Although my monastery journal makes it sound often like I spend all my time alone when I'm on retreat, that isn't really quite true. When you gather six women together at a monastery guesthouse, all kinds of deep and interesting conversations take place. I'd traveled to the monastery with two friends, one of whom I've known for years, but I was pleased and surprised to find that the other two weekend guests were women I'd met before: a former student and her mother. I had had many wonderful conversations in the classroom with Long Gorgeous Hair when she was my student so I knew it would be great to have her in the circle of women gathering in front of the fire in the evening to talk.
The conversations during the weekend jumped from topic to topic: marriage, parenting, sex, politics, the church, the media, the way women in our culture view their bodies. It's amazing how quickly the discussions became intimate as we shared our stories, our opinions, our philosophical thoughts. Even when we talked about movies we'd seen, the conversation went into depth. How cosy it was to sit on the comfy chairs in the living room of the guesthouse with glasses of juice or wine while winter winds blew snow up against the dark windows and flames crackled against the logs in the fireplace.
On Sunday morning, I had time to visit with Brother Beekeeper, a monk has been at the monastery for my entire life. (He entered in the fall of 1960.) We joked as usual, me teasing him that my role at the monastery is to educate the monks about feminism, and we talked about what is going on with the farm: his efforts to make sure the cider they sell isn't contaminated, his plans for the baby sheep that will be born in April.
And of course, part of my visit to the monastery always includes visiting the other creatures who live there: the cats, the birds, the donkeys, the sheep. I wandered into the barns to smell the huge stacks of hay stored under the old wooden roofs. When I came into the barnyard, the sheep that were gathered near the doorway ventured out to look at me curiously. I got the idea that they too find February a long month.