I spent this past weekend up at a beautiful little cabin on the edge of Lake Kagawong, surrounded by the sounds of loons calling on long walks by the shore, and by wind whispering in the trees. It was, to be honest, one of the loveliest fall weekends I’ve even spent in Northern Ontario. Somehow, back in early summer, I stumbled across Shannon McMullan’s offer of a rental space. I knew her beautiful gallery, Perivale, but hadn’t really noticed the cabin next to it. (I’m always about seeing original art, whenever I can see it, and wherever I can find it, so I’d been to Perivale Gallery before.) The notion of staying in a cabin on that same magical piece of property, tucked up on the cusp of a hill overlooking the lake, appealed to me. I corralled two writer friends, Danielle Daniel and Liisa Kovala, into renting it with me, and we waited for the weekend for months. Dan just launched her memoir, The Dependent: A Memoir of Marriage and the Military, and Liisa’s book will be released next year. I’m about to enter two or three fairly busy weeks in my role as poet laureate, so I knew that I too would need a break, in advance of the chaos. As a quiet person, an introvert by nature, it takes a lot out of me, energetically speaking, to be out in front of people. I love it, reading my work, but I also know I need to muster my energy in advance, and then collect it all again after a public reading. Besides all of that, I knew I’d write some new work, and I’d have fun with two of the most amazing women I’m blessed to call friends.
Here’s the thing about Perivale: You open the door of that little cabin and walk into a space that is any writer’s dream. There is original art on the walls, and tiny nooks for reading and writing that are tucked into spaces where you least expect them. (I love houses with character, and I love houses with surprising twists and turns. There’s nothing like a house with a fancy antique doorknob, or a piece of beautiful stained glass hanging in a window, catching sunbeams and sending them around a room.) I think I initially bounced around the various rooms like a crazy woman, shouting out repeatedly “Oh my God! Look at this! How amazing is this?!” (I’m rather exuberant when I encounter things that are beautiful, so I was in shock for most of the weekend. I have aesthetic issues…a la William Morris and his philosophies of beauty in the world. Bless him!) The one thing I’m so pleased about is that I went with two friends who also know the value of silence. The best retreats I’ve been to in the last few years are the ones where you can agree to carve out a number of hours to just sit in silence and work, or even just read. Yesterday morning, I crafted two new commissioned poems, and then this morning I added to the third act of my play, “Sparrows Over Slag.” I never feel like the poems are done, but I know I’m my own worst critic. At some point, you just need to say, ‘okay, I did my best with this piece, and now I need to let it go…’ This is, believe me, easier than it sounds. 🙂
Some of my favourite Perivale House weekend memories: hearing a chipmunk scamper across the roof while drinking coffee in the sitting room (!); a latte at the Peace Cafe in Providence Bay; picking cedar to make tea sometime this week, and thanking the Creator for these gifts; sitting down at the water’s edge, listening to the chickadees (my Mum’s favourite birds!) twittering in early morning trees that lit up with sunlight — everything looked like stained glass; a raven soaring high above some trees; yesterday’s early morning walk being so beautiful that I actually began to weep as I walked down an empty gravel road (one more reason I usually walk alone; beauty moves me without warning and not everyone can handle that intensity); an afternoon walk today, before leaving, with Liisa and Dan–and finding a path that was alight with gold and red leaves–so amazing that it felt sacred and holy, that space, like a cathedral of trees. Above all, I felt the time on The Island did what it always does to me: that place, when you cross the swing bridge and drive through Little Current, unwinds me. I exhale. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve been holding my breath, and my spirit, for too too long. Manitoulin opens you up when you least expect it, so that walls fall down and you are left amazed by what landscape and spirit can do to your own soul.
We can’t thank Shannon enough, for the time we had at Perivale. Her Irish hospitality and cultivation of the arts in this northern part of the province is warm hearted, generous and enthusiastic. So love that about her! I’ll never forget the wild turkey that seems to be courting the tall heron statue in the sunroom, or the sound of loons calling while I walked a long gravel road and gathered bits of cedar. These are such vivid images, held now in my heart. And the words. Where else do the words come so freely, so that stories and poems seem to rise up as you look out over a hillside guarded by the tallest trees?
And I can’t thank Liisa and Dan for being two fine writerly companions and friends. To think that we’ve orbited each other for about twenty years, and only just found one another last year! I can’t imagine. I feel like I’ve known you for lifetimes…and maybe, just maybe, I have.
Also, if you haven’t been, you can read a bit about the gallery itself here:
http://www.perivalegallery.com It’s a magical place.