Monday, February 27, 2012

One Pea Short of a Pod: Part Three -- the finale

A weekend at Oak Alley with J and M... the last hoorah! Yeah, I'm a lot later than I promised on getting this posted. Hopefully it'll be worth the wait -- and if not. Don't tell me. I'm fragile. *grin*

Day Three:

The iron fence post in the cemetery.
I love trees -- the bigger and older the better. There’s something ethereal about really old large trees. Something tugs at the center of my chest and steals my breath away when I stand under their vast branches. I’ve heard people talk about this same feeling when they’ve walked into a centuries old cathedral or experienced some sort of spiritual awakening or baptism. That’s what trees do for me. Trees are the cathedrals that God makes. And in that moment I take pause to think of all they’ve seen, my own eyes widen with wonder. It’s like a tiny baptism for me. And we just chop them down to pave roads and erect strip malls in their place.

I think that’s why Oak Alley is so amazing. The caretakers of this property know the value of trees. The mansion is impressive, the history is undeniably valuable, but it’s the trees that people spend the most time with and will travel thousands of miles to see.

So I wasn’t surprised when we sat at breakfast that morning and a caravan of buses and RVs rolled into the parking lot. By all accounts, it should’ve been a slow Monday morning. But I understand the need to see the trees. And I’m glad of it. Because as long as the people come, their long lives are protected -- at least from us.

The external-path canopies of tree branches were breathtaking.
Monday was our designated workday. We’d done the tour, taken a million and half photos and (let’s be honest), with nine tour buses and more campers that we cared to count, our cottage was looking mighty appealing. Neither Jeannie nor I are big on crowds.

Leaving the cafĂ© we had the best conversation that two writers reclaiming their Mojo could have with the hostess. She asked if we’d enjoyed our visit and if we’d seen the mansion. We said we had and we were planning on a quiet day of writing in our cottage. Her eyes brightened and she said, “You’re writers! That’s so exciting. I love books! What do you write?” We each beamed. Then Jeannie and I each rattled off out interests and projects in Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and YA. The hostess’s smile dimmed and she replied, “Oh.” Then, she frowned. “I don’t ever read fiction.”

Awkward. Here’s that slice of humble pie you didn’t ask for (but probably needed). Please and thanks.

So, we ducked into the gift shop, licking our wounds. Jeannie might have bought another voodoo doll. I can’t be sure.

Meta-photography. Jeannie framed in oaks and portico.
We spent the afternoon holed up in the cottage with our laptops, bird sandwiches, broccoli soup, and lots of coffee and tea. I think the best thing about being with another writer on a retreat like this is there’s never awkward silence. There were clicking waves of feverish typing from time to time… but then there was always a measure of silence. And even when all that ever happens is silence, and we find ourselves staring at a blank screen, we understand the need to be inside of our own heads. Especially right then. And there’s no judgment. No expectations. Most of all, there’s no request to look for the shoes that have vanished but magically reappeared the moment your butt leaves your office chair and, incidentally, are right where you told your husband you’d seen them last. The magic of being with a fellow Pea is she knows where her shoes are and even if she doesn’t, she wouldn’t expect you stop writing to look for them. Peas find their own shoes.

We did take a couple of breaks. And we did talk. It wasn’t all silence. There was some mumbling to voodoo dolls in the kitchen. I hoped it was J. I couldn’t ever prove it wasn’t. I also took some time to fill out a bunch of postcards and send them away. It’s sort of my thing. Postcards. Most everyone I know has received a postcard from me at least once. Or will, eventually. (I need to work on my segues.)

But the best part of our laid back afternoon at the cottage was Cam II. Last year, at the cabin in the woods, Alexis was bed mates with a lizard. Literally. (That isn’t some crazy metaphor or secret code.) There was a lizard hibernating atop a calendar, which was hung on a bunk-bed post. I guess he wanted to make sure he didn’t oversleep. At any rate, he stayed with us the entire Pea-treat. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw Cam II sitting tucked between the blinds behind a sheer curtain. It was like an omen, a blessing, a symbol of our returning inspiration embodied in the length of a garden lizard. Cam the Chameleon had reincarnated and appeared to us. Come to us in the form of a tiny reptile, our Mojo had returned. The clouds opened, the wordsmith angels sung. We would live to write another day.

