Platte River Writing Retreat/Marathon 2009

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Writing participants on cabin stairs

A sample of participants’ writing from the 2009 fall retreat

The Bees and the Wasps: A Story of The Platte River Writing Retreat

by Lucie Caruthers

“Gnome-wan-ka-gnome-bee, gnome-wan-ka-gnome-bee” buzzed the army of yellow jackets as they flew to the top of the Lincoln Journal Star Tower carrying an important message to the sky-dwelling wasps who lived there.

“Those writer folks are back! Those writer folks are back for their fall migration to Platte River State Park,” announced the first bee who reached the top of the tower.

“Are you sure?  Has it been a year already?” droned one of the wasps. “It seems like they were just here. “

A big, fat yellow jacket that lived over on the west side of the park interrupted. “Of course it’s them. I saw several of the visitors lugging heavy loads into the Belgium cabin. That double-wide may not hold all their gear. They were packing in coolers, snacks, suitcases, crock pots, and even a dog. I had to dodge the flapping prayer flags just to get a closer look while I spied on them. “

An amber-colored bee, which lived near Owen’s Landing, confirmed his report. “I was minding my own business when twenty of the writing creatures invaded my relaxing deck with colorful journals and writing tools. When a small, dark-haired girl tried to swat me off the edge of her Pepsi cup, I was hot under the collar. I didn’t feel a bit sorry for the diners who were remarking on the cold buffalo meat while at the same time complaining that we were an annoyance. “

Lucie Carruthers
Lucie Carruthers

A young bee shyly spoke up. “I was really happy when, at some unseen command, most of the people-swarm got up and scattered from one end of the park to the other. After they left, we only had to contend with the ‘dancing professor,’ his lovely wife, and that big dog. Eventually, even they found a way to drift about on the pond in a paddle boat and leave us alone in peace and quiet. “

“You can very well complain about your lunch being disturbed, but I was trying to sleep last night when suddenly I was awakened by off-key musical snippets that all contained the word ‘gnome’. Imagine trying to get some rest when all you can hear is ‘Gnome, gnome on the range,’ or ‘There’s no business like gnome business, there’s gnome business I know’ for over an hour. If it weren’t for the cozy fire they provided, I might have been tempted to sting one of them. “

Writers reading to one another
Writers reading to one another

“I guess it’s lucky they excel in writing instead of singing,” quipped a jittery yellow jacket of indeterminate age.

“I agree with you. The serenade was slightly silly, but the softball-sized strawberry marshmallows, along with the chocolate on the graham crackers made up for it. I wish I could have had s’more of those! “

“Umph! I think you ate two or three,” said the bee which was perched next to him.

“No more than anyone else around that campfire,” replied the first bee.

Just then, their bickering was interrupted, as a large yellow and black bee elbowed her way to the center of the group of insects. “Complain, complain, complain. Don’t you know you have to take the bitter with the sweet?  If you spent any ‘educational time’ around the Owen cabins this weekend, you could have heard all the wonderful stories they told to each other. Some were silly, some thoughtful, and some even contained monsters, although they were polite enough not to make the monsters ‘bees’. Even the smallest chicklet had a story to tell. It was great! “

“Excuse me; I have a beef to pick with one of them. A big, burly guy killed my brother with his red ‘N’ hat. They may write beautifully, but some of them have a mean streak. That was the fifteenth brother I lost this week. “

“Again, it’s a case of taking the good with the bad,” said a huge wasp that was large enough to scare off even some of the bees, much less the humans, with his big stinger.

Finally, the bees and wasps ran out of conversation and quiet settled over the swarm of insects hovering around the top of the red steel tower. As the droning calmed to a mere whisper, one lone sentry bee looked out over the trees in the park and saw a small figure with wild, red hair herding the writing folks into a group around a table. Her words drifted on the breeze up to his lofty perch. “Okay, people, let’s start tonight’s writing showcase. “

The bees and wasps sighed with mixed feelings. The writers invaded their territory, but the entertainment they brought with them was priceless. How many days until next year’s retreat?

