Monday, September 25, 2017

The power of two - and 2 to the 4th

Before I left Porches yesterday I went outside to see if I could spot the two black vultures. I found a downy feather on the skylight glass and was even more curious to see how large they were in a more normal context. Sitting on the skylight they looked big but their necks had downy feathers too, so I knew they weren't adults.

After only a minute I spied them circling above the house, quite low, and although I couldn't see much I was happy to say goodbye to them. After I said goodbye I walked on through the front area of the house and when I glanced up again there were 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 - 2 to the fourth power - of black vultures spinning and weaving and soaring above me.

I don't know enough about the family structure of black vultures to know if it was a family group or simply a bunch of friends, but it was such a delight to see the spinning kaleidoscope of birds in the bright sky.

Leaving was difficult but as is usual once I started packing things into the car, my mind spun forward to November Hill and getting home. As I drove out of the Porches and onto the little country road it sits on, a few houses down, two black vultures dashed on foot out in front of my car. It was the two young ones, and now that they were on the ground, in the context where I could measure them against things like flowers and bushes and the car, I saw that they were much smaller than adult size. I think they were around 14 inches high from foot to top of head. They dashed in and out of the brush a few times, and said another goodbye, and then flew off again.

Seeing these two young birds was such a treat. I have only ever seen adults up close and I suspect the youth of these two is what sparked their curiosity about the skylight and what was inside it. The adult birds seem much more aloof and except for the huge injured turkey vulture my daughter and I rescued once, I've never been able to get very close to them at all.

As I drove into Chatham County, the first thing I saw in the sky was a kettle of vultures circling, a very common sight in our area, and when I turned onto our main road and passed the little church, a single black vulture was resting on the very top of the steeple. I've seen this only a few times, and once saw one on the same steeple spreading its wings in the sun. A productive, much-needed retreat that was already such a gift ended on another rare and lovely note.

And now I'm home! It's a perfect sunny day on November Hill.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

On the last morning (of this writing retreat)

The fog rolls down the river, in a thin stream at first but eventually obliterating the mountain behind it. Suddenly the landscape is different, I am someplace different, and for a piece of the morning everything is mysterious sweet.

Then the fog ends, just like that, it has gone on its way, and the mountain is back with its trees, evergreens and those just on the edge of changing colors.

I got to the end of my list yesterday but as is the way of lists of things to be done, finishing doesn't mean anything except the opening to a new list.

There was something missing and I thought of it as a beat in the last act of the novel but couldn't lay my hands on more than that. Talking to another writer in the kitchen I found myself suggesting drawing out the structure and promptly took my notepad to the upper porch and did exactly that.

What I was thinking of as a beat is in fact a chapter, with a number of scenes, and it's a pretty important chapter. I made a page and a half of notes on what this chapter needs to do, and why, and which characters' arcs rely on this chapter.

But then I was caught up short when I came in to start writing it. I did what many of us do when we get stuck - research - and made a quick list of three novels I feel I need to read before proceeding. This is not true but writers do need to read and I'm a bookworm first and foremost, so, with the magic of ebooks and my Kindle app for iPad, I soon had the first novel on my screen and read from then until near midnight The Cartel by Don Winslow. I'm not even halfway through this very thick book, and it's mesmerizing, if violent, and I will tell you how surprised I was that the first chapter is about a beekeeper.

Lest you think I've gone the rest of the way around the bend, the novel I'm trying so hard to finish involves a kidnapping by the cartel. The chapter that needs now to be written is the big action scene that resolves not only the final conflict but the inner conflict for two main characters and two minor characters. I suspect I have subconsciously left this out because I really don't know how deep I want to dip my toe into this action. It's not my usual kind of writing and although there's plenty in this novel that suggests I'm fully capable of pulling this off, I am not totally sure I can.

So I stayed up reading about the cartel and about ten minutes before midnight through the open windows I heard what sounded like a series of gunshots. After the gunshots (or perhaps it was actually something else entirely) there was dead silence and then an odd fluttery cooing bird sound that I am completely unfamiliar with. It is of note that while I found this juxtaposition of noises in the dark of night a bit unnerving, compared to the cartel novel it was Nothing. So I turned off the light and went promptly to sleep.

This morning I am sitting in the piles of paper and books and notepads and my three pair of glasses conjuring a bubble of energy I can transport back with me to November Hill so that once I settle in with husband and daughter and son via the app that allows he and I to watch a TV series together even though he's in the north and I'm in the south, once I hug dogs and snuggle cats and breathe with horses and donkeys, once I take delivery tomorrow of a load of mulch and a tank of propane and address the daily life to do list, I can find a quiet spot and open up the bubble of this novel and get myself to write that scary chapter.

Send some good wishes my way.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

My morning writing companions - a pair of black vultures!

My little room on retreat is on the third floor of a beautiful antebellum home that looks out over the James River in Virginia. The room still has the old fireplace and two original floor to ceiling windows, but the owner thoughtfully added in a ceiling fan, a skylight, and a window to the front to allow for air flow and light and a view of the mountain beyond the river.

The bed is just to the right of the skylight, perfect for stargazing before falling asleep. I've had the windows open the entire time. With the ceiling fan and a small desk fan it's been perfect, and I am able to listen to the birds, insects, and such which I find very comforting and inspiring as I work.

This morning I woke up to what sounded like something cantering across the roof. It definitely wasn't a squirrel, but it didn't sound like a four-legged creature so I was mesmerized. I looked up at the skylight and there were a pair of black vultures!

I adore black vultures. They do a much-needed service to man - eating and ridding the landscape of carcasses - and if you take the time to look at them they are incredibly handsome birds. If you've never seen them performing their morning cleansing ritual where they spread their wings and hold them to dry in the sun you are missing a gorgeous sight.

These two birds today seem to be as fascinated with me as I am with them. They are looking in at me,  striking regal poses, spreading their wings, and generally putting on a show for me. I've never been this close to a black vulture, so close I can literally look into their eyes.

At least one culture viewed the black vulture as a symbol of the divine feminine. To me they symbolize that as well as a connection between the earth and heaven - to watch them fly is for me a thing of joy. They soar, they circle, they weave in and out as a group. They stand in groups when they  feed and the spreading of wings in the sunshine makes them look, to me, like nature's black angels.

This is the last full day of my writing retreat and to have this visit this morning is the perfect start to my writing day. A gift that speaks to me on an archetypal level.

They flew earlier this morning but returned as I started this post. I'm honored.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Couldn't resist the light or the mirror frame

The late day sunshine cascaded into the room across the hall, which is lonely with no writer in it, and I was drawn in with my phone. Just took off the cold damp cloth I'd wrapped around my neck to cool down after moving my bags in from the car, and took out the wrong glasses - thought they were my reading pair but they were the old prescription spare pair I bought off the internet. Not sure why but they suddenly seem better than my current progressive lens pair! So now I'm alternating between three pairs of glasses but have written around 4K words so, writing retreat life is good. Tea and an oatcake and a blog post and now it's back to the desk. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

At the desk, writing retreat in progress

So happy to be here. The drive was wonderful, clouds manifesting shapes of things that came to mind as I drove. This often happens, the synchronicity of the creative process, as I'm entering the zone, or the space where deep work happens.