Spring Retreat: Frogsong, Raindrops, & Mama Ocean

Mountain, Moon, Heron

I am one grateful woman, to be able to live this extraordinary life.

This past weekend, I gathered women once again for a Gaian Soul Retreat at our beloved Aldermarsh Retreat Center on Whidbey Island. I invited them to come away and drink of the sacred well of nature, spirit, creativity, and connection. They came from British Columbia, Seattle, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas. They came from Lopez Island, Lummi Island, and Bellingham. They ranged in age from their 30’s to their 70’s, and came in all shapes, sizes, colors, and life experiences. Each one had something to give to the circle, and each one had something to take away.

Four Karens

We were healers and artists and writers and taroists and dancers and gardeners and food alchemists and mystics and teachers and leaders in our communities, and we even counted a rocket scientist as one of our number.

Lisa, Ali, Karen R, Shannon, Arwen, Deb

I was especially grateful that my soul-sister Nora Cedarwind Young was able to join us, embodying Persephone for us as She Who Returns from the Land of the Dead.

Nora crosses the Aldermarsh bridge

We held circle council, we danced the Dance of Life, we made gorgeous Spirit Boxes.

Spirit Boxes

We played with tarot cards, we sweated in the sauna, we sat in the hot tub under a full moon . . .

Tarot play

We laughed and cried and ate scrumptious to-die-for meals, prepared by my soul-sister Elaine Nichols of the Radical Rolling Pin.


We held a ceremony, celebrating Spring and our own beauty, and owning ourselves as Woman Whole Unto Herself (thank you, Artemis). Our wishes, prayers, hopes and dreams were embodied in the shining candles on the Spring Equinox / Full Moon altar.

Sprng Equinox altar

Each time I host a retreat, there is a new energy that grows from the roots of past retreats. One-third to one-half of the women return from previous retreats, and the rest are first-timers. So some already know the magic of Aldermarsh and hold it in their hearts all year. Others get to discover it for the first time — the serpentine bridge across the marsh, the alder/fir woods, the labyrinth, the meadow, the garden and fruit trees, the beach at Useless Bay, the cordwood hobbit-hut sauna, Grandmother Fir (that noble being).


The content of the retreat changes according to the season and the intuitive promptings of my heart as I prepare. But the structure of the retreat rarely changes, and the circle always holds us.

Moonsnail shell in hand (Behold the Mystery)

We come together, strangers at first, asking for what we need, offering what we can (thank you Christina Baldwin). Within a very short time we are a circle of sisters and friends, who witness each other’s joy and sorrow, and who have each other’s backs. The circle is the container that holds us all.

Mary's turn

In Morning Circle, I asked each woman to share one insight, image, or experience she’s had since the day before — and the stories came tumbling out. Stories of rediscovering one’s inner artist, of the sound of frogsong and hoot owls at night, of being moved to tears when hearing a song to the Blessed Mother Earth sung in Spanish, of never before truly believing in one’s own beauty, of a profound conversation with a driftwood log, of the warmth of brilliant sun on our faces and the roar of incoming thunder.

Deb and Lisa

One morning of each retreat is set aside for a Nature Practice. At past retreats we have stayed on the Aldermarsh land. I usually give a set of simple instructions, and each woman goes out to spend an hour in silence, having conversations with Other-Than-Humans like fir trees, slugs, or nettles. This year, inspired by the women who got up extra early each morning to visit Mama Ocean before breakfast, I decided we would go to Useless Bay on Friday morning for our Nature Practice.


