I knew nothing about Hedgebrook until a work associate at U.C. Berkeley encouraged me to apply over a decade ago. When I read the application I thought: “Well, I sure won’t get in.” Though I’d published essays and poetry before, at that time I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer. But get in I did, so on an early September morning I unpacked my new laptop, printer, a couple of reams of paper and binders full of stories I’d written about my childhood in the Dominican Republic. I didn’t know what to expect from myself or from the magical place I’d entered.
I was reminded of Hedgebrook when I went blackberry picking this morning in the park near Point Richmond, California. The sun was still hiding behind the hill and the bushes were dewy and laden with green, red and black berries. I picked enough in a half hour to bake two pies and a tart, which are all bubbling away in the oven. It reminded me of Hedgebrook because I was there in early fall when country lanes were loaded with blackberries. I started every morning with a run before settling into my cottage to write, gobbling up berries as I jogged.
There are six writers at Hedgebrook at a time; each has her own hand-crafted cabin with fireplace, writing space, huge windows, and cozy sleeping loft upstairs. I was in Willow Cottage. As the days progressed I became friends with the other writers. It was an eclectic group; one woman had come from South Africa and was working on a memoir, another was writing erotic fiction, another a YA book about an Indian-American girl. We shared our writing at dinnertime, or met at each other’s cabin for informal readings. I wrote every day (even though writers are also encouraged to just nourish their bodies if that is needed more than setting down words.) It was an experience like no other – a supportive environment, as much (or as little) company as I wanted, and the words flowed. Stories linked together or begat new writings, and by the time I said a tearful good-bye to my companions and staff, I knew – I am a writer.
Back to the blackberries: I was inspired to write a short poem at Hedgebrook, which was published later in their newsletter. Since it’s berry season here, I’m sharing it. Meanwhile, the pies have just come out of the oven; I’m sharing two of them with dear friends and keeping the third all for myself, to nibble at as I write.
Follow the blackberries.
They may show you the hidden path
to deer lagoon and the misty beach.
Take a handful, seven is good.
Slide them in and let them melt
your resistance and fear.
Follow the blackberries.
Let them quench your thirst
after a hard run or a long sleep.
They’ll tell you if it’s not time yet
like the man or woman
who resists the ‘I love you.’
Don’t pull them hard;
they’ll let you know by dropping
into your waiting hand, ripe and ready.
Let their thorns scratch you awake
even if you bleed
crimson blackberry juice.
Follow the blackberries to the horse
the color of wet cedar and cream
in the corner by the apple tree waiting.
Follow the blackberries
through the woods to the farmhouse
and find them again
Baked into a tart sweet pie
offered like a sacred wafer.
Open and receive the sacrament.
Rita Gardner grew up on a coconut plantation on a remote coastline of the Dominican Republic under the rule of a brutal dictator. As a child, she was home-schooled via the Calvert School’s correspondence courses. In this isolated environment, she read voraciously and began writing at a young age. She returned to the United States as a young adult and now lives in California. Rita has published essays, articles and poems in travel journals, magazines, newspapers, and outdoor sports magazines. One of her essays, published in a literary journal, became the impetus to write a memoir. She continues to be drawn to the ocean for inspiration; her favorite color is Caribbean blue.
This piece was originally featured on SheWrites.com and can be accessed here.
Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.