On Approach

on approach

Approach to EarthRise

Edgar Mitchell was the pilot of the lunar module on the Apollo 14 Mission. The sight of planet earth from space profoundly shifted his view of the world and the universe. When he returned to earth, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). EarthRise is the Institute’s retreat center, situated in Marin county, just over the Sonoma border, on San Antonio Road. It’s up in the western hills, flanked by dairies and organic farms.

Among the many programs the centers offers is a seasonal writing retreat (spring and fall). My friend Kathleen took a personal retreat there and told me about the center, and I found the writing retreat on their website. It sounded like exactly the kind of event that I had promised myself I would attend once I retired.

shy deer 001


In the dining area, kitchen staff Lisa and Josh are cleaning. Lisa says, “I know you’ll think, ‘Oh, no, it’s OCD Lisa,’ but when you put the salt and pepper back on the table, please line them up so they face the same way.”

Josh says, “Oh, okay. Like, next to the plant?”

“No, not really,” Lisa says. “I mean, the salt should be closer to the kitchen and the pepper should be closer to the wall.”

“Um…” Josh says, “Really? Customers notice that?”

“Not consciously, but they respond to the subliminal sense of order.”


dining room labyrinth

Drink station in the dining room.

Dylan, who sent me my “orienting” e-mail, was thoroughly friendly and helpful. The administration center, meeting rooms and dining area sit on a hill in a grove of oak and bay trees. Lodging is about a quarter of a mile away, in a different grove of oak trees. Unless you have  a disabled placard for your car, you park up the hill from the dormitories and chalets. (You can bring your car down to unload and load.)

The roads are smooth and well-paved, but the 197-acre property is honeycombed with hiking and walking trails.


I look at the salt and pepper at the next meal. The salt is closer to the kitchen. The pepper is closer to the wall.

trees and stones

A retreat is not like a workshop, a fact I didn’t completely grasp until shortly before I left to drive now. Cathy Coleman, our facilitator, suggested a few writing exercises or prompts after lunch and dinner. We were encouraged to get together at meals. Other than that, we were on our own.



I like structure. The act of writing, to me, is an act of creating a structure. Word choice, sentence length, choice of tense, voice, rhythm, these are all elements of a structure. Beginning, middle, end, that’s a structure right there. I didn’t know how well I was going to do in this unstructured situation. I had avoided bringing books to read, except for one, but — oh, look! — I forgot I had a box of books in my trunk. And, I had my laptop and the center has wireless. The possibilities for distracting myself were practically endless.

That isn’t even including the photo opportunities; the gnarled oaks curled against the sky, the endless rolling green hills, the wild iris, the blue-eyed grass, the silver s-curving meander of the Petaluma river, the tiny white wild flowers, the English daisies, the snap-dragons, the strange scalloped green grass, the rocks dappled with fractal patterns of lichen, the deer, the crows, the labyrinth, the garden, the chickens, the bushmallow, the lizards, the sunset, the sunrise.

sunset and vapor trail

Sunset and vapor trail.

I hiked or walked every day. I took 200 photos. I finished the draft of a short story.

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