The Gaviota Writers Group at its most recent meeting, in June of 2023 | Photo: Cynthia Carbone Ward

“Be deep-rooted, even in shallow soil, Roots will find.”

—Bob Isaacson

I met Bob Isaacson in 1994, when I was a new teacher at Vista de Las Cruces school in Gaviota. A rancher, professor, storyteller, and poet, he came into my classroom one day and suggested that we start a writers group. He suspected there were others like ourselves who scribbled words in solitude and might appreciate some company and support, and he proposed the idea with a childlike enthusiasm I would soon come to recognize as characteristic of Bob. Of course I said okay — who wouldn’t! We posted a flier in the school library, a few stray souls showed up, and we became the Gaviota Writers.

We had one-time visitors and a solid core of loyal members who hated to miss a meeting. We shared journal excerpts, memoirs and stories, novels-in-progress, poetry, and even an occasional song. We ventured from my classroom and met in one another’s homes: ramshackle ranch houses sagging slightly at the seams, quirky abodes within sight of the sea, or cozy dwellings on quiet streets. Sometimes we would linger for a while in Sally Isaacson’s garden, or detour to look at the zebras at Miki and David Holden’s place on the outskirts of Los Alamos, or sit beneath the arbor in Jim Brady’s backyard at Los Yridises. But the best times were summer mornings at El Chorro Ranch, wearing broad-brimmed hats and baseball caps to shield us from the sun, carrying some impromptu portable feast, strong coffee in a thermos, and our stories and poems to share. We sat on an old wooden flatbed trailer adrift in a sea of grass and listened to our friends reading to us one by one.

There were winter evenings, too, when we drove through rain to sit together in warm rooms lit by lamps and wood-burning stoves. We ate and we talked, but mostly we read, and we listened in an old-fashioned way. We received each other’s words with appreciation, critiquing ever so gently and complimenting sincerely. We left encouraged, even inspired, and knowing that we would meet again soon was an added impetus to finishing a piece. My own participation in the writing group was a kind of open declaration that I was a writer. I began to think of myself as one.

Bob passed away in 2012, but his spirit still infuses the Gaviota Writers, and we have been going for nearly 30 years now. We’ve had our cycles and we’ve had our lulls, we’ve seen a few folks fade out and some new blood join up, and every time we meet we feel renewed. We have weathered loss and change, wept and laughed together, and borne shared witness to the astonishing present. Jim or Jan often bring the gift of a song, Sally helps us see wonders in nature we might have missed, Chris might spin an elegant essay about grandmotherhood, and Julie will reveal glimpses of the heart and dark humor in her work as an ER nurse. People we have loved drift from the pages and are with us again, wisdom we have gleaned fills the air, and the stories glimmer. Jim puts our hard copies into an old green folder, grown swollen over the years, and I suppose this is the scripture of the Gaviota Writers.

For me, a writing group is about building a community; even more than that, it is about developing writing-based friendships or expanding existing friendships into a deeper realm. There is something affirmative and generous in the mutual sharing of writing. It engenders a unique kind of empathy and intimacy; there’s a special solace, strength, and continuity to be found in such gatherings. The event becomes a holiday, a hiatus from the everyday into something worth pausing for. The Gaviota Writers last gathered in June, and with the help of song and prose, we remembered to more fully inhabit our lives. We shared and went our separate ways, revived, not failing to observe, in the words of Bob Isaacson, “that incredible light that pours forever, down off the coast range and then howls west, scouring the great white-capped channel like the golden breath of gods.”

We’ll meet again soon.


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