Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Productive Bliss at Wellspring House

Wellspring House. How can I thank you?

I’m greeted by Preston Browning at the door of the Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts. He’s an old, stooped man with a twinkle in his eye and a broad accent. White hair longer than mine straggles out from under a wool captain’s cap.

He shows me the kitchen, with its recycling bins and compost bucket, and lauds his architect wife, Ann Hutt Browning, passed on a year now, for redesigning this carriage house retreat, right down to the placement of the Persian rugs and the stacks of books everywhere in the living room. All available for the visiting writer to use.

I walk into the Wheatley Room upstairs. My room. A white-and-blue bedspread neatly wraps a four-poster single bed on the right. On the left a dresser with a pressed linen dresser scarf. Beyond that, under a window, a big green upholstered rocking chair.

And straight ahead of me? The future site of my labors beckons. A wide wooden table, three paper-lengths deep, a table with extensions on each end, so it can be as long as I am tall, a table with a pine-cone lamp, a table for my laptop and my paper and my favorite pen and my water glass and my imagination.

I breathe it in. I set up the laptop, plug it in, turn it on. I pick up a journal on the desk, bound in a cheery red print, and open it. Each resident of this room since 2001 has written a note, sometimes a poem to the room, sometimes a love message to the proprietors. I take it to the bed and start reading, glancing back at the table as if I can hear it beckon. I want to do everything.

I set up crackers and chocolates on the dresser, the bottle of wine for the evenings, my bathroom kit. I return to the desk, to the bed, try out the chair, pace the rug that fills the middle of the painted wooden floor. I open the book of poems by Phyllis Wheatley that sits next to the bed and read about this amazing black slave in early Boston who taught herself to speak and read English in a few short months and then began writing amazing poetry. I knew nothing of her before now.

I gaze out the window at a snowy western Massachusetts hillside covered with tall trees and invaded by a few noisy snowmobiles. They’ll be gone tomorrow. It’s going to rain tomorrow. I give myself this time to settle in, to understand the room, to fully inhale the challenge I have set myself: four days of solitude for writing. That’s it. No clutter. No distractions except my own brain. Internet is available, but I find myself interested only in checking my email once every few hours. My addiction to Facebook doesn’t even tempt. I’m here to write and that’s what I want to do, what I will do.

I’ll head out later today for an hour of cross-country skiing (before the snow is ruined by tomorrow’s rain), fresh air and exercise only a tool to help me write better, longer. Tonight I’ll go downstairs to the spacious funky kitchen and living room full (full!) of books (books everywhere), cook myself a simple meal, read a mystery or the New Yorker as I eat, and then climb the stairs again. I’ll take a walk tomorrow, and Sunday, and Monday before I head home. Also only tools to clear the mind, refresh the body.

This is a gift. I’ll be back.

Postscript: I wrote ten thousand words in three days. Indeed a gift.

Here's a tribute to Ann by Aine Greaney, who turned me onto this retreat house (when I told Preston I was a friend of Aine's, I was IN). So much more about Preston and Ann is out there on the Internet for those of you interested.

During my stay, only one other retreatant occupied a room. It turned out artist Cathy knew my sister from Insight Meditation Center, the Buddhist retreat center in Barre, Mass. We were both amazed. Cathy and I were very good at padding around being quiet to respect each other's creative focus.

I recommend Wellspring House without hesitation. Five rooms are available, two of them doubles. Two shared baths, a peaceful inspirational dwelling and town, ample facilities, all for a very affordable price. Bring your food or walk to a meal. Sequester yourself or roam outdoors looking for your muse. It's all there. (Full disclosure: I was not paid to write this post!)


  1. What a lovely review, Edith. I can picture you pacing, feeling out the space, settling in, and then walking to get some energy flowing again.

    You didn't discuss how it felt when you sat at the desk and fell into your story, which I assume you did if you wrote 10,000 words. I hope you'll share that in another post.

    I'm glad your time there went well--no pun intended.

    1. Thanks, Ramona! I will do another post on the process of sinking in.

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  3. This sounds fantastic! Congrats on getting those 10,000 words down on paper in such a short time.

  4. Amazing productivity! Thanks for the wonderful blog post. It sounds like you made the most of every single second. Good for you! I'm impressed.

  5. It sounds idyllic - and just when I'm longing for such a retreat. Thank you for reminding us about how valuable it is to get out of our normal rhythm and into a quiet freedom where the muse can dance.

  6. Sounds like a lovely place - I'm glad it was such a productive visit!

  7. Thanks for stopping by, Sheila and Betsy. I like that image of a quiet freedom. That's exactly what it was!

  8. Sounds like heaven. Is there an online application? (I did look, might have missed it.)

  9. No, it's pretty low tech. Preston reads email, and asks that you just send a short writing sample (one page) and a resume. If you want to say we're friends, that will likely be plenty to assure your admittance. It's not like the bigger retreat centers at all.

    Hope you enjoy it!