A month-long writing retreat seemed like a terribly self-indulgent thing to me. And it turns out, it is exactly that. So much so that I turned sloth-like, spending days in a row without uttering a word and gaining 5 pounds.
Every morning I got up at about 7 am, put on the kettle and made a pot of tea while I showered and changed from pyjamas to a day version of the same outfit. Sitting at a table that looked out to the Cove and the original old homes on the far side, I read and made notes for a couple of hours, then I made myself breakfast – yogurt, muesli and fruit. Another couple of hours, then a slice of toast and jam and a cup of coffee. Three more hours of work, then lunch. Fish or chicken usually, with vegetables, salad and dessert of cake or fruit or cheese. An afternoon of transcribing interviews, verbatim, interrupted with another slice of toast and jam at about 4pm. Dinner was an omelet or stir fry or sandwich. Maybe a glass of wine. Then I continued to work until about 11pm, when I changed back into my nightwear and crashed into bed, maybe doing a half-hearted set of stretches beforehand, and reading a novel for a bit before trying to sleep, my brain tired and my body not at all, having maybe exerted itself by moving 100 steps throughout the entire day. I had been told how to operate the satellite TV but I couldn’t be bothered to figure it out. I didn’t need external stimulation anyway.
Next day the same thing. And again. Every third day or so, I’d go outside for a walk to the end of the boardwalk in one direction, turn around and walk to the end of the boardwalk in the other direction, traversing the entire village of Telegraph Cove, twice, in about 18 minutes. And I walk fast. I had it in my mind to go for long walks each day, but it’s bear cub season.
After about two weeks of this I took myself to Sointula overnight, to meet with Annemarie Koch, who has lived in the area all her life, worked for the regional district, knows the Cove well, and is a wealth of solid background information and perspective. Another day I went to Port McNeill to interview a key Telegraph Cove woman, reuniting with two of her visiting daughters as an added gift. I spent a day in Alert Bay, pouring over material at the Public Library and Museum, tearing myself away just in time to catch the ferry back.
There were women staying/living in Telegraph Cove I interviewed, who offered me coffee or dinner, and another interviewee came from her home in Port McNeill to see me, inviting me to join a MacKay whale-watching tour before I left. Otherwise, I sat at my table, reading, making notes and transcribing interviews. I looked out the window at the birds that flew and nested, at tiny fish that burbled along in tiny schools, at otters and seals that ventured into the Cove and occasionally sunned themselves on floats, at the rain that formed perfect circles in the water and the eagle that sat at the top of a tree on the opposite side, directly behind my grandparents’ old house, proudly obvious while the ravens called from the woods, where they hid in pairs.
April 2016 was not quite as rainy as I had expected, and some days it was downright hot, with the sun moving in its arc so that I had to pull the blind in order to see my computer screen by mid-afternoon, and take the fleece I wore over my tee-shirt off. On those days, I would take a small tin of tonic water, a slice of lemon and an ice cube in a glass and my increasingly emptying bottle of left-over gin i’d brought with me down to the end of the boardwalk, where there was a bench, and I sat with my feet up on the railings and watched the dark water moving past with the tide, Alert Bay visible off to my left. The sun was warm, and I felt dozy sitting there, the smell of the sea mingling with the smell of gin and tonic, as the hum of the odd boat droned through the air.
After four weeks, it became clear that summer was slowly returning to the Cove after its winter quiet. Flower boxes were being planted, window frames were getting a refresh of white paint, a new cabin was getting its finishing touches, the grass was being mowed, and fishing boats were starting to arrive. By May 1, the resort’s high season would start and the Cove would be full of kayakers, campers, RVers, fishers, hikers, whale and bear watchers and day visitors from every continent. The world map in the office was cleared of last year’s pins, marked with each visitor’s home country, and, pock-marked like a my face was at age 14, was ready for this year’s set of pins. I was pale and flabby, bleary-eyed and filled with stories from the past, but everything I had brought to do was done, and the fridge was almost out of food at last. It was time for me to go home and get to work.