Mineral School Class of 2018
I am home now after 14 days living, breathing and working in the smallest town I’ve ever spent time in. Mineral Washington is an unassuming (and unincorporated) community just off of State Route 7 in Lewis County. The population hovers around 200, although on opening day of fishing season, it can almost triple if you count all the anglers dropping their hooks to catch some of the rainbow trout Mineral Lake is known for. I have read that the lake can hold as many as 200 boats. One for every resident in the town. During my two week stay it felt like small-town America. Local characters, laid back vibe and some great local lore as told to us by Jess Martin. ( Read about the UFO sighting and Tube Sock Murders ). We are pretty sure there is a friendly ghost at Mineral School too …
Mineral School itself has an interesting history. The original school was built in the early 1900’s and was burned to the ground by a student. The school was rebuilt in 1947 and operated until it was surplussed in 2000. Purchased by two local residents, it was operating as the Mineral Lake Event Center from 2005 to 2010. With a faltering economy to blame, Mineral School went back on the market in 2012. In 2013 it was purchased by Jane Hodges. Read more about her vision here.
I am humbled to have been invited to live and work here this summer. The process drew 246 applications. Out of those, 16 were chosen for 2018 summer residencies. (Twelve writers and four visual artists).
In what felt like “part retreat, part social experiment” I have enjoyed an amazing two weeks. The structure of the school itself has beautiful bones. Wood, brick and steel never felt so inviting.
One of my very favorite parts of these last fourteen days has been the shifting, dancing light.
There were the odd things of beauty I found everywhere on the property (or just outside of it) …
Oh, and the food lovingly prepared by our private volunteer chef, Laura Gilliam. She brought more than just her culinary skills. It was a pleasure sharing stories and meals together.
On a few occasions I joined the group down at Mineral Lake, though mostly while they swam, I hung out on the bank with this beautiful creature, Joey ♡
There was one night at Headquarters Tavern with the group … and this neighborhood dog who wandered aimlessly through the bar looking for love and food (isn’t that why we all go … ? )
Movie nights were nice and I must say that to be free of television and most news for fourteen days was like heaven.
There are two post offices in town. One, still operating (though only open for window service for one hour on the Saturday I ventured down, so I never got that peek inside).
And the beautiful bones of the country’s oldest post office (now retired) that sits just off of Mineral Hill road past the lodge.
There is the Mineral Market for all of your immediate needs (provided you get there before 7 PM )
And this beautiful church/bird-choir-spot across from the post office.
And then there is the Mineral Cemetery.
We spent one night here after dark, lying on our backs looking at the stars. I can’t remember doing that since I was a kid and it was one of my favorite times with this amazing group.
I walked the cemetery a couple times after having learned about it from Brittney Corrigan McElroy, our “dorm mom”. She discovered it last year during her residency and spent many days visiting the grave of one of the (so many) babies here. Baby Kamo. It has been with reverence that she holds this little one in her heart. She has written a poem and created a story based on some painstaking research. My chance visit late one morning yielded a photo that exposed another layer to that mystery. Japanese characters. (Visible only in the sun and from a certain angle) I love how she has swooped this tiny memory up into her heart and given it a presence all of these years later.
Brittney was also my hummingbird rescue partner. How wonderful to have had the luxury of time to figure out a way to free this trapped darling from the tiles of the tall Mineral ceilings.
It began with an effort to line the exit with color to attract this fluttering little heart-bird.
Then we tried this:
Then we modified our design, added some root beer and a rescue was born !
It was agonizing for nearly an hour. That little darling would land on our cup so many times but fly away at the last second at any hint of sensation or movement.
When we took ourselves out of the picture, our little darling found courage and eventually found the fresh air.
I’ve definitely had times where I felt a lot like that little hummingbird …
This has been a time of awakening for me and I think it’s crucial to really let my feelings sink in. And then it is crucial to let them go.
In trying to establish my practice for meditation it seems I am endlessly feeding the one thing I should let starve.
Today I (better) understand why it is called a practice.
I would never call myself quiet or shy in the world. I deliver mail and engage with hundreds of people every week. Sometimes, hundreds in just a day. I live in the world of small talk. In that role it comes easy to me and it is a perfectly acceptable way of being in the world. But socially ? I do not do well with conversations where I have nothing to contribute.
I rarely think of myself as old. But having grown up in the sixties and seventies I realize how different people are who grew up in the eighties and nineties and even the 2000’s. We haven’t read the same books, listened to the same music or coveted the same “things”. Our life experience is different. Our frame of reference is different.
When we weren’t in conversation about a specific thing, I could more easily find my way in. It was a lot like that hummingbird finding enough courage to move toward solution.
The second community night was a “show & tell” night for residents. Stuff like that terrifies me, but like that little hummingbird, I found my way. Here were a few things I shared:
My classmates shared as well:
Ely Shipley is a poet, currently teaching at Western Washington University. His work has been described as “mapping the fragmented space of a transgender self “. He writes with a raw tenderness and to know him is to love him. (He is also Joey’s human) .
Lacey Rowland is currently working on a novel and is pursuing her PhD in English at Mizzou (University of Missouri) in the Fall 2018. Education aside, Lacey is an engaging storyteller and her laugh is contagious. She had an enviable ease with people and I can’t wait to see where life will take her.
( No words for how much I love this )
Meg Hartwig is an artist/sculptor/artisan from Seattle. She leads an amazing non-profit, Sawhorse Revolution, a youth carpentry skills initiative. Meg brought an “outside the box” (and FUN) presence to Mineral. She’s a brilliant maker and I love everything I’ve seen that she has built with her hands. If I had to describe her I’d use two words: beautiful mind.
We had two “dorm moms” during our 14 days at Mineral:
Jess Martin is on the board of Mineral School and is really the beating heart of this place. You can tell that she really loves the area and she is full of stories and lore about Mineral and beyond. She was a great touchstone for me during that first week. And not that it was really in her control, but she gave me a pretty good tarot card reading too !
(I would love to visit this winter. Beautiful light, the silence of snow and Jess. Perfect )
Our other “dorm mom” was Mineral School alum, Brittney Corrigan McElroy. A poet living in Portland, she fell in love with this tiny community and brought such a kind spirit into the halls of Mineral School. Between her love of Baby Kamo, the hummingbird rescue and sharing with me the story of the orca momma and her baby, I think she might be one of my new favorite people ♡. The legacy of Mineral School will surely be kindness.
Jane Hodges, this place is the stuff of magic. The halls are filled with light and love and for those of us lucky enough to spend time here it is, well … everything.
Thank you Thank you Thank you ♡