At the recent Northern Woodlands Conference, novelist Jeffrey Lent described growing up on a mid-century hill farm in southwest Vermont, where his father kept sheep and cows. Lent told us that so little heat rose from the wood stove through the floor registers into his second-story bedroom that ice caked the windows, and he couldn’t see through the glass. He also said a farm is a good place to learn the habits necessary to be a writer, as dairy cows have to be milked daily, even on Christmas. He credits his practice of writing daily to his youth spent milking cows.
Since I care for that species of bovine that requires daily attendance at my desk, I’m always reluctant to leave home, especially after just Hiking The Long Trail. And ever since attending the famed Breadloaf Writers Conference over thirty years ago, I tend to avoid writers conferences all together, but there were several promising aspects about this one that lured me away from from the barn. I’m glad I went.
The conference included not just workshops for writers, but also for illustrators, naturalists, environmentalists, foresters, conservationists, hunters and trackers; really, anyone with any interest in the Northern Forest was welcome. With 26 million continuous acres stretching from Maine to New York, there’s a lot to learn about the Northern Forest in addition to writing about it. (I attended terrific workshops about writing the nature essay and writing a winning pitch.) Best of all, there were really interesting people in attendance, and a relaxed atmosphere where it was possible to meet and talk.
Held at the Hulbert Outdoor Center on Lake Morey in Fairlee, Vermont, the rustic venue allowed us to step outside into the muted splendor of an overcast autumn landscape, and to enjoy the basic indoor accommodations of camp. As someone just off 25 Days on The Long Trail, I found cabins with heat and hot water pretty luxurious after a month of lean-tos and privies.
In addition to hearing Jeffrey Lent read from his forthcoming novel, another highlight included Richard Ober’s keynote address, “If You Don’t Know the Ground.” As a place-based writer, I was heartened to hear Ober, a philanthropist whose mission at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is to improve lives, express a direct link between “knowing the ground” and the arts, the economy, civic engagement, education, health and the environment.
So after a great weekend, I’ve returned home to milk my ideas at my desk, encouraged and inspired to tend to my cows: to keep writing, to keep improving my craft, to keep telling stories to create change.