We gaped. We awed. We relished in the chameleon. And then, I said, “Damn that lizard looks skinny.”

J replied, “Yup, that’s a skinny lizard.”

“Do you think he needs to eat?” I asked.

“How would I know whether he needs to eat, M?”

“I dunno.” I shrugged and peered closer at our emaciated symbol of hope. “It’s warm again. Maybe I’ll put him outside.”

“Whatever,” J sighed.

I looked at J with wide eyes. “I mean, what if he dies in here? We can’t let a chameleon die in here. What would Cam say?”

“You realize,” J said, raising an eyebrow at me. “It’s not a chameleon. And neither was Cam. They are called anoles.”

“Whatever,” I scoffed.

Peeling away the sheer curtain, I reached between the slats of blinds to recover our little chameleon-anole friend. He’d woken from a dead sleep, his green blinking eyes flashed with fear. And then, he leaped at my face like a rabid spider monkey. I shrieked like a banshee and flicked him off onto the couch before realizing my folly. I heard J’s voice, distant and unimpressed, as she said, “I don’t think he likes that.” But I ignored her, thinking only of what would happen to us if our emaciated hope died! Oh, the insanity! So, I dove into the couch cushions after him. He shimmied to the floor, and I knocked over the coffee table as I scampered on hands and knees across the hardwood to recover him. Finally, squishing his lizard face against the edge of the carpet, I panted and bellowed, “Gotcha!” (*Note: this scene has been dramatized for your entertainment.)

With Cam II clutched between my hands, I brought him outside. I walked into the nearby field. The sun beamed down and I opened my hands. His little reptile face brightened as his skin warmed. He blinked as if to say, “Thank you.”  I released him into the cool green grass.

J appeared behind me and said, “Do you feel better?”
“Yes,” I replied as we turned and walked back to the cottage. “He can eat and grow strong.”
“Or get eaten by a raven,” J said. “There was a lot of them at the edge of the field today.”
I gasped and I ran in the direction of Cam II screaming, “Oh, gods! I’m so sorry!”

I spent the next ten minutes chasing after the tiny lizard in the grass until I re-caught him. Panting, with grass-stained knees and my heart beating wildly against my ribcage, I put him in a bush right next to the cottage where there were plenty of bugs.  I had to do right by Cam II. The guilt would have ruined me.

Tree love.
After an uneventful dinner, J and I decided to do the one thing we were most excited about. We grabbed our flashlights and headed out onto the grounds after dark. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip. Why? It was all about the trees.

We hiked across the large field between the cottages and the estate. It was warmer than it had been the previous two nights, and we were the only guests on the property. We had the whole place to ourselves and we relished in it.

After skirting around the mansion and trying to peek into the windows in hopes of having a paranormal encounter (not that either of us really thought a ghost would press its face against the window to stare back at us -- but we could hope), we strolled down the path.

Flashlights off, feeling the immensity of the branches that hung overhead in the crushing darkness, we sat on a bench. Looking at the stars through those earthly skylights of leaf and branch, we imagined. We imagined the characters and stories we could tell. We imagined the histories we could create. We did what we as writers love more than the air we breathe (it is the air we breathe) -- we gave the reigns of our mind over to our imaginations. And we flourished.

Mansion in evening light. The new oaks view.
In the end, it wasn’t the cottage, a ghost, or a skinny lizard that rescued us. It was the possibility held within the branches of those oaks, the quiet darkness, and each other. And that, in the end, is what a Pea-treat is all about.

Tomorrow, Alexis attempts to wrap her brain around a book she's read and shares it with The World. *cue ominous music*


  1. Great series, M! *sigh* I miss Oak Alley.

    1. I tried to make it cohesive but give each part a little something different. It was fun! I can't wait to try my hand at another one. :)

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you! I try. Sometimes I think I'm the only one that gets my humor. You were missed. Next time we all go.