Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Painting Retreat Part 1

I have returned from my week in Northern California and what a week it was! I can't begin to express how much I needed this and how fantastic it was!

When I walked up to the office and I saw the above sign I knew I was in for a treat. I was definitely stepping into the unknown and trusting, so this was a confirmation for me. A bit of reassurance that I was on the right path.

The Wild Heart Painting Retreat was held at the Mountain Home Ranch in Calistoga. It is about 90 minutes north of San Francisco, near Napa Valley. I had never been this far north in California and was so excited to experience nature in this part of the country.

The photo above is from the website of the ranch's website. It is a view of the painting studio where I spent so much time getting in touch with my creative energy.

The ranch is run by John and Suzanne. They are the third generation to work the family ranch. They were really personable and accommodating. We enjoyed our chats with them at each meal and I even learned a thing or two about mushroom hunting from John.

The food was TO DIE FOR! Every meal was divine! They made their own sourdough bread with a 30 year old starter. They brined their own olives, made their own plum jam, apple butter and apple pie. The scones were amazing, the polenta lasagna was delicious and the CHANTERELL MUSHROOMS were unbelievable, made even better by the fact that they picked them themselves!

The photo above is my cabin. I shared it with 2 other amazing women. It just happens to be named Love. When I checked in at the front desk John said, "You will be in Love while you are with us." I had know idea what he was talking about but once he explained, I got a big kick out of it.

I fell in love with the trees, the peace and stillness, the earthy smell, the crisp air, and the warm sun. While the painting was AMAZING, it was made even more special by the fact that I was in the middle of Mother Nature at its finest.

I mean look at this tree. It was right outside my Love Cabin. Every morning when I walked out the door I was greeted by this moss covered beauty. What a way to start my day!

There was a special little spot I found. It was on a ledge overlooking the canyon. I spent some heavy duty time there on two separate occasions. I even brought a little yoga chair out there with me one day and set up camp for a couple of hours. It was so peaceful, listening to the birds chirping and watching a couple of finches hop around a bush next to me. I even was lucky enough to see a hummingbird perched on a branch. I've never actually seen one that wasn't flying.

I wrote in my journal, and even did a little sketching. I brought my field watercolor set and had a little fun. I sat back and let the sun hit my face. The weather was amazing and I was especially enjoying it because I knew it was snowing and freezing back home in Chicago. It was so relaxing!

Continuing down the road past my special spot there was a rustic gate that marked the entrance to the enchanted forest. This was my favorite spot to be. I went down there at least 4 times with my fellow painters and even by myself a couple of times.

Once past the gate I found myself in this open field with the most vibrant green grass. I realized that it was so brilliantly green because it was swampy. That is why the created the little walking bridge of stumps. It was so fun walking across it. Many of them made this squishy sound as my weight caused them to move in the water below. It felt like being a kid again.

Once down there the terrain changed. The air got earthy, the ground became soft and fragrant. The air cooled as the sun was hidden behind the enormous trees. With each step I took I felt more and more grounded and at the same time it felt as if I were entering a magical world.

Here is a picture of one of my fellow painters Edie. She looks so small next to those big trees. It really gives you a sense of their size.

At the very bottom of the canyon was a creek. I remembered hearing the water from my special spot on the ledge and now here I was down there, seeing it in all it's beauty. I can't tell you how being down there made me feel. I've never experienced such beauty and serenity and a feeling of oneness with my surroundings. I wanted to sit there all day.

When I crossed over the creek I was given a special gift to experience a labyrinth tucked within the trees. I've heard about labyrinths but never actually walked one so I was excited to experience it for myself in such a beautiful location.

As I walked it I felt this enormous sense of peace and connection with the earth. I stopped to take in the trees, the moss, the spongy earth, and even this cute little salamander with the red belly (sorry for the blurry picture).

And while I was enamored with the natural beauty of the place I couldn't help but think of the people that created this labyrinth. John told us that his wife Suzanne originally created this labyrinth out of sticks for him when he could no longer run because of a knee injury. He would fill his backpack with stones and walk down there for exercise. Over time they replaced the sticks with stones. In fact for his birthday celebration they asked friends and family to bring stones for the labyrinth. What a history!

I got so excited when I saw these bright red mushrooms poking out of the ground. I had to brush the natural mulch aside to reveal the treasure and I HAD to take a picture.

I also spent a couple of mornings up on the lookout watching the sunrise. Seeing the moon there while the sun was making its way up over those tall trees added to the beauty. I had some incredible aha moments up there in the morning light. What a special place this is in my heart.

So now you've had a chance to see how the beauty of Northern California opened my soul and gave me such a beautiful backdrop for my creative unfolding. My next post will actually go into the painting process and the life-changing experience I was lucky enough to experience. See you then!

Read post 2 here.


  1. Your pictures and description make me want to go!! It sounds so amazing!!

  2. Great photos, took me right back....we saw those little orange salamanders too! I will be there in two more weeks for my next training session. Food is fab. Did Jessica and Tyche sit in your lap? xox Corrine

  3. I love it that you know the place Corrine. The doggies were spending time in the woods and had little critters on them so I stayed clear, not to mention Jessica was as big as me. Have a great time back there. I know how great it is!

    Carrie, so glad you enjoyed the pictures. Can't wait to tell you more!

  4. Oh Michelle....I love all of this!