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If there is anything that can be considered as the truth as we know it, it is very, very simple: do not, ever, under any circumstances, offer to buy a piece of real estate and immediately leave town for a week of retreat. It’s much more difficult than trying to mix oil and water. They are totally foreign elements to each other. I find myself still in that “middle ground” of not being at the retreat and not being in the world at the same time. I returned home just in time to face the last day to arrange the financing for the purchase of my new home, and to find a lawyer. Fortunately, I had already applied to a friendly credit union for financing before my retreat began, but I still had to go downtown in smoggy Toronto weather, and call several lawyers. The good news is that all was easily accomplished, and the rest – hopefully - will be a matter of form. I will have a new home before the end of July, which I am so much looking forward to.
The 5-day retreat was held in a camp established by the Easter Seal campaign, which provides fresh air experiences for children with physical disabilities. It is located near Perth, Ontario, which in turn is not far from our nation’s capital, Ottawa. It took 3 ½ hours to get there, and 4 hours to return home, with excellent company both ways. The property is situated at the tip of a small peninsula jutting out into an expansive lake (for which Canada and Ontario are famous), so we were surrounded by water on three sides. In spite of the manicured lawns and cluster of various buildings which were carefully engineered to accommodate wheel chairs (including the paved walks around the buildings and near the lake), the area happily teemed with wild life.
The lake supports several loons, whose cries could be heard day and night, and could also be observed from time to time as they came closer to our location. Towards evening, their bodies seemed to glow on the water as their white feathers reflected the rays of the sun. Loons are my most favourite water bird, and I am always pleased and comforted when I see and hear them. A great blue heron easily flew over the lake against a strong wind, an awesome sight to be sure. Deer were sighted, including a new fawn curled up in a safe place. Owls hooted all night. Sunfish had created small circles in the shallow sandy bottom of the lake, standing guard at the edge of the circles to protect their eggs. Minnows were in class. Bullfrogs sang us to sleep each night. Someone saw a muskrat swimming in the lake. A young snake sighted in the underbrush departed by gliding into the lake and swimming away. A flock of Canada geese honked their way noisily across the lake several times. A humming bird tried to come through the window to access a bouquet of flowers placed near the glass. Dragonflies whirled around. An eagle soared across the lake. The full moon was beautifully reflected across the water. Across the expanse of water were small islands and the far shore, with buildings here and there. Little birds happily erupted at 5 a.m. to announce the beginning of each day. Although I set my clock faithfully each morning, I did not really need it as I was always awake at just the right time.
In advance of the retreat, I had emailed a list of foods to ensure my good health and participation in the retreat. Due to a series of unfortunate external incidents which included emergency by-pass surgery and printer failure, these were not properly transmitted to the caterer. At first I was put on my own responsibility to eat what was good for me. The first day’s lunch was a series of sandwiches made with wheat bread. The alternatives were kamut bread with soy or garbanzo fillings, which I couldn’t eat, either. They quickly (and happily) provided a plate with cheese, rice cakes and baby greens salad. At supper, lamb stew and a pre-seasoned salad were available. I ate both, saying a few prayers. The headache that resulted was reasonably tame before bedtime, but woke me up at 2 a.m. After explaining my situation, the caterer happily supplied compliant foods, and the rest of the retreat was a dream. There was fresh organic local lamb which was delicious, and I had several meals with it, cooked simply in broth. I was happy to avoid combinations and focus only on lamb, cheese and veggies with unseasoned baby green salads. For breakfast I could have boiled eggs and spelt toast. At breaks there was sometimes a pot of the most delicious tea, made by pouring hot water over freshly picked mint and raspberry leaves from the garden. A ginger root was placed on the table to be used in teas. I cut thin slices and chewed on them happily every so often.
Aside from animal life and food, the retreat was intense. There was little time for “extras”. A friend brought two books, but could not concentrate on reading. Days began with at 6:30 a.m., punctuated by meals and a series of sessions with enough breaks to allow for dishes to be washed on a volunteer basis, walks down the road, or even little naps. Evenings produced music in which we all participated, by singing, or at least, moving rhythmically. The musicians leading the sessions were sensitive, joyous and versatile, each playing several instruments, some of them quite exotic, such as a tambura (an East Indian instrument). By the time I came home, I was very euphoric and a little tired by the somewhat rapid transition from semi-wilderness to city life where it was hot and humid.
The effects of the week continue to reverberate deeply inside me. Being surrounded by the lake and its inhabitants was a wonderful experience for a city dweller without a car to get to these magical places. As well, there were some important insights and break-throughs during the course of the retreat, and much to contemplate and process in the weeks to come as I begin the process of sorting through my belongings and packing them up. I don’t know if I look exactly the same as when I left home over a week ago, but I do know I don’t feel the same – and you know, I don’t think I want to entirely return to that old me. I kind of like some of what I’m feeling right now.