Now this is the Pacific Northwest in March — so when it comes to weather, you never know what you’re gonna get. Pouring rain, icy rain, light rain, mist, clouds-and-sun with the likelihood of rain . . . Each day last week I had one eye on the weather forecast. I’m not one for weather-witching — I think it’s rude — but I will admit to making supplications, praying, and outright begging this time: “Pleeeeeeeze let there be no rain on Friday morning! Clouds are fine, but please no rain! It can rain the rest of the weekend. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeze!!!!!!!”

open shell

As late as 9:00 AM on Friday, it was pouring rain, and I said to Mary Montayne (a retreat veteran), “I think it’s raining too hard to go to the beach.” Mary agreed and I was glad I had a backup plan. But by 10:00 AM, our appointed time to leave, the clouds had literally parted and the sun was dazzling on the waters of the marsh. We made a beeline for our cars and headed for Useless Bay. It was utter perfection, a sunny spring morning at the beach.

Photo by Karen Rosales

As I meandered down the shoreline, my heart was overflowing with gratitude. I cupped my hands in the waters of the bay, traced a crescent moon on my brow, and lifted my arms to Mother Sun, salty tears flowing down my cheeks, as I gave thanks. I heard Her voice with my inner ear: “Why wouldn’t I give you what you ask for? You are doing My work, gathering the women, calling the sacred circle. Why wouldn’t I give you a sunny morning on the beach?” I was humbled and awed, especially when dark thunderclouds rolled in just as we were leaving. By the time we were settled in with soup and salad back at Aldermarsh, the dark rain was coming down in torrents once again.

Contemplative beach walk

And that was only the second day.  Later on . . .

“Persephone returns!” we greeted each other in circle.

“She returns indeed!” came the ritual response.

Daffodils on the cordwood sauna

One of our first-time retreatants, Arwen Lynch, had this to say about the retreat:

“I was terrified to come. I thought of several ways I could bow out at the last minute. I worried that I would be the weird one, the one that talked too much, the one that everyone tolerated. Instead I was accepted, loved, cherished right along with everyone else. It honestly felt like I was coming home to a family gathering rather than meeting people I’d never met. From the intimate chats to the encompassing circles, it felt like family. And I don’t use that term lightly. It’s a sacred word for me. But that retreat felt like family. The benefit was what I took away. The feeling that I now understand the meaning of “slow down” on a cellular level.”  

We left Aldermarsh in rain and frogsong, with full hearts, dreaming of returning next September.

Rain in the marsh

14 thoughts on “Spring Retreat: Frogsong, Raindrops, & Mama Ocean

  1. Joanna,

    I read your post and wept at the beauty of what was experienced by all of you! How sacred, how special, how empowering! Arwen’s comments really resonated with me, because I’ve always felt that I’d love to experience one of your retreats, but I felt I wouldn’t fit in. I’m not artistic, I’m not a teacher or leader or someone with an interesting profession. I feared I wouldn’t have any deep thoughts to share, or that if I did, I wouldn’t be able to adequately verbalize them. In short, I didn’t feel I was special enough. But I yearn for an experience like Aldermarsh! Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to attend!

    1. Barbara, I sincerely hope you do come to one of our retreats. I would say that most of the women there don’t call themselves Artists or Teachers or Leaders or Healers . . . and yet, I believe they are. That’s why I named them! Most have “day jobs” that pay the bills, or careers that they love. Some come to retreat and discover the inner artist they’ve neglected far too long. (I choose Sacred Crafts that anyone can do.) Some discover they do have the exact right word to offer at the right time, or perhaps all they need to do is offer a hand or a hug. Keeping silence in the circle is also fine! Just trust in your yet-to-be-met sisters, and trust in the wisdom of the circle. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. All will be well. Honest. (Join us!)

  2. Thank you so much for this! Maybe it was a bit daunting because I’ve never done something like this, as I’ve only recently started to explore who I am, my spirituality, and as you said, I just need to jump in and trust. You make it seem a safe, loving environment to do some exploring! Many blessings, Joanna!

    1. You’re welcome! Yes it is a safe place to explore. Not everyone is a practitioner of Goddess Spirituality, and I’m fine with it if you’re not, as long as you understand that that is my bias. 🙂 Really, it is the land itself who is our greatest Teacher. And each other.

  3. It looks amazing and hearing about the wonderful experience Karen R. had while there makes perfect sense.

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