by Petual Brown
Clinical trial. Deductible. Dosing. Pre-op. Protocol. Blood work. If you are familiar with any of these terms, you’ve likely had some encounter with health care services in the United States. However, the traditional medical model – a condition-focused, interventional approach controlled by clinical providers – toward health and wellness has been challenged. In seeking recovery via alternative models, Americans are exploring options beyond the doctor’s office. The Ann Arbor area is a nexus for many of these resources, including Grass Lake Sanctuary, a nature-focused retreat space in Manchester that has served the region for over ten years.
However, before the 145 acres of meadow, wetland, and woodland became Grass Lake Sanctuary, it was private property cared for by retired EMU professor Clark Spike and his family. For over 30 years, the Spikes nurtured the land as a nature preserve. When Clark Spike had become an old man, and the family had exhausted its ability to oversee the property but wanted to preserve it as a community sanctuary, they sought out local resources. A group of like-minded individuals, committed to spiritually evolving through service projects, created an organization which is called Grass Lake Sanctuary. They entered into partnerships with the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, local businesses, and volunteers.
The Grass Lake Sanctuary opened with an emphasis on providing support to breast cancer survivors. Their signature program, the Life-Balancing Women’s Wellness Weekend Retreat, allows those who’ve completed treatment to regroup, restore, and renew with each other, while also receiving guidance and support from Retreat staff. Those weekend retreats have made a difference in the lives of the many dozens of women who’ve attended them.
Upon arrival at Grass Lake Sanctuary, one is struck by how magnificent a property it is. And the reverence for the land is immediately apparent. The main house isn’t seen from Grass Lake Road . . . visitors must traverse a calming meadow before coming upon it. The two-story house (about 2,000 square feet) and deck provide ample space for group activities. The simplicity of its architecture nicely complements the environment—guests will be drawn to the surrounding natural beauty. The landscape is so integral to the Sanctuary’s identity that fully appreciating the experience requires walking through the woodland where accommodations are thoughtfully placed to align with natural spaces. Overnight visitors can choose pond view canvas bungalows or hillside cabins with raised wooden floors. Though the Sanctuary is a camp-like setting, cozy furnishings and artistic touches within the cabins put every guest at ease.
While the residential facilities are conducive to a relaxing and restorative stay, retreat alumni can also return as day visitors to explore the landscape via foot or golf cart. The pond is available for swimming and there is a deck to lounge upon. Groups seeking space for introspective activities can collaborate with Sanctuary staff to arrange massage sessions, yoga practices, and art workshops. To support and complement the rejuvenation efforts of guests, the Sanctuary provides “foods for health”. Meals are cooked using sustainable methods with locally sourced, organic and/or natural ingredients, reinforcing the Sanctuary’s commitment to embracing and sharing the gifts provided by nature.
It is the staff and natural resources of Grass Lake Sanctuary, and their impact on breast cancer survivors, that the Sanctuary wants to bring to a broader community. The staff is deeply committed to nourishing and nurturing the guests who find themselves at the Sanctuary. Research by Sara Warber, MD, former co-director of University of Michigan’s Integrative Medicine Program, illustrates the importance of self-care (emphasized by GLS programs). Broadening the sanctuary’s community impact includes offering health-focused family and personal growth retreat programs as well as educational workshops. The annual Taste of Health event is a great example of such an initiative. With a focus on practical application, participants received tips and recipes to help them evolve their relationship with food as a long-term commitment. The venue reinforced Taste of Health’s wellness focus by using outdoor seating so attendees could embrace the natural setting.
As an environmentally conscious, cozy, and accessible retreat space, Grass Lake Sanctuary is ideally suited for visitors looking for a low tech, high touch setting to renew mind, body, and spirit. The impact of the Sanctuary is, to some degree, immeasurable, but well stated by a 2017 Wellness Retreat participant named Susan M (last name withheld):
“This was a watershed experience where I lay down the burdens of sorrow and pain that I have carried for four years. I decided to really dive in and be open to all the opportunities that were here, to think differently about myself, to enjoy the wonderful food, the massage, to take a walk around the pond. . . Just being out in nature, listening to the wind, hearing the birds, experiencing the beautiful space is so uplifting and helped me so much, just being able to breathe.”
To find out more about Grass Lake Sanctuary, its programs, and volunteer opportunities visit them online at grasslakesanctuary.org. The sanctuary can be found at 18580 Grass Lake Rd. in Manchester, MI 48158. For more information call (734) 726-0290 or email firstname.lastname@example.org