Paul sent this after he led a workshop at Windhorse called “Writing Life”, a wonderful time of memoir writing. We hope he’ll be back again next year.
I raise the blind early on Friday morning. There are sheets of rain and low, grey, billowing cloud over the treetops. I had wanted to spend the early morning out there, but as the day will end with a nightwalk, I save the forest until later. As I walk into the dining room for a cup of tea, there are already sounds from behind the closed kitchen door. Anke, who is cooking for us this weekend, is already at work.
The Writing Life group met for the first time last night around the dining table, and the first thing we did was to share a meal together: Squash Portobello Casserole with tomato sauce, topped with local Gouda cheese, a mixed steamed beet salad and spring kale coleslaw. We were strangers then, this group that gathered to share stories from our lives, but as we sat around the big, wooden table, savouring the delights of unexpected flavours, we found the common threads that linked us together, and the strangeness lessened.
Now it is breakfast time and one by one we emerge from the bedrooms of Juniper Lodge. I have put names to faces now: Jennifer, Liz, Gertrude, Stephen, Blanca, Julie, Joan, Louise and Patrick. We help ourselves to slow cooked oat groats with yoghurt and fresh almond milk and sprinkle this with a cornucopia of delicious toppings.
It is the dining table that will be at the heart of this weekend. It is where we will come after writing and reading out loud: traumatic moments remembered, buried memories recovered. Here in the dining room, full of light and comfortably embraced by the forest, there will always be something to look forward to: new flavours, new colours and new textures; foods that heal.
In the morning session I talk about storytelling and the importance of sensory detail in writing, how we must evoke a response from the reader that calls upon all of the senses. As time passes a delicious smell starts to drift from the kitchen. When we file though to the dining room at lunchtime, the anticipation is almost overwhelming and Anke stands at the head of the table to introduce the food. I experience something close to sensory overload as I see the mushroom and spinach frittata, quinoa tabouleh with olives, mesculin mix salad and a plate of freshly cut radishes.
In the afternoon there is more writing to be done, more stories to be shared and as time passes the anticipation mounts again. We have had three meals and know that this food is something special. Before coming to Nova Scotia I had spent the previous two weeks in hotel rooms in England, scouring rainsoaked towns each evening for something to eat that wasn’t deep fried, or cooked and frozen in a factory months before. For me, it is as though I have arrived in a culinary heaven. At six we file into the kitchen again to find a brown rice medley, with roasted sweet potato, curried cabbage, tamari roasted walnuts and fresh spinach with sprouts. There is also a bowl of grated carrot and a sauce with turmeric, herbs and garlic. I stand and just look at the table and enjoy the wonderful tapestry of colours.
Now it is time for the nightwalk. As light falls we stand around the fire, wrapped up against the cold, and watch the logs crackling and sparking in the near darkness. Above us, the wind roars like an ocean in the forest canopy and the woodsmoke swirls and dances about our bodies. Then, slowly and silently, the person ahead just a featureless shape, we walk into the heart of the forest.