It is my second year at a writing retreat on Harvester Island off the west coast of Kodiak, AK. The island hosts a working fish camp, a seasonal home to the Fields family, and is known to Leslie’s readers as “The Island of Grace.” Getting to this bump of a rock is half the journey.
Midflight to Kodiak the pilot announces, “We have to turn around. It’s too dangerous to fly through the ash.”
Ash? Resuspended ash, from a 1912 Katmai volcano eruption, stirred up by high winds? We’re grounded because of a volcano that blew over 100 years ago? Fascinating. The passengers don’t look surprised. It’s Alaska. Expect the unexpected.
There, grounded all day, night, and yet another day, in Anchorage, I also didn’t expect to meet up with author Tracy Groots, a friend from the prior year’s workshop. Or after a long day of delays, I didn’t expect to receive the reassuring words, “The worst part is over,” from Tom, the hippy angel, a shuttle driver with a long white beard. Nor did I expect to be entertained by the two-kiss Frenchman, concerned about his fresh tomatoes, porcinis and fromage packaged and flung around the airport with each delay and gate change.
I also didn’t expect for us to stalk, talk to and receive a warm hug (yes!) from radio host and author Garrison Keillor. And the wildlife viewing? If I’d never left the airport, I might’ve seen more there than driving though an animal park. They’re stuffed behind plexi-glass, of course.
A day later, after many delays and bumps, we press against Kodiak’s changing weather. I call “Shotgun!” and am suspended next to the pilot in a six-seater bush plane. We shake below the clouds into pockets of rain.
We scan the ocean surface for pods of fin whales, and I wonder if it’s best to crash land in the water, on a gravel beach or a grassy knoll. The pilot, unfazed, steers with his feet and pages through his IPod playlist with both hands. Oh, Mr. Pilot, we see your earphones below your ear protection. As planned, we land safely on the gravel runway in Larsen Bay. This. Is. Awesome.
Almost there, the thirty-minute skiff ride under ash-hewn skies blurs travel woes into nostalgia. I’d been here the year before. Those relished memories pulled me back to these tidal pool and bull kelp strewn shores: a panoramic waterfront and mountain backdrop; air drenched with salt, seaweed and cottonwood balsam; a steaming, wood-stoked banya; an iron, oil stove, warm like the hearth of this home; and beauty of place that one can’t escape. Welcome back. Touchdown Harvester Island.
During the week, Leslie Leyland Fields, and this year’s guest Bret Lott, teach and encourage us. We writers learn, commune, laugh and seek inspiration from another. I’d left my science brain at home and now feel very “writery” here amongst these creative, heart-felt folks. Fiction and non-fiction alike, some of my new compadres have written volumes, while others have only lived them. Still, we are all equal and eager to be filled. Can they feel it, too? The push and pull, of the surf, of ourselves tugging at the words to represent our thoughts?
I also ventured this distance to help, ahem, cook. Let’s just say that my love for cooking at home and my addiction to cooking shows does not qualify me to cook for twenty. Except for friend gatherings and parties, I typically cook for uno or duo. As one hungry writer at the workshop said to me, “No big deal. You just multiply everything by twenty.” No problemo.
As life has taught me before, you never know what you’re capable of until you jump. You push yourself—while also broomsticking a weasel pawing at the fresh fish in a bucket; keeping a puppy nicknamed “Piddles” from escaping and getting eaten by the weasel; and holding back another dog who wants to maim that same weasel. (No, Bret, these are not haphazard gerunds, they really did happen all at once.) This week we all had been fed on this mighty Island of Grace.
At the end of the week, we retrace our flight path back to Kodiak and disperse across many states. No matter the distance, we have been united and inspired by two authors and a fishing family on Harvester Island. And two dogs. And maybe not so much by the weasel.
I sit before my computer and Bret’s word’s ring, “Write what you are unable to write.” Push.
I hear Leslie speak to me, “Fear not. None of us is good enough to finish a project when we start.” Keep trying.
I think, Laura, you can bum rush Garrison Keillor in the airport. You can feed twenty. You are capable of much more.
And finally, I repeat the words from that guy John in the Bible, “And these things we write, so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 4.
Love this day.