There are two moments that stand out for me from my time at the Squam Art Workshops, and for both of them I was alone. I discovered very quickly that you have to find your own rhythm when you attend a retreat of this sort; it's very easy to turn up at your cabin with a suitcase full of expectations, and it's definitely best to leave them on the plane. I was surrounded by friends I already knew, bloggers i felt i knew and could finally hug in person and people i had yet to befriend. One of my biggest thrills was getting to meet some Unravellers in the flesh – it's wonderful getting feedback in an email, but sitting down and discussing their experience of the course over breakfast completely knocked my socks off.
After a few days filled with people and hugs (and a LOT of coughing – I wasn't able to shake off the cold, and spent the entire week sounding like Kathleen Turner meets Marge Simpson) i found myself alone on Friday afternoon. It had started to rain and i wasn't sure the clouds would clear – Friday was my designated day to take photos of the lake – but as i toyed with the idea of lighting a fire in the cabin, the sun suddenly came out (as captured above) so i grabbed my cameras and ran outside. People-hugging aside, this trip away has, surprise surprise, been all about the Polaroids for me. I've had moments, in both Montreal and by Squam Lake, when i thought my head would explode, there was so much new stuff to see and shoot. My camera and I were bonded at the wrist, and I discovered that Polaroid portraits are my new obsession. That afternoon, as i walked along the twisting path by the lake, i tried to capture the scene…. the changing leaves… the stillness. Sitting on a rock at the edge of the water, i flipped through my polas, as you do when the sun is on your face and you can only hear the leaves rustling. And it was at that exact moment the wind raised its head and whipped one of my Polaroids in the air, flipping it out onto the lake. I let out a very ineffectual and croaky 'noooo!' as i watched my Polaroid float away. For a split-second i wondered whether i should wade out and get it, but the water was cold, and i was ill, and as ridiculous as it sounds now, i honestly had to say to myself with a soupcon of irony you've just got to let it go. So i stood on the rock, and watched my photograph bob along the water, getting smaller and smaller. And it was then that, out of nowhere, a man in a green canoe came paddling around the rocks.
'Is that your photo?' he shouted.
"Yes!" i shrieked back.
This magical being of the lake paddled over, scooped my Polaroid out of the water, and paddled back to me on the shore, the sun glistening on his tanned muscled forearms, a dashing twinkle in his eye. Oh okay, it wasn't really an Eat Pray Love ending – he was actually a rather portly gentleman named John who was holidaying by the lake with his family. We spent a good half an hour chatting about life – turns out he'd spent a few years in London in his twenties and that was when i saw the twinkle in his eye. As I walked to the dining hall later that evening i kept marvelling at the saved Polaroid. I mean, what are the odds?
My other Squam moment happened later that night. I'd spent the evening with friends talking about work and life, sat by a crackling fire in what was affectionately dubbed the 'party cabin'. When i got back to my own cabin i discovered Jeanine had lit a fire before going to bed, so i entered the warmth and sent her some extremely thankful vibes through the wall. Earlier she'd been telling me about the previous night's skinny dipping and wine by the lake – Canadians are apparently very hardy! – and while i knew there was no way i'd be getting in to the water (are you sensing a theme here?) i knew i had to be out there, so i wrapped up extra warm and trundled out to the dock with my torch and tissues.
I felt a thrill being out alone in the darkness; it was a perfectly clear night, and i lay back on the wooden jetty, staring straight up at the stars. I didn't feel the cold, I didn't need to cough, i just lay there: looking, thinking, wondering, planning. I whispered a few words to the universe, and before I closed my eyes I saw a shooting star. People, i'm not making this up. It happened; it was magical. After half an hour of communing with the stars I took my tired self indoors and sat by the fire for a while before going to bed. i felt full. i felt content. It was a really good feeling.
i remember reading the post-Squam blog posts last year and feeling a mix of envy and curiosity. And i'm here to say that, yes, it really is that good of a time. But there was no levitating over the lake (i tried – it didn't happen ;) and while friendships are made and renewed, it really was mostly about reconnecting with yourself and your creative dreams, and sitting under the shade of the trees, and having some much-needed fun. Lots of smiles. No stress. The perfect way to spend four days. Elizabeth has created a special place we can visit, and i hope it grows and expands as the years pass. There is room for all of us.
I'll be there again next year for sure, so if you are too, can i take a Polaroid of you?