On Prawns, Poetry, and Hope


The Penobscot Readers’ And Writers’ Network (Prawn) is a recently formed group of residents of our Penobscot  Peninsula who meet to talk about books, stories, and poems, both the already published and the ones we may be working on. For the last few weeks we have been reading Jane Goodall’s amazing book “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.” What a well timed book, just as we are all tempted to feel hopeless and despairing over so much. Our conversations have been inspiring. The Oranbega Retreat Center will host the Prawns on Wednesday, January 5.  In the Christian calendar, this is also Epiphany Eve. The next day, Epiphany, we host a one-day “Silent Day” prayer retreat open to all but especially inviting area clergy. These are our first activities of 2022!  Happy New Year, everyone!

The Pandemic.

Opening a retreat house during a Pandemic was an enormous challenge!  We did have a few visitors during our first year of operation, and a couple of live, in-person events, but most of our programs were of the virtual kind. What would we have all done without Zoom? Alas, the pandemic is not yet defeated, but we are going forward in the strong hope that we will be able to welcome many guests to our beautiful rooms this Spring, Summer, and Fall.  We go forward in a different way, with a reorganized and pared-down operation. I am now the sole permanent resident, leaving more open and beautiful spaces for guests.  Spence lives nearby and comes by frequently to make sure all is working well.  He has added the website and social media management to his Sexton portfolio. Diane and Robert Phipps left for new pastures in the fall, going with our deep gratitude for all they did to help start Oranbega Retreat Center and to define and redefine our mission: to support and nurture creative workers and spiritual seekers. We have recommitted to this vision despite the Covid-19 pandemic. We are all vaccinated and boosted, and we expect our guests to be also. All our retreats will be conducted with the safety and health of our guests as the first priority.


In times of challenge, poetry is a human mode of communication that is particularly powerful. Compressing profound emotion into a unique assemblage of evocative words is a way to see life and to respond to all life’s vagaries with courage. Recently I suffered the devastating loss of my beloved sister, Margaret W. R. Allen, to  Multiple Myeloma. Her Wake was a thing of beauty as her poetry group assembled and read poems, including one of hers. Though I had not prepared for this, I reached out and took hold of a book of poetry from her shelf and came across one of the love sonnets of Pablo Neruda (no. 79) which says in part:

When I die, I want your hands on my eyes.

I want the light and wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me once more.

I want to feel the softness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep.

I want your ears still to hear the wind, I want you to sniff the sea’s aroma that we loved together,

to continue to walk on the sand we walk on.

I want what I love to continue to live,

and you whom I love and sang above everything else.

to continue to flourish, full-flowered.

As I read it aloud, it was as if she were still speaking to us. It was a holy moment, and a deep blessing.

To support poets and writers and artists of all sorts to produce such beauty is what Oranbega Retreat Center is all about.

A Path to Hope.

In Jane Goodall’s book (co written with Douglas Abrams and Gail Hudson) she tells us she finds four reasons for hope: The amazing human intellect, the  reslilience of nature, the power of young people, and the indomitable human spirit. This last is where Oranbega Retreat Center fits, becoming a messenger of hope. For the arts, above all, make and sustain the human spirit: making music, writing, painting, sculpting, dreaming and praying are forms of human communication and connection that feed us and make us capable of anything. Let’s take this path together in 2022!