Monday, July 4, 2011

Tree House Refuge

Fern Forest Tree House, Lincoln, Vermont
When I first heard about the Fern Forest Tree House (on ABC's Chronicle) it took me seconds to get online and Google for more details. This was it! The hideout I'd been yearning for was a mere six hours drive North, into the heart of the Green Mountains of Vermont.

I'd already been searching for a writer's cabin to complete the second draft of my novel, which I'd happened to find the day before. When I discovered the tree house was off the same road as the Firefly B&B cabin I felt destiny was guiding my hand to book a spring writing retreat.

As evident from my previous entry, I made the hike North and spent four glorious days in blissful isolation. I completed my second draft and even found space in my head to write some new scenes. That was back in April - it has taken me until today, July 4th, to get back here to tell my tree house tale!

I know some people are afraid to be alone. Afraid to be disconnected from the world of cell phones, email and television. To be honest, I wasn't sure how I'd cope, especially when my cell phone lost its signal on Route 17. I had the sense, however, of being accompanied by my characters. Each one babbling like an excited child, anxious to be the first voice heard once I finally opened the document that contained their lives.

As I explain below, in my Firefly cabin entries, the writer's cabin fulfilled its promise of a completed second draft. Once I arrived at the tree house, I was completely relaxed and inspired, ready to sink into the experience of sleeping thirty feet above the forest floor.

The only way to describe this experience is to show you. Like Doctor Who's trusted Tardis, the tree house felt much bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside.

A narrow 70ft ramp led to the front door that was adorned by a Frank Llyod Wright stained glass window. Fresh picked flowers invited me into the first level. Furnished with a rocking chair, foot stool, futon couch, mini fridge and radio (that was never used), the sense of space within those light wooden walls was remarkable.

I was shown how to safely climb the ladder to the loft by my host, Harrison, who had built the tree house with his son.

The idea of hauling myself onto the queen futon bed that was nestled into the roof was amusing. The reality of negotiating the bum-to-platform-to-bed routine was a little more serious as one wrong move could have been disastrous.

The bedding was super cozy; soft flannel sheets with down comforter and pillows. Windows on two sides of the loft created the feeling of sleeping in the very heart of the trees. My only anxious moments came when little feet scampered across the roof, just a couple of feet above me. But I never once thought about going to sleep in the spare guest bed of the main house.

I joined my hosts, H and Ellie, for wine in the evening. As often happens, when I'm busy doing what I love, I met the most wonderful couple. This was an unexpected gift that settled deep into my soul. It's one of things I love most about traveling alone; meeting people who instantly felt like old friends.

When I returned to my tree top refuge it was raining. I sat on the rocking chair and listened to water dripping onto the roof, running down the wooden walls and pattering against the tall windows. I felt warmed by the electric heater, soothed by dim wall lamps and candles that cast a soft orange glow into the curious space around me.

It was so peaceful that I just sat there and listened. I could almost feel my batteries recharging as I absorbed every detail of each moment. This was the solitude I'd been craving. The space to hear nothing but rain falling from the leaves above me. To think of nothing but how relaxed I felt. So simple, yet so utterly elusive.

Just writing this takes me back there, to that moment. I can smell the damp wood, taste the Pinot Noir, feel the promise of new friendships.

This is perhaps the most remarkable gift my tree house retreat gave me; a place to escape to, in my own head, during the stress of daily life. It was less about writing, more about squeezing gaps into chaos, where I can close my eyes and feel the handmade wooden structure sway on the branches of the four maple trees that support it. Not a single day has passed that I don't draw strength from these memories. I long to go back there, and plan to, in the Fall. This time I will book more nights in tree house and pack my hiking boots.

The value of taking a time-out to decompress and regroup cannot be overstated. My spring writing retreat reminded me about the urgency of self care and the need to take your art seriously enough to dedicate time to it. Without solitude, the mind collapses into overdrive and creativity is lost in the confusion.

As I celebrate this Independence Day, I look around my beautiful garden and appreciate the fact that I can embrace the freedom to sit here, on my garden swing, and write. Not everyone has such luxury, but for those of us who do, take the time to honor your art, and yourself.

Click here to read my official retreat article in the Summer issue of CapeWomenOnline: