Experiencing Kansas

Studies have shown that weather seldom impacts happiness (except I am sure, when the weather thwarts one’s plans). With that in mind, I have tried to ignore the mind-numbing and body-crushing over-heated humidity I have experienced in Kansas and to enjoy whatever adventure came my way.

I sampled most of the Mexican restaurants in the area with food ranging from acceptable to excellent. Enjoyed gold both in the evening sky and the misty fields. Wandered through botanical gardens where colorful fish swim beneath a dragon wall. Visited the Keeper of the Plains, a forty-four-foot, five-ton sculpture of a tribal chief. Viewed historic homes. Spent a morning browsing in the Wellington library, a Carnegie library that is a twin to one in Delta, Colorado. (At the library, I learned that standing like superwoman, legs wide, hands on hips is empowering. Discovered that highway 89, from Flagstaff almost to the Canadian border, passes by or through at least five national parks — a trip of a lifetime that one day I will undertake.)

I even attended a father’s day cookout.

A particular joy of this cross-country trip of mine has been slipping into the lives of the people I’ve visited, borrowing, for a time, their habitat and habits. My siblings are scattered across the country, seldom in contact with one another. And yet, here in this small Kansas town, my current hostess is surrounded by generations of her sprawling family, from her elderly parents to their youngest great-great-grandchild, most of whom came to the cookout. It was nice, for a day, to be part of such a gathering.

And it was nice experiencing Kansas in such a personal way.

***

(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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Unwitting Angel

All along the way of my as yet unfinished cross-country journey, I have been blessed by various angels in human — and electronic — form. These angels have given me shelter in bad weather, brought me companionship in loneliness, taught me cosmic and earthly lessons, gifted me with books, taken me to wondrous events. And sometimes have steered me to safety.

When I left St. Ansgar after my stint of playing innkeeper, I’d planned to take US 63 straight south to have lunch with a friend in Rolla, Missouri. I turned on Google maps to help me get through Waterloo, Iowa, and for some reason, the app sent me on a huge loop around US 63 almost to the Illinois border. As I approached a snarl of highway intersections I needed help navigating, Google maps decided to quit. Fearing I would get hopelessly lost on my own, I took the nearest exit off the highway so I could reset the app. I pulled into a gas station, did my little chores, but could not drive away — the accelerator pedal, which had been sluggish, became rusted into immobility. (Although the bug has been partly restored — paint job, new seat covers, rebuilt engine and transmission — it is still a forty-four-year-old vehicle, with the crotchets and creakings of the elderly. The bug has spent most of its life in dry climes, and doesn’t quite know what to do about the great humidity it has encountered recently except to quietly succumb to rust in inconvenient spots.)

I played around with the pedal and the throttle. Discovered that the throttle was fine — the culprit was the hinge on the pedal itself. Unfortunately, the gas station store was out of 4D40. I explained my predicament and, taking pity on me, the manager rummaged in the back room for some sort of lubricant. When she didn’t find anything suitable, she went to a store shelf, grabbed a bottle of Dawn, told me to pour a few drops of the detergent on the hinge, and bring the bottle back. So I did. The pedal immediately loosened, and I continued my journey, wondering about the incident. Would things have worked out the same if I had taken the route I’d planned? Had Google purposely taken me to safety or was it simply coincidence? Google ex machina or a strange sort of luck?

And now another angel is coming to my aid. I’d purchased an external battery to use for enmergency phone recharges since my ancient car has no cigarette lighter or other electrical source to charge modern devices, and after a few uses the battery stopped working. I notified the company, and they volunteered to send me a new one. I gave them the address of a woman in Kansas (another online-now-offline friend) who had invited me to visit. I thought the package would arrive within the week of my visit and I would be able to head out before I became too much of a stink. (Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin who said fish and visitors stink after three days?) What I didn’t know was that the battery pack was coming via Royal Mail. Still, it got to Chicago in just a few days but sat around untended for even more days. (It will take longer to get from Chicago to Kansas than from England to Chicago.) My friend has graciously agreed to let me stay here until the package arrives, though I am sure she would be just as glad to see me on my way. Still . . . there is a major heat wave extending all along my proposed route. And my being here a few more days will — I hope — allow me to travel in less dangerous weather.

