Bodies on Welcome Hill

It was 1984. My friend Harriet was staying in a writing studio built entirely by women on a hill in southern New Hampshire. “It is a place to fall in love with yourself,” she wrote to me. In June she invited me to come stay there while she was away. My home at the time was just a 45-minute drive south in Montague, MA. Following Harriet’s directions, I arrived at a driveway that wound up a forested hill at the top of which a sign—“Studio of One’s Own”—pointed in the direction of a very large wooden cabin. Inside it was all birch wood, vast vaulted space and huge windows against which grazed the branches of giant pines. A path beside the cabin led up to a mossy plateau at the top of the hill and a maze of footpaths. I walked for a long time under the dripping trees—it was a cool and wet afternoon—then came inside and made a fire. After just one day I knew exactly what Harriet meant.

I remember my first meeting with Ann Stokes, the owner of this hill, the visionary and benefactor behind this studio. A narrow trail led down from the main path, known as “Matterbreast,” to a great wooden cottage with fieldstone walls. A voice yelled, “Come in!” when I knocked on the door. I entered the cathedral of a living room to see a sturdy woman in jeans and T-shirt and jaw-length graying hair. Beside her was a clothes rack with rows of panties drying on it. Not designer ones. She saw no need to mention the rack much less apologize for it. I felt instantly at ease.

You could talk to Ann about anything. Her politics were feminist, lesbian, anti-war, anti-nuke. She had been jailed for protesting the Seabrook nuclear plant and was usually worked up about some affront to life. But you could also always talk to her about art. About poetry. About any kind of writing if it moved her. I have been unable to erase a message on my answering machine, left just a year or so before her death, in which she called to rave about Helen Macdonald’s book H is for Hawk and broke down in the middle of the title.

More than any other subject, though, what Ann loved for you to talk about was … the Hill. What had you discovered on the walk you took. The whiteness of the quartz stones against the green ferns. The birds in the apple tree by the guesthouse. The beech leaves that covered the trails in the fall, their infinite shades of brown.

Ann fell in love with this hill when she first saw it in 1959. What she wanted more than anything was for others to fall in love with it too. Ten years after the Studio of One’s Own, she had another studio designed and built by women—called the “Lean-to Studio” since it incorporated a stone lean-to at one edge of the property.  Before that, the guesthouse over the garage was converted into a studio.

The Hill became a refuge for me when I lived in Montague. I was editing a feminist magazine and often felt battered by political conflicts, especially when they began to penetrate my own circle of friends. There were lover problems as well. I found myself escaping to the Hill more and more often. As soon as I was heading up the driveway through the dense tree canopy I would feel a huge weight being lifted. I remember one snowy winter when my car couldn’t make it past the second turn dancing up the rest of the driveway, groceries bags and all.

Ann died in 2016 just two weeks after the US election. She stopped eating the day after and cancelled her subscription to the NY Times. A rabid follower of US politics and a devoted reader of The New Yorker, she would have been horrified by what was to come.

Seven years later, the land and the studios are still here, welcoming women from everywhere. Kristin and I have had some of our most exhilarating editorial conversations hiking the woodland paths.

And Ann, too, is very much here. The last time I saw her, just three months before her death, I said to her “Ann, you know you will always be here on the land.” Though I spoke it with conviction, I could not have imagined then how visceral and powerful her presence would be: in the woods, in the fields, on the paths, in the studios. 

This past November, during a magical five-day stay in the Guesthouse Studio, I found these recent entries in the journal in that studio:

“Every inch of moss, mushroom and snarled branch has instilled an immeasureable amount of inspiration.“

“The ancient white pine tree near the garden creaks in the continual breeze, caressing me to sleep.”

“Leaving with new poems attempting to find a vocabulary for the unspeakable—war & the inevitable suffering of war. But here—healing and refuge in the embrace of autumn trees and a deep silence & stillness.”

So many bodies have come to the Hill and loved it and been loved back that it seemed to me some record of that relationship belonged in this issue of Dark Matter. 

