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Snail and Lighting: Creating a Cape Cod Women's Retreat
by Michelle Pelletier
My creative life alternates between snail and lighting. This summer it's the lighting. The previous years were a slow crawl to discovery. Sometimes creative impulses have to wait their turn to be realized. Then, lighting, where all the pieces come together and a deeper intention is brought to life.
The Center for Psychic Healing recently hosted its first annual Cape Cod Women's Retreat. We enjoyed six days of discovering energy awareness tools, meditations and events like the outdoor sauna, fire circle and Mary Magdalene healings. There was room to tent, room to stay in cozy queen-sized beds and, for locals, the opportunity to come and go as needed.
In our fervor, a swift bolt of readiness, I added to my property a winding wood chip path, a cabana for private healing sessions, a shaded deck for movement and meditation, a cold plunge and an outdoor shower.
This is one creative endeavor that I didn't know that I wanted. I had no intention of owning land and creating a retreat space for women on this land. But in 2001, I began this creative process, tying myself to healing and sacred sites on earth.
I'd pulled off Highway 5, en-route from the hills in Southern California to the vineyards, in Northern California, to stretch my legs. It was closing night of the first retreat I'd led and the culmination of teaching my six month program "Body Alive: The Clairvoyant Body and Being."
Students had completed their life-size self portrait drawings and were on their way to creating their solo performances, to be shared in two days time. I felt revived; lush with witnessing their beautiful expressions.
I peed on the side of the road. No one was around but the Goddess. I stared at the stars, felt the quiet, and my place in it all. As is always, with the Goddess and me, Jesus hovered nearby. I felt him, talked about the 'alive' places on earth and how I wanted to teach at them. I didn't know where or when. Just knew that the wish, once put out there, would be heard.
In September 2001, I'd just begun the Culture, Ecology and Sustainability BA Program at New College of California. This program gave me the latitude to design and create my thesis work in Spirituality and Theatre / Clairvoyance and the Body's Wisdom.
Each month for a year my classmates, a cohort of 12, met to digest rich meals, each month bringing a new dish: permaculture; the earth's fresh water supply; corporate personhood; alternative building; the end of oil; a man in New Zealand who so acutely understood the earth's lack of topsoil that he made and sold topsoil to needy countries by investing in millions of earthworms.
This was a hopeful program. We wanted answers, hope, solutions. Yet these careful and frenzied weekends weighted us with unexpected hopelessness. We had to sift through our collective denial - we hadn't been listening to the planet's needs.
Mirroring our planetary grief was the destruction of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent chaos it caused.
Seven months into our program, we'd been sitting around the dining tables at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, an intentional community and non-profit education center in Sonoma County, finishing a scrumptious meal from OAEC's biodynamic garden. We had been breathing deeply our ease when War was announced. We'd stared at each other, buoyed by our collective desire to hold each other.
Our teachers were changing the world, one decision at a time, breaking cycles of unconsciousness. They wrote down the unpopular and legitimate time frame of the end of oil. They were designing a home that would fit into a piece of luggage. They ushered in the first school gardening program in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The backbone of this program was its teachers and their curious, caring call to do something different in the world.
This summer my call was to create the first annual Cape Cod Women's Retreat on my property. Thirteen years after that moment, on Hwy. 5, I was able to marry my wish with the permaculture training I'd received.
In permaculture, the answer you seek is always in the problem, "I have the solution to what I need right here."
So my first question, as I felt the push to create the retreat on my property was What could I build with what I have? I looked around at the building materials sitting patiently, waiting to be something, and I gave them a purpose.
Using old fencing and plywood, I built an enclosure for a compost toilet. I then painted the plywood with leftover chalkboard paint and wrote, "I love..." to be filled in by retreat participants.
I covered gaps in the fencing with delicious material from my Grandmother's chest. The floor for the enclosure was made from pallets, covered with tile, dusty with misuse. I also built three large compost bins from pallets and zip ties, gathered pavers found scattered around by the previous owners and laid them for the outdoor shower floor, and pulled cement blocks into a ring for the fire circle. I piled tree branches from winter storms to determine their helpfulness in creating the outdoor sauna.
When I could no longer use what I had, I went to friends, free-cycle and the store. The property now has a gifted claw foot tub for the cold plunge... which can also be raised on blocks for a hot tub in the winter.
The trees our neighbors cut down became our winding path, with recycled newspaper for sheet mulching to inhibit green growth underneath. A friend lovingly built the deck frame and I bought a pop-up cabana. The sweat hut was created with bamboo from a client's yard.
Slowly, this property is becoming what I loved while at New College of California. It is becoming the place I thought I would travel to as a teacher. I just didn't know it would be home.
A transformational place