Life in the Woods, or Hark! The Herald Angels Wince.

I am of the classification wimpus extraordinaris. I'm a girlie girl, not a "natural woman." In other words, I prefer my nature seen either through a camera lens, on television, or at 65 mph, speeding down a highway.

But.

Once or twice a year I need to get away from annoying people it all and head out on retreat to Christ in the Wilderness in Stockton, IL. Don't think there's wilderness in Illinois? You are so, so wrong. Best of all, it's my kind of wilderness, one offering a limited variety of animals, very few of which could cause me any physical harm. Deer? Don't bite them and they won't bite you – plus, they're vegetarian. Wild turkeys? Okay, those scare me a little. Coyotes? Wolves? Squirrels? Goosebumps on the arms, but I make so much noise walking they hear me from ten miles away. The worst injury I could imagine would involve me twisting my ankle as I ran as far away as I could get. 

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One in a Series of Fungus Shots

The first time I went there on retreat, over Thanksgiving week 2007, I encountered a dead mouse on the path from the high meadow. Fight or flight kicked in full force as I hurtled as far away from the poor decaying thing. And that was a dead animal. Imagine if it had crossed the path. I know. Shiver. It would have left a smoking trail possible to see from space.

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Rare Portrait, Wimpus Extraordinaris

It's a trade off voluntarily entering an undeveloped area in exchange for peace and quiet, but one I'm willing to make for the sake of forgetting society exists. And you really can forget everything there. The hermitages are so secluded some retreatants feel it safe to "go Adam and/or Eve" in the Garden of Eden. Me? Not a fig leaf in the world big enough, even I weren't of Dutch-Irish extraction. What sticks out of my clothes sunburns badly enough when the weather forecaster just predicts sunny days. I shudder to think how my milky-pale "undercarriage" would react upon direct exposure.

In so many ways, not pretty.

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Some Red Thing

This time was my pre-holiday season escape. I didn't skip Thanksgiving like I did in 2007, but came home the day before so as not to miss the turkey andtrimmin 's. My agenda? Partly to look back over the past couple of years, to see where I've been and think about where I'm going. Not much to pack into a weekend, but shockingly I don't feel I fully completed my task. So occupied was I with reading and writing activities – though the latter were interior-related – I had trouble buckling down to my purpose. Turned out I was more absorbed in trying to get photos of blue jays and cardinals, devoting far too much time to hiding behind the drapes, attempting to coordinate my leaps out with the snapping of the shutter before the stupid birds flew away. And I call them stupid.

Out of dozens of oops photos of the ground, the trees, and even on occasion the drapes, window frame and blurry images of a crazy woman with messy hair (ghost?), I got a few in which you can identify bird life. And I think I just realized why my left knee remains sore to this day.

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The Regal Cardinal – At Heart a Scaredy Cat

One thing I'm rather proud of, speaking of the birds and all the balletic movements, turns out it's possible to belch loudly enough, from INside a cottage, to make all the birds in the immediate area flee in terror. Kid you not, it wasn't only the birds on the feeder who bolted. The birds in the treetops bugged out, too. I've seldom been so proud. It was moving. In so many ways. So, so many ways. It's also indicative of the chemistry behind vigorously shaking up Diet Coke until it literally explodes.

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Two Male Blue Jays – See Above

What differentiated this retreat from the previous two was my visit to the town of Stockton. Knowing how depressed the economy has made local businesses, I made a couple small purchases from specialty shops in the town, and bought my meager groceries at their local market. Because I'm who I am, I stopped by their cemetery and got a few shots, too. Never have I left the property during a retreat before. Such a cheeky monkey, but I enjoyed my little foray taking myself shopping.

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Breaking News: Zachariah Whitson Died

As for reading. Yes. I did that. I read Lowis Lowry's The Giver, which was moving and lovely, and began Alex Beam's Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital, but found I couldn't get very far to it before my attention wandered. It skipped beats here, name-dropped there, but inevitably failed to hold my attention. I moved on to AliceSteinbach's Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman. It also became so much blah, blah, blah, aren't I interesting, blah, blah, blah.  My belch story beats anything she told. Sadly. Then finally, finally, FINALLY, New Stories from the South 2006, ed. by Alan Gurganus. Ahhhhh!!! Literature as literature should be. Gorgeous short stories written in that particular southern style I can recognize but can't quite describe. Redneck with booklearnin'? I'll get back to you.

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Color! A Little Bit of Color!

So, a great retreat once again. Already I'm looking forward to going sometime next year. Possibly in spring, but we'll see how that goes. I was aiming for spring this time and hit November. But I made it.

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Back Door – The Granary

P.S.: Sister Julie? Hope the stench of my burned batch of cookies ultimately dissipated. That, and the half bottle of body spray I used to try and cover it up. Life lesson: do not lie prone while mentally timing a batch of cookies. Not when you're feeling drowsy. Because double the cooking time tastes really nasty.

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