Retreat Impressions

“I haven’t been able to work at all, so spend most of my time very pleasantly sitting on my balcony blowing bubbles.”

- Elizabeth Bishop, letter to Robert Lowell while at Yaddo

Well, I didn’t exactly sit on the balcony blowing bubbles, but of course I worried at the end of my retreat at the Elizabeth Bishop House that I hadn’t made proper use of my time. Then I took inventory:

1. Sun. There was some, and I enjoyed it. What a relief to dry out and feel its warmth after this wet, dreary excuse for a spring.

2. The familiarity of the Elizabeth Bishop House, that welcoming feeling I always have when I walk through its doors. There’s love in the walls, and inspiration everywhere.

3. Guinea fowl. This year I saw but two pairs of the ridiculous looking birds, free-rangers who are a fixture in Great Village. Word has it that some critter “got fat on them” this past winter, making off with sixteen of the football-shaped creatures.

4. Reading. I read this, that, and the other thing, including Tim Winton’s Dirt Music,Words in Air (correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell), parts of Eleanor Wachtell’s Original Minds, much of Joan Clark’s Latitudes of Melt, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, The End of March and her story In the Village (which is a new story with every reading of it), and for balance, Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

5. A man sitting on the bench outside of Layton’s, the Great Village Antiques shop. With his wild white hair and black, bushy eyebrows, mutton chop sideburns, weathered shirt and trousers held up by braces stretched over his belly, he could have been the Nate, the blacksmith described in Bishop’s story “In the Village.”

6. Deer tracks in the sand at Spencer Point Beach. The odd thing was, the tracks went around in an oval, with no entry or exit points.

7. The world’s funniest peacock at the Dutch Cheese Shop in Economy, NS. Immediately upon disembarking from my car, I had the most delightful Flannery O’Connor moment with a flirtatious peacock. We walked along the dirt road together; he didn’t seem to mind at all my taking photos of him, in fact, he posed and preened like a pro, and might even have accepted a head-scritch, if I’d had the nerve. Later on he had the wrong idea about me entirely, with a big, hissy show of his tail feathers – spectacular, but misguided. Then he tried to herd a car, two nice eldery ladies he had trapped by strutting around the car in circles (I expect he was admiring the reflected peacock in the fender – they’re pretty, are peacocks, but not terribly bright). When finally I cleared him off so the car could move, he chased it at top speed down the drive, his neck and tail stretched straight as an arrow. A few minutes later I caught up to him standing at the side of the road, watching balefully as the car drove away and clucking as though his heart would break. It was rather touching; I can see the appeal of a forlorn peacock.

8. My stiff right hand, sore from writing pages and pages of longhand several hours a day, often followed by long stretches pounding at my computer. I guess I wrote myself ragged, which accounts for all the poking around looking at peacocks and mutton chops and reading Bossypants, etc. After a spell of writing I’d stumble out of the house and go find something to look at.

But I will point out to Dear Reader that I did not blow bubbles on the balcony.

Categories: General.