring disease and treatments, she’d reached the final stage. Her arms were literally skin and bones, the hair that she’d always died and thickened was sparse and wispy, but as she turned her head toward my greeting, her eyes were clear and radiant, her smoker’s skin smooth and moist as a baby’s, her smile at hearing my farewell, beatific.

I knew her as “The English Maid,” the rose-ringed logo on her van. My wife had hired her to clean her office and the rest of the house once a week when she moved her law practise home. Diana had long ago been a model and actress in London, and she spoke with a tony accent in a beautiful stage voice as she cleaned the toilets and carried out the trash. She was a serious breeder of Yorkshire Terriers and traded orderly service at the veterinary clinic next door for free rent. She repeatedly resisted her children’s urging to join them in L.A. or Japan, instead preferring a succession of mysterious young men as roommates.

I’d thought repeatedly of what I wanted to say as last words, the task an ultimate challenge for expression, but also a ritual courtesy, since such occasions have been frequent lately. I told Diana she’d had a powerful impact on me, that her combination of humility and elegance and of reserve and sympathy gave me inspiring examples of how to construct a coherent life braced with paradox.

She couldnt speak because of a recent tracheotomy, but she whispered something about loving our babies and held me with a gaze I finally had to avert. Eyes wet, I touched her cheek and kissed her hand and left the room. In the parlor I marvelled about her looks and energy with her daughter-in-law, who told me that Diana was producing the perfect Hollywood departure scene, sharing her joy and beauty with many visitors who filled the house with love. When she asked her mother-in-law this morning how she was doing, Diana had said, “I’m in heaven.”

For the exercise I try to imagine the same encounter from her point of view.

“Steven Marx is here to see you,” she says.

I might not have remembered who that is, but Jan was here yesterday to bring Tai to say goodbye. How I loved that little bitch, who bore me eighteen puppies over just three years. I went all the way to Ireland to bring her back to breed with Timmie and hated to let her go the first time, when she couldnt get along with the whole gang here, and then I got to have her back in exchange for Star, one of the first litter she had at Marx’s house who sweet little Ian couldn’t let go. And when Star died a year later from chewing a copper wire behind Jan’s desk, down where the cobwebs always gather, they wouldnt have another dog¦until I called and told them I had to give up all my babies and they took her back again.

This writing produces mixed feelings.  I’m relieved that I’ve found a way to complete the assignment, pleased that, for ten minutes at least, I was able to adopt a new persona and gain a different perspective that contrasts my solemn and self-centered tribute to her engagement with the dogs  and details of housekeeping.  But I also feel guilty. This appropriation of the woman’s deathbed consciousness isn’t answerable to her or her memory, to those who knew her, or to the actual truth of the situation, which has been reduced to mere stimulus and raw material for my imaginative processing.  Ruth tells us that on the eve of her first novel’s going to press, she decided to adopt the name pseudonym Ozeki to hide her family name in consideration of her father, who might be embarrassed if his friends and relatives  found resemblances between incidents in the book and what they knew about his life.  I take a further liberty to rename my character.

In the lodge before dinner I plan to test the camera again to see if after another day’s drying on the mantle has allowed it to function.  It’s gone missing and a thorough search by the staff cant locate it. Could even this place harbor a thief?

Hollyhock Journal 8

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I arrive at the Sanctuary on time. Martha’s the only one there.  After the hour of sitting and walking meditation our conversation continues. I mention that it was a real-estate agent publicizing cheap rural property in the Georgia Straight newspaper that drew us and many of our neighbors from far-away places to settle in the Powell River area forty years ago. She asks why we left, and I say a sense that after nine years, the time was ripe for me to return to the active life of career development and public engagement from which I had withdrawn into a rural retreat. Also that this personal feeling provided an answer to the research question which had kept my doctoral dissertation in English Literature unfinished: why, in literary tradition, is the pastoral setting associated with youth and old age while middle age is associated with the city.

“Interesting,” she says, “that corresponds to my own experience. I left Cortes to marry and live for many years in Chicago, before returning here.  It reminds me of a great class I audited at Harvard as an undergraduate by a professor¦what was his name…”

” Erik Erikson,” I exclaim, “the author of Childhood and Society. He’s the one whose ideas about stages of the life cycle guided my research. I still have his wonderful response to a fan letter I wrote him in 1967.”

“I’d like to read your dissertation,” she says.

“It’s online, Google ‘Youth against Age’.”

Before breakfast I call Jan, who is driving Claire to Santa Maria today for a biopsy of the cyst on her ovary.  I thank her for handling all this alone while I’m away.

