On a recent weekend writing retreat my writing mentor Katerina proposed an enticing assignment: write about the most joyful day of your life. And no weddings allowed. Not the happiest day, but the most joyful.
Immediately, in succession, three days flashed before my eyes, zigzagging explosions of joy that resembled quiet fireworks.
On the first day, in the early 1990s, darkness was falling as I drove down a long, sandy lane lined with tall red pines. Suddenly “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth soared from my radio. I drove up to my home for three days, a tiny cabin called Shabbat Shalom at MorningStar Adventures retreat center. The cabin had a huge picture window, bed, broom, tiny wood stove, stack of wood, rocker and hot plate. Each day I watched the sun rise, crawl across the horizon and set, as poems, prayers and tiny essays poured through me onto paper, astounding me. I had no idea where they had come from, but they were magical.
On an October day in 1996 I found myself on the deck of the Mishi Mokwa, a small pleasure boat on its way to South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan. I parked my backpack and sat drinking a hot chocolate in the midst of a college hiking class and a contingent going to explore a shipwreck. When we arrived at the tiny, remote island, the ship’s ranger announced that we would be issued backcountry permits. Backcountry permits? We would be permitted to go on our own to the backcountry of our lives, carrying only the barest essentials on our backs, pitch a tent, build a fire and be.
“Gitche Gumee” would have to be the name for my third joyful adventure, which took place in September 1997. Gitche Gumee, the shining big sea water of Longfellow renown. I was awarded a week-long writing residency at Norcroft, a writing retreat for women, on the isolated north shore of Lake Superior. I had a cozy sleeping room in the “big house,” but best of all, my very own writing shed in the woods, named for writer Zora Neale Hurston. I spread out my writing project on the world’s longest desk and began to think profound thoughts. Upon returning home I, of course, had to have my own little writing shed, which I bought from a nice Amish man. Bliss!
Memories I will have forever. And who knows? What will my next most joyful day be?