Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stillpoint Lodge, Halibut Cove

View from Point of View cabin, Stillpoint Lodge, Halibut Cove

 Early in the spring I signed up for a retreat at Stillpoint Lodge in Halibut Cove.    I don't think I realized what a treat I had signed myself up for.  A few months later I looked on Stillpoint's website, and I was expecting rustic, basic cabins.  Instead, it looked luxurious and beautiful.  In reality, it was somewhere between the two.  It is quite an amazing place, though, so here's a brief on the place and the experience.

The travels begin at the Halibut Cove check-in office on the Homer Spit.  From there I made my way to Pier One and the Danny J, a wooden J boat from World War II that now functions as the main ferry from Homer to Halibut Cove.  The boat was full the day I headed over, last Thursday.  Most people would be heading over just for a few hours, to eat at The Saltry, wander the boardwalks and peruse the art galleries.  Part of the ride included a swing by Gull Island to check out the gulls, puffins, cormorants and other seabirds that might be hanging out.  We saw a few sea otters as well.

Eating at The Saltry, Halibut Cove's one restaurant, was next on the agenda.  All of the retreat participants sat together at one table (7 of us), plus the 2 nuns who were facilitating our retreat (Marguerite Buchanan & Suzanne Toolan), plus Stillpoint's owner, Jan Thurston.  It was sunny and warm so we sat outside, enjoying great service, excellent food and each other's company.  Some of the retreatants had been there before, while for others it was their first time.

After lunch, we wandered down the boardwalk and up a trail to the Halibut Cove cemetery, and a view of the arch.  The gazebo is the final resting place for Diana Tillion, who passed away a couple years ago.  She and her family were (still are) huge influences on life in Halibut Cove.

At 4:00 we arrived at the mail dock (the post office is on a dock) to catch a quick ride across the cove from the island (which we were on) to the mainland (which Stillpoint is on).  The adventure was just beginning!

The dock at Stillpoint
Stillpoint appeared to have 3 boats and 6 kayaks, which makes sense as there is less driving on roads than there is driving around the cove dropping off and picking up people, mail and freight.

Main lodge, view from entryway, Stillpoint
We headed up to the main lodge, which is an amazing place.  The first sight to greet you when you walk in the door is a stream meandering by with a bridge over it and the activity/yoga room.  The floor of the activity room are from the deck of a ship--practicing the recycling philosophy that is central to Stillpoint.  No shoes are to be worn indoors so a room with cubbies is by the entrance, offering booties for those who want warm feet.

Lounge in main lodge at Stillpoint
We headed up some stairs to the left to the lounge, a comfortable area with a fireplace, sound system, overhead projector and stunning view of Halibut Cove.  Across from the lounge area was the dining room and kitchen.

After a brief primer on how things would go at the retreat, each person was turned over to a staff person who would take us to our cabins.  Our luggage had been stowed on the Danny J in Homer and transported to our cabins already.

View of dining room from lounge in main lodge
There are 11 cabins plus the Heritage (for private or individual retreats).  Some cabins are 'doubles,' right next to another cabin, while 3 of the cabins are by themselves.  All of them have composting toilets, and the only water in them is urns with spigots that run into sinks.  All of them have different views as Stillpoint is on a peninsula.  Some are lower and closer to the water while others are higher up.  The water comes right under some at high tide, while others are a bit off the water.  I was assigned to Point of View, which has one of the best views of all the cabins.  Black bear are often seen from the deck.  And as you can see from the picture at the top of this blog entry, the view was idyllic first thing in the morning on a calm, sunny day--truly a 'still point'.

Point of View cabin
When Stillpoint first opened in 2004, the first retreat was for quilters, and payment for coming was to bring a finished quilt to go in the room.  Carpet swatches and color schemes were given so all the cabins are decked out with homemade quilts.

I received instruction on how to use the composting toilet, how to use the blinds, and then was left to freshen up, unpack and get my bearings.

Inside of Point of View
The rooms were very comfortable.
 I wandered around on the trails, checking things out.  I found the garden especially fascinating as it has landscaping carpet put down with wood chips over it and holes just for the plants.  They switch what gets planted where each year but the overall format is the same every year.  They also have a couple of greenhouses and container gardens all over the place.  Much of the food served is grown right at Stillpoint and harvested within hours of mealtime.  Vegan food choices were standard, though some seafood was served as well.  Which leads to dinner....

Dinners were beautiful, and fed the spirit as well as the body.

Meals were amazing affairs.   Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style and were taken in silence, respecting peace and reflection of the retreat setting.  Dinner, however, was set beautifully each day, with fresh flowers, linens and different dishes each day and it was a relief to chat and get to know fellow retreatants.  I found myself wanting to take a picture of the table setting every day, an urge I have never once in my life had.  I tend not to overeat, but the food was so beautiful and so tasty I just wanted to keep eating!  It was satisfying and filling, despite no meat (just small amounts of seafood).  The food was probably one of the most inspiring parts of my experience at Stillpoint as I discovered the joy of fresh, organic ingredients, tasteful presentation and a slower pace of eating.

 The atmosphere and food aside, the retreat itself was a treat.  There were 7 ladies there, all from Anchorage except for me.  The retreat was called "The Heart of Compassion," which is kind of a amorphous title.  One lady, who has come to retreats here every year since it opened, said, "I would come to this retreat even if the topic was moose hunting!  Marguerite and Suzanne are wonderful!"  The two nuns from San Francisco, come up every year to run retreats, changing the topic each year.  They are sweet, but also very real, endearing and not above teasing, qualities I respect in their advanced age (they're both in their 80's).  They guided the retreat with a grace that allowed us each to reflect and go inside, but also to express ourselves.  It was a nurturing balance.

The only time we could talk was during sessions when we would share our inner thoughts and growth, and dinner.  There were 3 sessions a day, punctuated by meals.  It set up an atmosphere of being there for that growth rather than just a social chit-chat thing.  The day would begin with optional yoga and then meditation, both which were rejuvenating, and the instructors, Lucas and Gita, were wonderful!  After the morning session and lunch we had 4 hours of free time to kayak, hike, get a massage, spiritual direction, nap or whatever.  I did all of those except the nap, and each were fulfilling and special in their own way, adding to experience.

This year there are 10 retreats and workshops being offered at Stillpoint, with topics ranging from painting and journalling to living a meaningful life and spirituality.  The mission of Stillpoint is to develop deeper spiritual connection and creativity.  Throughout the summer one can go there on their own to the Hermitage (which has its own kitchenette) for a private get-away, yet still take advantage of the kayaking, hiking, spiritual direction, sauna, library, labyrinth, and more.
 Part of what I appreciated about this retreat was getting to know the people and place of Halibut Cove.  It is a very isolated community, only 10 miles across Kachemak Bay from Homer, with 120 people in the summer and only 25-30 in the winter.  It is part of the history of Homer and so I loved getting the sense of the place by being there, talking to people and watching the traffic in the cove: boating, sculling, paddleboarding and kayaking.
Main lodge, main entrance at Stillpoint

We were blessed with glorious weather for the three days we were there--warm enough to wear shorts even one day--and that probably helped make this a special time, but it was an amazing retreat and I so recommend it to anyone who might get the chance to go there!

See for other pictures, the retreat schedule and more information.

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