The morning workshop begins with announcements.  At 2 p.m. there will be a memorial service in the sanctuary for Christine, a friend of Ruth, Kate and Martha who was active in their Vancouver Zen Center, and for Anna, an Islander who recently succumbed to cancer. We’re invited to join and include names of our recently departed. Tonight after dinner, Ruth will host a little farewell wine and cheese party in her Hollyhock living quarters. Tomorrow after breakfast, we’ll gather at the beach to see Steven off, since he needs to start paddling back to Lund before our final session.

Kate introduces the day’s theme of Metta, the Buddhist directive of Compassion or Lovingkindness for all living creatures. To prepare, it’s traditional to ask forgiveness of others, offer forgiveness to others and offer foregiveness to oneself, with appropriate variations of three utterances:

There are many ways I have hurt, betrayed or abandoned others, knowingly or unknowingly, through greed, aversion, or ignorance.
I ask your forgiveness.
I open my heart to receive your forgiveness.

Now comes the expression of Lovingkindness itself, through an utterance like this:

May you be free from harm
May you be well in body and mind
May you be happy.

She guides us in Metta meditation, which applies the blessing to a sequence of recipients: first, the self, then a friend or benefactor, then a person to whom one has no emotional reaction, then a “difficult” person”someone by whom one feels aggrieved or irritated”then to all four as equals, and finally, through an expandable set of steps, to all sentient creatures.  The sequence is then followed in reverse order, concluding with the expression of lovingkindness to oneself. Kate’s subdued enthusiasm for this practice in ethics complements the quiet righteousness of the poems she read two nights before. After four days together, I can apply these categories to fellow participants in the retreat. It works.

Ruth says that the practice in developing empathy, opening the heart, dissolving the barriers between self and the world honed for thousands of years in Buddhist tradition is indispensable for writers, facilitating imaginative access to others from the inside. Our prompt is to select one of the people from our Metta meditation and to write from that person’s point of view.

At first I’m at a loss. I’ve never been observant enough to record the details that would allow me to imagine another person’s story.  But I did have that disarming flash a couple of days ago about the teacher’s momentary succumbing to Doubt, probably only my own projection, but neverthess concrete and vivid.  And Ruth is the person I chose in the Metta meditation as “friend or benefactor.”  I wished her relief from any fatigue she might be experiencing while giving so much of herself to our small circle of students.  Perhaps I could use that session as the framework for doing this assignment.  There’s just enough time now to get started, but I’ll come back to it later.

Next prompt is to adopt the point of view of a child, using simple sentences and vocabulary: “a time when you were sad, a lie you told, a time when you were too big or too small, a time when you got wet or dirty.”

O shoot, it’s grandpa again.  I wish my mom would pick me up at school, like Max’s and Kevin’s. Now he’s going to ask me questions about the spelling test and tell me to talk louder and take me to Trader Joe’s for a healthy snack before karate. I don’t want him to see me taking off my boxers and putting on the cup. I really hope she isn’t late  so we have to put off dinner and everybody gets cranky.  Or even worse we hold hands around the table and start without her.

It still feels forced, but I’m starting to enjoy this task, and occasionally images and words take off on their own.

Another prompt.  “You’re an old man in a supermarket shopping. Don’t mention your wife’s recent death, but evoke it indirectly.”

Howard steered his cart carefully up to the checkstand.  It was full of frozen dinners that reminded him of their meals: Turkey and mashed potatoes, steak and broccoli, spaghetti and meatballs. From the overwhelming selection, he’d limited himself to the ones marked “Von’s Club Special, save 30%”.

At lunch I meet with Kate in a personal consult about meditation.  I learn a little about her history as an anti Vietnam war exile from New Jersey, her work as a hospice chaplain in Vancouver, and her recent move to the fringes of the city where she and her husband have  established a community zendo in their home.  I tell her about my attending this workshop as a kind of revival effort to infuse more intention into my meditation routine and of my enjoyment of longer and more directed practice under her and Martha’s guidance.  She asks if there is a Zen community near me and I say yes, and I know several people who belong, but I’ve steered clear of any institutional religion since adolescence. She says nothing, and then I hear myself say that I think I’ll get in touch with them upon my return.

Before the afternoon memorial service, I work on the point-of-view exercise.  As with the dying person’s monologue yesterday, my effort to summon up detail leads to irony. Invading another person’s mind uncovers the difference between what they’re projecting and what I can imagine they’re feeling. At least that’s a way you can engage the reader, find the juiciness, even if you have to make it up.  But it gets morally risky. Empathy can be spying and stalking, like a hunter knowing one’s prey. Invention can be forgery.

