A Place to Connect, Create, Inspire: Sourwood Forest is Seeking Writers for Summer 2024 Residencies

Sourwood Forest in Western Amherst County, Virginia inspires through direct experience in nature, fostering curiosity, artistic expression, and wellbeing. We are currently seeking writers* for residencies in May, June, July, August, and September, offering flexible dates and rates. The spacious home is on sixty acres of untrailed forest, where the nearest human neighbor is a mile away. Inside is space for two residents, affording each a private bedroom, desk or table, and comfortable chair. Residents share a bathroom and are welcome to use the house’s main kitchen and communal spaces. Want to know more? Contact Sourwood Forest to plan your custom residency today! *Visual artists who don’t need much indoor space and who work with natural materials are also welcome. Continue reading

On the Cusp of the First Frost

October 31st, and I’m afraid many a child will be disappointed by today’s weather for trick-or-treating. It likely won’t even hit 50 degrees, rain is a real possibility, and the winds are supposed to pick up in the late afternoon. The brilliant autumn colors are falling down, down, down as the continued drought conditions push the trees into letting go of their leaves. While Sourwood Forest is mostly about woods and wildlife, I also share part of this place with four goats: Cocoa, Bertie, Iris, and Captain Fantastic (in order of seniority). And the book I’ve been working on for the past seven years–about the woods and goats–is finally in print. So this post is pointing at that, to remind readers that this place is also an inspiring place to create. Several amazing artists contributed images to make the book visually beautiful. A few of them have websites: James Cicatko , Cathy Leather , Ted Moore, Rhea Nowak. I encourage you to check them out. If you’re interested in knowing more about the book, Contact me. I only printed a limited number, and they are not available online. Tonight the first real frost is likely to happen here at Sourwood Forest, which marks the start of my search for artists and writers who would like to be next summer’s residents, spending some time here between May and October 2024. Contact me if you’d like more information about possibilities. I chose the title after surveying over forty friends and colleagues to make a choice from five possibilities. Two of the titles got 75% of the votes, and What Holds Us Here won by a nose. I like it because the book’s content speaks to just about every way to interpret each of those words, making the title both a statement and a question. Continue reading

A Cool May at Sourwood Forest

I was tempted to draft this post on the back porch, but Mr. Wren, whose partner is nesting in the potted coleus plant nearby, stood not four feet from my chair and scolded me. The nest is holding five eggs that are getting very close to hatching. May brought so many cool mornings, like in the old days. And today, June 1, the cool seems even more precious. That’s why I headed out first thing, with my tea cup in hand, to be in the woods at the time of birdsong and deep shadow. I’m working on a loop trail that could be used all summer, something Sourwood Forest doesn’t have. My husband and I like our woods to feel unpeopled, and trails make the presence of people palpable even when no people are there. But I think the benefits of this trail for artists who will visit Sourwood Forest justify it. On May 6, artist Siobhan Byrns (University of Lynchburg) and poet Grant Kittrell (Randolph College) generously gave their time on a Saturday to lead an art-in-the-woods event. Sioban had prepared materials for everyone, including specially dyed paper that, when activated by UV rays from sun, imprinted likenesses of whatever materials were captured between sunlight and paper. As we wandered into Sourwood Forest to choose our materials and create our images, we focused on the richly detailed diversity making up the decaying duff of the forest floor and delighted in the patterns of new leaves on every living plant.  Dappled sunshine made bright pools of light into which we could set our projects to soak in the rays, as the background paper turned from blue to white. We finished the projects on the back porch of the house, using shallow trays of water to “set” the image into the paper, then hung what seemed like subtle miracles in blue on a clothesline to dry near the blooming irises.  After lunch we gathered on the front yard deck under a circle of old oaks to hear Grant Kittrell read poetry. And we engaged in a discussion that wandered from the subject of black snakes to the powers of old trees, both real and imagined. Birds sang, a slight breeze whispered through the young leaves in the forest canopy, and the spectacular light of a May afternoon made everything (including us!) glow with the light of spring.  I was happy to… Continue reading

Winter in All Its Glorious Forms

I have not written in December because I’ve been outside in the woods, through temperatures high and low, winds calm and raucous, days shortening and, just recently, beginning again to grow. That intoxicating slant of winter light drags me outside before I’ve even finished my first cup of tea and again in the afternoon when I should be staying glued to my screen for another hour. Recently, there was a cold spell. A period of below freezing temperatures for several days in a row, unlike we’d experienced for many years, it seems. I did my best to thaw the birdbaths a couple times a day to save the birds from having to fly to the creek to drink (knowing they had to conserve energy), and I put birdseed out in more places and types of feeders than ever before. And, of course, the goats had to be fed twice daily instead of once, have warm water added to their plug-in buckets (which keep water just above freezing, but not warm enough to entice them to avoid dehydration), as they munched through the hay in their net and racks at three times the usual rate. The extra outdoor work was worth it, though, for the chance to see ice art at the creeks! No way can I stay inside long enough to do any decent writing, so I’ve posted these photos (I’m too entranced by the woods, though, to even photograph anything properly..); and I’ll insert a poem from a few years back, though it requires a windy day and large white pines to picture it, something I don’t have in my photo gallery, sadly. So just imagine. Wind and the White Pine Tree It’s just another one of those days, another one of those windy days like so many others you’ve stood through. And so you just trust to your internal structure, to the joinings with neighbors below and above ground, and ride out the whims of the wind. Perhaps all will calm and you’ll still be standing, mostly whole and able to grow on. It’s in your DNA: this knowing what to do, what you can do, and when to do nothing. But there’s more to it than that. What I see is your motion inside the wind: your branches dance, along with the other trees’ branches powered by invisible air, and grace comes from how you bend to… Continue reading

