January 5. This date is bearing down on me. January 5 is the due date of my first-born daughter and also the deadline I've set for finishing my novel. Working full time, teaching, and simply living in New York City offers distractions galore. I have been mucking along at the pace of a '78 Chevette with three wheels, so I decided to get the hell out of Gotham.
One of my favorite professors from grad school, Darcey Steinke, turned me on to religious retreats. Being a recovering Catholic, I was initially not eager to return to the dark tower. Steinke is the daughter of a minister and has done many such retreats. She has also written extensively about her complex relationship with religion. Anyway, the point is this: Many monastaries, convents, and other religious retreat centers offer a nice room, quiet atmosphere, and sometimes meals at a fraction of what it would cost to either stay in a hotel or go to one of those artsy writing retreat centers.
In November 2006, I did my first retreat at St. Mary's Convent in Sloatsburg. The place was empty, the accommodations were very comfortable, the surroundings were beautiful, and the nuns fed me as if I were Joey Chestnut.
This year, I chose the Retreat Ministry at Olmsted Center--also known as Camp Olmsted. This facility is run by the Methodist Five Points Mission. In the summer, Camp Olmstead is a camp for inner-city kids. In the fall, they host small retreat groups. As it happens, there were no groups booked for the weekend I wanted to attend. Therefore, I got the gigantic Manor House, and pretty much the entire grounds, to myself. The Manor House sleeps about 20 people, and you could easily get lost in its labrynthine hallways. I tried not to remind myself that I was walking into the perfect setup for a horror film.
Camp Olmsted, by the way, is located in Cornwall-on-Hudson, a little over an hour from New York City. Besides having all day to write and edit, I also hiked a trail up Storm King Mountain and spent a half-hour sitting on a rock overlooking the majestic Hudson River Valley. I also walked into Cornwall to explore this quaint town. Among my wanderings, I downed a couple beers on a corner stool at Tom's Tavern.
Aside from recharging my battery to go the final miles of the novel marathon (which has been almost 4 years in the running), I also got back in touch with silence (more on this in another post). Some other highlights:
- Hearing coyotes at night howl in syncopation with the volunteer fire alarm
- Spotting about 12 deer on one walk into town
- Viewing Storm King Mountain on the Manor House's roof deck under the full moon
- Not being killed by a murderous grounds keeper or raped by ghosts