Dan Branch & Katie Bausler | 49 Writers Spring Retreat Reflections

Sometimes writers need to get away from the people and things that fill their days so they can create.  Each spring and fall, 49 Writers secures space at the National Shrine of Saint Therese for a writer’s retreat. The May 2019 retreat took place in The Lodge, a two-story log building that can sleep 24 people.

Each morning, retreaters made their way down a spiral staircase to the kitchen for coffee or tea. Some took their mug outside where they could look for whales in Favorite Passage or eagles in the beachside spruce trees. Others spread out their books and writing materials on a table in the common space and got to work.

A clan of marmots lives in rocks near The Lodge. The guinea pig-like critters watched us. In the late afternoon sun, juvenile marmots stood on their hind feet to nuzzle or softly punch each other.

Once a pod of killer whales swam past The Lodge-nursing mother and calves swimming close to the shore. Across the channel humpback whales fed. Closer in, a pair of harbor seals unsuccessfully stalked a noisy merganser.

After the welcoming dinner on Friday night, this spring’s writers gathered in a group to share their intentions for the weekend. Not surprising, most expressed the intent to write—to make some progress on a poem or prose piece. Some wanted to pull together something for the Saturday night group reading.

Except for brief meetings of mini-workshops and short walks around the Shrine grounds, Saturday was spent reading and writing. The Lodge common room could have been a college library during finals week. Many looked up and smiled when a wedding party heading for the chapel walked past. Flower girls wore white lace dresses that hung from their slim shoulders like bells. The marmots watched the groom dressed in black escort his bride, in her white ball gown dress.

That night, after a shared dinner, writers read their work; some pieces light and funny, others deeply personal and insightful.  It took great trust for some to share what they wrote. That trust was well placed.

After Sunday morning breakfast, everyone helped with the mandatory cleanup and were gone back to their lives before noon.

Jerry Smetzer came to the retreat hoping to obtain feedback on his work. In his after-retreat feedback, he reported that the two other participants in his mini-workshop “went deeply into my presentation and gave me some most excellent comments…the critique I received … was inspirational for me.  With their notes in my hand I spent the rest of Saturday working feverishly on a re-write of my story Chaos about the Vietnam War.  I am grateful the schedule allowed plenty of time and space for this kind of inspired and impulsive writing.  It seemed to me to epitomize what the retreat was all about.”

Tony Tengs said, “the 49 writers retreat at the Shrine was a great support for my intention and creative process and has helped me not feel shy about pursuing my writing goal.  Thank you all for being so welcoming and supportive.”

Mistee St. Claire wrote: “There was the perfect balance of structure and free time: an icebreaker prompt the first night, small critique groups and a reading the second night; and open time to write, walk, and explore the spectacular setting. Attendees were writers curious and serious about writing, and the small conversations that popped up were inspiring and enlightening.”

Finally, Anchorage resident Chantelle Pence’ assessment reflects a mission accomplished:  “I appreciated the intimate setting of the St. Therese writers retreat, and learning from others in an informal setting. The serenity of the place made it an ideal environment to work and talk quietly. Respectfully. As one who learns best out of a classroom, away from the crowd, it suited me. I appreciate the volunteers at 49 Writers who organized the event, and the attendees who allowed their work to be seen. It was just enough to expand my perspective, but keep my peace. Set where the trees stand as moss covered giants, and water streams down mountain sides, moving toward the sea, I came into a state of peace. I arrived on Friday with a head full of noise, and left with a deep silence within me. Clarity.”

Spring 2019 Retreat attendees

1 thought on “Dan Branch & Katie Bausler | 49 Writers Spring Retreat Reflections”

  1. Ann Chandonnet

    Wow. Sounds like a wonderful spot for relaxing, composing and watching wildlife. My family and I once saw marmots through the plastic window at the A-frame hut above Girdwood, around the “corner” from Raven Glacier. Not a clear view, but clear enough. We could hear them rustling around under the floor. I remember there was deep snow on the ground but do not remember the month. We stayed at this hut several times.
    I am always thrilled with new wildlife.

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