On a hot, humid, hazy day, seven poets met for the first Mountain Light Poetry Retreat. Participants began arriving before 9 am for the scheduled 9:30 Meet and Greet.
Initially there was some confusion because the food was set up in the delightfully cool kitchen, located in the cellar of the bunk house. Yet, some people thought that the meet and greet was to be in the church, where we were supposed to have our half day retreat.
Ray Griffin, our facilitator, had arrived early and had started all of the fans so there was air moving in the unconsecrated chapel. He had also put an evaluation in each chair with the request to fill it out at the end of the retreat and leave it in a basket by the door.
We were offered coffee, chilled water, and flavored sparkling water as well as fruit, some small pastries and cheese straws (a traditional southern appetizer) in the kitchen. About 10 the group slowly walked over to the church for the beginning of the actual retreat.
In addition to Ray, Debbie (our hostess and owner of Mountain Light Retreat), and me, other attendees included Carol, a member of the Blue Ridge Writer’s group that Ray and I belong to, Mary and Patricia two friends of Debbie’s, and Rhonda, a friend of mine who traveled up from Georgia for the retreat.
Ray asked people what poetry meant to them. As we offered up ideas, he wrote them on an easel. Ideas ranged poetry is images and words, through a way to share emotions and thoughts that are otherwise not easy to explain.
After that he asked what we wanted from the retreat. Most answers involved some opportunity to reflect and write.
We then began a group poem where everyone offered one line. People chimed in as they felt comfortable. Some people offered lines that had to be squeezed in above or below other lines because they were inspired by the lines as they appeared written on the sheet. We agreed to keep the poem to the members of the group but it began with people sitting in a circle nodding and ended up with going out to greet the fairies.
It was a convivial group effort with everybody willing to contribute a line to the poem. That willingness to share lasted throughout the rest of the retreat.
At 10:40, we split up in different directions. Most people went outside to sit in the heat and humidity to be inspired by the timeless Blue Ridge Mountains and the hidden bird choir surrounding us in the many mature trees bordering the front lawn and buildings.
During that period, Ray noticed the haze rising off the top of the mountains to reveal their leafy green summits. Of the six of us seated in a variety of wooden, metal, and plastic chairs of varying styles, I noticed a doe and two fawns tiptoe across the lower lawn before pausing to catch something on the soft breeze and dashing into the nearby trees. Mary, who had moved her Adirondack chair from the sun to the shade of those same trees, saw a raccoon descend from one of the trees and rattled her cane at him to not come any closer. The raccoon obeyed.
Rhonda had opted to sit in the enclosed front porch of the cottage where Ray, Debbie, and I had met to begin planning the retreat, but the porch was locked. Rhonda then retreated to the cool kitchen.
Patricia sat down on the stone steps leading up to the church. She thought the stone was high enough for her to be able to stand back up. It was not. Ray and I pulled her up from a sitting position but she fell forward to her knees. Fortunately our grasp on her arms prevented her from falling further. On her count of three, we successfully got her back on her feet.
After that it was time to return to our circle of chairs in the church and share what we had written. Everyone had written at least one poem; many of the poets writing multiple drafts of that poem. The group decided they wanted to have the poems printed in a journal that would be available just for group members. Ray agreed to format the journal and receive the poems from everybody.
At 12:15, we returned to the kitchen to eat the lunches we had each bought. People shared the food they had brought, plus the remaining fruit, pastries, and cheese straws from the morning. The retreat ended about 1, with everyone looking forward to a fall poetry retreat.