When I visit the monastery in the summer, I spend most of my time outside, hiking the trails or walking through the sheep pastures, or wandering through the barnyard. The monks encourage their guests to enjoy the outdoors: they’ve placed benches under trees and at the tops of hills, and they provide a trail map right next to the list of services in the chapel.
On an icy winter day, guests are more likely to spend time indoors — sitting quietly in the crypt that’s lit by dozens of votive candles, browsing through the books in the gift shop, or reading by the window in a guest cottage. Up at the Women’s Guesthouse, seven women lingered over meals, sitting comfortably in the enclosed porch that fills with sunshine every afternoon.
“We’re quite an international group this weekend,” Retreat Friend said as we talked. The woman who runs the guesthouse has a lovely British accent. The youngest woman in the group, a musician who had come to work on her dissertation, was from Switzerland, and the writer sitting next to her was German. Piano Teacher grew up in Russia.
“Such a fascinating group of women,” Piano Teacher said to me. The monastery is set on a remote hill in snow-covered farmland, but the conversations at the dinner table are usually intellectually stimulating and emotionally intimate. Saturday night, we sat by the fireplace, bringing out books and journals, and talked for hours, while outside icy winds blew snow across the sheep pastures.