A birch and a pine grow next to each other below Mount Cardigan, Alexandria, New Hampshire.
I just returned from leading a writing workshop for the Appalachian Mountain Club. The AMC and I began Writing from the Mountains in 2016. The year before, we had brainstormed the workshop but had to cancel with too few signups. That changed dramatically from 2016 onward. The only year we didn’t run it was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In 2021 I ran the workshop at the Highland Center; we wore masks inside. This year we returned to the workshop’s roots at Cardigan Lodge.
Our group included men and women of all ages—poets, novelists, nonfiction writers, those just beginning their writing journeys and those who have published books and pieces. Everyone came with an open heart and mind.
Saturday everyone took a solo ramble, without notebooks or camera, on one of the many trails that begin adjacent to the lodge. After about two hours they returned, and I guided them in three writing excercises. First they created a kind of timeline of the morning’s evolution, in four stages. Next they made a free-range list of every detail they could recall. Third, each drafted a letter to a difficult person, telling the person about the morning.
Saturday afternoon we discussed two essays, one by the writer Sandy Stott about bushwhacking around Cardigan. He has explored that ridge his whole life. Sandy is a former Appalachia journal editor and the current editor of the journal’s Accidents section. The next essay was one of my favorites for this workshop, “Reconnaissance,” by Colin Fletcher, about a failed river crossing in the Grand Canyon. After this writer Elissa Ely, who was assistant workshop leader this year, led us in an exercise: we went back out to our morning routes for 10 minutes and explored our peripheral vision. What had we missed to the right and left of the trail?
Saturday evening, writers read some of their new work from the day’s writing. Sharing first drafts is an act of trust and courage, and the sentences were beautiful and inspiring. The positive energy of the group provides the impetus to keep going with a work. These are the moments that can make or destroy a writer.
I know we made a lot of new beginnings here.
Sunday morning we took short field trips. I instructed everyone to find one place, sit or stand there and observe. Write, sketch, photograph, and listen. Inside, we reported sightings of barred owls, salamanders, river otters, birches growing next to conifers, ice crystals on bridges, and more.