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  • Writer's pictureTessa Floreano

Into the Hypatia woods I went

Hypatia of Alexandria illustration and quote - Image via Jimmie courtesy of Flickr  is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mid-April was time well spent at Holly House in Shelton, WA, where I was fortunate to have the peace I needed to write some difficult scenes for my manuscript. Writing retreat, here I come.

Holly House is a residential retreat space for female artists maintained by Hypatia-in-the-Woods. I applied in August 2016 and received word a month later while I was on vacation in Italy that my application was accepted. Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn the news and that I would be able to stay for a week the following April.

Front door of Holly House

I arrived in Shelton to meet up with a board member, who I then followed as she led the way down a few bucolic, winding roads. We reached the house at the end of the lane, it's sun-dappled exterior a welcoming start to what I hoped would be a productive retreat. The house is rather isolated and situated over a densely-forested lagoon. The dining room has a window with a partial view, and if you go out on the main deck, you get a slightly better view, and from there, you can hear birdsong and water running in the creek below. The solidly-built house, à la Northwest vertical board, is one story with a bedroom loft. It's bright and airy and quiet. Just the way I like my residencies.

Hedgebrook, my first residency on Whidbey Island, spoiled me, although the getaway I had in March at The Next Chapter is a very close second. One lovely touch that set Holly House apart was the welcome basket full of all sorts of goodies to fuel the artist's soul—notepaper and pens, writerly wisdom in the form of a compact book, a customized mug, some chocolate, and even their own tea blend! A Book Woman blanket on the bed was a nice surprise as well. The house has all sorts of little things that warmed this writer's heart, including its cornucopia of seashells and rocks gathered, I imagined, from the woodland and rocky shores nearby.

After getting a lay of the land inside and outside Holly House, I unpacked and settled in. There was no shortage of writing spots—from the thick-cushioned sofa and armchair in the living room to the corner desk in the bedroom, or even out on the patio to sit on the Adirondack chairs. All were inviting, but only one would work for super productivity. I like to spread out so I set up shop on the dining room table which, fortunately for me, expanded by two extra feet.

Most days, I had a routine: I worked on my current manuscript, from late morning until well past sun down, with few breaks other than hearty snacks in place of meals and an hourly walk. Early to mid-morning, my ritual consisted of two full pots of caffeinated tea, yummy chocolate, and a good book to start the day off right. Late afternoons, once the clouds had spent their liquid loot, I ventured into the woods. The walk often entailed a stop at the next door neighbor's house to placate the well-placed guard dog, Zoomer, who never said no to a biscuit or two. I so appreciated the lively and watchful eyes of my temporary canine companion that I missed him before my car had even turned off Lagoon Lane on that cloudy-foggy final day.

My other companion was Hypatia-In-The-Woods founding mother, Elspeth. Her constant, kind ,and supportive presence was with me throughout my stay. The days when my manuscript sputtered, she was a balm to my frazzled nerves, and when it flowed and made me laugh, she partook of the merriment, too. Or when the bees, drunk from their own nectar perhaps, transformed themselves into misguided projectiles and launched themselves as uninvited companions at my window, she just grinned at my irritation.

I didn't allow myself too many distractions once I got into the rhythm of things. To say I was determined to succeed at the goals I set for myself is an understatement. The goals were less about hours spent or words written; rather, to write the hard stuff, like the climax, during which the protagonist confronts the villain. In the end, I managed not quite 14,000 words in 5 1/2 days. A decent effort if I say so myself. I had Holly House to give me the tranquility in which to do it and the wonderful folk at Hypatia-in-the-Woods to thank for providing the opportunity.

Endings, I realized while in residence at Holly House, were the source of my biggest a-ha moments in life. Here's to more a-ha moments for me and other Holly House residents.

Adirondack chair

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