I didn’t realize my MacBook makes a little papery noise until I went on a retreat at St. Dorothy’s Rest in Camp Meeker. When the refrigerator in the studio apartment where I’m staying stops, it’s so quiet you can hear a laptop run. I’m looking out on a mixed forest of evergreens and oaks (some dead) and a piece of sky sometimes inhabited by vultures, with a glimpse of distant forested hills. This is the first time in my seventy-three years I’m spending time alone in the country. I check in every day with the people who run the retreat center, but otherwise I won’t be talking to anybody until Friday, when I go into town to the farmers’ market and to be on the radio. No radio here, no TV, no phone. I walk to another building every day that has wi-fi to check in at home and on the outside world by reading an article or two in the San Francisco Chronicle’s web edition. That building is locked till Friday when another group comes, but the wi-fi works on the deck. Till then, I’m the only guest.
I will hear other voices when I start listening to interviews Ellen made for the book, but right now, no voice but mine, practicing the song I’ll sing on the radio.
I’m back home from the retreat now, with some habits of practice and writing that I hope I’ll keep, a chapter for the book, and a set of poems. St. Dorothy’s is a children’s camp in the summer and a retreat center the rest of the year. It was founded in 1901 by the Rev. & Mrs. James O. Lincoln as the first free summer camp in California. In the lobby of the main house is a sample of Nellie Lincoln’s verse (she lived from 1861 to 1956).
There is an ancient story
Of a garden and a pair
Of mortals to attend it
And make it grow more fair.
Then along came the devil
(I wonder who made him?)
And told the lovely woman
She could follow every whim.
Even eat the “fruit forbidden”
So she hurried back to Adam
And shared the fruit with him.
If you believe the tale or doubt it
One thing it surely proves
That the brain of the first woman
Worked in the higher grooves
For it only took a woman
To tempt the lordly male
But it took the very devil
To make the woman fail.
Boy’s House was once a dorm for the summer camp. It now has a craft room, a screen-porch game room with pool and ping-pong tables, the studio where I stayed, and a big open porch.
looking up
sun lights the trees on the hilltop    
the ones nearer still in shade
but seeming as tall
like looking through
3-D glasses
at a 3-D world
all the trees green but
four youngsters in
the very front
and their sister
already broken off
and the top of the standing trunk
gnawed white by
looking down
a little corral
made of about
a hundred and fifty
slender upright branches
held together by wrapped wire
a gate outlined
by branches and
filled in with
the sign hanging above it says
it is the work of
the campers,
I would guess
the exuberance
of the uneven
tops, bending
in every direction
inside, maybe fifty
empty black pots
something has been planted
On the way up to Camp Meeker I went into Natural Connections in Occidental to look at cards. I nearly always stop and shop in town on the way to the Labor Day weekend writers and artists retreat at St. Dorothy’s and I was on my way to that on Friday, then to stay on alone for a week when everybody else went home on Monday. The woman behind the counter looked familiar—turned out to be Amie Hill, who used to live in Faith Petric’s house in San Francisco, where the SF Folk Music Club has met since forever (I met Faith in 1957, I think). Amie wrote an article about my mother, one of many written at her death. I saw Amie again on Tuesday when I went in for supplies—they feed us royally at the weekend retreat, but for the week alone I was feeding myself. She told me she does local history for a radio program Friday afternoons on KOWS, the little Occidental radio station. Two weeks before, she had done a segment on Morningstar Ranch in its days as a hippie commune presided over by Lou Gottlieb of the Limeliters.
                 Alex Hassilev, Lou Gottlieb, Glenn                                     Yarbrough, the original Limelighters
Amie didn’t know my parents’ connection to the place, so I told her and she invited me on the show to be interviewed about it. Here’s the story. When I heard that a bee man comes on every week to give bee-keeping advice I volunteered to sing the not-yet-recorded bee song I wrote with Judy Fjell, “Every Third Bite,” and when technical difficulties interfered with the birthday song they were trying to send out to somebody, I filled in with my mother’s “Birthday Hallelu.” The KOWS studio is up a flight of stairs in a building on the main street, like the old KPFA studio in Berkeley, and just as casual. I felt right at home.
©2008 by Nancy Schimmel
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Boy’s House at St. Dorothy’s Resthttp://www.stdorothysrest.org/