Literary Hook: Double happiness: May at The Clearing

May 26, 2010

By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet

May is a marvel at The Clearing. Bright blue skies hover over Green Bay, Wis., no longer green but various shades of blue twinkling in the sunny, 70-degree weather. Blue also is the color of forget-me-nots that line the forest floor, heralding spring like 1,000 fairy voices. A purist might say that forget-me-nots are weeds, not indigenous to Door County. Who cares? Bring them on! The trillium don’t look any worse for wear with their white-and-pink flowers opening by the thousands as May meanders on. Soon, the queen of the forest comes, wearing lady slippers, which she keeps in endless supply, dropping them in secret clumps as May marches forth. Upon first seeing a yellow lady slipper, its delicate pouch and twirled silk ribbon on a stem, an unsuspecting onlooker might gasp that such a delight lives in the enchanted Clearing forest.

Yes, May is a treat at The Clearing. The fervent, raucous hummingbirds return to their feeders by the lodge. A pair of eagles might perch just outside the cathedral windows. Right in front of Erma’s cottage, blue-bells careen their tiny flowers, and blue again crosses the periphery, begging for attention. It’s too early for flies or mosquitoes, so sitting in the Council Ring at sunset offers a perfectly peaceful repose, that strictly pink Door County dusk, wispy angel wing clouds, and Humpty-Dumpty orange sun making a golden ladder from the smoke stacks of Green Bay to the shores of Ellison Bay. The lake’s lapping tongues lick the rocky shore, whispering and singing a lullaby. Then, Venus, a few stars…and finally the Milky Way shimmers, ablaze in the indigo blue dusk. What a prelude to a night of soundest sleep and the anticipation of a mind cleared of cobwebs upon awakening to another marvelous May day at The Clearing.

Teaching at The Clearing in May has become a favorite ritual. A ritual is something we do over and over because it makes us feel more alive, gives more meaning and energy to our lives, and satisfies a need for beauty and purpose. Besides the exquisite natural beauty May offers at The Clearing, there are other rituals I look forward to. I relish the Professor’s Quarters with its carved wooden hearth and cozy living space. If I am lucky enough to get the Bay Room (supposedly haunted by the ghost of Jens Jensen, who so far hasn’t been interested in me), each morning the glistening of Green Bay and the glimmer of the meadow just beginning to wear its spring jewels greet me. I am filled with anticipation: Who will be in my class? Will we bond as a group and enjoy each other’s company? Will they like me, or will they think I’m an eccentric gnome suited for living under a blossoming trillium? (Usually, they think I’m an eccentric gnome, but seem to tolerate me just the same.)

I have come to expect magic at The Clearing, and so far, no disappointments. I have yet to fully understand this phenomenon, but the minute class starts, we can’t stop laughing. It may be the pure oxygen, ionization, and altitude of The Clearing. Perhaps it’s the Jens Jensen architecture that just lets you exist in perfect harmony with nature, freeing your breath and spirit. The writers think it’s the wood nymphs and fairies, especially those who hang out around the Schoolhouse, hiding under dwarf irises. They are up to no good, sending us into peals of giggles, sometimes resulting in improvisational choral singing. It’s as if a great laughing wind sweeps in from the shores of Gitche Gumee and sends us writing up a literary storm, whooping it up all the way. It doesn’t hurt that writers are open books, baring their souls to each other and the wood nymphs. I continue to be humbled and awestruck by what “my writers” produce in such a short time.

It doesn’t hurt that we are dazzled by the food, which is so abundant and beautifully prepared that our energy level maintains its zeal. I have tried to describe the Wednesday “dinner” ritual—you know, the one with fresh whitefish, ending with the tennis ball strawberries and individual chocolate fondue bowl?—and everyone here in Illinois thought I was exercising poetic license. It doesn’t hurt that everywhere you walk, you are uplifted and supported by a cozy enchantment found nowhere else on Earth: log cabins with window boxes, cathedral windows that sanctify views of nature, an old grand piano, carved wood, flagstone rings for gathering, and a Cliff House for those who really want to do the Garbo thing—all alone against a cliff above the bay. The purest solitude.

We come to The Clearing with expectations to learn something new, to commune with nature, to make new friends, to be taken care of, and yes, served. But what happens encompasses more than that and proves that The Clearing name itself rings true. Often something “gets cleared”: writer’s block, reluctance and fear of not being good enough, for starters. Then, something more happens: a community of support, inspiration, acceptance and mentoring comes like a gentle, cleansing May rain. We may arrive at The Clearing feeling the weight of something bearing down on us, and have found within a few days a clearing and lifting of whatever issue needed letting go. We leave The Clearing lighter in spirit. Some might even call it healing.

We have come to The Clearing needing to laugh, needing to get unstuck, needing a little dose of admiration and affirmation, and have found all of it. And if, by chance, we happen to find it in May, then we receive a double blessing, as surely as forget-me-nots will tiptoe and dance under aspens that jingle like wind chimes in the crisp May breeze each year at The Clearing.

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet.

From the May 26-June 1, 2010 issue

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