WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
“The Garden of Healing and Renewal is an oasis of beautiful paths, sitting areas, fountains and sculptures. It even has a labyrinth, an ancient meditation resource and symbol of spiritual healing, that incorporates a walking path to encourage both exercise and curative reflection.” McLaren Health Care.
The Garden of Healing and Renewal is not some faraway mystical place. It’s within earshot of the din of traffic on I-75 and just a few minutes drive from the busy I-75 Sashabaw Road exit in northern Oakland County. The garden and connected forested wetland of the site encompasses five acres and has a just under 1/3 of a mile of level looped trails, part of which are attractive pebble surfaced sidewalks. The McLaren Clarkston website states that it’s “Serious medicine to kick cancer. Serious healing for body and spirit.” But it’s more than that for those that explore this medically themed and rather tame corner of the Wilder Side of Oakland County. It’s a peaceful walking adventure for all ages.
With the dawn of autumn upon us, and the flowers of the season in full bloom, it’s a great place to refresh and relax and pull back from our fast-paced world. I suggest turning off the cell phone during your exploration, for there is so much to see and hear that disruptions of text messages and unwanted chatter will only crush the serenity of the moment. Although I wandered back and forth for over an hour during my last visit, thirty minutes should be sufficient time to take a deep breath and bathe in the peace of the moment. You certainly won’t need a compass or a map, or need to study the lay of the land to explore—and enjoy. It’s open seven days a week and the public is welcome to wander from dawn to dusk. Go once and you will most likely come back.
The main pedestrian entrance is well marked and located on the north side of Bow Point Drive which is on the east side of Sashabaw Road and almost immediately across from the entrance of the McLaren Clarkston Emergency Room. The garden is also easily accessed via a paved pedestrian pathway on the west side of the adjacent Karmanos Cancer Institute parking lot. That pathway takes one by the “peace rock” and then leads visitors into the garden under a canopy of trees via a small boardwalk. During my most recent visit, sunlight filtered through the overhead branches and created a pattern of near magical movement on the boardwalk as the patterns of dappled sunlight on the forest floor changed with the wind. The restless morning breezes also gave life to wind chimes just as I stopped to admire a trio of large dragonfly sculptures that are almost hidden in plain sight alongside a short boardwalk. A lone chipmunk with bulging cheek pouches scurried past me on the boardwalk before leaping down to the cover of the forest floor, perhaps knowing it’s time to gather more nuts for its winter cache.
Upon entering the floral garden I noticed a Little Free Library box which served momentarily as a resting platform for a black-capped chickadee. Seconds after my approach sent it into flight, my eyes were lured to the most prominent and colorful section of the garden: the sculptures that pertain to the monarch butterfly and its life cycle. All insects change in form and appearance as they grow through a process we call metamorphosis. Monarchs undergo complete metamorphosis, in which there are four noticeable stages of life: the egg, the larva (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and of course the adult, or butterfly. I found three of those stages in sculpture at the garden, but if the egg stage was there, my eyes could not find it amidst the brilliance of all the colors. I did however notice live monarchs stopping for refueling on the real flowers as their multi-generation migration to Mexico continued. After exploring the monarch display, listening to water from a fountain and reading an accompanying quote from Einstein, I walked a few dozen feet to enter the labyrinth, the primary destination for many who come to the Garden of Healing and Renewal.
Labyrinths have been with us since ancient times and are not to be confused with a maze. Labyrinths have no blind passages or dead ends meant to confuse the user such as those found in the corn mazes that will soon appear near pumpkin patches across rural sections of Oakland County. The labyrinth is meant to create serenity and clarity and a feeling of inner peace. A 2010 article in the American Nurse Today journal referred to walking the labyrinth as an “exercise in self-healing.” The Labyrinth Society describes them this way:
“A labyrinth is a meandering path, often unicursal, with a singular path leading to a center. Labyrinths are an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years or more, used symbolically, as a walking meditation, choreographed dance, or site of rituals and ceremony, among other things. Labyrinths are tools for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation, also thought to enhance right-brain activity. Labyrinths evoke metaphor, sacred geometry, spiritual pilgrimage, religious practice, mindfulness, environmental art, and community building.”
With the labyrinth moments behind me, and the sun climbing higher, I headed north into the wilder wooded section of the garden where I encountered two old friends, the “peace tree” and a wooden sculpture of a face bearing a toothy smile. I then followed a natural surface trail eastward over a small creek and through mixed hardwoods before heading sharply north and then west over a boardwalk. The second crossing of the creek is one of many great places to stop and just absorb the sounds of nature as the duel between two seasons accelerates. A pair of crows took flight as my feet crunched along on the first fallen leaves of the season. Another five minutes of slow paced walking looped me back to the garden where I settled down on one of the many wooded benches tucked away in flowery coves and enjoyed the presence of a silent and soothing traveling companion I brought with me—a thermos of ice cold coffee. It was a perfect end of summer morning in the Garden of Healing and Renewal.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.