I’m pausing in Calgary after an exhausting and exhilarating ten days in Saskatchewan. It was my second Sage Hill Writing Experience – a poetry colloquium a few Springs back was my introduction, but the summer writing program was a first, and an impressive one. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have experience of other adult residential writing programs for comparison – the Banff Wired and Spring Writing Studios, and the Arvon Foundation courses in the UK. They all have their strengths, but the choice of faculty is always central. This year’s Sage Hill had a stellar cast:
L-R: Ken Babstock, poetry; Spider Robinson, science fiction; John Vaillant, nonfiction; Kimmy Beach & John Gould for introductory poetry & fiction; Helen Humphreys, fiction workshop; Lawrence Hill, fiction colloquium (=manuscript development).
I’d been dazzled, before coming to the workshop, by Vaillant’s The Tiger, and am looking forward to catching up with The Golden Spruce. There were seven of us in his workshop group, and we worked well and hard over what we swiftly realized was far too little time. Most of us were wrangling book-length projects, an impossible burden to lay upon a workshop group that had at most about 24 hours to read and comment on our work. We all managed to dredge some shareable sections for discussions, and the insights were phenomenal. John shared generously of his experience with writing and publishing, and led us all through what can – in a memoir-heavy field – be some very tricky emotional territory, with wit and sensitivity.
The week had its challenges: a lightning strike left us without internet access for two anxious days; the ticks were more active than they should have been, and the mosquitoes rapacious after a humid summer; there were a couple of brief interruptions in power and water supplies. And I think by the end of our time we were dizzy from too much sugar from all the creamy desserts and cornucopian platters of fresh cookies that appeared immediately after each meal. We were tired from too much dancing and singing, and too much time spent in the lounge lit only by our electronic devices.
But we were treated and fed extremely well. We had a couple of excellent thunderstorms and a tornado warning to further dazzle our views over the Qu’Appelle Valley, and lots of prairie sunshine. I spotted a few varmints in the grass, and we were endlessly circled and swooped by swallows, finches, hawks and the odd hummingbird. We took lots of pictures.
So it was with mixed feelings that I headed out of town yesterday morning, pausing at what a local described, on his way to his car, as “the best thing that ever happened to Lumsden” – the Fourth & James Bakery. We’d stopped there on previous visits to town. Doesn’t look like much at first glance, but the baking is first class, featuring such marvels as quinoa chocolate cupcakes for the gluten-intolerant, and fruit scones for the locavores (these ones featured strawberries from “just over the hill” – I’d missed the Prairie Cherry scones that were vanishing from the pastry case on a previous visit). Long may they reign.