Joining the Reunion

First published as the introduction to Seabeck Reunion, the tenth anniversary Seabeck Haiku Getaway anthology, celebrating the 2017 retreat (published by Haiku Northwest Press in 2020, pages 13–20).  The book is available on Amazon. Originally written from September to November of 2019. See also the book’s afterword, “Ten Years of Seabeck Haiku Getaways.”

“A person with taste is merely one who can recognize the greatest beauty in the simplest things.” ―Barbara Taylor Bradford, Her Own Rules

When driving to the Seabeck Haiku Getaway each year, often with our retreat’s featured guest in the passenger seat, my ritual has usually been to first visit nearby Scenic Beach State Park. We pull into the parking lot, and take at least half an hour, or more if time allows, to walk through the tall pines and yellowing maples down to the small rocky beach. We toss a few stones or oyster shells into Hood Canal, a long reach of Puget Sound, and remark about how high or low the tide is. I note whatever trees in the past year might have tipped into the water from the surrounding embankments, and we admire the view across the sound to the Olympic Mountains, which may have received a dusting of snow by late October. Typically the maples and other trees offer a riot of reds and yellows, with leaves blanketing the trails and the footbridge over the creek. Together we wander to the gazebo, imagine the native rhododendrons in full bloom come spring, and watch for fishing boats out on the water. Sometimes a rainbow welcomes us, and I’m still hoping for a sighting of orcas.

         Eventually we amble to the historic Emel house, built in 1912 and remodeled in 1923, where I never fail to ping the giant bell with a fingernail. We talk about the home’s history and its connection to Alice Frampton and her family before we stroll back to the car, and I mention how it was Alice who brought us to Seabeck in the first place. Our walking amid the trees and meadows here at the park is a time of decompression, of shifting gears, of melding with the great Pacific Northwest, and of my sharing this beauty and history with our guest for the weekend. We finish this transition by driving from Scenic Beach to the Seabeck Conference Center, rumbling over the old wooden bridge that spans the lagoon between the waterfront and the Historic Inn. And then our haiku weekend begins.

        Perhaps this is a ritual for me because our very first Seabeck Haiku Getaway included a visit to Scenic Beach, on October 12, 2008, joined by Alice’s mother, Pat Emel. That first year a park ranger led us on a guided tour of the small house with its stunning view of the Olympics. As we explored the porch, the kitchen, the living room, and the upstairs bedrooms, Pat chimed in with personal memories of each room, and Alice told us that her bedroom was the one above the kitchen—she had lived in the house until the age of seven. She later told me that the house’s grand stone chimney was built using rocks from the ballasts of lumber ships coming to Seabeck mills nearly a century ago, and that those ships, many from Japan, were responsible for unintentionally importing the now-predominant Pacific or Japanese oyster (Magallana gigas). And now here we were bringing haiku from Japan to Seabeck, too. From the 1930s to 1959, the family ran a resort in the acreage around their home, with visitors staying in surrounding cabins. In 1963 the family sold the house and the land to the state of Washington for a new state park, and in 1975 it opened to the public when the park system added campsites and an entry kiosk. Pat’s memory is not so good these days (she’s about 90 now), and neither is mine, but I am honored to share these narratives, and to continue our fledgling Seabeck haiku traditions in the context of this area’s rich personal histories, and the area’s even deeper Native American history. And we are pleased, with this anthology, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Haiku Northwest’s annual Seabeck Haiku Getaway.

        When I moved to the Seattle area from California in November of 2002, I left behind a tradition of attending the annual Asilomar haiku weekend, run by the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society at the Asilomar conference grounds in Pacific Grove, California. I had participated for twelve years straight, and even timed my move north to attend Asilomar one last time that fall before migrating to Washington. Within a year or so I wished that we might have a similar retreat in the Pacific Northwest. On and off I researched dozens of potential locations and venues, in the mountains or out by the ocean, and in between, but they all seemed too expensive or too far away. Five years went by, and in that time I directed the 2005 Haiku North America conference at Fort Worden in nearby Port Townsend, which kept me from pursuing the retreat idea. The Haiku Northwest group also underwent several changes, especially in 2005 with the passing of its founder, Francine Porad. At the time, Alice Frampton lived in British Columbia, but she moved back to her hometown of Seabeck, Washington in August of 2007 to look after her aging mother. I had first visited Alice in Seabeck in November of 2002, just a week or so after I moved to the Seattle area, when she herself was visiting from Canada, but I don’t recall her mentioning the conference center, even though I’d driven right by its old wooden bridge without knowing what it led to. At the time of that first visit I hadn’t yet thought about starting a new retreat in the region. I forget when or how I first mentioned it, but several times in the years after that I had told Alice of my ongoing desire to start a new haiku retreat in Washington, and said how I just hadn’t found the right place to do it. But this time, in 2007, now that she had moved back home after 34 years in Canada, she said, “Well, how about Seabeck?” That’s when she told me about the Seabeck Conference Center, which had been offering reasonably priced retreat and conference facilities to nonprofit groups and organizations since it began in 1915. Alice had even worked in the dining hall occasionally as a teenager. I remember making another trip in July of 2008 to visit Alice and to have a look around the conference center facilities—beautiful heritage and purpose-built buildings scattered around a large and lovely campus with views of the lagoon, the sound, and the mountains beyond. Trails led up into the woods, and deer would regularly meander across lush meadow grass seeking fallen apples in the orchard. I didn’t discover it until later, but the Emel name appears on numerous headstones in the historic Seabeck cemetery, a short walk through the woods from the conference center campus. It seemed perfect. We booked two nights for the first Haiku Northwest retreat at Seabeck, which I named the Seabeck Haiku Getaway, and the first retreat took place October 10 to 12, 2008, with Emiko Miyashita visiting from Japan as our first featured guest. Our records show that we had 30 attendees that first year, a number that has mostly risen every autumn since then. What memories we have accumulated in the decade that has passed! You can read more about each of our first ten retreats in this book’s afterword, “Ten Years of Seabeck Haiku Getaways.”

