Tuesday, February 09, 2016

a little piece of heaven at The Porches Writing Retreat

All last week I was in Norwood, Virginia, writing with a good friend and several other writers/artists who were also staying at Trudy Hale's wonderful antebellum home turned retreat space. I had heard good things but when we drove up and saw sheets hanging in the sunshine on the line, flapping in the wind, and latched the wooden and wire gate behind us I knew we were in for a huge treat.

Trudy is warm and inviting and her dog Maizie is too. 

From the car through the back gate, the walk to the front porch, and the discovery of each room in the house, I paused to soak in all there is to see. The Porches is a creative treasure chest!

But wait, there's a barn too! I kept thinking how much Rafer Johnson and Redford would love to come have their own miniature donkey retreat in the long terraced areas that you can't see in my photo below, but they extend past the barn and allow for wonderful walking and pondering.

Inside we were taken to the huge and cozy writer's kitchen. This quickly became the hub for meals, conversation between writers, and an alternate place to read, write, or just sit and ponder. 

Across the hall was the writer's den. TV, DVD player and a lovely collection of films, a piano, books, comfortable seating - this is where we did our nightly readings for feedback. 

There's even a tiny Harry Potter bathroom so you don't have to go upstairs if you just need a quick pit stop! 

I only took photos of my own room, The Blue Queen, but there are five rooms total, including the Dove Room, the Garden Room, Treetops, and Jade. Three rooms are on the second floor and two on the third floor. Each floor has lovely bathrooms and common space. The rooms are all beautifully appointed and comfortable, with good beds, soft linens, chairs and/or sofas for reading, and desks to work.

This was my room:

And the view from my desk:

This is what I watched as I wrote. Some days were sunny, others obscured in fog. The James River is just in front of the distant ridge and a train chugs back and forth just in front of the river. The sound of the train quickly became hypnotic for me, a reminder that I was in creative space and time. Kairos.

Trudy asks that writers keep "quiet hours" between early morning and 5:30 p.m. This allows the upstairs and the porch space to be used without distraction. The kitchen and den both have doors and  can be closed and used for meals and conversation as needed during the day. There is WiFi but the internet is satellite so she asks that devices and their auto-notifications be turned off. There was never a problem with email checks, quick bits of research, etc., but the data use limits can't handle big downloads or uploading huge files - these can be done between midnight and a.m. I loved the ability to use the Internet but lightly - and the total lack of beeps, bells, and whistles coming in on smart phones and computers was a blessing.

The difference in this retreat and others I've been to is that Trudy provides a quiet and truly rich space for the creative process. The writing and the writers come first, the process is revered and protected, and there is ample time in the evenings for common meals, conversation, laughter, movies, and fun. 

The house is named The Porches because of the two huge front porches that make up the entire front of the home. Both are furnished with comfortable seating, candles, shades, and interesting artifacts. The upstairs has a porch swing. And the views are stunning.

Right outside my bedroom door I could go through this entryway to the second floor porch.

And this is the view of the little church that might one day be a gallery or art studio.

Back inside this was the other end of the second floor hall, a common space that leads to the second floor bathroom and the hallway to the Garden Room.

Every nook and shelf is filled with literary journals, novels, poetry, and nonfiction books of all description. Small pieces of art are everywhere. The walls are covered with unusual, wonderful paintings and prints. In the kitchen the Compact Oxford English Dictionary sits and surveys all that happens.

As a Jungian-based sandplay therapist, I felt like I was in a sandplay collection that had been assembled just for me.

I got so much work done here, but it was done in an environment of nurturing and beauty. There were no distractions, no events, and the remote location offers a sense of timelessness. It makes a huge difference. Trudy encourages the writers to set things up in the rooms so they can work well and comfortably. She (and my friend) were fine with my request to bring Proust to live in the Blue Queen room while I was there. I rearranged the mantle to make this tableau.

Most afternoons meant walks. The winter landscape was stunning and I can only imagine what it will be like in spring, summer, and fall. 

This was a regular sight coming down the stairs.

And the walks...

And then coming back "home"

Because by the end of my stay I felt like this was my home - a retreat home - and I felt sad to leave the routine and the sense that I was, as Isak Dinesen wrote, "on the roof of my own life." I can't say enough good things about The Porches Writing Retreat. It's also a place for fine artists. The space is beautiful and a true haven for the creative process. It's affordable and that means you can come back again and again. 

For more information and to book a stay, you can go here:

And tell Trudy Billie sent you! :)


Grey Horse Matters said...

It truly looks like a wonderful place. I'm sure everyone's creative juices were flowing.

billie said...

It is wonderful - wish you and Victoria and I could meet there sometime. And J!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I would love to meet you there sometime with J. Now if I could just think of something to write about?

billie said...

I think a great reason to go is to figure out what to write about!

Matthew said...

Just a beautiful set of photos and description. I'm so glad you got the chance to go and I'm sure you'll be back!

billie said...

It was a perfect retreat experience - I want to go back in each season. :)