Blessed Rain

Hurricane Ian’s outer flank is stirring up the woods, dropping much needed rain all over the Pedlar River watershed today. Yesterday, before the rain started, I took photos of the river at a place very familiar to me. I don’t remember ever seeing the Pedlar here so low. I’m sure it must have been this low during the drought (circa 2000-2002), but my memory isn’t what it used to be. What I do know is that area friends and neighbors have been noticing the low water this year more than ever before. Is this because we have reached a certain age where we can feel sure about our comparisons of “these days” with the past, perhaps? Or maybe it is because the swings from rain to dry are extreme enough for even those who don’t pay much attention to notice. This time of year is unsettling for many reasons–day length changing fast, trees changing color, squirrels racing about and all those signs we don’t even realize are triggering the oldest part of our animal beings into a sense of “Winter is coming! We must put up food and get the nest insulated!” These brainstem instincts are much stronger than the civilizing forces that allow us pretend we are somehow above and in control of nature. But the usual anxiousness of Autumn “these days” occurs within the larger context of climate change. What I think is different for me this year is the degree to which I’m accepting disruption as the rule. I know that my time of becoming more familiar with this natural place I call home has ended; and for the rest of the time I’m able to live here, home will continue to become less familiar by the season–because of climate change. The familiar becomes strange and strangeness becomes the norm. October is still a beautiful time, even in this topsy turvy world. What is here now is worthy of witnessing and celebrating. I’m reminding myself of this daily, hourly, and this minute while I look out at the neon red berries on the dogwood tree, her leaves shiny wet and tinged with burgundy, her soaked branches swaying in the wind. The thirsty world is drinking blessed rain, and for the moment that’s what matters most. Continue reading

What is Sourwood Forest?

It is the name I’ve given to a part of the woods on the property where I have lived with my husband Scott since 1992. Large Beech, various Oaks and White Pines form the highest canopy and a diversity of other beings make up the rest, from high above our heads to down deep into the forest floor duff. Sourwood Forest is the part of our woods where you’ll find a couple of meditation benches in places we love to visit from season to season. It is where we walk and wonder at how the forest is growing more engaging as it ages, where we recognize how fortunate we are that our property happens to be home to a diverse natural community of beings living and thriving because we don’t interfere. All logging stopped here in the late 1970s. The only trees felled in Sourwood Forest since then are the pines that are now part of our house. I named Sourwood Forest after the tree species who has become my favorite. Sourwoods are mid canopy species. They have subtle beauty to offer at every season, from their lovely bark, arching trunks, and delicate flower sprays to their glorious range of fall colors. The Mission of Sourwood Forest is to encourage creative inquiry and artistic expression in connection with nature, but in a larger sense, it’s about helping people envision the changes humans must make in order for any of us to survive anywhere. Art, in the largest sense of the term, has always provided insight into a bigger picture. In this case, I’m hoping it can help nurture awareness that the human animal is part of nature. That understanding is key to our making wise choices as we live from day to day within the climate crisis and ecological peril that is our time. I am seeking a few creative people to come here each fall and spring to stay in the house for a week or two, spend time in Sourwood Forest, and translate their experiences into art, writing, scientific inquiry, or improving the well being of themselves and others. It is an experiment in the beginning stages, having started in May of 2022. And as more people come here, the forest will grow, change, and nurture the humans who spend time there. The first Sourwood Forest Residency took place in May 2022. During their time here, residents engage… Continue reading

Pedlar River Institute’s Sourwood Forest Residency Program Begins!

Nature offered us a perfect spring day for the opening celebration of Sourwood Forest’s first artist residency week! Thirteen people went into the forest to draw using charcoal pencils made from the trees that grow there. Judy Strang, Christine Forni (multidisciplinary artist) and Amy Eisner (poet and teacher) collaborated to create an event where guests were treated to poetry, group conversation, refreshments, and a chance to try their hands at sketching in the woods. Everyone left energized, having been nurtured by the forest and by each other. The opening celebration forecasted what future half or full day workshops may include: a mix of art making, poetry, reflection, and environmental understanding. Event leaders Judy, Christine and Amy had first met when they were residents at Vermont Studio Center in June of 2017. Even then, Judy was speaking of her desire to host artists at her house, but it wasn’t until late in 2021 that the three began to talk about the start of Sourwood Forest: it would be marked by Christine and Amy coming to Judy’s place as the first “residents” for what Judy was calling “an experimental week.” When Judy indicated she’d like to host a public event as part of that week, Christine described her “drawing you outside” (see her instagram #drawingyououtside for more information). Christine offered to make charcoal pencils from trees in Sourwood Forest ahead of time, so Judy sent her a box of twigs in March, having carefully chosen them and documented their harvest. As a poet and teacher of poetry to visual artists (at MICA in Washington D.C.), Amy used her talents with language to integrate Christine’s “drawing you outside” activity with Judy’s intention that guests connect and reflect within the forest. She chose and arranged words—her poems and the writing of others—to weave the two and a half hours into one whole experience rather than a series of disconnected activities.  “We’ve just begun to imagine what could happen here,” Judy said, remarking on the positive responses from her guests to the event and to possibilities for Sourwood Forest in the future. She had started with a list of six invitees, and several of those had reached out to their contacts, resulting in a wonderfully diverse group–one that will likely help Judy find more creatives to take part in future residencies. If you’re interested in a Sourwood Forest Residency, send your inquiry through our Contact… Continue reading