For inspiration, writers often need a break from routine. This may mean something as simple as going for a walk, or as dramatic as travelling to a different country. To make this process easier and more affordable, universities and colleges sometimes open their doors to authors, giving them a temporary refuge to research and to write.
The writer-in-residence program at Okanagan College (Vernon Campus) offers a particularly inspiring location. Each September, a writer is invited to stay at the arts and crafts style Mackie Lake House. Built in 1910, this heritage home is set near the shores of Kalamalka Lake, surrounded by generous and tranquil grounds.
“It was the perfect place to let my senses run wild,” said Brenda Schmidt, this year’s writer-in-residence. While working on her three previous books of poetry — A Haunting Sun, More Than Three Feet of Ice and Cantos from Wolverine Creek — Schmidt spent many hours contemplating the northern Saskatchewan landscape she calls home.
Her visit to Mackie Lake House was a chance to view a different landscape, which included cataloguing many tree and bird varieties not indigenous to the Canadian Shield. An enthusiastic bird watcher, Schmidt was delighted to hear the unfamiliar call of a pygmy nuthatch from her writing desk and to see still more circling a bird bath beyond.
Although she prefers being outdoors, Schmidt also reflected on unique objects inside the heritage home.
“Even little things like hooks with lion faces on them, I stared at them, thinking that they might become a metaphor for something,” she said. “Images are endlessly inspiring and the words always come.”
In fact, a place like Mackie Lake House can offer too many distractions.
“I purposely didn’t take painting supplies along,” said Schmidt, who is also an accomplished visual artist. “Of course, as soon as I saw the watercolours of Patrick Mackie, the urge to paint struck.”
But Schmidt wasn’t disappointed. “Sometimes an unsatisfied urge proves generative. And I think it was.”
Schmidt took copious notes while at the house, but is unsure what poems will be generated by her stay.
“I’ll let the experience settle in before I begin to write,” she said. The new poems will be published in an anthology by Kalamalka Press next fall.
If you can’t wait for the new collection, visit Schmidt’s blog, Alone on Boreal Stage (http://birdschmidt.blogspot.com). There you will find samples of her painting, photography and writing, and undoubtedly hear more about her stay at Mackie Lake House.
Heather Allen is a writer and reader who lives in Penticton.