Who knew I would find an unwitting and unintentional angel in Kansas?

Ah, I am blessed.

Of course, no one has asked my various angels if they wish to be cast in such a role, but so far they have allowed themselves to be swept up in the energy of my journey.

Yep. Truly blessed.

***

(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.”)

Ten Thousand Miles

On February 6, 2016 — a cool but sunny winter day — I set off on a cross-country trip. I figured the 7,000-mile round trip would take about three months, but because of zig-zagging through different states and going further north than I had planned, I have now been on the road for almost four and a half months, and I have driven over 10,000 miles. I am still 1,300 miles and perhaps two weeks from returning to my starting point, a small city in the high desert of California.

The most shocking revelation to me is that I won’t be returning to cool winter desert temperatures but to intense summer heat. Funny how the mind works — somehow I thought that I would be looping back to the beginning, that no time would have passed. It’s not that I expected nothing to have changed — in fact, I am a bit worried about returning to dance class knowing how far behind I will be — it’s more that this has seemed such a timeless journey. Wherever I have gone, there I was, living in the ever-present moment. But the world has kept turning and the seasons have kept churning without any regard to me and my travels.

It’s an amazing thing, all those hundreds of hours spent driving. Thoughts and emotions drifted tbrough my mind the way the scenery drifted through my body as I drove. (Scenery seems to be out there somewhere, something apart from us, and yet we are a part of it. Vibrations of light impinge on our retinas, allowing us to see. Sound waves reverberate in our ear drums, allowing us to hear. Particles flow through our nose, allowing us to smell. The fabric of the scene — the air — swirls around our body and through it, allowing us to feel our surroundings, to breathe it, to become it.)

It’s all very zen-like, this driving. It became a thing in itself, not just a means of getting to my various destinations, but a separate reality. Just . . . driving. Feeling the passing scenery, watching the passing thoughts.

So what did I think during all those miles? Not much. If you let thoughts drift in, note them at the moment, then leave them in the dust as you continue driving down the road, they obviously don’t remain with you.

I wanted a lot from this journey — wonder, joy, change, wisdom, focus, direction, all of which I have found. Particularly direction. Ever since the death of my life mate, soul mate, constant companion, I have been adrift, looking for a bedrock upon which to build a new life. And in the midst of all the drifting thoughts, it came to me. The three w’s. That’s where to begin.

Before I got a computer and the internet, during a time of great upheaval in my life (the first unacknowledged sense that Jeff was pulling away from life and me, along with a growing numbness to the coming death of “us”), I kept to the discipline of those three w’s — walking, writing, weight lifting. I’d gotten away from these three daily activities for various reasons, though they had been a comforting (but not always comfortable) part of my life.

I’d hope that on this trip I would get back into walking and writing, but both have pretty much dropped by the wayside. I would like to try to get back to those three w’s, though it’s easy to make such a determination when there is little opportunity for any of them. But maybe, this summer . . .

I have come to another realization — there is no need to choose between a settled or a nomadic life. During this trip, I have often stayed in one place for a while, sometimes a week or two, sometimes a few days, and once for three weeks. So finding a place to stay in the high desert for the summer will be just a longer hiatus in my continued journey.

Although 10,000 miles seems like a lot, there is so much I haven’t seen, so much I haven’t done. It would take a year to experience what any one state has to offer, and on this trip I caught mere glimpses of 21 of the states. I didn’t see many of the greatest tourist attractions and passed by probably thousands of little-known attractions. I also didn’t camp or hike much, didn’t get an intimate feel of many wilderness areas. All joys still to come.

Currently I am in Wellington, a small town in southern Kansas, visiting in real life a friend I met on Gather, that fabled but extinct social networking site. Then . . . who knows?

One of the many things I wanted from this journey was to become more spontaneous, and that I have done, following whatever whim and invitation that has come my way, so perhaps I will do as I have planned — scooting the rest of the way back to the desert to settle in for the summer with my 3 w’s.

Or . . . perhaps not.

