Friday, June 27, 2008

Sites for the soul - There are places where you can find peace, comfort for yourself

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Sites for the soul

There are places where you can find peace, comfort for yourself

Posted: June 26, 2008

Floods. Job cuts. Recession. Gas prices. War.

Miseries are landing with the force of six-inch hailstones. As the perfect storms swirl around us this year, we may need to go somewhere to ratchet our souls down from "Red Alert." Some place to find solace. But where do such spots exist today?

In Wisconsin.

Our state is dotted with locales that give off comforting vibes, says John-Brian Paprock, who with his wife, Teresa, co-authored "Sacred Sites of Wisconsin" (Trails Books).

"Wisconsin has so many special areas of peace that a 19th-century circuit rider wrote a pamphlet about Wisconsin being the actual site of Eden," John-Brian Paprock says. "He wrote that when mankind was driven from Eden, they had to go into Minnesota."

What makes any given spot a special place of comfort? It must have an "awe factor," says Paprock.

"There is a place near Portage where the naturalist John Muir once stood and awe overcame him," he said. "It's a quality that, when you're in its presence, your mouth drops open."

That "awe" often stems from the beauty of the place or its historical significance, Paprock says.

"Sometimes these places offer healing just by their presence alone, and it's hard to explain why it has an effect on us," he says. "There have been studies that link it to biochemical wiring in our brains that allows us to get some healing in the presence of these places. They have a meditative quality that evokes relaxation."

Some of these places that offer solace are manmade. Some are nature at her most artistic.

"But you need to go actually there. You need to have a 'pilgrimage' to orient you. These places let you grow while you're on a spiritual journey," says Paprock.

Here are some the areas in Wisconsin that offer solace and healing as destinations.

Lake Park Mound

This American Indian mound on the northeast end of Milwaukee's Lake Park has "a legacy that's very powerful," says Paprock. The 40-foot-long conical mound has rested high on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan for about 2,000 years. On a warm summer day, visiting the mound - and contemplating its age and its connection with ancient peoples - may bring you a gentle sense of your place in the cosmos.

"Celtic peoples called burial spots 'thin places' where the separation between this earth and the spiritual realm is less," Paprock says. "It has a power to it that lingers even longer than their memory. It orients us. The mound has that feeling."

Natural Bridge State Park

Even the recent flooding couldn't affect this geologic marvel located near Devil's Lake State Park in Sauk County. Trails are open for hikers seeking to soothe their minds with the sight of the largest natural bridge known in Wisconsin: 15 feet high and 25 feet wide.

Visitors have come here for comfort for quite a while. A rock shelter at the base of the bridge shows signs of human occupation that reaches back to about 9,000 B.C.

"This is a place of quiet. A place where you can contemplate nature and life," says Dave Benish, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Bureau of Parks and Recreation.

Blue Mound State Park

One million years ago, the glacier missed this part of Wisconsin. Anyone looking for solace shouldn't miss it.

Rare geologic features make this a place of meditation and beauty only two hours from Milwaukee. It's just north of the village of Blue Mounds, about 25 miles west of Madison via U.S. Highway 18/151.

"We're the highest place in southern Wisconsin," says park public contact Sarah Ward. "We have open prairies to walk through with wild flowers and then you turn and there are woods."

Gaze in contemplation across the Wisconsin landscape. And on a clear day, Ward says, some visitors say they can see all the way to Illinois.

For information, call (608) 437-5711 or go to

Mauthe Lake Park

Sure, Mauthe Lake in Fond du Lac County buzzes on weekends. But on weekdays, it becomes a place that gives off soothing vibes, says Jackie Scharfenberg, a naturalist with the Kettle Moraine Northern Unit.

"I go there when I get super stressed out," she says.

The 2-mile path around the lake is an easy walk, or you can find a spot on the shore to listen to the waves lap. "It's a lovely spot," says Scharfenberg. For details call (262) 626-2116.

The Highground Veterans Memorial Park

This 140-acre park 3 miles west of Neillsville was created "with a mission of healing," says spokeswoman Nancy Rodman.

The park offers tributes to veterans, but it's open to everyone. "Anyone can come here to roam the grounds and talk. It's a very spiritual place," Rodman said.

Two sites stand out as especially comforting, Rodman said: a meditative garden that's illuminated at night, and an all-ages, handicapped-accessible treehouse.

The Highground has free admission and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For information, call (715) 743-4224 or visit

Lapham Peak

Only an elemental force could create a place with this much "awe factor." Glaciers carved this terrain thousands of years ago. Today, hikers can climb a 45-foot observation tower atop the highest point in Waukesha County for a spectacular view that puts visitors more than 1,200 feet above sea level.

The park, in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, is 25 miles west of Milwaukee and one mile south of Interstate 94 near Delafield on County Highway C.

Holy Hill

Pilgrims seeking comfort have been coming to the highest peak in the Kettle Moraine for well over a century to see the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, at Holy Hill. Today, the shrine, west of Hubertus, hosts more than 500,000 visitors a year.

"This is a place of solitude and solace. It's so quiet and peaceful. You get away from everything. It's a spiritual treasure," says Father Don Brick, shrine minister.

Lately, Brick says, "we've seen a lot of people coming here to pray for jobs."

But Holy Hill offers comfort of many sorts. "This is a place of contact with God, finding peace and the most essential things in life," Brick says.

Sources for this story include the state Department of Natural Resources ( and

From the June 27, 2008 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


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