Serendipitous Day of Shrines

On my way to Door County in Wisconsin, I saw a highway sign listing attractions, one of which was “the only approved Marian apparition site in the US.” I mused on that a bit because I didn’t know there had been any Mary sightings in the United States. Apparently, those musings went deep, because a few days later as I was passing the exit to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on the way back west after my Door County visit, I jerked the steering wheel at the last minute and went off to see what I could see. And feel.

It was an incongruous sight, that chapel with it’s various shrines in the midst of miles of farmland, but despite the sound of nearby tractors, it seemed a peaceful place.

I don’t have any deep religious convictions, so I didn’t necessarily believe Mary had appeared to the young Belgian woman in 1859, but I was curious to see if I could pick up some spiritual or other-worldly vibe. Even though I knelt at the prie-dieu and emptied my mind, I felt nothing but quiet in that candle-lit grotto. (It was called a chapel, that small space beneath the church, but it felt more grotto-ish than chapel-like.)

I wandered around the grounds for a little while. I needed to stretch my legs and figured I could soak up some religiosity while I was at it. I took a few photos, and when the place got too crowded, I left.

I planned to head back up to highway 57, but since I didn’t know where the ramp onto the highway was, I checked Google Maps on my phone to see how to get to Kohler. (A friend told me about a plumbing museum there, and it seemed the sort of offbeat place to while away a few minutes.) I kept heading north to the highway, but Google kept me going in circles until I finally gave up and followed its directions south through more farmland.

About twenty miles into the country drive, I noticed what looked like a pristine walking path meandering among the fields and snaking up a hill. Then, for just a second, I caught a glimpse of a fantastic castle perched on the hilltop. I craned my neck to get a better look, but trees obscured my view. I took the next right (much to the dismay of Google, which kept directing me to make a u-turn and go left) and got a side view of the place. It was huge. Rectangular. Like a vast hotel or resort. But there were no vehicles in sight. No people. Nothing but that immense building sitting in the middle of . . . somewhere.

I went back to the road where I’d seen the front of the building, took a couple of pictures, then continued to the plumbing museum.

I must have had shrines on my mind because many of the bathrooms and other exhibits at the Kohler Design Center resembled shrines more than places to deal with body functions.
(The candles were in a niche in one of the bathrooms, not at the Marian shrine.)

I ended the day at the bicycle capitol of America. (A shrine to bicycling. See a pattern here?) The first thing after I checked into the hotel was to Google “castle in Wisconsin near Denmark.”

Apparently the place was built in 2002 as a monastery for discalced (meaning unshod) Carmelite nuns, a strict cloistered order. It was built to last 300 years. Since the nuns have almost no contact with the outside world, the place has to be as perfect as possible to keep repairs at a minimum. What I thought was a walking path was actually the gravel road leading up to the monastery. If you are interested, you can find out more about the place here: http://www.holynamecarmel.org.

I found it particularly interesting that before the nuns moved to the castle near Denmark, they lived next to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

After such a day of serendipity and visiting shrines of one sort or another, wouldn’t you think I would have continued my journey more spritual, or at least changed a bit?

But no. I’m still just me — an undiscalced (calced?) wanderer trying not to live a cloistered life.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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(Note: the little house is a restored roadside chapel. Such chapels had once been prevalent in the Belgian community.)

The Beauty of Our Watery World

I was thrilled by my first sight of a great lake in Door County, Wisconsin, but Lake Michigan wasn’t the only body of water we visited. My host took me to various lakes that would normally have seemed like big lakes to me, but in comparison to the immensity of Lake Michigan, seemed like mere puddles.

I don’t have a great sense of balance at the best of times, but as we walked out on the boat ramp at Lake Europe, I had to stop and close my eyes to find my balance. The waves gave the illusion of the ramp floating quite speedily across the water. (Oddly, I could still feel the movement when my eyes were closed, just not as strongly.) Once I found my sea legs, I enjoyed the sensation of sailing, but I was still feeling unbalanced enough that I couldn’t force myself to step to the edge of the ramp. The mystery of the illusion did not keep me from enjoying the beauty of the mostly unspoiled lake, in fact, the illusion helped make the experience memorable.

