Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Place Apart, Part One

For several years now, I've been dreaming up a retreat. I've been feeling the need, stronger each year, to go away, either by myself or with a select friend or three. I wanted to be away long enough to relax, long enough to read, to pray, to think, to write, to fully engage my mind with something other than my regularly scheduled programming. I wanted to go some place quiet, some place where I could be alone--even if among friends--and not talk to anyone if I didn't feel like it.

After several years of dreaming about this retreat, It has finally happened. Last summer, I shared my dream with my friend, Nance. It became her dream, too, and this summer, we pulled it off. Nance's son's girlfriend's parents (did you follow that?) have a cabin on Echo Lake, which is very near Flathead Lake in NW Montana. When it happened to come up in casual conversation, they admitted that they generally only use it on the weekends and that they have frequently offered weekdays at the cabin to friends, but that no one has ever taken them up on it. Nance relayed the conversation to me and my eyes bugged out. No one has taken them up on it? Well, tell them that we WILL! She went back to them and made the arrangements. We reserved the cabin for Tuesday through Friday, the last week of July, and began counting down the days.

We invited our dear friend, Jen, who was unsure if she'd be able to pull it off, as she has five children and her husband works long hours, but we were determined to bring her along so we helped her find solutions. We invited another friend, Cindy, who has recently emptied her nest. I was glad to have a chance to get to know her better. At the last minute, we also invited Diane, a second time summer resident of our valley who works on a catering crew to feed fire fighters when wildfires rage. It is an unusually wet summer so far and she has had very little work, so with the assurance that she would have cell phone coverage, she jumped at the chance.

We made it clear from the start that this was to be a low-maintenance retreat. If someone wanted to be alone and quiet (like me), that was perfectly acceptable. If women wanted to laugh and play music and be silly, that was ok, too, and the quiet ones could just find their own solitude. Most of us would prepare some food to share ahead of time and bring it either frozen or refrigerated so we wouldn't get stuck in the kitchen. Cindy is a foodie and looked forward to preparing fresh food at the cabin. Who would argue with that?

We packed Nance's van to the rafters with our suitcases, bedding, coolers of food, an inner tube, an inflatable raft, my camera bag and Jen's guitar. Four of us left at noon Tuesday and drove up together, laughing and swapping stories and generally enjoying our freedom immensely on the three hour trek. Diane drove separately, in case she was called to a fire, and arrived several hours after we did.

We found the cabin to be small and utilitarian, but still quaint. There were two small bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen with a table, a small living room with a pot-bellied stove and a deck with a picnic table. But we weren't there for the cabin. We were there for the lake, just off the deck.

Echo Lake is only a fraction of the size of gigantic nearby Flathead Lake, and doesn't have the same busy vacation headquarters feel to it. It is dotted with cabins all the way around, but the area is so wooded that each one feels fairly secluded. Most of the cabins are unpretentious, like ours, and especially mid-week, we found it to be quiet and peaceful. An occasional boat with skiers could be seen and heard, but our cabin was all the way to one end of the lake, so most boats had already turned around before they would have come into our direct view. There were no cabins directly across from us, only lush green forest. Our yard came equipped with a second picnic table under a shade tree, a hammock, a horse shoes pit, a shed with two sturdy air mattresses and two bicycles, a campfire area and a dock.

A dock! It was all our own. With others eyeing the limited bed options in the house, Nance looked at me, then looked at the dock, then looked at me again. Who wants to sleep in a house, when you could sleep on a dock? I was totally up for that idea.

To be continued...

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