WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Aldo Leopold once said, “There are some who can live with wild things, and some who cannot.” Leopold, a conservationist, naturalist, and philosopher, was one who could not.
Those poignant words of Leopold are from his heart-warming and insightful book about nature’s way titled, “A Sand County Almanac.” They have been a part of my life for as Iong as I can remember. Those words came to mind again late last month on a snowy, yet intermittently sunny morning as I wandered in the Garden of Healing and Renewal at McLaren Clarkston.
The garden is tucked away in the McLaren Clarkston medical campus in Independence Township on the east side of Sashabaw Road just a short distance south of Waldon Road. This is how McLaren Health Care describes the site:
“McLaren Clarkston is located on 95 acres in northern Oakland County, off Sashabaw Road in Clarkston, Michigan. It includes a 138,000 sq. ft. Medical Office Building housing a free-standing emergency department, an ambulatory surgery center, physical therapy services, a wound center, breast center, imaging services, a sleep center, lab, pharmacy services, home health services, medical equipment and numerous physician offices; a 42,000 sq. ft. freestanding cancer center offering medical and radiation oncology services as part of the Karmanos Cancer Institute network of cancer centers, and a five-acre Garden of Healing and Renewal.”
I was pleased to see McLaren includes the Garden of Healing and Renewal in their description, however, the site remains a hidden gem for many people, even for some who come to the campus focused on health care reasons. It’s a site I know extremely well and meander at least twice a month. Sometimes even twice a day. Keep reading and you will discover why.
Finding the garden is easy. Just look for the large roadside entrance sign on northbound Sashabaw Road at Bow Pointe Drive. The garden is a few hundred yards down Bow Pointe Drive on the north side. It’s a beautiful place to relax and take a stroll, and is especially peaceful after a late winter snowfall.
I strongly agree with the words of McLaren Clarkston in their brief but to-the-point description.
“The Garden of Healing and Renewal at McLaren Clarkston provides peaceful, soothing surroundings in which to focus healing energies, talk privately and build strength. The garden features an oasis of fountains and sculptures, sitting areas and beautiful paths to encourage exercise and curative reflection.”
I should also acknowledge for full disclosure why I know the site so well. I cover occasional shifts at the Clarkston Emergency Center in my role as an ER paramedic. The garden is my “go-to place” to feel mentally refreshed and catch my breath on a break during a busy ER work day.
A short walk on the easy-to-navigate garden trail, that’s only about one-third of a mile long, offers a soothing respite from our busy world that sometimes seems to overflow with deadlines, disappointments, and worries. When I work a 12 hour emergency department shift, I will try to walk in the garden during my break, unless my favorite Elite Detection K9 is working his hospital patrol shift. Hero is his name, and he is as calming and even more comforting than a garden walk. Once spring blossoms, I might once again put my feet up on the edge of a bench in the garden, listen to birds sing and the soothing music of wind chimes. By the time I head back in to the ER, I feel mentally refreshed and ready to start again. For me that’s a far superior, and much healthier break than sitting in a windowless staff room talking about work and consuming copious volumes of coffee.
I believe casual, nature-embracing breaks of this sort are good for everyone’s physical and mental health, and as a result, benefit the people they love or care for. My thoughts are shared by the American Psychological Association. They recognize a positive direct connection between mental health and exposure to nature. They write, “From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. Most research so far has focused on green spaces such as parks and forests, and researchers are now also beginning to study the benefits of blue spaces, places with river and ocean views. But nature comes in all shapes and sizes, and psychological research is still fine-tuning our understanding of its potential benefits. In the process, scientists are charting a course for policymakers and the public to better tap into the healing powers of Mother Nature.”
During my most recent, rather wintry garden meander, I entered from its north entrance, a beautiful wooden foot bridge a few dozen feet south of the Karmanos Cancer Institute building that is part of the McLaren Clarkston campus. There is also an archway entrance on the west side of Bow Pointe Drive immediately across from the public entrance to the McLaren Emergency Center.
When in the garden, I always look forward to ‘visiting with’ my favorite trio of garden sculptures that highlight the life cycle of the monarch butterfly as a caterpillar, cocoon, and adult. Those sculptures are especially beautiful when partially covered with snow.
I’ve been asked by friends what there is to see in the garden. “Everything” is my answer, and when you walk within its bounds, you will know. In summer, it’s alive with flowers of all kinds, butterflies, birds, and the music of flowing water. But any time of the year, the Garden of Healing and Renewal features walking paths, sitting areas with arrays of benches and large wooden chairs, and sculptures, all of which provide a calm and natural setting for healing, self-reflection, and quiet conversation, sometimes accompanied by the melody of wind chimes. There is even a Little Free Library and a beautiful labyrinth encircled by benches which gives one the opportuning to sit in the shade and read on a sultry summer day.
Rabbit tracks near the labyrinth drew my attention on my last wintry visit and I discovered one rabbit found the inner layer of bark of one of the garden’s rose bushes a treat. A tiny creek that flows through the garden was struggling to break free from Mother Nature’s icy grasp and bubbled along through the wetlands and under a weathered foot bridge. I was surprised no other people were meandering that day, but was pleased to have multiple downy woodpeckers pecking away for hidden grubs as my trail companions, while a red-tailed hawk soared overhead. A brief glimpse of a red fox dashing into cover in this rather developed area made my day as I completed a second loop on the trail to capture more images for today’s wilder side tale.
I wonder if when Wendell Berry wrote his timeless poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” if he was thinking of a place akin to the McLaren Garden of Healing and Renewal. I would think the answer is yes. If you walk through the garden and read his poem, perhaps you will feel the connection as well.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
If you have never walked the peaceful paths of the garden and have even a half an hour to explore, give it a try. It’s open to the public in daylight hours. There is no charge. Walk slowly, stop often, look and listen and you may feel mentally refreshing, positive results from your nature-embracing experience in this Garden of Healing and Renewal.
Jonathan Schechter is the nature education writer for Oakland County Government and blogs about nature’s way on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.