The Wonderful World of Whidbey

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By Dyana Herron

When I was a still a student in Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program, the March residency at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island was always my favorite.

As any former or current student will tell you, that is a hard call. Each summer residency at St. John’s college in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an unforgettable experience. The air smells of pine and lavender, coyotes call at night, and the atmosphere generated by the Glen Workshop is electric. Last year, after a severe thundershower, we were treated to a sky of multiple rainbows– just in time for the opening reception.

But whereas Santa Fe is orange and heat and bloom, Whidbey is blue and water and stone. Santa Fe is bustle and sound, while Whidbey is stillness and quiet.

Sure, there’s fun too. This year students organized wiffle ball and soccer games on the broad green lawn between the camp houses and the shore, and the residency’s now-traditional poetry contest– this time requiring participants to write verse letters a la John Donne–boasted the best prizes to date: Little Debbie snack cakes, relaxation CDs, and the sheet music to Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love.”

Coming back now as an administrator, I loved seeing students bond the same way I had with my peers: forming friendships that became some of the most important of my adult life.

Because of the more relaxed environment, it is easier at Whidbey to spend time with the authors who visit as guest readers and lecturers. This year fiction writer Melissa Pritchard, creative nonfiction writer Dan Wakefield, and poet Martha Serpas not only read from their work and gave craft lectures to students, but were available to chat at mealtimes and between classes.

Listening to Dan Wakefield talk about knowing Kurt Vonnegut, and how Jack Kerouac almost threw him out of a window, was a memorable dining experience for sure.

On our free day towards the end of the week, many students took the ferry to Port Townsend to eat fish and chips, and visit bookstores. Some hiked up to the lighthouse at the park above Camp Casey. Some stayed inside to write.

I took a walk by the water, and reflected on my last visit to the island, when I was a student. I didn’t think I would ever be here again, at least not so soon, at this place that had become so important to me in terms of friendship and my writing life.

But there I was, returned, and happy–happy to now be a part of the continuation of this experience for new students, who can’t help but fall in love with Whidbey Island just as I did.