A Vision and a Viewby Amy Laundrie
Where else could you be escorted into a retreat center by a pileated woodpecker who takes you past birch, maple, and cedars toward a friendly lodge with a stunning view of the shimmery waters of Green Bay? Where else but Door County’s The Clearing.
As soon as I entered The Clearing’s 128-acres, I breathed easier. Named The Clearing for the school’s purpose, to clear away the mind in order to find renewal and enlightenment, I witnessed the miraculous. As the week progressed, guests gladly abandoned cell phones, the internet and T.V. shows to spend time in the natural world.
The Clearing is the vision of Danish-born naturalist and landscape architect, Jens Jensen, who established it in 1935 when he was 75 years old. Chicagoans applaud Jens Jensen because of his design work at various parks including Lincoln, Douglas and Columbus.
Made from native stone and wood, The Clearing’s buildings include the Jens Jensen visitor center, the main lodge, Schoolhouse, Workshop and housing. Visitors revel in hidden spaces such as a star gazing mound where viewers comfortably lay back for a spectacular view, a labyrinth, and even a dance ring.
Classes ranging in length from two days to week-long offer instruction in arts, fine crafts, humanities, and natural sciences. Imagine quilting, making fine furniture, journal or memoir writing, bird watching, glass fusing, photography, weaving, wood carving, hiking, rug hooking, yoga, or participating in a class called “Touch the Earth; Love the Earth.”
I was one of the eleven students lucky enough to attend Marion Moran’s environmental class this past September. Night walks, star gazing, discussions, readings and field trips comprised the week. The highlight was an evening stroll on a remote beach where, under a full moon, Marion read inspirational quotes. We then sang, lit sparklers, and pranced about on the beach like joyous children.
Guests can stay in cottages for single or double occupancy or the large dorm which accommodates five. When the cook rings the bell, people head to the lodge to enjoy the conversation of like-minded people and the cuisine worthy of any five star restaurant. Beautifully presented, served family style, guests feast on such dishes as huge french toast slices stuffed with cream cheese and cherries, buttery white fish, or the superb butternut squash enchiladas. Favorite treats included chewy chocolate – oat – chip cookies and perfectly ripe strawberries dipped in creamy chocolate.
As an added adventure, I signed up to stay in The Cliffhouse, a rustic shelter tucked into the limestone rocks. Without running water or a toilet, and with a tiny unseen roommate who squeaked, it took some courage on my part. The bat or mouse stopped its squeaking once it knew it wasn’t going to scare me off, and together we welcomed the night.
Thunder and wind serenaded us. Lightning lit up the rocky shore of the waters of Green Bay far below. I lit candles, made a fire in the fireplace, and threw sprigs of cedar on the flames to enjoy their crackle and aroma.
Inspired, I wrote until sleep overtook me, then arose before 4:00 a.m. to write until breakfast. It was during a conversation with director Michael Schneider later that day that I learned Jens Jensen had built The Cliffhouse for himself so he could have a private place to write.
My stay over, I slowly drove away. I paused before pulling onto the paved road, Jens Jensen’s words echoing in the woods. “A mighty oak, a motherly elm, a poetic birch, a friendly maple all speak to man’s finer senses and helps awaken him to his noble heritage.”
Thank you, Jens Jensen, for creating a place that heightened my sense of responsibility to the natural world and a connection to all living things.