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Book Retreats: Up North or In Your Backyard

This morning I am writing to you from the shores of Lake Higgins. The sky is dense with cloud coverage, accentuating the thick band of rusty red trees that rise from the shoreline with pops of gold and evergreen above the mostly still lake. The water transitions from a matted silver to a streak of turquoise, before subsiding into steely blue at the shore. When I close my eyes, the sound of the slow lapping of waves onto the shore resembles a gentle trickle.

This weekend I journeyed to Roscommon for the first annual Autumn Escape Book Retreat, hosted by Leopard Print Books, Gifts & Curiosities of Bay City, with twelve other book lovers.

Believe it or not, we did more than just geek out on books and read. We spent time with new friends, shared poetry, played Pictionary, and spent a good amount of time in nature.

In her book Upstream, Mary Oliver writes about a pair of gates through which she frequently vanished to escape life’s difficult moments:

“In the first of these—the natural world—I felt at ease; nature was full of beauty and interest and mystery, also good and bad luck, but never misuse. The second world—the world of literature—offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy…and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything—other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.”

Books are a retreat. We don’t have to drive north to find them, skillfully navigate the back roads, or hike a meandering trail through the wilderness to enjoy their beauty. They are not hidden, private, or reserved for a select few. Books are there, always, for the taking, for the healing, for the discovering. All you need is a library card and some time with an open book.

One woman shared how books were her safe place as a child growing up in an unsafe house. Another shared how, as a mother of young children, books were her escape from the chaos. For many others, books were an avenue into a different world, a well-lit path to a broader worldview.

As I sit here at the edge of Lake Higgins, I can hear the geese, a mouse scurries over the sand at my feet, and a pair of hikers crunch leaves on a nearby path. The sky brightens as more birds wake up to share their “good morning” calls, and I offer mine. All is calm here, at this book retreat tucked in the woods, but in a few hours, I’ll be heading south on I-75 towards home.

This week, as we carry on with our busy schedules, as we inevitably stumble upon the difficult moments in our days, may we, like Mary Oliver, run to the world of literature as our retreat. May we relax in it and stand willingly in the characters of everything. May we retreat into the power, beauty, and mystery of the world deep inside books.

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