What follows is a selection of testimonies along with samples of their work from some of the many artists, writers and musicians whose writing, painting and music have been shaped by their time on the Hill.*

Lauren Watrous
Mossy Tree, June 2022

I have drawn from this tree at every side, far and near. There’s a twist to every part of it, a lean, an angle, a face and reach, everything is particular and directed in a way. I’ve gotten up every morning at 5 and quietly, meticulously, meditatively (as I am at 5 am) painted this mossy tree and for the rest of the 12 hours of the day outside, moved from one study to the next, every three or four hours observing the light and the surroundings. I have gotten to know other things about other trees in the area. When the sun is set to a certain point it hits the base of the four- trunked pine or the hemlock grove sending strobes of deep orange light to spotlight a trunk, a rock, a portal between, as the hermit thrush sing back and forth across the hills. And the old oak, a wolf tree, stops me in my tracks on the trail. Nothing else could have been growing near for many years while that tree grew and grew and grew.

I’ve spent my life trying to study a place this way.  Who I am now, what I have taught myself and what others have taught me, what the magic of this incredible wood has brought, this incredible studio built by women, all of this has aligned. I am brought to tears writing these last few words. I am so grateful to this welcome hill.   

Jennifer Elinora Grossi 

“In the woods on land stolen from the Penacook Abenaki over 200 years ago, I spent 33 days in communion with this project and its Mothers.” 

That’s how I introduce project jelinora, a body of solo music and multimedia work borne of my time at Welcome Hill Studios. Only through honoring that place and its history could I connect deeply enough with myself to draw on the well of my own ancestry, finally at the age of 50 opening up to what I needed to express in the world.

Pamela Booker

My first stay since Ann’s transition and I miss her presence. Yet, in the song of “Sweet Honey”—she is the living “things” and breath that grows the land.  Nurturing and healing and at once demanding of spirit/attention if committed to the healing are the ways in which the Hill receives me. 

Within this setting, I divine more compelling and necessary ways of being in the world with my truth; allowing myself to be vast as sky, discerning as weather. I move on steeped in places of clarity, capacity for Courage and Vulnerability.  Trees, glorious trees. 

T. Strong
Recipient of a Journey-Womxn-Fund scholarship for stay on Welcome Hill

Making that video was one of the absolute most freeing moments I’ve ever experienced. The text included in the Instagram post below is an excerpt from the short story I started working on after my trip to Welcome Hill. “Once upon a time, on a hill far away, She found herself. Yet sometimes, in The Valley, she looses One again. Only briefly. In those small moments of loss She also opens and for her that is the portal for her travels. Every few hundred years she returns to The Hill to remember. God.”

Jeanne Liotta

“Fossilgrams for the Revolution” is the title of my current photographic research project, thinking through my relationship to the climate crisis by making a series of images with one of the oldest and most resilient species on our planet, the humble fern. ..To this end I have engaged in the creation of a series of fugitive photographic images (“fossilgrams”) made with living ferns, with special thanks to The Welcome Hill Women’s Studios in West Chesterfield NH, where I had access to the most marvelous field of ferns.  

….It seems ever more urgent in art and in science, to ask: how we can create practices for awareness of other beings in respect to their agency in the world? No doubt we are headed towards yet another mass extinction at some point—what can we learn from our comrades, the great survivors, the fossil-ferns?

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unfixed lumen prints on silver gelatin paper, 11 x 14 inches.

Anne Bergeron

Each time I arrive on the top of Welcome Hill, silence, wind, and spaciousness offer me  a simple greeting. For the next little while, they become my closest companions as I live and create among the oaks, white pines, and ferns that surround my sweet cabin in the forest. 

Often, I see no one for days. And that is what I love about being on The Hill, as it is affectionately known. I answer only to  myself, fully immersed in creating for hours and hours every day. When I’m not writing, I walk woodland paths, visit my favorite old maple tree, read, draw, make nourishing meals, knit, or weave on a simple loom. I follow my instincts, revel in solitude, and leave full of joy that such a beautiful place exists where I can write, create, and rediscover myself without interruptions. 

