The Porches Writers’ Retreat

From Washington D.C. it’s a three-hour drive to Norwood: a place you normally wouldn’t visit driving through the country. And a place that consists of nothing more than a church, a couple of houses and a writing retreat for those who wish to be away from it all. The nearest supermarket is in Lovingston and it will take you about 20 minutes to get there. The railroad track lies right next to the church, and I can see the train pass by when sitting on the porch. I can imagine in the old days they would have a small station here, where people could stay the night or grab a beer. I find no evidence of a station, but supposedly there’s an abandoned hotel on the other side of the road that had been used during the time Norwood was a vibrant recreational town along the James River.

The old American farmhouse is cosy, nicely decorated and whenever possible I sit on the porch covered in a blanket with a big mug of coffee or tea. It’s been a long time since I’ve been anywhere this quiet on my own, and apart from the occasional train, car or conversation it is completely silent. Silent in a sense that you can actually hear the tiny little movements that nature makes when nobody’s listening. There’s the sound of the river gently moving towards the ocean or the songs of frogs and birds. The cows are too far away to hear them graze, but from time to time they’ll great you with a happy moo.

At what people here call ‘right across the river’ – which means driving for about 20-30 minutes – there is an ashram by the name of Yogaville. It made me curious enough to see for myself. Yogaville has meditation sessions, yoga classes, silent prayers and a lot of shrines on the foot of the blue mountain ridge. The L.O.T.U.S. temple is near the James River and from one of the viewing points you can see this building with its pink and blue dome resting in an unmistakably American landscape. It looks like a birthday cake or a brightly coloured pudding has been placed directly onto the grass for a picnic. Compared to all the churches around here it’s an odd sight, but one that is comforting too. Having lived in Kathmandu for three months I can’t help but to compare. The shrines and temples are all too neat and fluent to have that real authentic feel to it. Nonetheless the sculptures of the gods and goddesses are as colourful as I remember them. The buildings near the main hall look more like buildings you’ll find in a scout camp, but inside the smell of incense can’t be easily ignored.

After parking at the visitors centre I was immediately invited to join for lunch for a couple of bucks, but I declined and took off with a sincere ‘Namaste’. They have short trails on the premises taking you from one place to another. Going downhill only to go up again I encountered a shrine on top that overlooks the hills on the other side of the river. Down below you could see the giant temple. The trail leading towards it was marked ‘around the mountain’, and I was coming round quickly. Unfortunately the temple was closed for lunch, as I would have loved to see what the inside had in store for me. The trail continued towards the organic farm, which looked kind of abandoned, and then through the forest alongside these tiny little streams. A small stone Buddha was meditating underneath one of the trees in the orchard and a few deer hurried away at the sight of me. I rested a bit at the alcove, where raindrops made little holes in the frozen pond, before heading back to the car. I understand why one would choose this place to meditate, although I’d rather sit on the porch instead.


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