Literary Hook: Clearing your mind at The Clearing in Ellison Bay, Wis.
By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet
The Clearing, a retreat center and arts colony in Ellison Bay, Wis., begins its weeklong classes in May.
Many Rockford residents enjoy Door County, and some are regulars at The Clearing. I have taught writing at The Clearing in May for several years. For more information about the various writing classes offered at The Clearing, please visit www.theclearing.org.
May is a marvel at The Clearing. Bright blue skies hover over Green Bay, 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 a thousand 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 smokestacks 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.
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”: writers’ 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.
From the May 11-17, 2011 issue