Lakes aren’t the only great bodies of water near Door County. There are also two bays: Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay. We climbed the 75-foot tower at Potowatami State Park to get a fantastic view of Green Bay. Apparently, if there are no mountains to climb to see the world below, humans build them. And no wonder — seeing a panoramic view of the world helps us grasp the vastness of our nature and may give us a glimpse of our place in the scheme of things.

And my place, for the moment, is enjoying the beauty of our watery world.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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The photo of lighted trees is the night view beside my hotel balcony. The photo of the patio with a bridge in the background is the daytime view from my balcony.

A Great Lake

When is an ocean not an ocean? When it is a lake. A great lake.

Standing on the shore of Lake Michigan, watching the small waves foaming onto shore, I could see nothing in the distance but more water. Like with an ocean, the land other side of the water was too far away to see, but even I could sense the differences between the ocean and the great lake. Smell, for one. Oceans are salty and the odor of fish-scented brine is one of the defining elements of an ocean. Lake Michigan smelled fresh, which of course, it is. Another major difference was the feel of power as immense ocean waves come crashing to shore pulled by cosmic tidal action compared to the serenity of gentle waves lapping at the land edging the lake. (Oddly, some of the worst shipwrecks have occurred on Michigan Lake, making it not quite as placid as it appears.)

Still, as I stood by the water’s edge, I didn’t care if the lake were an ocean or merely an inland body of water. The wonder of seeing all that water and the way the sight made me wonder about nature and the nature of our lives, was all that mattered.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Picaresque Peninsula

Door County in Wisconsin seems a world apart. The scenery is stunning, as if the world’s best landscape, seascape, and country artists were each given a piece of the peninsula to paint. Anywhere your gaze rests is a pristine and perfect scene.

What seems anathema to the rest of the world is welcome, including dandelions. Whole fields of the luscious yellow blooms! I have always liked the tenacious flower, and have never understood why they are so despised. (Somehow I managed not to get a photo of the yellow fields. Don’t know how that happened.)

Making the place seem even more of a world apart is the absence of franchises in any of the villages. (The ubiquitous big name stores and fast food joints are all strung along a single portion of a highway in Sturgeon Bay.) Each restaurant we patronized was different, though all had delicious specialties, made-from-scratch baked goods, and friendly employees. In many cases, the owners worked alongside their staff, and the absence of any dissension between them made the meal even more pleasant. Each building that housed the restsurants were also unique, the most notable being the Swedish restaurant. It had been built in Norway, disassembled, and brought to Wisconsin and reassembled. It was too early in the season for the goats to be out, but in the summer, goats grazed on the traditional grass roof.

(Other Norwegian buildings found a place on the peninsula, such as the hand-made and hand-carved chapel.)

Putting the final touches on the picaresque peninsula, bits of art and daphodils peeped out wherever you look. (Apparently once there had been a fundraiser to sell naturalizing daffodil bulbs, and people planted them in usual and unusual places.)

I didn’t mean to make this sound like a travelogue, just wanted to explain some of photos attached to this blog, but it’s hard not to sound like a travelogue when trying to describe such the perfect visit (and perfect weather!) I experienced in Door County.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Wowed in Wisconsin

Sometimes on this great adventure of mine, I think I’ve seen it all. Well, not truly “all”. No one can. But so many places seem like other places, especially when it comes to shopping centers or suburban neighborhoods. Often one tree-lined road looks like another, or a body of water seems like . . . oh, let me think . . . like a body of water. I worry that I am becoming jaded, and then one day I turn a corner and fall into a perpetual state of awe.

In this particular case, I crossed the iron bridge at Sturgeon Bay and entered what seemed a fairy tale setting. A wonderland. It’s as if the entire peninsula of Door County, the thumb of Wisconsin, knew I was coming and polished everything to a brilliant gleam. Colors seem sharper here, as if every scene has been photo-enhanced to an unreal gloss. I passed a flower box of blooming tulips and narcissus, and had to touch the flowers to make sure they were real. The green of the trees, the grass, the fields look newly air-brushed. The waters of the bays and lakes are an astonishing mix of vibrant blue and teal.

My host has very graciously driven me around the peninsula to show me the sights — and oh, what sights there are! Fabulous jewel-like waters. Forest floors painted white with trillium. Marsh marigolds brightening broody marshes. Farms that look as if they belong in a children’s story book.