        A principle that has always guided me in planning activities and events at Seabeck is to balance the head and the heart. Haiku is inherently a social poetry, a sharing of emotions and experiences through the images of daily life. Through both reading and writing, these poems naturally appeal to the heart. Yet it is also worthwhile to contemplate technique and craft, which may be said to appeal to the head, or one’s intellectual side. In any group of people, it seems advantageous to cater to both emotional and intellectual needs, and to recognize that one focus or the other could benefit people who might neglect either opportunity. To me, this is part of how one builds and stimulates community. As Wendell Berry once said, “A proper community . . . is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members—among them the need to need one another.” Indeed, we gather at Seabeck to share and discuss haiku each year because we need each other.

        From the beginning, my goal with the Seabeck Haiku Getaway was to make the weekend a hybrid event, partway between a retreat and a conference—with, I hoped, the best of both. Beyond the usual workshops and readings of haiku, over the years various traditions started right away or have emerged and evolved, such as our book fair, silent auctions, anonymous workshops, theme songs, the group photo, haiga exhibits, a kukai (anonymous haiku contest), an anthology, having attendees make their own creative name badges, enjoying walks to the woods and the lagoon, participating in craft activities, and dazzling each other with our talent show. Particular highlights have included the night walk with lanterns (done in silence through a determined rain), and another night walk, to the historic cemetery, on Halloween weekend, where a white-sheathed ghost appeared out of the woods and shared death haiku with us while we stood in a silent semi-circle hearing the sounds of a distant and mournful wooden flute.

        Our meeting space changed from Reeser House in our first year to the Lounge A-frame the year after, then for many years at the versatile Colman Center, and most recently at the much larger Meeting House—each move signaling our growth to accommodate an increasing number of attendees and providing more space for our activities. These buildings have shaped our memories. Perhaps the most vivid and sustained highlight from each year, though, has been the camaraderie with friends old and new, whether in our changing meeting spaces or when gathered for shared meals at the round tables that invite group conversation at the Seabeck dining hall. In that spirit, as the leaves turn color each autumn, as the weather begins to turn rainy and melancholy, yet not without celebration, the retreats we hold at Seabeck have become a reunion—a reunion with a beautiful location, a reunion with haiku poetry, and a reunion with cherished friends. We have built a deep camaraderie, and we are delighted to celebrate ten years of Seabeck Haiku Getaway community-building.

        The book you now hold in your hands is dedicated to Johnny Baranski. Johnny attended the Seabeck Haiku Getaway with religious fervor, nearly from the beginning, but the 2017 retreat was his last. He died just three months later, after receiving countless messages at his hospice bed from haiku friends worldwide, where his family also surrounded him. In this collection you’ll find some of his last published haiku. Those who knew Johnny will fondly remember his broad smile and quiet presence.

        Over the years I’ve felt a pronounced and growing energy at our Seabeck Haiku Getaways. I hope you might also feel it, if you haven’t already. I hope, too, that reading this book will feel like joining a welcoming family reunion, or reliving the time we spent together in October of 2017 if you were one of our attendees. We begin with a selection of 20 poems by the ten featured guests from our first decade, and we offer each of them our gratitude for their presence and influence. The poems that follow next appear in four main sections. “It Happened at Seabeck” focuses on specific activities we enjoyed, and includes 40 haiku and senryu. Next comes “Mountain Clouds,” a sequence of 21 miscellaneous poems that felt best here rather than in the other three sections. After this comes “Autumn Again,” with 19 poems that dwell on the season of waning—the colorful time of year when we’ve always held our much-loved getaways. And then comes “In Good Taste,” with 43 poems celebrating our 2017 weekend theme of taste, one of the senses we’ve been working through over five years. Here I think of Anthony T. Hincks, who said, “It's when you smell the breeze, taste the salt, and feel the waves beneath your feet that you truly know that you are alive.” After this come six poems in a late-night erotic rengay titled “Tango,” an outgrowth of Jacquie Pearce’s “Erotic Haiku” workshop from 2015, which also produced an erotic rengay at our 2016 retreat. Then, to conclude, we have thirteen poems that placed in our 2017 Seabeck kukai, many of these poems echoing the subjects of earlier sections. That makes for 162 poems if you want to add them up, but you’ll find even more in the book’s final section that describes each of our ten retreats in detail. At the end, too, you’ll find a list of 2017 reunion anthology participants—and we hope that one day you might join our reunion too, if you haven’t already. Until then, you can join us by contemplating each of the following poems—smelling the breeze, tasting the salt, and knowing that you are alive.

        Michael Dylan Welch

        Seabeck Haiku Getaway Cofounder