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Getting Small at Winter Fishtrap

Turn on your senses and imagine these scenes:

Snow covered mountains that envelop a small valley, icicles as big as ski’s, the gurgle of a steam, an ice covered lake, woodpeckers pecking, people strumming ukuleles, and the buzz of many voices.

Those were some of the sights and sounds I experienced, as a participant and presenter, last weekend, at a writing retreat called Fishtrap. Fishtrap is an organization that promotes “clear thinking and good writing in and about the West.”

The Setting . . .

The folks at Fishtrap chartered a bus that took us from Portland to Wallowa Lake, where the retreat was held. The lake is near the Northeastern Oregon/Idaho border, outside the small town of Joseph, Oregon. The bus ride was so much fun! I connected with fellow writers before the retreat started, learned how to play a ukulele, and stared at the jaw-dropping scenery. We passed ice covered trees and rocks as the bus slowly wound it’s way through the Columbia River Gorge. As the bus made it’s way out of the Gorge and toward Fossil and Pendleton I noticed an immense contrast. The landscape looked harsh, dry, and resembled a high desert, whereas the Columbia River Gorge is lush, wet, and green.

When we finally got off the bus, we were confronted with cool, crisp air, and a beautiful sunset that cast a golden light on the mountains. The snow on the ground was light and made crunching sounds as we walked toward the Wallowa Lake Lodge. The lodge was incredible. It was built in 1923 and it’s surrounded by mountains, huge Ponderosa pines, and cute cabins near the water. Calling the area beautiful doesn’t do it justice. The setting is majestic and quiet.

The Theme – Getting Small

Getting Small was the theme of Winter Fishtrap event. The basic idea centered around writing and talking about  “what it means to live smaller and more sustainably in a world mostly hell bent on bigger, faster, better.”

The Speakers . . .

There were about 80 attendees at the writing retreat. It was an honor to meet so many awe-inspiring writers and to speak along side these folks:

  • Winona LaDuke is an internationally renowned activist. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. In 1996 and 2000, she ran for vice president as the nominee of the Green Party, with Ralph Nader.
  • Amy Minato is a teacher, poet and the author of two books, The Wider Lens and Siesta Lane: One Cabin, No Running Water, and a Year Living Green.

The presentations, conversations, and readings were rich with detail and focused on many things related to “getting small,” including connecting to community, nature, privilege, and using writing as a tool to change the world. I took away four key lessons from the retreat.

1. Be open to new experiences.

When the Executive Director of Fishtrap contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to speak at the retreat, I was surprised because I’ve never considered myself to be a “good writer.” And wasn’t sure if I should say yes because speaking in public isn’t my strong suit.

I decided to say yes because I knew the experience would be enriching. Being open to new experiences fosters growth and creativity. And you never know who you will meet or what you’ll see. One of the many highlights of the weekend included touring a tiny gypsy wagon. The woman who owned and built the wagon lived in it for three month stretches, while she worked for the United States Forest Service.

Touring the wagon and chatting with the owner was serendipitous because my friend, Dee Williams, was at Fishtrap. Dee is designing our little house. So touring the wagon and chatting with the owner gave us a few design ideas.

2. Listen to people’s stories and ask a lot of questions.

I had the opportunity to listen to a lot of remarkable stories and ask my new friends questions about their lives. Active listening is one key to happiness because we learn by listening and asking questions. By asking a new friend questions about their life story, you are showing that you can listen and that you care about what they are saying.

3. Breathe.

Before I got up to the podium to give my talk, I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. Thankfully, yoga has taught me to breathe deeply. As I walked up to the podium, my legs and hands were shaking and I took a deep breath. All I had to do was breathe and be myself.

Remember to breath deeply if you’re in a situation where you feel nervous or scared. It’s one way to decrease your stress level and heart rate.

4. Don’t be scared of community, embrace it.

Our hyper-individualized culture has taught many of us that we don’t need community, that we can do everything ourselves. That’s a myth. If we’re going to make positive changes in this crazy world, we have to work together. Attacking big problems from different angles is possible.

For example, the folks who attended Fishtrap made up a relatively diverse group of people, who have unique interests and skills sets. Writing and reading were the things that brought us together. These commonalities facilitated community and many discussions about simplicity, sustainability, and how we can all make a difference in our own local communities.

Parting Words . . .

On Sunday morning I took a walk through the dry snow and took in the scenery. As I looked up at the mountains and out toward the lake, I felt small, like a tiny seed.

Even though I felt small, my heart swelled with gratitude. The theme of the weekend was “Getting Small,” but I walked away with fresh ideas, a new tribe of friends, and the motivation to keep growing my writing. And that is far from small, it is very big.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Emilie March 7, 2011, 8:50 am

    Hi Tammy,

    This sounds like a truly awe-inducing weekend! I’m moving to Portland soon, and so I might just have to check out some of Fishtrap’s upcoming retreats myself. I do already have ukulele play-along-leadership experience… Hm.

