I recently had the rare opportunity to visit Ossabaw Island, just off the coast of Savannah for the first annual Savannah Book Festival Writer’s Retreat. Ossabaw is Georgia’s largest island and privately owned. :
We have all had that dream, that we might one day leave our mundane lives, just for a second, flee to to a magical island, find the writer, the artist within.
I have done that, in a magical place called Ossabaw Island, a private sanctuary just off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, only accessible by boat. No cars, no television, no phones, except those bootlegged in, and only if using Verizon did they work.
For four days I and three other juried writers immersed ourselves in the craft of writing, digging deeply into our souls to extract nuggets buried within, dormant for most of our lives.
We were invited by founder of the program, Tony Morris, a poet and professor of English at Armstrong Atlantic State University. He brought with him a wealth of talent: Beverly Donofrio who penned the novel that brought Drew Berrymore as Beverly’s character to the big screen in Riding in Cars with Boys; Lenore Hart, with seven novels and a children’s book under her belt, Her lastest novel, The Raven’s Bride, being released in New York that very week; as well as the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, a darling Southern Belle named Cathy Smith Bowers, who turned each of us into a lover of not only the craft of writing but the sounds of letters and words.
As I approach age forty-five, it seems that something in me has been asking, am I finished learning? Is this it? Where is that novel that I have known brews inside me? A question many of us mid-life creative mortals ask.
I found that answer on Ossabaw, a discriminating place. To be allowed on, you must be studying the arts, science or contributing to the furthering of your craft. Artists visit here each year, and the only way to be a part of it is to be investing in yourself or fellow man.
There are no tourists, no boat tours, just 26,000 acres of pristine history to be explored. I found myself reflecting on my family’s heritage, that of timber. Here you can see where forestry practices stopped cold. Immersed among ancient live oaks, palms, magnolias, dogwood and wild azaleas are towering pines, all about the same age, maybe forty years old. Deep within the property is “The g-nomey tree” that stands gnarled and the Breakfast Tree has a twisted, table-like trunk. At the south end is the pride of the island, a tree nearly thirty feet in diameter with a canopy of over a hundred and fifty feet. This tree may have sheltered not only the Creek Indians who first settled here, but the patriot soldier, the planter and the children of the family that now owns it, the Torrey’s of Grosse Pt., Michigan. The final heir at age 98, still lives here in her summer home, a grand pink stucco fortress with soaring ceilings and beautiful iron work. She is active and knows the island backwards and forwards. Her story featured in Atlanta Magazine. http://www.atlantamagazine.com/march2011/theoldladyofossabaw.aspx)
The family has gifted it to the state of Georgia as a wild sanctuary. Today she enjoys its final years of private oasis and shares it with strangers who quickly become friends. Ten miles of beaches divide the island from civilization, one are called the boneyard where hundreds of trees stand naked against sky and sand is particularly mesmerizing.
We bunked in the old hunting lodge, a quaint wooden two story building with massive fireplace and an updated kitchen. It was in the living room our writer’s minds were transformed, as each night our mentors would read to us from their own works. We immersed ourselves in workshops, revealed portions of novels we had brought with us, unveiling parts of ourselves, peeling layers of life, and weaving them into friendships I will carry with me the rest of my life.
These women, models of who I, as an “artsy type”, a creative person, might one day become. They were all older than I, by ten to thirty years, and life bubbled from each of their cores. Tony would sit crouched in the corner, a tree watching a nest of bees create honey from pollen made of words.
“We will never be the same,” Kathy would tell us as we gave life to our words, and like the flap of a butterflies wing, we sent creativity off into the universe, clear across the waves surrounding Ossabaw.
I have been back in my home now for only eight hours and already I have begun to fill the pages of my new journal. Words flow from my brain, spilling out, down my arm to paper. My computer has remained shut, the link of my fingers to my brain untangled, somewhat awkward, but no longer blocked.
Ossabaw and the treasures there, a pig named Paul Mitchell, who loves to have his ears scratched and his belly filled with scraps of gourmet fare, and donkeys that greeted us with deep calls each morning set the tone for a place where time stands still.
As we spent our last day there, stranded for a few hours as we waited for Mother Nature to bring back the tide, we savored the day on the front porch of the guest cottage, pulled out Tony’s guitar and sang some Patsy Cline, listened to some of Tony’s originals. A great end to a glorious day of 70 degree weather and sunshine on this magical day in late February.
I will forever look at this experience as one that has changed my life. Like the events of 9/11 that turned my life on a different path, this will too go down as one of the experiences that made a difference in my being. Ossabaw, has told me, without a doubt, that I was born to be a writer. It is the core of who I am. It is what I do to “unleash the cobwebs- the fluent weavings of words that hide in there- in the soul I was formed from.”
I need only remember the big trees that lined the fern and palmetto framed paths, the old slave quarters that remind me of people who never got to tell their stories. And so tonight, I sit propped on the edge of my bathtub, my legs crossed, the sounds of my snoring husband drifting into the night.
I am home, the writer I was when I left, but now fully awake.
I thank Ossabaw for that chance to unleash the thoughts in the darkness, and bring them to light, that once released, live forever among us.
Allison Puccetti Adams 2011