Fiona Morehouse

The land and the space allowed for a long-awaited conversation with Rilke’s Sonnets To Orpheus. It also deepened my understanding of how the human body and earth body mirror one another in deep and profound ways.

For me, the beauty of Welcome Hill is that it meets you where you are and offers loving hands to hold you in ways you may not have imagined. It also reminds me, time and again, that the magic and mystery is right h e r e. The cabin is made of wood and stone. It is built into the earth and it reaches toward the sky. It is one with the above and below. Doors open to a field of fern offering their soft sweet slow liminal journey space between the cocoon of quiet that is created in each cabin and that of the ancestral land of Ann Stokes and all the beings whose tendrils of relationship to this particular place continue to infuse and inform the A L L that is the Welcome Hill of today (and tomorrow). Trails weave through and encircle this energy, this invisible tapestry of collective cocreation. Each step feeling held by those who walked and loved, fell and were transformed through the lineage of this place. 

Upon my arrival, walking these very trails I arrive to this mother Oak Tree. Guardian and Keeper, Mother and Grandmother of more than I can ever know. She graces me with her Presence. She invites me to sit with her until I can feel our connection- tree bodies and human bodies as sacred vessels connecting the above and below through a collaborative exchange of which breath is just the beginning. Inside and underneath, mycellium and fascia pulse with the power of this knowing. I take her portrait from above, below, and inside out. I return to the studio. I read the sonnets to Orpheus and circle the ones that seem to pull toward me as if separating themselves from the page. I roll out 3 large pieces of paper. I paint a single vertical line on one. I paint a single horizontal line on another and on the third I draw two diagonal lines that intersect in the center. I print the photos of the tree and align what I see with what I hear in Rilke’s words. There is a natural marriage. 

Jennye Patterson

The first time I stayed at Welcome Hill I was grieving a very recent death, a ground-shaking loss. I wanted nothing more than to get lost between the trees, to get buried under the rock wall. I wanted to disappear and while I certainly did get lost in the trees, I simultaneously found myself again. It wasn’t anything grand— this finding— it came through tiny minutes of the day: cooking dinner with vegetables from local farms, reading Arianne Zwartjes over and over, one word and then another finding the page, baking a quiche for Ann and reading her some of my new writing, going to bed early and peeking at the stars through the window. After so many years in the city, I wasn’t familiar with the quiet of a mountain night and each day I would venture further into the woods trying to land, get my bearings, build trust. I’ve returned many times since and each time I feel embraced by the ghost pipe in the woods, the monarda growing in the garden, the way you can sink into land that has been stewarded with heart, intention, and faith. The gratitude is boundless.


*Thank you to Elissa Pine, direct of Welcome Hill Studios, for invaluable assistance in collecting these materials.

Lauren Watrous grew up in Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont. She attended The Art Institute of Chicago and Vermont College receiving her BA in 2004. In 2012, she received her MFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Lauren works and lives in Brattleboro, Vermont where she draws and paints inside and out, people and land, observations and memories. 

Jennifer Elinora Grossi After decades of consulting and collaborating on other people’s projects, I’m sharing my Whole Voice* for the first time! My music, words and vision connect the personal to the potential through my art-site I also help others discover and share their authentic voices through private consults, group workshops and immersion experiences, and my Whole Voice support network.
*Whole Voice = the full, Real expression of whatever we need to share in the world: speaking, singing, songwriting, music production, filmmaking, drawing, painting, poetry, dancing, activism, blogging, community service… and all the rest of the infinite possibilities.