***

(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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Stepping into Adventure

The longer I stay in one place, the more my life looks like my pre-adventure life — internet, internet, and more internet. Not exactly exciting and way too familiar.

Although it might sound adventurous being the innkeeper pro tem of a bed and breakfast, in reality (my reality, that is), all I do is have a few friends over. Well, they’re not friends beforehand, but while they are under “my” roof, the guests are friends. I talk to them, fix them breakfast, then leave them to go about their business.

And I go back to the computer.

Whenever I have access to the internet, I do volunteer work for my publisher, mostly trying to herd my fellow authors into reciprocal promotions, and failing miserably. Most of them (or rather most of the unapathetic ones) seem stuck on the thought of doing reciprocal reviews on Amazon and won’t listen to the truth — reviews do no good if you can’t get people to go check out your books on Amazon, and reciprocal reviews are subject to being deleted since they are against Amazon’s rules. But hey, what do I know? I’ve only been researching book promotion for nine years and still haven’t managed to become a bestselling author.

The only real adventure I’ve had since being here at the B&B is falling down the stairs backward, and as painful and frightening as practically scalping myself and being stapled back together was, it was a heck of a lot more exciting than my online work.

After feeling like Frankenstein’s monster for ten days, I am now staple-free. The bruises are fading, and I am making friends with all the stairs in my current life. When my hip isn’t stiff and my knees allow, I hike up and down the stairs just for fun. Stairs have been absent from my life for a long time, so they have become rather an adventure of their own.

And I am trying something new — standing up to work at the computer. Sitting aggravates my hip, undoing all the work I go to in order to stretch my piriformis muscle, so I am trying to stand more and sit less. So far so good. My main problem is that standing makes it too easy to walk away, which, considering how frustrating my volunteer work gets, is not really a problem.

I will probably be leaving here Friday, making the long slow journey back to the high desert. Once I get there, I am planning on looking for a place to stay for a while, and if I find one, returning to dance class. If I can’t find a place? Continue adventuring, I guess.

That’s all I have — a guess. After months of traveling, I still have no clear idea of what my life is, what it is becoming, or even what I want it to be.

The only thing I have learned is the necessity for finding a solid footing before taking the next step into … wherever.

***

(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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Your Truest Purpose For Existing

Once upon a time not so long ago, there was a mythical social networking site for creative types called “Gather.” I call the site mythical because it seemed uncanny and serendipitous the way so many kindred spirits migrated to the site, and also because the defunct site has disappeared into the myth of memory. Was it as special as we all seemed to think? It must have been because in its short history, it affected so many of us in a positive way. In fact, many of the people I have visited on my cross-country trip were people I met on Gather nine years ago, including fellow author Lazarus Barnhill.

Lazarus Barnhill is one of those folks who seem larger than life. Charming and charismatic, unbelievably intelligent and intuitive, and so busy he’s harder to catch hold of than a wisp of cloud. (I’m getting ridiculously eloquent here, but he tends to bring out the best — and worst — in people.)

Several years ago, I interviewed Lazarus for my blog (Pat Bertram And Lazarus Barnhill Discuss Writing as Destiny), but he, being the contrary sort of individual he is, turned the tables and interviewed me. The interview was almost embarrassingly intimate, though I don’t know why. Maybe because it was the first time we ever “talked” and he seemed interested in me at a time when my life was closing in on itself. Maybe because I was open and willing to answer his questions. Maybe because he said such insightful things about my books that I felt giddy. He seemed to see more in my works than I expected people to see, perhaps even more than I myself had seen. But that is the beauty of writing one’s truth. It has a way of making itself felt.

So what does this have to do with today’s blog post? Well, I had a chance to take a look at Barnhill’s newest book, Pastor Larsen and the Rat. The story is about Pastor Larsen, who, in the face of the drudgery, church politics and frustration that are the usual professional hazards of the ministry, is faced with a dangerous and intriguing complication — Ange. No one in Larsen’s close knit congregations knew of the existence of this woman, the daughter of a parishioner who appeared just in time for her mother’s funeral. For Larsen, Ange is more than mysterious. She is alluring, wise and astonishingly intuitive. . . . And then there is the issue of the large rat that seems to be taunting the members of his church.

