One late February weekend in 2020, as COVID-19 was just finding its legs, I was obliviously enjoying the Rainforest Writers Retreat in beautiful Lake Quinault, Washington. Those of us who were there were vaguely aware of what was happening in the wider world; I even recall a few bumped elbows and extra hand washes. But we were obviously clueless about the magnitude of what was about to hit.
Three long years of coping with a deadly pandemic later, I finally got back to the Olympic Peninsula for another retreat. It wasn’t exactly the first time I’ve socialized in person since locking down, but since I’m immunocompromised, I’m still taking COVID pretty seriously, and in-person interactions have been selective, paranoid, and infrequent. I’m finally identifying my level of risk tolerance, though, and while I’m not about to attend an unventilated karaoke party or anything, I thought the time might be ripe to rent a cabin in the proximity of a gaggle of my favorite people.
This was my fifth time attending, and while the retreat was slightly more subdued than in the Before Times, there was plenty to remind me why it was one of my favorite yearly events before the pandemic put it on hold. I definitely approached it in a more reclusive, circumspect way, but a combination of masks, ventilated spaces, considerate attendees, and selective podding enabled me to feel comfortable being around people again. It’s the most normal I’ve felt in public in ages, and I was able to feed off the convivial, positive energy of numerous like-minded wordsmiths, including some my absolute best long-distance friends.
Usually at Rainforest, I’m deep into a novel project, but this time I arrived having just completed one, so I spent the writing sessions completing a new short story. In between, I got to hang out with members of my online critique group and other writers from around the country, not to mention logging lots of extra sleep, snacks, and pleasure reading. It was a delightful vacation, all the more so for feeling like another tentative step back into the world after years of semi-hibernation. The Rainforest is magic. I can’t wait to go back!