Even the shipbuilding plant on the bay looks more mythic than monstrous.

Adding to this sense of having entered a wonderland, we had beef wellington at an English inn that looked like something out of a fairy tale.

As a writer and lover of words, I should be able to come up with a better exclamation than “wow,” if for no other reason than to keep from boring my host, but the truth is, this place has wowed me.

Just . . .wow.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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No Blues at the Blue Belle Inn

I went from one mostly consonant-free state to another. Ohio. Iowa. A measly two consonants between them. No wonder I got them mixed up when I was very young!

Jeff and I had been to Iowa once a long time ago. We often reminisced about a motel near Ames, the quiet location, the pond our windows overlooked (though it could have been a rain puddle considering all the rain we’d driven through). We always wanted to go back through the state, and now we never will go together. But I went back by myself and this time, I didn’t stay at a motel. I stayed at a bed and breakfast, one I’d known about for many years: The Blue Belle Inn in St. Ansgar, owned by fellow writer Sherrie Hansen, author of the wildflowers of Scotland romances. (One is named Blue Belle. Hmmm. I wonder where she got that title!)

When Sherrie bought the house twenty-five years ago, it was in terrible condition, but she restored the building, upgraded it, and decorated each of the bedrooms to reflect a story. I stayed in Plum Creek, named after a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.

Talk about being steeped in luxury! Lovely and very comfortable room room. Gourmet breakfast — egg and ham strata, cranberry scone, fresh fruit cup. Delicious lunch — chicken salad on a croissant with a salad. Fabulous dinner — cottage pie with a thatched roof (her version of shepherd’s pie) and coconut cake for desert.

As you probably figured out, although the inn is a bed and breakfast, Sherrie provides other meals for guests who stay more than a night or two.

I also had the luxury of meeting Sherrie, a long-time internet friend. We met at Gather.com, a now defunct social network site for writers and photographers. Sherrie moderated one of my favorite groups — a photography group for all things color. She would choose a color, and group members submitted photos of something depicting that color. Such fun!

Sherrie is as wise and as intelligent as she appears online, making my stay at the Blue Belle Inn a real joy.

And so another online friend has become a friend for real.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Searching for the Unique

Somehow on this trip I have managed to bypass some of the biggest attractions such as San Antonio, New Orleans, Savannah and Saint Augustine. If you know my aversion to traffic, crowds, and cities in general, that makes sense, but somehow I also missed the Smoky Mountains and the Appalachian Trail although both had been on my itinerary. (They now head of list of places to go on my next trip.)

During my many visits, people have suggested I visit many places, but few of those capture my imagination. One, the mention of a sign at the beginning of I 40 outside Wilmington N.C., so intrigued me, I spent hours looking for it, even though it turns out it had been stolen so many times the highway department stopped replacing it.

Another such quest was the Honolulu House in Marshall, Michigan. I have passed and bypassed so many historic houses, I have no idea why that particular house seemed vital to visit even though it was hundreds of miles out of my way. Probably the words “unique architecture” swayed me. After 9,000 miles, it gets harder to find things to amaze. (Not that the world becomes less amazing; it’s that your tendency to be amazed becomes overpowered.)

The Honolulu House, built in 1860, is now a museum that happened to be closed when I got there. I took my photo, then wandered around the area, gawking at the houses on the aptly named Mansion Street. There were so many fabulous places in such a small area it wowed me.

Apparently, my ability to be amazed isn’t completely overpowered yet.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Hiking in Hocking Hills

A friend recommended Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio as a place to go hiking, and since I desperately needed to make some sort of wilderness connection, no matter how tame, I visited the park.

It was worth going out of my way to visit the place — fabulous rock formations and a lovely hike through trees to a lake where I saw red-wing black birds, cardinals, and a huge bird that might have been an owl.

Although the park was fairly crowded, I took the trail less-traveled. On my way back I noticed a young woman sitting cross-legged on a wall. She seemed sad, so I asked if she were okay. She gave me a faint smile and said yes, but still I hesitated. I asked if she would like to talk or if she needed a hug. She stood and said, “I can always use a hug.” I held her for perhaps a minute while she cried, told her I was sorry for her troubles and continued on my way.

