The Mountain, the Sisters of St. Gertrude's, and Me
Winner of a Suitcase Award, Honorable Mention, in the 2023 Book Passage Travelers and Photographers Conference.
After the Pandemic, I cloistered myself with Catholic nuns at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Idaho. For 30 whole days and nights. I’m not Catholic. I didn’t know anything about their Benedictine Order, but I was tired of staying home, of wearing a mask, and taking little rambles. I wanted to do something large for a change, so I applied to their Artists in Residence Program. The only thing they asked in exchange for room and board was that I write and at the end, make a presentation to the sisters.
“Aren’t you nervous? A month is a long time. What do you know about them?” My husband, the Professor, ventured.
Sister Theresa, the kind but harried, no nonsense sister in charge of the Program said, “Just write. You don’t have to believe like we do. We get tired of just being around each other all the time. We like to meet new people.”
Their offer was irresistible. I would have uninterrupted time to contemplate and write. To mull over how, post-Pandemic, I would structure my life and future to travel and write more. To think more. How terrible could it be to live in a Monastery?
My knowledge of nuns was limited to what I’d seen on TV and what I’d heard from Catholic kids. I’d never met one, but heard they picked on kids, pulling their ears and rapping their knuckles with rulers for misbehaving. They were mean, I’d heard. But I’m an adult, I reasoned. I could always leave if my worst expectations materialized.
So, with the Professor’s blessing, I filled two suitcases and drove north through Idaho along the dry, rocky Snake River Canyon, from the Mountain into the Pacific time zone, and up White Bird Pass onto the green Camas Prairie. There, on the shoulder of the Prairie, sat St. Gertrude’s Monastery, a stone castle-like edifice overlooking the expanse.
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