This is a book that only Lazarus Barnhill could have written. A pastor turned author, Barnhill knows more than most people about what goes on behind the serene countenance of a church, but more than that, he has a talent for mixing the irreverent with the reverent, the salacious with the spiritual, the naughty with the nice.

I asked Lazarus if he were afraid people would find his book controversial. He said, “To a degree. Some will find it profane. I hope some find it insightful and hopeful. Those familiar with religious bodies — and with the way spirituality operates in human life — will not be able to deny it’s honesty — not the sex part, but the organized religion part, and the divine intervention part. Ultimately I hoped when I wrote it that non-religious people would read it for the naughty romance and gain some insight into how the holy is able to work in our midst despite all that religions do to prevent it; and that religious people would ‘force themselves’ to live with the titillation in order at last to read something truthful about their gatherings.”

A love of truth in literature seems to be something that Lazarus and I have in common. Although we want people to read our books for enjoyment, being entertaining isn’t our only reason for writing. We need to tell our truth. Lazarus goes beyond that, believing that “whatever force there is out there in creation (call it God, destiny, a Higher Power or whatever you want) actually wants you to write. When you write, you are fulfilling an essential aspect of your truest purpose for existing.”

Lucky for us, Lazarus Barnhill is fulfilling his destiny.

pastor larsen and the rat

Click here to read an Excerpt From PASTOR LARSEN AND THE RAT by Lazarus Barnhill

Lazarus Barnhill talks about Pastor Larsen and the Rat here: Interview With Lazarus Barnhill, Author of PASTOR LARSEN AND THE RAT

What are you waiting for? Click here to buy the ebook: Buy Pastor Larsen and the Rat on Kindle for $0.99 kindle.

***

(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.”)

Melancholy Lady

I was afraid that splitting my scalp during a potentially disastrous fall would make me more hesitant about living an adventurous life, but so far so good. Although I am being extra careful because of the Frankensteinian staples in my head, I still go exploring when the weather allows, which isn’t often. (I have seen more rain this past week than in all the years I lived in the desert.)

I’d heard that Mitchell River runs through St. Ansgar where I am staying for a couple of weeks, so I set out to look for the water. I peeked through trees, climbed over a fence, tramped across a grassy field, wandered down a rain-soaked road to catch glimpses of the river.

Though it wasn’t much as adventures go, it did satisfy my wanderlust for the day, and I did get a good look at the river.

I still have about ten days left here in St. Ansgar (I am babysitting the Blue Belle Inn while the owners are gallivanting around Scotland), but already I am looking forward to heading on down the road. I get melancholy if I stay in one place too long, remembering that I once had someone to settle down with, once had someone who cared about the trivialities of my life — once had someone to tell all the things that aren’t worth telling. Now I am alone and feeling not quite real.

Life is strange. It really shouldn’t matter after all these years that he is gone, but it does. One great irony about love is that while all the songs, poems, stories reinforce the idea that love is what makes life worth living, when you lose that love, people expect you to suddenly not care. It’s okay for them to still bask in the light of their own loves, but not okay for us bereft to lament the darkness.

See? I told you being in one place too long makes me melancholy. But in the end, it’s all part of this great adventure we call 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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When You Have to Go

It seems ironic to me, all this furor over who can or cannot use a woman’s restroom. At any public event, there are long lines for the women’s, and nary a soul near the men’s. Even in not so crowded places, there is often a line for the women’s. When Jeff and I traveled together, he would stand watch as I used the empty men’s restroom while a line of women eyed me in appalled envy. Even now, in an emergency, I have sneeked into an empty men’s restroom. (If anyone saw me as I left, I’d glance back at the door on my way out, do a double take, and give him a sheepish smile.)

In recent months, during my (so far) 9,000 mile trek, I have used a variety of restrooms and non-rooms. Public restrooms, too many to count. Bathrooms in people’s houses. Campground facilities. Pit toilets. Port-a-potties. Bushes. The verge of a deserted desert road. Yogurt containers. (The best piece of tent camping advice I ever received was from another woman. She suggested I take a quart yogurt container into the tent for late night emergencies. The container easily contours to fit, and the cover made it spill proof.)

