Three weeks ago, I arrived from Brooklyn, NY to the Rensing Center in rural Pickens, SC with the goal of finishing a draft of my novel, tentatively titled The Beautiful Ones. In a little less than two days, I’ll head back north with a completed draft of the manuscript and a thousand memories of the wonders that unfolded and revealed themselves to me while I was here.
Each morning for the first week, I looked out through the porthole window at my desk in the Guest House at the trees and climbing vines as if I were writing in a bathysphere lowered into the depths of the ocean. When it rained and water sluiced around the sides and down the concave window, I easily could imagine, as well, that I was sailing on a boat through the forest.
Eventually, I traded in the perspective of the window for the screened-in back porch. Since part of the Guest House is perched on a hillside, the porch is literally up in the trees. I could look up from my laptop at cardinals and butterflies lighting on the branches in front of me. This place is full of life and full of birds. In late June and early July, the days here are beautifully warm. Every few days a thunderstorm would roll in and the rain would fall so hard over the porch in a curtain that it was like writing from behind a waterfall. These “scenes of writing,” inspired by Rensing, have made their way into my book: they make a cameo in the novel.
The waterfalls were not just off my back porch. I discovered that the area is home to Twin Falls, a seventy-foot cataract (actually two of them) that is a short distance by car, but hidden away at the end of some winding mountain roads. Turn on your GPS, because there aren’t any signs. After getting lost for a bit, I eventually found the entrance to the trail up to the falls. A quick and easy hike and twenty minutes later, I was eating lunch near the rushing water and reading Werner Herzog’s Walking in Ice, his gripping and hallucinatory account of his trek on foot from Munich to Paris in early winter. Twin Falls seemed the perfect place to get swept up in Herzog’s thunderous prose.
I could go on about the magic of the place – from the simple pleasures of eating vegetables harvested that morning from Rensing’s garden, to the discoveries to be found at Pickens’s sprawling and completely amazing flea market, to the world’s two best goats whom I fed animal crackers daily, to the chanterelles that I foraged in the nearby woods, and – most especially – to the many enriching conversations I’ve had with the people who in their various ways are tirelessly contributing to Rensing’s ongoing experiment in art, culture, environmental consciousness, and fellowship. The South has always been a complex and fascinating part of the country that defies easy characterization. Coming here confirmed that for me again and again.
I found the Rensing Center, specifically, to be a place I could go into myself to do my work I came here to do and come back out of myself to reengage with the culture, nature, and people around me. I found it revitalizing to turn off the noise, the clatter and clamor of the rest of the world, for a time and sit outside and listen to the crickets electrify the air and watch the bright stars drift overhead.