In the sanctuary at 2:00, Ruth, Kate and Martha sit wearing little rectangular bibs around their necks, Kate and Martha in black robes.  Also attending are fellow workshop participants, Carol and Fran. The carefully orchestrated ritual begins with silent meditation and is followed by a fifteen-minute monotone chant we read from a single page of transliterated syllables, their sounds from the pre-Sanskrit language of Pali, their meaning lost centuries ago. Names of the recently departed are incorporated: Christine, Anna, then Carol’s mother, and my mother-in-law Ruth.  Afterwards we speak in tribute to the dead. From what is said about Anna, I recognize a person I never met, but whose name was often mentioned by Larry C., the man whose Vancouver home Jan and I lived in while looking for land in 1970. He too now lives on the Island, a friend of Ruth and Martha’s. He was sitting in the first row at the reading two nights before.

After the service I call Jan again.  She says this morning’s exploratory surgery turned more serious. The whole ovary had to be removed and sent to pathology.  Claire will spend three days in the hospital recovering.  The doctor thinks its benign, but further conclusions await the lab report in two weeks.

My last workshop session starts at 5:00.  Just time to share our reworked point-of-view sketches.  Laura reads a long rollicking account of two sisters from a remote Alberta farm getting intiated into the Banff party scene during high school summer jobs.  What an ear! Carol narrates her childhood experience of riding in the backseat of the car with her mother singing a tragic folksong. What a memory!  I read my piece.

Day three. Getting tired. Trying dutifully, but this afternoon I’m losing incandescence.  Is it these baggy pants?  This dirty hair? We’re at the place where the startup wonder wanes, and they hanker to do their own work. Three hours of workshop in the morning.  Those avid consults while I’m supposed to be eating, and now more lecture. All prepared. For only six people, sometimes five.  Babysitter’s wages. Maybe tonight will spark it up.  Right now the rat in the wall’s more interesting than synaesthesia.

There’s some laughter and a request to read it again, which I do.  Then silence.

I finish dinner early and linger in the bookstore planning to catch Ruth and apologize for the intrusiveness of my sketch, but hoping she’ll say she liked it.  She exits the lodge and approaches me as I walk toward her in the garden.  She speaks first and says that she was really hurt by what I wrote.  Not for herself, but because of what the other members of the workshop must have felt when she laughed and seemed to accept my characterization of her thoughts about them.  It was so far off that when I read it aloud she didnt get it, and by the time the connection registered, it was too late to reassure them that she’s really loved doing this workshop and deeply respects the people in it.

I’m flooded with shame.  I’d meant to be a diligent student.  And I’d meant to be a compassionate  colleague. But instead I played a cruel trick on the person I held in highest esteem.  I’m amazed at  her concern that they, not she, could be hurt.  I try to explain: getting into another’s point of view as a writer was very tough for me.  Being a teacher myself allowed me to imagine that situation. I was looking for the juice, following directions, trying to be sympathetic and also to be special.

She says yes, she understands.  It’s her problem.  I’m warmed and relieved by her hug of forgiveness, but still  confused by my own motives.

Ruth’s room in the guest house is abuzz when I arrive.  People are setting out cheese and crackers, opening bottles of wine, and fussing to get a large monitor hooked up to her laptop.  This is the occasion to roll out the weblog she’s been adding to while we were writing in Kiakum.  Accessible by password only to us participants, it’s an archive of the lecture notes, prompts, and citations that she and Kate have assembled in preparation, and it will contain work that we’ve produced while here and any links we can recommend.  She clicks links to my website, to her own blog, Ozekiland, to the huge Everydayzen.org site she moderates for her teacher Norman Fischer.  I drink my first glass of alcohol in a week.

She talks about her upcoming ordination as Zen priest by Norman and brings out a large piece of black needlework she’s about to finish as part of her preparation: Buddha’s robe, fourteen thousand tiny even stitches. Her head will be shaved. A couple of weeks later she and Kate will be led by Norman on a tour of Zen monasteries in Japan.

I empty my glass the second time. Outside the wind has come up in the treetops. I think about kayaking back tomorrow.  For the last three days, storms have been predicted. Several of the women express worry.  I assure them that if necessary I’ll get someone from Hollyhock to take me and the kayak by truck ten miles down the road to the sheltered harbor in Cortes Bay and call the Lund Water Taxi to come out and pick me up.