Imagine if someone built a perfect little house, a one-woman house with a sleeping loft and a workspace, a kitchenette and a wood stove, a window seat and a reading chair. Imagine if the little house were in the woods of Washington, among cedars and pine trees and moss and ponds, with rabbits and owls and coyotes within howling and hooting and hopping distance. Imagine five other cottages nearby it, in a circle in the woods, and you have just imagined Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, Puget Sound. It was created by the visionary Nancy Nordhoff, a noted philanthropist and all-round amazing woman, and this year celebrates its 25th birthday. I had my first Hedgebrook residency in July 2010. I didn't really know what I was getting into when I was accepted, except that the place looked gorgeous on the Hedgebrook website and I liked the idea that its residents were "women authoring change." When I arrived, all the way from Brisbane and completely inexperienced with retreats (and with Washington, for that matter), I was blown away. The cottages were so beautiful, and the other residents so friendly. Each night, we sat around the dinner table and talked and laughed over a chef-prepared meal. Our days were spent writing, interspersed with walks to the beach or trips into the nearby town of Langley. I stayed in the cottage named Cedar, and worked on revisions to the manuscript that became Ghost Wife.
For the past two weeks, I have been back again as part of Hedgebrook's 25th anniversary celebrations (all residents this year are past residents). The women here, and the things they achieve, are simply remarkable, and alumnae have written important and beloved books. This time, my stay coincided with the stays of Cherríe Moraga, Carolyn Forche, Lorraine Ali, Anna Alves, Kathleen Flenniken, Toni Mirosevich, and Loreen Lee. We also had the pleasure of meeting Jen Marlowe, whose book I Am Troy Davis will be released in September.
Applications for next year's residencies are open now, so make sure you apply. If you're not a writer, but would like to support Hedgebrook, consider buying the hot-off-the-presses Hedgebrook cookbook, with recipes from the Hedgebrook chefs and authors such as Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Allison.
In an hour or so, I will be driven to the shuttle that will take me over the water and on to the airport. I'll be back in Melbourne on Thursday morning. But right now, I need to go and walk in the summer sunshine. I need to smell the air and look at the flowers and say goodbye again.