I’ve just returned from Fishtrap, a writing workshop held in the far reaches of eastern Oregon.

The Fishtrap mission is to “promote clear thinking and good writing in and about the West” and for one full week an accomplished (yet approachable) faculty of poets, essayists, novelists, historians and publishers led and encouraged a group of more than 100 writers through an exploration of Migrations & Passages. I had the good fortune to attend as a Fishtrap Fellow.

What does it mean to move, to travel, to grow up, to be displaced?

Situated at the base of the dramatic Wallowa mountains, getting to Fishtrap is a migration itself. From my western home on the Oregon Coast to the state’s eastern edge town of Joseph, Oregon is a nine-hour drive. Passage, indeed, as I drove through temperate rainforest, past idyllic farms, along carved river gorge, across dry ranch land, and into remote small towns. Remote is understatement, and I say this as one who lives in a town of 650 people and no stoplights.

The displacement was refreshing. I gently pulled from routine and leaned into a roadtrip hum that allowed my mind to wander and wonder.  

How do our journeys — of body and soul and pen — awaken us to the new, the foreign, the familiar?

Through writing classes, planned and spontaneous readings, and lively mealtime conversations, Fishtrap provided time, space and opportunity to make creative leaps. Situated at 4,000 feet in forested wilderness, and stripped of cell phone service and internet connection, quietude prevailed as new poems brewed.

And how can staying in a place also change who we are?

Writer Pico Iyer served as guest speaker and visiting thinker. Born in England, to parents from India, Iyer lives in both Japan and California and works as a travel writer (in the sense that outward travel stirs inward introspection). He is the author of two novels and seven nonfiction books exploring globalism, migration, crossing cultures and literature, including The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home.

Iyer crystallized the week’s theme by sharing his amusing but profound perspective on what it means to be at home in the world. Always an outsider, he spoke of “the dance between the need to belong and the need to stand apart.”

It’s a dance, like migrations and passages, that may take me a lifetime to learn, to fully live.