Rain pounded on the shake shingle roof. I opened my eyes and yawned. Gray, early dawn light filtered grayly through a water streaked window next to the unfamiliar bed. A flash of lightning startled me. An angry growl of thunder answered a few seconds later. For a moment I wondered where I was. Then I remembered.
Yesterday afternoon I’d left my husband and children at home to drive five hours to Ellison Bay, almost to the tip of Door County in Wisconsin. I felt brave for doing something so out of my comfort zone. For the next five days I’d attend a writing class taught by a professional writer.
A loud roar of thunder seemed to enter Lake Michigan, rolled around at the bottom of Green Bay, then rumbled to the surface. I loved the beautiful, deep-in-the-earth sound. The window light now was grey, tinged with green. Day was dawning and vines growing outside my cabin framed the window, reflected their summer hues into the room.
When I arrived yesterday afternoon, the staff assigned me to a rustic cabin, but had all the amenities I expected; cleanliness, electricity, a modern bathroom with a shower. Spending one week at this school of the arts, known as The Clearing, cost more than I usually spent on myself.
One thing I already knew about The Clearing was that I wouldn’t go hungry. Three meals a day were served to students in the main lodge. Judging by the spread laid out for the meal I had had last evening, the food would-be top-quality, gourmet fare. Last evening the school’s managed said all meals are announced by the ringing of the large, ancient bell hung outside the kitchen. I looked forward to breakfast.
Hearing a bell ring, I quickly dressed for the day and stepped out of my cabin, grateful that the rain had stopped. Other students were leaving their cabins, too. Along the sidewalk, crystal droplets of rain clung to hairy-stemmed poppies. Sprinkles from treetops gently showered down.
In the main lodge were two rooms. One was a large living room with a baby grand piano, a fireplace and several clusters of couches. A large window framed a fantastic view of the waters of Green Bay. The second room was the dining room, filled with three long trestle tables. The kitchen, located below the dining room, used a dumbwaiter to deliver the food.
The manager of the school sat down at the head of the middle table and rang a small hand bell. He explained that The Clearing had several beloved traditions. One, students were encouraged to sit next to someone new at each meal. Two, dishes at the table were always passed to the left. Three, each meal started with the manager reading an inspirational thought. Four, oatmeal is always served first each breakfast. A few students murmured at the last tradition.
Don, the manager explained with a chuckle, “Jens Jensen opened this school for landscape architects during the depression years. He would always serve oatmeal first because he didn’t want anyone to go hungry. Once the sharp edge of his guest’s hunger was blunted, then he brought out the fancy, expensive stuff, like crepe Suzette, or eggs Benedict.”
It is impossible to stay at The Clearing and not get to know the man who started the school. His strong personality and powerful drive invigorate all those who followed in his footsteps.
Jens Jensen grew up in Denmark. In 1884 after serving in the military and attending Tune Agricultural school in Jutland, he married Anna Marie Hansen and emigrated to the United States. He achieved international recognition for designing many of Chicago’s parks and private estates.
Jensen was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, who in the 1930’s was building Taliesen, a school of architecture at Spring Green, Wisconsin. They may have been friends at the beginning of their relationship, but in later years, their ideals clashed. Letters to each other became sharp and critical.
After Jensen’s wife, Anna Marie, died in 1935, 75-year-old Jens persuaded his secretary, Mertha Fulkerson, to come with him to Ellison Bay to open a “school of soil” for future landscape architects. After he died in 1951, Mertha was instrumental in keeping the school open by changing its focus from soil to art and specialized crafts.
When Jens Jensen began looking for land for the school, he desired several very specific things. He wanted it to have woodland acres, meadows and for the lodge, a view to the west over the waters of Green Bay. Jens named the school, “The Clearing” because he wanted people to find it a place where they could clear their minds, find rest and peace before returning to work and life back home.
The Clearing I attended the first time many years ago and keep returning to often, does all all of these things.
Above, the main lodge at The Clearing. To see more about The Clearing, click on the link below.