Apollo & Dorland

[The second part of our post on Trinity will run next week. It’s already queued up. The Nuclear Age began 70 years ago this summer, so we definitely have more to say.]

On this date in 1969, Apollo 11 was heading back to Earth. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had walked on the Moon on July 20. They, along with Michael Collins, were hurtling through space on the three-day return trip and would splash down into the ocean on July 24.

Doug/Armstrong HandsWatching Armstrong clamber off that ladder is Doug’s first conscious memory. HERE is one of our Apollo 11 posts (that’s also about Trinity), and you can click “Apollo” in the sidebar topics for more. A lot has been written about that day.

One of the most interesting new pieces we read this year about Apollo 11 is Time magazine’s article about Margaret Hamilton, a young MIT engineer who led the team that built the on-board software system for Apollo 11. She explains that, at the time, she was more relieved that the software worked than she was excited that men had landed on the Moon. It was especially important that the software could prioritize. Thank goodness it dropped unimportant information and tasks when it became overloaded and alarms went off just before landing. Charlie Duke recounts that folks on the ground were turning blue. The relief must have been palpable. We’re always interested in the language of space exploration and history, so it’s also interesting that Hamilton is credited with coining the term software engineer. Read more HERE.

DorlandJuly15We’d be thinking about these events no matter where we were right now. This year, we’re at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony for a few weeks focused on writing. Last summer (earlier in the summer), we made our own retreat in Santa Fe, and we’d like to do that again sometime. You can read about that one HERE and HERE. Still, there’s nothing quite like Dorland, and we’re glad we’re back.

In some ways, we’ve returned to the routine we established before here at Dorland: no alarm clock, sitting on the porch after breakfast, walking the steep hill in the afternoon, writing most of the day with classical music in the background. We’re in the Horton cabin, as we were last fall (during Doug’s full-time residency when Anna resided for weekends of writing). We’ve each returned to the desk we used last time. We’ve seen a lizard on the porch and a humming bird zipping by. As before, we’ve planned trips to town for wifi and for a meal out once a week. You can read more about our earlier Dorland experiences HERE and HERE.

Each visit to a writing retreat is different, of course, for any writer. Maybe it’s a different retreat—we’ve done Ragdale, Anna stayed at Vermont Studio Center, and Doug was at the Mailer Writer’s Colony. Maybe we have different projects or are at different stages on big projects. Perhaps, the job situation out of which we’re temporarily stepping has been differently demanding. The weather changes—it rained in Southern California like it’s never rained before in the history of weather records.


puzzle1Sometimes, we actively create a different experience. Last time we were at the California Science Center, we bought a puzzle that depicts the space shuttle cockpit. The pieces are spread out on the cabin’s piano, and we’ve separated out the edge pieces. The process of piecing together a physical puzzle will be good for our brains and our eyes, in between hours at our laptops. We’d like some of the many things we’ve set into motion as writers to fit together, so this puzzle carries some symbolic weight too.

This time, our residency is shorter than we’d hoped, as much because Dorland is drawing writers, visual artists, and composers as because of our job constraints. In fact, we know the writer who arrived shortly after we did to take up residency in the other cabin. We’d encouraged her to apply, and now we wonder how she’s settling in. But Dorland is a place where we leave each other alone, so we’ll undoubtedly meet up on one porch or another, but we’re in no rush to interrupt ourselves or someone else.

To extend our getaway, we’re bookending our residency at Dorland with brief stays at Ponte Vineyard Inn. Ponte is one of two vineyard hotels nestled in the cluster of wineries here in Temecula. Admittedly, it’s a splurge, but it was just the sort of debriefing we needed. Doug got to writing right away there, and Anna took the weekend off to read and rest. Our room had a balcony, though, between the heat and the downpour, we didn’t use it much. We did see, early one morning when we had both awakened unexpectedly, several hot air balloons drifting above our heads.

puzzle2We also had amazing meals: a late-night snack in The Cellar the night we arrived, a breakfast of salmon and eggs on cheddar biscuits the next morning, and an outdoor dinner of large salads, calamari, and buttery mashed potatoes. Of course, we sipped some delicious wine. Temecula is a place to taste varieties we’d never tried before, to determine how dry a wine can still be drinkable, to figure out whether we like fruit forward or oaky—or both.

Ponte was the distraction from our regular routines we wanted as transition into the writing residency routine. So we’ve booked a couple of nights after our residency ends. While it might be a welcome breather from the intensity of our writing days at that point, we’re likely to use it to eke out two more days with fingers to keyboard because a couple of weeks of steady writing shows us that there’s always one more scene to write or chapter to edit or poem to re-envision. Either way, we could do worse than a vineyard inn.

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