Friday, July 27, 2012

On the Dock of the Bay

I’ve just returned home after a long weekend at a house on the Chesapeake Bay. This is the fourth or fifth time that my friend Jan and I have had the opportunity to borrow this house for a writing retreat, and every time we amaze ourselves with how much work we get done. 

The house sits on a bluff overlooking the place where the Susquehanna River enters the head of the Chesapeake Bay. It has been in the same family for over 70 years. Two generations were raised here – a son and daughter who each in turn had a daughter and a son ‒ and pictures of them are in every room. I am a fortunate friend of this generous family and have met many of its members, including the patriarch and matriarch, both now sadly gone to their maker. Two years ago, Mike and I were privileged to be present when their granddaughter got married under the holly trees overlooking the water. 

There’s a plaque embedded on the lawn that is engraved with this quote from the Rudyard Kipling poem, Sussex:

“God gave all men all earth to love, But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove, Beloved over all.”

The views across the tidal Chesapeake are both grand and profoundly restful. At low tide kayakers negotiate the shallow channels, and long lines of seagulls stand along sand bars far out in the bay. Closer to shore, great egrets stalk the barely submerged mudflats on their long black legs, looking like they’re walking on water. High tide brings out the jet skiers from the nearby marina who zip and roar across the water, which is fun to watch.

When I look up from the sunroom where I work, I can see geese stalking the steep hill that dips down to the water, grazing on grass and fallen apples. And just beyond the water’s edge, an osprey nest sits on a platform. On our various visits over the last few years, Jan and I have seen the ospreys in mating season, as they tended their eggs, and as they nurtured their chicks. This time we watched as they squabbled over a fish with their adolescent offspring who seemed to be on the verge of leaving home to create his own family next spring. Ah, the cycle of life. A telescope in the sunroom is trained on the nest, so we were able to watch every move the ospreys made. Sometimes one of the powerful-looking birds would turn its head and look straight at the telescope with its yellow-hazel eyes as if to say, “I know you’re there.”

There is no Internet access at the house on the water. So my days at the computer were disturbed only by the clink of ropes against fiberglass masts in the marina and the occasional mysterious boom from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds to the south. When I looked up from my laptop, the weather had often changed so completely that I could no longer see the far shore of the bay. 

The peace and lack of distractions meant that my mind was free to bury itself in the siege of the town of Kimberley in South Africa during the Boer War or in the rhythms of the English city of Nottingham in 1923, the settings of the two chapters of Albion’s Millennium I was writing. Daily life being what it is, I rarely get the chance to immerse myself so completely in the world I’m creating, but the house on the bay gives me that opportunity every time and I relish it.

In the evenings Jan and I relaxed, had dinner and some wine, and talked about what we'd each worked on that day. This time we were only able to get away for 3½ days, but it was balm to our souls, particularly for me as I’d had no time to write anything other than blog posts for a very long time. So those days in the house on the bay were a gift beyond price, and my gratitude to the givers is profound. All writers should be lucky enough to have such friends.


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