Pamela Booker is an Interdisciplinary Writer/Performance/ Media Artist. Educator. Eco-Activist. She is the founder of, a non-profit committed to advocating and partnering for urban green initiatives and funding opportunities that affirm a sustainable future for the planet and Black and brown lives. Our mission is to create inclusive forums that nurture diverse ways of being in the world for BIPOC artists, healers, urban growers, and creators. We are deeply appreciative of Welcome Hill Studios as a green-space-ally in support of the Journey-Womxn-Fund initiative that provides transformative weeklong retreats for Newark, NJ residents who serve as “caregivers” for their communities and families. Pamela is fulltime faculty in Writing Studies/Theater Arts programs at Montclair State University, and formerly taught at alma maters, NYU, and Goddard College. Expect to hear more soon about her fiction collection, Dills Mirrors, and the Lizzies, an excerpt of which appeared in the Darkmatterwomenwitnessing Journal_Issue #14.   

T.Reid-Strong The art of T. Reid-Strong could be described as a stylized collection of ardent visual narratives and poetry in optical and literary form. Her spirited symbolic paintings evoke feelings of connection to African American culture, ancestry, freedom, love and eternity. In parallel, her photography is an honest display of strong emotion and fearlessness, yet is also intimate and silently striking in mood. As a multifaceted artist skilled in creative writing and poetry, painting and portraiture, she endeavors to engulf audiences through vivid experiences into her mind’s eye. Though at first glance, T. Strong’s idiosyncratic painting style may recall Expressionism, she displays her own contemporary artistic vocabulary imbued with life-affirming metaphorical imagery.  “My curiosity, the quest to heal black generational suffrage and dedication to inspiring limitless abundant living are the roots that ground my work.” 

Jeanne Liotta (NYC) makes films, moving image installations, expanded cinema performances and many other lens based mediums operating at a lively intersection of art,  science,& natural philosophy.  Her signature 16mm film of the night skies, Observando El Cielo (2007), received  the Tiger Award  for Short Film at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Her works have been seen at  venues worldwide, from film festivals to micro cinemas, museums, galleries and basements, including The Whitney Museum of Art,  The New York Film Festival, Museo Nitsch Naples Italy, The Wexner Center for the Arts, The McCormick Observatory, The Kopernik Observatory, and the ICA London. Her works are collected by The Museum of Modern Art NY, The Vienna Film Museum, Harvard and Duke Universities. Liotta researched the Joseph Cornell Film Collection at Anthology Film Archives for many years and has more recently published an essay in Millennium Film Journal  “Enter Germs, Enter the World: Hand processing artists films in the AIDS era.” Currently she is a Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder where she directs the graduate program in Arts Practices/Film and has been mentoring graduate students in the Bard MFA program in the Hudson Valley for many years . Her films are distributed by Lightcone, Paris and her art works are represented by Microscope Gallery, NYC.

Anne Bergeron is a writer, teacher, and healing arts practitioner who lives among the trees in eastern Vermont. She tends gardens and raises chickens for eggs and sheep for wool on an off-grid homestead she built with her husband, where they share their lives with two delightful huskies. Her poems and essays appear in previous issues of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, as well as Flyway: A Journal of Writing and Environment, The Hopper, The Dark Mountain Project, and several issues of Blueline Magazine. She views writing, teaching, gardening, and fiber arts as joyful regenerative practices for the earth. 

Fiona Morehouse has exhibited internationally and has several permanent public art installations across the United States, including White Salmon WA, Shepherdstown WV, and Middletown MD. Studying fine art and music at McDaniel College, she received her BFA and K-12 Art Education Certification in 1999. She continued graduate study in ceramic art at Hood College, followed by coursework in painting and encaustics at The Art Students League in New York. She is currently completing a Museum Studies Graduate Certificate from Harvard University. She has been developing and facilitating integrative arts and ecology curriculum for over 20 years, and has facilitated a diversity of interdisciplinary, intergenerational workshops across the US and abroad. She currently splits her time between art making and teaching at MASS MoCA, a contemporary art museum in North Adams, MA.

Jennifer Patterson is a writer, herbalist, and breathwork teacher through her healing arts practice Corpus Ritual. She’s the editor and author of the anthology Queering Sexual Violence and author of The Power of Breathwork. She currently lives in the high desert mountains of so-called northern New Mexico. 

About the Author

Lise Weil is editor of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing. You can read more about her here.

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