Travels East

Am home now, after a week in chilly but beautiful upstate New York, for family and for a conference.

Travels: The Family Part

Ten or fifteen years ago, I decided, for a mix of reasons really, that I would never visit my Mom’s house in upstate New York in winter again.

Now, if I were writing this story, I might have created some tragedy to drag our protagonist home so that she learns better or, failing that, learns to appreciate things, for all that I hated those sorts of stories as a kid. But sometimes, the universe works through comedy rather than tragedy.

So first I get a conference I adore (more on that in a couple paragraphs), that takes place only in upstate New York in the dead of winter, so that a January trip to same becomes part of my yearly routine.

Then, my Mom and I decide to plan my sister’s surprise wedding shower to take place right before that conference, so that I can show up.

Then, the plane that is supposed to get me to Albany, where a rental car will then get me to the shower a couple hours away, is rerouted to–Jacksonville, while snow hammers the northeast. Which means it takes an extra day–and a night in a Baltimore hotel–to get me into Albany. People are sleeping in airports, news reporters are wandering around talking to them, the weather channel reporters are having a blast, and even when I do make it up to Albany, flights to most of the rest of the northeast are still not running. I get into Albany around the time the shower is starting.

Which means I spend the next two hours driving icy roads, wanting nothing so bad as to get to my Mom’s house, in upstate New York, in the dead of winter.

I made it, two hours late, which meant my sister got surprised twice, instead of once, and all was well.

Travels: The Conference Part

Kindling Words is on the icy shores of Lake George in the middle of winter. I’ve never seen Lake George in summer. In winter, the towns on its shores are iced in, snowed over, boats and summer cottages all clearly waiting for the world to thaw before coming to life.

I arrived a day early in order to take some writing and retreat time first. Went for a walk from the retreat center to a frozen dock by way of clearing my brain and moving from family space to writing space. The sky was stormy gray, the wind bitter, temperatures dancing down around zero. The frozen lake called up images of frozen Antarctic ships, encased in ice.

On the upper level of the dock, there was a door behind drifted snow. It looked as if it would be locked. But I cleared the snow away, found that the knob turned and the door opened, and stepped inside.

Inside was a dusty storeroom, waiting, like all of the lake places, for another season. But in the storeroom, by a window, was an old wooden ship’s wheel. I stood by the wheel, looked out over the icy lake, imagined myself on deck. I gave the wheel several slow, deliberate turns, listened to it moan as I did.

Then I left, closed the door behind me, and headed back to the retreat center. I spent the next several days writing, talking about writing, and spending time with what has to be one of the most fabulous communities of writers, illustrators, editors, and other children’s book people out there. Conference sessions are loosely structures, with lots and lots of “white space” to add your own topics or simply hang around talking. The subjects this year, in particular, seemed to focus on both the psychological and the craft aspects of writing.

For four days, I barely ventured outside, save to go from one building to another. But when I did, at conference’s end, the gray, frozen world had transformed to one of blue sky and bright sun, of dripping icicles and snow melt.

That sort of thing happens sometimes, when you find a wheel, and turn it.

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