With a big deadline bearing down the first week of December, I’ve spent much of this fall sneaking up to Sewanee for long weekends at Rivendell Writers’ Colony, where I hide out from the world and write in a sunny third-floor attic studio that looks out over Lost Cove. There are window seats along two walls of the room and more windows on a third. From my perch at either writing table, I can watch bare branches wave in the winds that sweep across this bluff day and night. Lying in bed at night, I pretend the restless wind sweeping around the rattling windows of this old house is the sound of the Yorkshire moors, but I am only imagining. I have never been to England.
The creaking tree limbs are just one element of the natural world that beckons from every angle and every dimension of this miraculous place. The Native Americans who lived here considered Lost Cove holy ground, and though I’m always deeply skeptical of claims that any one plot of this gorgeous planet is holier than any other, on this point I defer to the land’s first inhabitants. When I step out of my car, from that very first moment, I am at peace here. There is busy life in every atom of the place, but there is no human contention to mar it. Alive as it is, it also feels still. Silent. Untroubled. Whole.
And in a kind of transubstantiation that I don’t even try to understand, the woods and trails and pastures and ponds on the Rivendell campus somehow find their way into the work I am here to do, too, even when I am hunched over a notebook in the third-floor studio, as far from the holy ground itself as I can get and not be airborne. Rivendell is where I wrote the first essay in the manuscript that’s due to my editor next month, and it’s where I’ve written or revised all the others in the book, as well. It’s not too much to say that this late-in-life surprise, a book deal at age fifty-five, is in truth a gift from this particular irreplaceable place.
There’s a rhythm to these Rivendell days. Walk, sit, ponder, write. This is the time for writing. I open the studio windows to the sounds of wind and birdsong, and I watch leaves fall from the trees, in life and in shadow on the studio floor, and I pick up my pen. You could almost call it a prayer.