Guest Post by Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

Another gorgeous Quiet Monday at Mission San Luis Rey! Aaahh… Hundreds of roses in full bloom, some large as cabbages, and my favorite tree, too, the oldest Pepper tree in California, with its undulating trunk of gnome-like round knobs, whispering in the breeze on my circular walk around the mission. I see another retreater in a sun hat, like me, and two nuns a la Sound of Music, rosaries in hand, smile at me as we pass. I’m amused that I, a relative heathen (relative to nuns, that is!), am keeping such noble company today. But the Mission welcomes all, and I do feel welcome. I settle into my simple quarters and I write and revise in front of the window overlooking the garden.

I welcome the unpluggedness of the day. No phone, no email, no radio. I could read the newspaper like I do most days, but I don’t want to today. The quiet seeps in, soothing nerve endings and calming world-aching thoughts, even if just for a few hours. It sounds corny when I think it, but it’s true: prayers are palpable here. I feel them swirling in the rosy scents on the breeze, in the sight of pollen-laden bees’ legs, embracing me and carrying hope like a secret for the whole world.

In between I read. Today I read Molly Wizenburg’s A Homemade Life, and Stars Overflown by Stars: Creative Writing Instruction and Insight from The Vermont College MFA Program, edited by David Jauss. I felt an instant emotional sync with Wizenberg’s voice; can’t wait to check out her blog, Orangette ( Stars Overflown by Stars is meaty—full of challenging insights on the writing craft.

I always look like I’m moving in, with my big satchel of notebooks and the luggy, loose-leaf binder that contains my novel draft. I bring snacks, too. Today I brought apples and dark chocolate. I guess I’ve always had a fear of going hungry or not having enough to read—or paper and pen. There’s nothing worse than a growling stomach and no book or paper. So I bring plenty.

Oh, so you’re on your own for food, you say. No; lunch is served in the Franciscan-style dining hall, and it’s always been lovely and satisfying. Today it was tortillas, beans, rice, salsa with good bite, salad, lentil soup (which I dolloped with sour cream). At the end, I walked over to the dessert table, praying a few cookies remained. (No worries; I did send out a few more substantial prayers while visiting.) Prayers answered! Yes, there they were, in a neat little pile.

These were not wispy, dainty cookies. They were thick and square-ish. I took one with my cup of tea and took a bite on my way to the table. I immediately circled back and procured one more to enjoy with the chocolate waiting for me in my room.

Back to write, read, munch. Another few rounds through the rose garden, and to admire the Pepper Tree, listening for new secrets.

Happy writing and reading,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka