What Writers Say
About Writing at Ike's
A VACATION, MY WRITING AND ME:
I was at a critical stage with my creative work: I had completed a draft of my manuscript and was ready for the next round of rewriting. But life is distracting and busy, and the more time passed, the further down the list of priorities my book moved. I feared losing my grasp on it.
Creative works for me are relationships: when I neglect them it’s easy for them to lapse into radio silence. I didn’t want that to happen; this relationship felt important enough for me that I wanted to cultivate, sustain, and care for it. I wanted to call on it daily, to get to know it better, to increase my intimacy with it.
We needed a vacation, my writing and me, some time to reconnect and rediscover what it was we loved about one another. When I heard about Ike’s Canyon Ranch and saw the photos of the mustangs (I was, in a previous life, a horsey girl), I signed up immediately.
I wanted space and quiet and time; what I got was the moon. Being at Ike’s Canyon Ranch was like being an astronaut: there is so much space that all sense of time is lost. I was faced with the limitations of my senses; no matter how hard I tried, I could not take it all in. The vastness of the landscape—the mountains that stood so near but were always just another mile from reach—were coupled with tremendous silence. Out there, on the high plains, there was no distant rumble from traffic noise, no bustling commercial centers or televisions or people to disrupt flow and concentration.
At first this silence was disconcerting; in modern life, we’re so accustomed to gaps being filled with the superfluous and silly that the alternative can feel overwhelming, can make you uneasy. But within days I realized the gift of this silence: I was able to really think. My mornings spent in the stone cabin, it was just me and my book. I slipped swiftly into a routine: coffee and journaling on the porch; a morning in the stone cabin writing; a late afternoon walk to digest the day’s efforts; community with others in the evenings.
The irony of being in a place not disrupted by the constant beeps and burps of modern life is that it retrains you to pay good attention. From my desk, I began to notice sounds. The footfalls of Rocky the goat; a distant plaintive neigh from a horse; the wind buffeting against an open window; a canine murmur from Pearl, wanting to be let into the house. The sounds sometimes brought me outside, to investigate; sometimes all I needed to do was turn in my seat and see the calm face of a donkey framed by the cabin’s window.
On lunch break I sat on the porch overlooking the property, and studied a herd of mustangs that came in daily to graze. Robin and I had extensive conversations about their interactions, which were not redundant but volatile: the colts that had grown were seeking mates, vying for control, trying to establish their own herds. Nature is not static but always changing; as humans we sometimes forget this, self-absorbed as we are in our own daily melodramas.
I observed the feeding patterns of barn swallows that appeared at sunrise and feasted midair on flies; the noisy fights of hummingbirds at the feeders; the jack rabbits that scurried into the scrub when I went for afternoon walks into the canyon; the changing patterns of clouds across the giant dome of sky. From the hot tub at night, I gazed up at the Milky Way until my neck hurt from staring, it too moving with the earth’s and my rotation. I watched the storms roll across the canyon, felt my skin go cool with the sudden drop in temperature, noted the strong and heady scent of desert sage after a torrential rain.
I was not alone. There was the landscape and its non-human inhabitants, but there was also Robin and Jerry and other guests and neighbors that occasionally stopped by for a chat and a beer. At dinner, we spent long hours talking writing and books and artistic pursuits. We told each other stories about our lives and the lives of others. I learned about the culture and politics, the tens of thousands of years of this place’s history. I held a geode that once belonged to Margaret Mead in my hands.
By the end of my time, I had succeeded in reconnecting with my manuscript. I had redrafted a prologue and Part 1, and had a roadmap for the rest. Now at home, I continue the thread I started there, the gift Ike’s Canyon gave me.
On my desk is a small stone I picked up on one of my many long walks; I keep it as a talisman on my artistic journey. The day I found it was especially memorable for the sudden and inexplicable appearance of a dappled gray mustang in the middle of what had only a second before been an empty, wide desert plain. The stone is turquoise in color and when I came upon it, it was as shocking and startling to me as that mustang had been.
Lenore Myka is the author of King of the Gypsies: Stories (BkMk Press, 2015), a collection inspired by the two years she spent living in Romania. The book won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction, and was a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize.
She has received numerous awards and fellowships, most notably from the National Endowment for the Arts, and her award-winning work has been selected as distinguished by The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-Required Reading series.
Following Robin’s truck on the unpaved track to the ranch was a crazy, wild and seductive 35 miles of range dust, open desert bloom and huge sky that made me laugh – This exists? How can this exist! A goat and attentive dog greeted me at my car. Stretching into the desert air, I wanted to dance around a campfire and make wacky sounds to sun and moon. Then I saw my digs – a stone cottage – and I wanted to settle in and write. All things were possible.
Kara Lindstrom, film production designer, novelist, fiction writer, screen writer
"Robin and Jerry have created a sanctuary in Monitor Valley for writers eager to put themselves out there. I stayed at Ike’s Ranch for three weeks and it was one of my most precious experiences, and can’t wait to go back. Do yourself a favor and make the journey."
Nicolas Sampson, screen writer, fiction writer, blogger, Executive producter
"Staying at Ike’s Canyon Ranch to work on the second draft of my book was the best thing I could’ve done. The desert gave me the mental space I needed to work uninterrupted and still have time to explore the landscape. There’s an incredible feeling that comes with being in the midst of nature with no light or noise pollution. The sunsets touch your spirit and the night sky gives you a sense of infinity. Ike’s Canyon Ranch has all the modern conveniences yet is as far off the beaten path as you can get. For that reason it lends itself to deep creative work."
Lissa M. Cowan, writer and writing teacher, Toronto, Canada
"This is the most remote place I have ever visited. The scenery is incredible. The hosts, Jerry and Robin are wonderful. But the lack of television and "breaking news" is why this is the perfect escape. I return whenever my life allows."
Dick Hull, fiction writer, specialist in fish tales, frequently seen at Ike's