On a beautiful and warm day last summer, I attended an earth spirituality celebration in Madison. It was a small affair, held at one of the parks and attended by 150 or so people. There were plenty of activities and vendors and interesting folks to meet. After making some new contacts and browsing the offerings of a number of booksellers, jewelry makers, and artists, I casually picked up a brochure for a retreat area in the center of the state called Sweetwood Temenos.
The Sweetwood website describes the facility as a kind of nature preserve and dedicated space for people of various earth-centered spiritual practices. They host regular events that include camping, fellowship, good food, and the all-important opportunity to relax and unwind. I was sold.
According to their calendar, there was an upcoming weekend festival to celebrate the autumn equinox. The event coincided with a long weekend for me, so I decided to see about joining them for at least a day. The website requests that all first-time visitors contact the hosts prior to arrival, so I sent and email and set up a phone call with one of the folks in charge.
Our conversation was pleasant, and I was told that experience had taught them that it was best to connect with first-timers ahead of arrival to make sure the facility was a good fit. I’ve been to a number of pagan festivals and campgrounds, so I had an idea of what to expect. But that’s not always the case with folks who are exploring Neopaganism for the first time.
So we had a lovely conversation in which we talked about my experiences at other festivals and discussed some of the people that we knew in common. I had the sense that this was a healthy and welcoming community, and so we decided that I would drive up and spend Saturday with them. I would have loved to have camped but did not want to make an investment in camping equipment at the time.
What did I find?
First and foremost, the drive up was a pure delight. Since moving to the Midwest, one of my chief complaints has been how flat the land is here. I’m used to small mountains and big hills, something that Wisconsin lacks. But this far north, things were different. My path took me through miles of rural farmland, gently rolling hills, and near the quiet simplicity of what appeared to be some Amish communities.
With the help of Google Maps, I was able to find Sweetwood without any problems. (Upon arrival, I was told that I had taken the longest of three possible routes, but I did not mind in the least.) I was greeted warmly and given some time to settle in before I received a personal tour.
Sweetwood consists of 40+ acres of pristine woodlands, secluded and well-kept. The local community and a group of volunteers maintain the area and tend to the forest, so undergrowth is minimal and I did not notice any poison ivy. (Poison ivy is always on my mind when I’m outdoors because I had a nasty tangle with it as a teenager and I never want to be that miserable again.)
Aside from a designated camping area, the site consists of
- a permanent covered structure (no walls) that is serves as a dining area or gathering space during rain
- an enormous permanent ritual circle
- a shower house with HOT water, private stalls, and flush toilets (If you’ve ever been to a festival without these amenities, you will recognize the awesomeness inherent therein)
- Designated spaces for campfires throughout the camping area
- Several devotional shrines scattered throughout the woods
As you’ll see from my photos, Sweetwood is a beautiful place and it is definitely worth your time to visit if you have the opportunity.
Keep in mind that all first-time visitors must contact the community before attending any events.