Time to Retreat: 3 Days of Wandering, Creating and Exploring

Jun 18, 2018 | The Highlights Foundation Experience

Kate GarchinskyOur blog guest today is author/illustrator (and frequent visitor) Kate Garchinsky. Kate was the leader for our Nature Retreat for ALL Writers & Artists. Thanks, Kate, for being today’s guest blogger!

On the way to my first workshop at the Highlights Foundation, I was a nervous wreck. I thought I had signed up for an online seminar. Here I was, driving three hours through the Poconos to a place with a reputation for serious writers. I was not a writer. Not yet, anyway. An illustrator, certainly. But a writer? What was I doing?

On mile 132 of 145, my heart throbbed audibly, I crested a steep hill. As I descended, a row of giant wind turbines stretched across the horizon. Something shifted in me, and the fear churning in my belly just melted away. Suddenly, it was autumn. The trees hadn’t changed yet back in muggy Philly, but at this latitude, the air was crisp and smelled of bonfires.


That’s the only word I can think to describe it, the eerily familiar feeling I got from that landscape. A messy patchwork of dairy farms, tiny lakes, golden meadows and blazing trees unfurled, and I had what I can only describe as a John Denver moment. Coming home to a place I’d never been before.

All that before I found the driveway at the Foundation’s Retreat Center, parked outside the Lodge, and approached my room at the end of the hall. Taped to my door at the end of the hall was a sign that said “Welcome, Kate Garchinsky.” There were tears.

You know what it’s like when you try to explain how something, or some place, feels? When I tried to tell my husband, I likely started with, “The food was amazing!” Listen, it’s the truth. Anyone who has been here will say the same darned thing. There’s something in the water, or the air, or the soil, or all three, and whatever that magic is, it’s like Thanksgiving dinner every single meal. Summer squash. Lasagna. Cheesy eggs. Strawberry shortcake. Gluten-free pancakes. Stomach. Grumbling.

Where am I going with this?

Everything surrounding the magic kitchen at the Barn exudes this energy, this feeling of welcome, belonging, comfort, and delight. A wildflower meadow stretches across the grounds like a downy bedcover. Tiny knotty pine cabins tuck up against a hundred acre wood. Hundred-year-old hemlocks provide evergreen shade for families of ferns, aspen, and rhododendrons. Hiking trails cut through the undergrowth and wind alongside Calkins Creek. Deeper in the forest, giant mossy boulders lay piled upon one another exactly where an ancient glacier left them.

I’ve been back to the Barn about twice a year since my first visit in 2013. Every single time I leave I find myself wishing for more “down time”. “Next time I will spend more time outside,” I tell myself. I have gained so much from the information-rich, intensive workshops at the Barn. I am so grateful for all I’ve learned from my mentors at the Highlights Foundation. But now it’s time to retreat. I’m visiting in August for 3 days of wandering, exploring, and letting the magic kitchen spoil me rotten.

Care to join me?

Illustration by Kate Garchinsky from The Secret Life of the Red Fox

Illustration by Kate Garchinsky from The Secret Life of the Red Fox

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