I still smell a little smokey, but I am definitely no longer in the woods where the soundtrack was one of whispering leaves, joyous birds and the tinkling laugher of the makers and creators who gathered in the New Forest for the first ever A Nest Of Gentle Makers retreat.
My accommodation was a shepherd’s hut and this blog’s photo is the view I got to look out on each morning. It was warmed at night by a tiny wood burning stove and thanks an eco-duvet made from recycled plastic bottles and a hand-sewn patchwork cover, it was positively toasty despite the plummeting nighttime temperatures.
There were three activities on offer – yoga, art and sewing. I do love a bit of art, but I hadn’t done yoga in decades and I loathe sewing with a passion. I am too blind to thread a needle and my impatience invariably means I get tied up in knots – literally.
Saturday kicked off with early morning yoga taught by Kate Woodward and segued into breakfast, followed by art. The theme was ‘inspired by nature’ and our teacher Eloise Renouf sent us off into the forest to find our material.
Gosh, it was heavenly in there amongst the trees. I found perfectly formed pine cones the size of bananas, lichen that looked extra terrestrial and a late-flowering smattering on bluebells. There were no bears, which was just as well because even though I’d only strayed a few hundred yards from camp, I totally lost my bearings.
Time stood still as I sat there engrossed in colour-mixing, experimenting with acetate sheets and working out a cheat’s way to represent the texture of a pine cone – I did it by using a twig to scratch crude triangles on a sheet of paint covered acetate.
I was thrilled with the results of my efforts, although I was in the company of some exceptional artists and had an attack of the usual ‘Why can’t I be as good as them?’ but it passed quickly.
The afternoon was spent tramping through the New Forest where ponies, cows and even pigs roam free, although we didn’t come across the latter. Our guide urged us to take note of our surroundings. Every so often we’d stop in silence to admire what was before us. During one of these moments, I spotted a cluster of tall pines swaying in the wind. I’d never seen trees dance like that before. It’s details like this that I fail to notice when my mind is busy working it’s way through life’s perceived problems.
That evening some of us fell asleep during a restorative yoga session and got to know each other a little better as we toasted marshmallows on a glorious fire under the stars whilst thanking the universe for sending us such sublime weather. No rain and just the faintest tickle of a breeze.
This morning, I bravely tackled some sewing. There were a few knots, some unpicking and stabbed fingers, but somehow, I made inroads into some Japanese Boro work on an apron. I wasn’t able enough to do the bit that required a sewing a machine, but I managed some stitching and told myself that the beauty was in its imperfection – it looked as if somebody had been drunk in charge of a needle.
Perhaps the most potent part of the weekend was the moment we gathered around the fire to share a piece of art that meant something to us. The stories were deeply personal, tears were shed and we marvelled at pieces made by children and loved-ones.
Art means something different to everyone and it made me see that life is a blank canvas. We all make our own brushstrokes and whatever the final picture looks like, it is always a masterpiece.
I learned a lot about myself this weekend, namely that I can eat my own body weight in cake, I love making and creating as much as I did when I was a kid and like you, I am perfect just the way I am.