Later, back on the highway, I became tearful. It wasn’t until the unexpected bout of melancholy passed that I wondered where those tears had come from. Had I absorbed her sorrow?

Remembering other tearful episodes on this trip, I realized the tears always came after visiting people caught in grief-stricken or stressful lives. Tears for me seem to be a response to stress, so although it is possible I absorb other people’s emotions, it’s also possible I am just reacting to the stress of the situation, or maybe it’s only that their sorrow calls forth echoes of my own.

I don’t suppose it matters one way or another — whatever the reason, I process the emotion, then wash it away.

And in this particular situation, what I am left with after the cleansing is the memory of a hike made more poignant by that brief encounter with another human being.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Virginia is for Lovers

The Virginia state slogan is “Virginia is for lovers.” I can’t vouch for the veracity of that, but I do know US 23 through Virginia is perhaps the loveliest stretch of road I have been on during the 8,000 miles I have traveled so far. Of course, it’s entirely possible the route was colored by my relief at having escaped a rather chilling southern gothic episode (see previous post), but still, by any reckoning, it was a lovely drive. The only thing more beautiful would be that same drive in the fall.

Often during this long journey I have passed by a special sight or site that had to go unsung because there was no place to pull off to make a mental or photographic note. The blaze of sunset-orange poppies on a verge in North Carolina. A swathe of goldenrod in Tennessee. A median filled with daisies in Virginia. A hillside in Kentucky purpled with mountain laurel. A road lined with dogwood in Ohio. A fuchsia-colored field in Indiana.

But luckily, there was a turn-out at a postcard-perfect view on that Virginia highway. I stood there at the overlook mesmerized by the scene that lay at my feet, by the lushness that surrounded me.

On a journey of this magnitude, where each turn of the road brings a new view, individual sights get lost in the collage of miles. I don’t know if it will ever be possible to comprehend everything that has happened, everything I have seen in the past few months, but there in Virginia, for just a little while, it all made sense.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Southern Gothic

I met a woman at a campground who offered me a place to stay while I hiked a bit of the nearby Appalachian Trail. When I went to visit her, I didn’t find the trail; what I found was a family feud of the Tennessee mountain kind. You know what I am talking about, you’ve seen it in a dozen movies — the backwoods family that hates each other but hates everyone else more. This was the first place I’ve stayed that I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to be able to extricate myself. (Techincally, I was in North Carolina, but the mountain bordered on Tennessee.)

The visit started out fine. Since most of the characters in this southern gothic drama did not live in the woman’s house (she provided a second house for her mean-as-rattlesnake-venom mom, her indolent sister and autistic nephew) the first twenty hours were fine. We had a nice visit in the evening, and the next morning I hiked for an hour on her private trail.

We’d found a stray Irish setter at the grocery store that first evening, and despite her bad back, she spent two hours hunched over a tub cleaning the thing. She woke in considerable pain, took some pain pills, and fell asleep during the day. Her family came up during the day, got all excited and called an ambulance, even though all she needed was to sleep it off. I told them she didn’t want to go to the hospital, and so it was. As soon as she awoke and realized where she was, she left and walked twenty miles back home.

I stayed an extra day because she needed help, but that night, when her mother sent up food for the woman and her father (although the woman supports both her parents, they can’t stand each other, so the father lives with his daughter) she didn’t send any for me. Apparently, I had committed some horrible faux pas by sticking my words in where they didn’t belong.

It doesn’t sound like much in the retelling, but it was unnerving, and a bit uncomfortable, especially when I was increasingly given tasks. I felt bad for the woman — she’d gotten screwed not only by her family but by her attorneys and bankers to the tune of four houses and forty acres (apparently they tried to get all of that extremely valuable mountain property, but she finally managed to stop the land grab before they got the remaining forty acres).

But none of that was my problem, and I couldn’t allow anyone to make it mine.

I left the next day (escaped!) before anyone else was awake. (It was nine o’clock, so my sneaking out was only half the case.)

Still, as chilling as the visit was, I am glad I went. The episode falls under the heading of “experience,” and that is what I got — a glimpse of the painful reality that lies beneath the serene beauty we often accept as truth.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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