Retreat

If you’ve been to Calgary, chances are you’ve been to Banff. I’ll never forget the first time my husband and I drove towards the mountains, enveloped by one of the most beautiful horizons in the world, on a highway littered only with ‘wildlife crossing’ signs. Since then we’ve been back several times, and as promised, we’ve spotted many furry friends along the way. But it wasn’t until this month of this year, at the Banff Centre for the Arts, that I finally came toe to toe (toe to hoof?) with a deer.

A few deer, in fact. It was my last day of a writing retreat and I was walking along the wooded trail into town to get some fresh air (and fresh fudge). A small, furry herd was grazing in the middle of the narrow path, without care or concern for my dire fudge needs. Since I’m super nature-y, I knew just what to do: text my husband who would know what to do.

Me: Do I walk by??? I don’t understand.

Husband: Should be fine

Me: They won’t move!!!

Husband: Just don’t be between baby and mother 

Me: *eye-rolling emoticon / photo of deer who, like my husband, were unmoved by my contempt*

Husband: Very pretty and calm. Breathe it in.

The idea of doing a writing retreat at the Banff Centre became a dream of mine the minute I learned there was such a thing as a writing retreat at the Banff Centre. It seemed like the most incredible thing. Five serene, inspired days in the mountains with nothing to do but write. (And eat and drink, because, writers.)

Last fall I finally found the courage (and resources) to make that fantasy a reality, and I registered for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta winter writing retreat. Characteristically, I then spent the following few months fantasizing about how to back the hell out of it.

It loomed so large, the overwhelming idea of my ‘retreat.’ This experience was something for serious writers, not unserious me. I wouldn’t measure up. I wouldn’t belong. But when that February departure day finally came, I packed my laptop, my notes and my gym clothes (unused) and with a little gentle nudging from my husband I headed off to Banff. It was serene. I did write. I definitely ate and drank. It was one of the greatest privileges I’ve been afforded as a writer, serious or not.

When I came across the deer on the trail, I was genuinely hesitant to keep moving forward. It was too steep to go around the herd, I was too underdressed to stand there all day in the frigid mountain air, and, frankly, I really wanted that fudge. So I walked, slowly, towards the animals until they parted just enough to let the frumpy human through. I made it to town, bought some fudge, and sent my husband my favourite apology emoticon for my previous profanity-laced texts.

On my walk back to campus, the deer were gone. (Or they were in the trees? I don’t know much about deer.) I stopped on the trail in my tracks, in the same spot as my previous impasse, and looked around.

Years ago, I could never have imaged we’d still be living in Calgary, that I’d be writing professionally again, and that I’d have my chance to attend a retreat in Banff. I stood there in the snow and decided to let myself believe that I belonged there. And then, after I ate all my fudge (sorry, family) I decided to breathe it in.

Note: Yes, those were my husband’s actual texts. No, I can’t be sure he wasn’t high.

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