In all my travels, the only time I have ever seen a man stand in line to use a restroom was in a gas station convenience store that had only a single bathroom for all comers.

I have been in public restrooms so filthy, I couldn’t bear to touch any part of them or even take a single breath. (In one case, I wanted to go behind the building, figuring it would be a heck of a lot cleaner, but I didn’t want to give a peepshow to the grungy looking folk hanging around. In that particular instance, I was on my way to the strange folk in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I should have taken it as a sign, and kept going north.)

The weirdest restroom I was in had a toilet and a urinal, a condom machine with girly pictures and a tampon machine, atoiletss if it couldn’t quite decide what sort of bathroom it was. (I had to check the door on the way out, thinking I was in the wrong place, but no, it said “ladies” on the door. I was apparently in the world’s only transvestite bathroom.)

The absolute most luxurious public restroom I’ve used was in the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, Wisconsin. It truly was a restroom, complete with comfortable chairs in the ultra-artistic room. (Still, there is no way I would ever rest in a restroom. I can’t imagine what sort of effluvia has settled into that plush upholstery.)

Restrooms right now are a touchy subject, and I know I’m making light of an issue that is causing all sorts of ruckus (because although I feel bad for folks with problems, I can understand people’s worry that if it becomes legal for a man to use a ladies restroom, it becomes impossible to keep predators out. All they have to do is say they see themselves as a woman.)

But that is not my fight. I have no sympathies for young folk or even middle-aged folk of any gender without bladder issues. What we really need are age-segregated toilets. One especially for older women who can rush in, relieve themselves, wash their hands, and then go. No fuss. No muss.

I am temporarily in a place where I have many toilets at my disposal. Two very lovely bathrooms (well, one large bathroom and one vast shower room) for my private use and one semi-public room. But in a couple of weeks, I will be back on the road, and it’s anyone’s guess where I will go when I have to “go.”

Incidentally, the photo attached to this post is one I took at the Kohler Design Center. If you look closely, you will see that the sculpture, which took up an entire wall, was created from dozens of stacked toilets.

***

(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.”)

Pat Fell Down and Broke Her Crown

I get so tired of the endless catalogue of aches and pains, illness and death, interspersed between cat and dog pictures we are subjected to on Facebook, that I am hesitant to mention any of my own ills online, but if I don’t season my story with setbacks, the tale of my cross-country journey would be merely a travelogue.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned much besides legs covered with mosquito bites, bad allergies, and maybe a cold, but there have been other problems, most notably, a stiff hip. I wrenched it in ballet class about two months before I left (ironically, I was so concerned with not turning out at the knee because I didn’t want knee problems, that it never occurred to me the hip could be affected.) The problem was exacerbated by the extra driving I’d been doing (as you will recall, I didn’t have my car for at least six months before that, so I wasn’t used to driving). It wasn’t until I discovered the exercises to stretch the piriformis muscle that I started to heal, though long bouts of sitting or walking continue to cause problems. Still, I don’t let that slow me down. (Weather and being with people has done more to keep me from walking than my hip has done.)

There is something almost romantic (emphasis on almost) about a dance-related injury, even if one is more of a dilettante than a real dancer. But falling down stairs? . . . Oops, I am getting ahead of myself.

I am back at the Blue Belle Inn in St. Ansgar. Sherrie Hansen, the owner, is on a much needed vacation to Scotland (though it’s not all vacation because she is probably gathering background information for another of her Wildflowers of Scotland Romance Series) and I am running the B&B in her absence. On my very first day of being in charge, I helped the staff straighten a quilt hung at a stair landing. Foolishly, I stood on a small bench, and when I stepped off, I misjudged the distance to the floor, lost my balance, and fell down the stairs backward.

I hit the crown of my head on the edge of a windowsill and . . . if you don’t want the gory details, you can leave. I don’t mind, but I promise, I won’t show you a picture of the wound, though I have one. The doctor took the picture with my phone to show me what my head looked like.

I hit my head so hard, I thought I’d cracked it, and when I put my hand on the crown of my head, I could feel bone through the hole in my scalp. Oh, my. And blood? It’s true, scalp wounds bleed. A lot!

