The 2010 Confluence Writers' Retreat and Flood

For days, the weathermen had been forecasting “THE FLOOD.” With melting snow pack combined with heavy rains, they were suggesting everyone pack up the women and children and move to high ground.

Of course, our writers’ retreat was scheduled to be held at Paddler’s Lane, on the scenic banks of the Youghiogheny River in Confluence. “Confluence.” As in the point where the Yough (pronounced “Yawk”) is joined by the Casselman River and the Laurel Hills Creek. As in the place I spend a large portion of my summer at our camp.

I scoffed at the panic mongers. Flood? Heck, it floods every spring. I ain’t afraid of no stinking flood.

So off I went. Loaded up the car Friday morning under sunny skies and headed east, with joy in my heart. A whole weekend with my Sisters in Crime in a gorgeous house with lots of food. And writing. Oh, yeah. Lots of writing and—better yet—workshops with Ramona Long.

First stop: Panera Bread in Uniontown where I met Sandy Stephen, Susan “West of Mars” Gottfried, and Sherry Dare for lunch. Everyone else was heading straight to Paddler’s Lane.

From Panera, we caravanned back into the Laurel Highlands. It was on that drive that a sense of apprehension began seeping into my bone marrow.

At home, our snow had already melted. In the mountains, several feet remained. Snow. Melting snow, causing rivulets across the roads. Mountain streams raced and tumbled over rocks, joyously, enthusiastically heading toward the rivers below.

Then, there was the sky. Blue and sunny at home, it gradually devolved into roiling black clouds over a flat gray background.

We arrived in Confluence and I got my first look at the Yough. The term “raging river” doesn’t quite describe it. It lapped hungrily at the edge of the driveway back into the retreat. But we made it. One-by-one, our attendees arrived. Parking became a problem, but Dan, our host, directed the maneuvering of vehicles to make space for all.

Our first workshop with Ramona began on schedule. Halfway through, Dan entered with the news that the road into the retreat was about to be under water and we should move our cars into town. He would shuttle us in the back of his panel van. We all piled into our vehicles (first trip, I drove Sherry’s minivan (as I suspected her back wouldn’t tolerate riding in the rear of a sandbag-laden panel van for the return trip) and followed Dan out. The problem (first of many) arose when one driver lost sight of the car in front and got lost. The good part was I was in that tail end of the caravan. We parked at the Confluence Convenience store. Tamara and I went inside to get directions. It would have helped if I knew where we were supposed to be going. Somehow, with the help of the ladies in the grocery store, we figured it out. Sort of. We drove to the parking lot where I THOUGHT we were to go, but Dan and the van were gone. Plus, I wasn’t absolutely positive that’s where we were supposed to be. None of us “observant” writers could say with any certainly that those other cars belonged to our crew. So Tamara and I drove back to the retreat. There sat the van. We told Dan some of our gang were stranded and off we went, back to the parking lot where several forlorn members of our group waited. This trip, I took my car.

There is a stretch of road between Paddler’s Lane and the town of Confluence known as the Narrows. It’s one lane with NO room for passing or for error. Train tracks border one side, a steep drop into the river, the other. During this second run back into town, we found ourselves driving alongside a speeding freight train, inches to our left. Quite the adrenalin rush.

Once we reached the high-and-dry parking lot in town, we piled into the back of the van, sitting on sandbags and fender wells. The ride was not smooth. It WAS entertaining as we created a variety of murder scenarios involving serial killers and a group of women mystery writers crammed in the back of a van as darkness descended.

Back at the retreat, we ditched the idea of continuing the half-completed workshop, opting instead to try it again on Saturday. We settled in to a dinner of pizza and wine. And more wine.
We were safe…however, Martha Reed, who had worked tirelessly to help put this retreat together, had yet to arrive. She had to work Friday and was coming in on Saturday.


Saturday morning dawned gray. The river was still rising. We took a walk along the driveway to see if it was passable. We found water over it here.

And REALLY over it here.

Finally, Martha called. She was in town, stuck thanks to the road being under water. Dan was able to drive out to retrieve her and the small farmer’s market worth of fruit she brought.

Soon after, Dan gave us an update on the weather and the river, which was about to claim the driveway completely. We powwowed about evacuating. However, while we were contemplating the possibility of quickly gathering all our gear, word reached us in the form of Dan’s wife, Robin, that the road was no longer passable. The river had swallowed up the road. The only way out was by packing our gear out, walking on the train tracks. Of course there was the good chance a train might happen by.

We decided to admit we were stranded. We might as well have our retreat.

Tamara taught the first workshop that did not suffer an interruption. Then Ramona took the floor and guided us through several wonderful programs.

Meanwhile, we watched the river creeping closer and closer to the house.

A plot was hatched to send out a bottle with a message. Litterbugs.

By dawn Sunday, the river had receded noticeably. Word reached us by way of Dan and Robin that we should be able to be driven out by afternoon.

We took another walk to check on the road/river and then wrapped up our final workshop with Ramona.
It took two trips in Dan’s van to shuttle us and our gear out to our cars. I went in the last shuttle.

Once we said farewell to our hosts, with much thanks for providing such an adventurous weekend, I led the way across the mountain ridge to Ohiopyle where seven of us ended our wild weekend by viewing the Falls at flood stage.

Thanks to all who made the weekend possible, especially our newest Sister in Crime, Ramona Long; our food wrangler, Sandy Stephen, without whom lack of food might have driven us to murder; Martha Reed for doing the bulk of the planning; Tamara Girardi for providing one of the workshops and for graciously giving up her second slot so Ramona could finish what she’d started on Friday night; and Robin and Dan, owners of Paddler’s Lane, who struggled to keep us informed and calm even while sandbagging around the outside of the house. You guys were GREAT.


Tamara said…
Ah, what a weekend. I look back at those pictures and Annette's thorough retelling with fondness. I'm spending the day catching up with grading rather than writing the ideas floating around upstairs. Oh, well.

Thanks to Annette, our photographer, everyone who brought such great food and camaraderie, and Ramona for the enlightening and practical workshops.

Time to start planning the next one?
You really nailed it, lady.

Hell, instead of doing my own post, I'm redirecting my groupies here.
Annette said…
Thanks, Susan!

Tamara, I think I need a breather before delving into plans for a future retreat. But I guess we could start bouncing ideas around for a location. Tornado Alley, perhaps?
Tamara said…
Annette, that location sounds perfect!

Unless of course we want to be airlifted and dropped into Antarctica with snowboards attached to each of our boxes, bags, suitcases, laptops, etc.

That would be an adventure...
Anonymous said…
Annette, Thanks for all of the wonderful photos and the entertaining report of the retreat weekend. Considering everything, it still looks like it was a lot of fun!
Jemi Fraser said…
Wow - you'll have piles of stories in stock after that weekend. Lots of fun and adventure :)
Joyce Tremel said…
I am so sorry I missed all the fun and adventure! And the chance to meet Ramona, live and in person!
Annette said…
It was fun, although I admit I was in serious fret mode until Martha made it in.

Joyce, Ramona will be at the Pennwriters Conference. You'll meet her there!
Cheryle said…
Yikes! Looked like Old Man River was fixing to get his dibs on y'all.
Redirected via West of Mars for your watery tale of the retreat that would not be stopped. Looks like fun and mind expansion were had by all. My favorite part of your post is the series of river-creeping-closer pictures...yikes!
Annette said…
Cheryl and Julia, what the photos DON'T show is the speed of the river. It was quite put it lightly.

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