    And good for you, getting up there and sharing yourself like that. Congrats!

  • Holly March 7, 2011, 9:47 am

    Public speaking is so hard!! I’m proud of you for agreeing to do it — I’m sure it was terrific!

    I love the glimpse of the gypsy wagon — the bed/drawers/pull out table is just what I’ve imagined for the tiny house I’m building in my head. Any chance we could see other pics or a floorplan?

    • Tammy March 7, 2011, 10:09 am

      Thanks Holly and Emillie!

      Holly – Scroll to the end of the post and you will find a link to my full flickr photo set. I took a lot of photos of the the wagon. 🙂

  • Holly March 7, 2011, 10:21 am

    Thanks, Tammy — What a beautiful location and I *LOVE* the gypsy wagon even more having seen more of it.

  • megan March 7, 2011, 1:44 pm

    I had a hard time figuring out the mission of Fishtrap for a bit until I realized it’s a typo – “in AND about the West.”

    • Tammy March 7, 2011, 1:47 pm

      Thanks Megan! I just noticed that too. Ack.

  • Becky Lerner March 7, 2011, 3:49 pm

    This stuff about not being a “good writer” is streaming off radio station KFUKT. Look at your success with this blog! You’re a very talented communicator and the whole world thinks so. It wouldn’t be possible unless you had a beautiful way with words. You are a rock star!


    A fan

  • Holli March 7, 2011, 5:41 pm

    Thank you for sharing what insight you gathered.
    I have enjoyed Joseph and a trip or two nearby since I have family who live in LaGrande, an hour from Pendleton. I could vividly picture your scenes.
    I love the last point. It is dear to my heart. Some of my coolest friends have come from connecting and getting involved in my physical local community.

  • Pei March 7, 2011, 8:13 pm

    Wow, you rubbed shoulders with Winona LaDuke–how awesome for you!

    Glad to read and see that this retreat provided you mental and visual refreshment, and invigoration.

    Keep up the good work, Tammy!

  • Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate March 8, 2011, 7:42 am

    J.D. Roth wrote something a few years back about saying yes to opportunities that really struck a nerve with me. I’ve been asked to do public speaking engagements and always said yes, even though the thought of it made me want to puke. Some were paying gigs, others I chalked up to character development, but I’m glad I did them all.

    The first talk I gave was at a local elementary school, and the person who greeted me casually mentioned that there was a mix up and that the parent leaders were having a book group that evening and they might have to have me return at a later date. I had spent an inordinate amount of time preparing my presentation on “Choosing a non-consumer life for you and your family” and was livid. Luckily a dozen or so people showed up and I got through the evening without any major mishaps.

    Each talk has gotten easier, although I do always get a pukey feeling right beforehand. Luckily, this goes away once I actually start my presentation.

    It sounds like your talk was a rousing success in a beautiful location. I know my father has been to Fishtrap before and loved it.

    Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

  • Mark Powers March 8, 2011, 11:40 am

    Congratulations on the speaking engagement, Tammy! Sounds like “getting small” was an extremely fulfilling experience.

    • Tammy March 8, 2011, 3:10 pm

      Thanks Mark. It was an amazing experience. We’ll have to chat about it more when you come over for dinner. 🙂

  • Mars Dorian March 8, 2011, 5:47 pm

    Hey Tammy,

    congrats for taking the chance – speaking can be intimidating but if you want to push your comfort zone, you have, you HAVE TO DO IT 🙂

    The landscapes are BITI-ful, I can’t even IMAGINE how it felt right on the spot. Breathtaking.

    KICK-ass adventure !

    • Tammy March 8, 2011, 7:57 pm

      Thanks Mars! 🙂 The experience kicked ass and it was such a fantastic opportunity to jump out of my comfort zone. 🙂

      If you’re ever in Oregon, you’ve got to go out to Joseph. You’d dig it.

  • Tess The Bold Life March 8, 2011, 7:41 pm

    A beautiful story, lovely photos. Isn’t life grand?

    • Tammy March 8, 2011, 7:52 pm

      @Tess – Yeah it’s pretty amazing!

  • Leslie Gilman March 9, 2011, 3:10 pm

    Hi Tammy! Ahh, you have brought me back to the lovely days in Enterprise. I could have lived there, right there in that hotel, for my whole life. (With the Slow Food cooks and ukeleles on call, of course.) It was a true pleasure to get to know you on our trip. Thank you for sharing your life, ,thoughts and ambitions on Rowdy Kittens with all of us.

  • Sherri March 9, 2011, 6:56 pm

    I love seeing more pictures of these little homes; such a neat thing that you’re a part of. I don’t think I could live in one full time but I’d sure love to have one as my own little retreat in the woods. Looking forward to seeing how things continue to unfold for you!