20160522_141851As it turns out, I only ripped open a few inches of scalp, which were stapled together at the emergency room. (If ever I get sick and need a lot of medical attention, I’m moving to Osage, Iowa. The ER medical folk — all women! — were kind, efficient, and thorough. Better yet, they all spoke English without an accent. My dad’s doctors had such thick Hindu accents that I could barely understand a word they said.)

The CAT scan showed no breakage or bleeding. The blood tests showed no organic problems. (They took all those tests to find out if there was a reason I fell. I guess they didn’t believe it was simply a momentary lack of attention.)

The fall terrified me, and the adrenaline coursing through my body kept me shaking long after I was repaired. I’m still stunned by the whole thing. Still uneasy about climbing stairs or doing anything that might cause me to lose my balance. Beyond that, I find it amazing to think we can be put together again. Supposedly, the only problem I will be left with is that the hair at my crown will grow in funny, but I’m at that age where hair grows funny anyway.

I keep thinking about this — how fragile we really are. I have been very careful on this trip because a person is always more vulnerable when she is not snug in her own little nest. And then, just like that . . . bam!

Oddly, despite the trauma of the moment, nothing really happened. I fell, I was given a tetanus shot and stapled back together, and that was it. No pain pills. Not much of a headache. No downtime. (But oh, such pretty bruises are blooming all over my body!) The real trauma will be when the bills start coming, but I don’t want to think about that. I just want to savor being alive.

I felt sort of wimpy at times on this trip. I’d envisioned myself facing up to life and whatever it threw at me, seeing what I was made of, but I’ve encountered nothing of a serious nature until now. So what am I made of? Not much. I kind of gasped as I fell, but then I laughed in disbelief at the situation even before I found out I hadn’t cracked my skull. The whole thing was so ridiculous. The fear and uneasiness came more from my body’s reaction to the fall. I just chalked it up to more firsts: First staples, first CAT scan, first check-up in over 40 years.

I try not to think of the potential damage such a heavy fall could have caused — I can’t let thoughts of what might have been or what might be in the future affect me. I know how easy it is simply to stay at home to protect oneself when alone, and yet, that is the quickest way I know to stagnate. A long slow lonely decline into a long slow lonely death. Not for me, thank you.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I don’t even know what the question is. All I know is that I will be here at the Blue Belle Inn for a couple of weeks, which will give my scalp time to heal and the staples taken out before I set off down the road again.

***

(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.”)

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.”)

***

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

Greatness in Door County

My sojourn to Door County was filled with wonders. Seeing a great lake for the first time was awesome, but other aspects affected me just as much — the phenomenal beauty of the place, the frequent artistic touches, the prevalence of water.

Then there were the more personal wonders that added to my overall enjoyment of the peninsula — a hike along my host’s own trails around his wooded property (accompanied by his canine friend Rudy), driving his tractor (a first for me!), and meeting his lovely wife.

The best part of the journey, though, was my host himself.

I met John Beck at a now defunct social networking site called Gather, and though we’d been online friends for many years, this was the first time I met him in person. He has such a lively intelligence and wide-ranging interests that talking to him is a real joy. Learning, especially astronomy, seems to be a passion of his. He set up his telescope for me and introduced me to Jupiter. What a thrill to see Jupiter’s bands and four moons! He is also very knowledgeable about earthly places, especially Door County, which, along with his boundless patience, made him a perfect tour guide.

A second-generation doctor in Door County, John is now retired, but he was the Norman Rockwell sort of doctor we all yearn for but no longer can find. For example, when a woman went into labor after a major snowstorm, John not only went to her house and plowed their driveway, but plowed the road all the way to the hospital with the woman and her husband following in his wake. Such dedication!

He’s generous, donating his time to local environmental causes, teaching classes at the Learning in Retirement Center, and even carving a right-of-way through his property when a neighbor lost his previous way into the nearby property.

In a political season where prominent folks are going to grotesque and voluble lengths to try to convince us of their worth, it was my privilege to meet this quietly remarkable man.

***

(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.”)

***

Note: The whimsical photos of the fish and the man climbing into a cave were taken at the Learning in Retirement Center.

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