Robert holding a clay gnome

“Gnome Soul Receptacle”

(The beginning of a story inspired by a clay “gnome soul receptacle” found outside Owen Cabin 7 by Maija and used in the Friday night warm-up exercise)

By Robert Brooke

      Jeffy was *so* excited to be going to the Decker Arts and Crafts Building at Platte River State Park. His mom and dad were at some Writing Marathon and there was nothing to do. A bunch of grown-ups scribbling, pens clacking like a bunch of really slow cicadas, scrawling stuff about the “whispering breeze” and the “soothing sounds of water” and the “cheerful chirps of little birds. ” It made Jeffy nauseous, with extra naw. So he hiked down the trail to the Decker Building.

      Last year, at Boy Scout camp, they’d made bison out of clay on the lower deck at Decker, and painted the bison with ochre and sepia brown paints. Bobby Carruthers made a cow pie instead of a bison, and on a dare ate half of if, paint and all, and later that night he was really nauseous and threw up sepia and ochre all over the lower bunk.

      But when Jeffy pushed open the gate to the Arts and Crafts center, no one was there. A peeled sign had last summer’s crafts schedule still on it. The wind rustled some plastic tarps covering the tables nearest the edge of the deck, and Jeffy could smell rain. It was cold all of a sudden, though he’d thought the sun had been out when he left his folks in the engrossed circle of writers. He noticed he had goose flesh all over his arm where it stuck out of his t-shirt.

      The gate to the stairs squealed when he let it shut behind him, and when he turned around at the sound, he thought he saw something scuttle under the last stair. Something gray, and thin, like a rat’s tail, only faster.

      That’s when he felt the back of his neck prickle, like a bunch of little hairs sprouting just below his ear and flowing down his shoulder. His dad had little hairs like that, gray like that rat’s tail. His mom would say, “Harold! You need a trim. Go visit the barber again. ”  Jeffy thought the unshaved hairs down the back of his neck kind of made his dad look old. . . .

Shoes, leaves and a pile of notebooks

Mary Birke
Photo credit: Kate Brooke

Platte River Writing Marathon, September 26, 2009

By Mary Birky

Last year I wanted to stay
For the Writing Marathon
Because the leaves had been waving
To me on the drive out from Omaha
And for the last weeks.
I wanted to say goodbye to these friends
Whom I’d long watched for
In the spring
Before they were but slight rises on tree branches
Then poking out light green heads
And all summer waving greetings
On my three-mile-power-walks
And on my long drives
To and from Lincoln or Kansas.
Today I can take time
To enjoy their soon-to-end company
Enjoy their last dances
In new shades of gold and brown.
They’ll wave over me for some weeks more
Until they leave, one-by-one
Their tree fathers and mothers standing
Bare and strong and determined
In their starkness
In the darkness of winter
Waiting. Again. Hoping. Again. Through the starkness, darkness
For spring.


Susan Martens


by Susan Martens-Baker

        I am climbing the Lincoln Journal Star Tower, Robert’s story from last year fresh in my mind. I pause at each level and think about stopping, but I keep moving on, all the way to the Wasp Level at the very top. I must not look through the terrible holes in the steel as I step, each one a window into the reality of my climb up this strange structure.

          Which I realize is moving. Not gently. Not slightly. But definitely. Nervously. If it were a person, I’d say this tower were about to give a big speech. Or maybe tell the girl of its dreams how it’s really felt about her all these months they’ve been working together. It’s the wobble of human imperfection, of risk, of fear. Steel or bone, our skeletons can really only handle so much. But we climb them anyway, don’t we? Shy feelings rising up from our spines, climbing hesitantly toward our mouths. Or our pens.

A Writing Marathon Stop atop a Paddle Boat

By Kate Brooke

Kate Brooke
Photo Credit: Mary Birky

My group is Robert. We are adrift. Pan is giddy at being on a paddle boat, another first for her, golden reds and ticking toenail against the metallic, flecked, bright aqua Boat #2. I down my dog again. Two more boats launch, but they are not of our party. Off our port bow two fish leap for lunch, and we write. Four fat geese ashore, two gleaming in their sunshine of domestic white feathers, the other two with tall black necks and the dun bodies of Canada Geese that might as well be tame. Splashing of rotating paddles punctuated by clear high notes of youths from the other boats. Ashore, nine canoes lounge, late risers along this lake best suited for these flat craft with their flecked blues that sparkle in the sun’s drift.

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