A few notes from Writing Life by Paul Dodgson

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.Image









Silent Season at Windhorse


Although the forest offers a full schedule of edgy delight in all seasons, early spring is the gentlest time. Full throated brooks and birds regale the ears and wake up even the sleepiest mind. The warm sun on the fallen pine needles releases a feast for the nose. The feel of soft mosses under your back, as you gaze at the sky though tree tops, is almost too sensuous.


It is the “Silent Season” at Windhorse, a time when no activity happens in the forest except wandering, observing and contemplating. It is the time when many animals are hatching eggs and giving birth. In observing the Silent Season, we offer our restraint, curiosity and respect which are important aspects of generous leadership. This does not need to remain a secret; there are ways you can enjoy this too.

Is Nothing Missing the tap root?

Why is there so much

striving and straining,

conniving and scheming,

hurrying and worrying,

hoarding and hiding?


Does it result from the belief that

there is not enough to go around,

that we have to get our share before it’s all gone?


If we had confidence in the

truth of nothing missing,

what would our lives be like?


What if we had enough friendship,

enough time and money,

enough experience,

enough health and wealth,

enough intelligence,

enough gentleness and fearlessness,

enough relaxation?


What would that feel like?

Is generosity born of having enough?

Is generosity the currency of a peaceful society?





Comments from a visitor to Windhorse

The Windhorse experience
by Martin Peacocke

8 days at Wind horse just doesn’t seem enough. On my drive in from the main road you could feel the peacefulness and spiritual place you are coming to.
I arrived really late and the staff accommodated my really late arrival leading me through the snow to my cabin in the woods. I started a fire in the wood stove and waited for the cabin to heat up. It was great! There is just something magical about a wood fire as you watch the flames grow and the smell of  wood burning. The cabin was terrific with solid wood walls and ceiling. Everything in the cabin had been prepared and layed out ready for my journey to peacefulness. On the wall overlooking the lake were many windows and the beautiful surroundings wrapped themselves around me. I loved everything about the cabin even the outhouse nearby which I took pictures of. 
Wind horse is such a spiritual place that I could not settle for the first hour as I was feeling the love and kindness that permeates the farm. The meditation center is incredible and I was so fortunate to have Jim do a meditation with me (interrupting his own meditation time). Jim is is a very wise, sharp, tuned in person and really wants to make a difference in all our lives.
For all of us who are on this journey of understanding I would highly recommend spending some time at Windhorse Farm. It will be a wonderful experience!
Thanks to all the staff at Windhorse Farm!

Martin Peacocke


Merve Wilkinson: grandfather of ecoforestry

This is Jim again, even though the by line says Marguerite — I can’t figure out how to change that. If you can, please let me know.

Merve Wilkinson died recently, after living fully for almost 100 years. Merve lived in the forest, Wildwood, near Ladysmith on Vancouver Island. He was a faithful steward of that land and a shining example for many foresters and environmental activists. Never afraid of inconveniencing himself, he was arrested with his wife, Anne, while protesting clearcut logging in Clayoquot Sound on the island’s west coast. At his trial, he received the stiffest sentence because, as the Judge said, “You are gloriously unrepentent.” Because of, or in spite of, this, Merve was awarded the Order of Canada for his contributions to forestry and forest conservation.

Merve and Anne came to Windhorse in 1994 and 1996 to teach the principles and practices of good forestry. On his second trip, Bob Bongard made an excellent film, which was shown as a 2-part TV series. We will get it converted into a DVD format so it can be available again to more people.

Merve was a great friend and supporter of Windhorse Farm, and his pithy teachings have become part of the forest lineage here. I learned much from him and several forest interns, here for the courses he taught, have branched out into their own work, affecting great benefit. In addition, many students, interns and apprentices at Windhorse, who never met Merve, are now benefitting from his teachings that have taken root in this land and in the Windhorse curriculum.

With tremendous gratitude to Merve for sharing his understanding, experience, insight, friendship and humour, Jim

Windhorse Winter

It is a warm sunny day in January at Windhorse Farm. Unusual — as is most weather in Nova Scotia.


Also unusual is the opportunity for me to post on the blog — it is a first for me. I inherited this Roots and Branches blog thing from my daughter, Marguerite.


I always thought it was a good idea so I’m delighted to jump in over my head. I’ve been reflecting on the roots of Windhorse Farm, which can be traced upstream into many different watersheds. There is the 12,000 year-old stream coming through the land and culture of the Mi’kMaq and the course through the Wentzell family, beginning with Wilhelm’s arrival in Lunenburg in 1751 and continuing on to Wentzell Lake in 1840 and then transmitted to us (Jim and Margaret Drescher) in 1990. There is flow from the Drescher and Sullivan families and a very rich river from Shambhala. Spaciously accommodating all of these sources is the fertile land of Windhorse in the magical place called Nova Scotia.


And what about the branches? Hundreds of friends, students, interns, apprentices, and employees have come here since 1990 to live for a while, drink from the streams, grow from the roots and give back tremendous richness. Windhorse Farm has gone deeper, spread further, and become more fertile due to the spread of its branches. Margaret and I are continually inspired by the lives being led, and the work being done, by people we got to know when they lived at Windhorse.


Roots and Branches is a celebration of where we have come from, how we’re spreading out and, most of all, the beauty of this moment in this place.


I will keep posting here and I hope that leaves and needles from the branches will also fall into this great composting pile. That is a heart-felt wish and a humble invitation

Fresh Snow

So here we are in 2012 and it has been soooo long since I posted. Quite honestly this blog has its challenges… The stories are out there, I hear them all the time… but when it comes to getting them posted… hmmm.

So it is time for a new leaf, or a new layer of snow or whatever other seasonal imagery you might come up with. My father, Jim Drescher, is going to try his hand at blogging. I told you it was a new layer! I am so thrilled that he is going to be posting reflections, musings, poems…

I am sure I will be back for guest posts and other updates, but for now I hand you off to one of my favorite farmer poets…

Good luck Dad!