Wisconsin’s hidden eco-wellness hotspot

March 24, 2020 by  
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Madison,  Wisconsin  is defined by water. It’s only one of two cities in the US built on an isthmus (the other is Seattle), and it has five lakes. The population of just over a quarter million is overwhelmingly young and educated, thanks to the massive University of Wisconsin. Mad City is one of the Midwest’s more progressive places and regularly features on “best of” lists. But you have to be tough to live here. Winter temperatures regularly dive below freezing, while summer temperatures often top 90 degrees. Outdoor activities in Madison Madison’s outdoor recreation revolves around its lakes. If you like kayaking , stand up paddleboarding or water skiing, you’re in luck. This is also a place to try more extreme water sports, such as wakeboarding, kiteboarding and flyboarding (where water can propel you almost 50 feet in the air). Those who are looking for something more contemplative will enjoy a trip to  Olbrich Botanical Garden . The 16 acres look their best in spring and summer, but even in winter you can enjoy orchids blooming in the sun-filled glass Bolz Conservatory. The garden’s 30-foot high Thai pavilion was a gift from the Thai royal family. The red lacquer and gold leaf structure was built in  Thailand , shipped by sea, rail and truck to Madison, then reassembled by Thai artisans without using screws or nails. At the  UW Madison Arboretum , you can meander through woodlands, wetlands, savannas and restored prairies on more than 17 miles of  trails . You can also see rare effigy mounds built more than 1,000 years ago. The arboretum features events like fungi workshops and expert-led nature walks. In the winter, it’s a popular place to snowshoe and cross-country ski. Wellness in Madison The Garver Feed Mill building is the latest wellness star in the Madison scene. After the US  Sugar  Company constructed this brick behemoth in 1906 for beet sugar processing, it became known as the Sugar Castle because of its dramatic arched gothic windows. Later it was a factory for formulating livestock feed, before sitting derelict for a couple of decades. But just last November, it reopened as a spectacularly popular event space, site of the farmers’ market during winter, and home of wellness providers and artisan food makers. The whole building is gorgeous, with lots of exposed brick walls, big windows and chandeliers. For the perfect wellness-focused day at Garver, take a class at  Perennial Yoga , eat a healthy meal at plant-based Surya Café, then visit  Kosa Wellness Spa & Retreat  to relax in the steam room and sauna or to get an Ayurvedic treatment.  “Something society doesn’t afford us is quiet and space,” said owner Shilpa Sankaran, who aspires to provide Madison with just that. “Where do you hear your own voice? That’s where the remedy lives, in our own knowing.” She sources most of her spa products from Wisconsin and has a special interest in supporting women in business. Women in  India  who have escaped sex trafficking manufacture the spa’s robes. I especially liked how they left some of the more attractive graffiti in place on the treatment room walls from the years that squatters filled the building. If art uplifts you, the  Chazen Museum of Art  on the UW campus houses lots of work by famous artists, including Miro, Picasso, and Louise Nevelson, plus interesting installations by UW art faculty. This big  museum  is free and well worth visiting. Dining out in Madison Madison is an easy town for vegetarians and  vegans . The  Green Owl Café , Madison’s first all-veg restaurant, is a cheerful and comfortable hangout spot for bowls, veggie burgers, vegan wings and vegan desserts like lava cake and coconut cream pie.  Surya Cafe , in the Garver Feed Mill, features more adventurous — some might say startling — combinations, such as a curried cauliflower waffle with maple-cumin kale and mango jalapeno sauce. Himal Chuli serves Nepali food, with several veggie and tofu-based options. The roti is so excellent I ordered a second serving.  Ian’s Pizza has several locations and is one of my favorite Madison eateries. You can custom order a gigantic salad with more than 40 mix-in options, and they often have vegan slices. For vegan dessert, don’t miss  Bloom Bake Shop . This bakery has a whole case of vegan cupcakes. Public transit Since Madison is largely a college town, you’ll find lots of public transportation and  bikes . It’s known as an extremely bikable city, so if you like biking, check out Madison  BCycle , the local bike share program. This program is designed for short trips of under an hour. If you want a bike for longer-term use, the  Budget Bicycle Center  rents various kinds of bikes. Metro Transit  is Madison’s bus company, serving the greater Madison area. Eco-wellness lodging The white dome of the Capitol filled my window at the  Madison Concourse Hotel . In addition to this stunning view and a convenient downtown location, the Concourse has been refining its eco measures for a decade. The  hotel uses energy-efficient lighting, offers reusable glass cups instead of plastic in guest rooms and is a member of REAP Food Group, which works on shortening the distance from farm to table. The Concourse’s Ozone laundry system and high-efficiency water heaters save an estimated 400,000 gallons of water per year. For an out-of-town sojourn, the  Holy Wisdom Monastery  in nearby Middleton has private rooms in its retreat house and two additional secluded hermitages.  Holy Wisdom offers the choice of a communal spiritual experience or lots of solitude as you hike trails through its prairies or read in the  library . You can even wear a silence tag if you want to take a silent retreat, and people won’t talk to you. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Wisconsin’s hidden eco-wellness hotspot

Eco-friendly spiritual living at Holy Wisdom Monastery

March 3, 2020 by  
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A basket of bread comes around, and the person next to me removes a chunk, holds it up and says, “Bread of life.” I accept it and do the same for the person on my other side. It’s the first time I’ve ever attended a religious service so egalitarian that all participants are assumed qualified to give each other communion. Earlier, the part of the service where folks exchanged the sign of peace seemed to go on forever; instead of a restrained handshake with their nearest neighbors, people were walking all over the room hugging their friends. This is a Sunday morning gathering at the  Holy Wisdom Monastery  in Middleton, Wisconsin. The unconventional group of Benedictine nuns who run the monastery oversee a whole host of enterprises, from managing a retreat center to restoring the surrounding prairie. While church attendance has declined rapidly in the US, with a Pew Research Center study reporting that more than half the population attends church between zero and a few times a year, Holy Wisdom has a robust turnout even during a Sunday morning snowstorm. What is it about this non-denominational Christian monastery that draws people from the progressive area around  Madison ? The welcoming attitude of the congregation, the relatability of the presiders, the gender-neutral language when speaking of divinity and the eco-spirituality of Holy Wisdom attract many people who are looking for a deeper connection with others and with the earth. An eco-retreat center In the 1950s, three Benedictine nuns from  Iowa  arrived in Madison to start a girls’ high school. They purchased 43 acres of pasture land overlooking Lake Mendota that would eventually become Holy Wisdom. But big changes were happening in the Catholic Church in the early 1960s. In 1966, the sisters closed the high school and re-opened as the Saint Benedict Center. The retreat center was ecumenical, meaning it was open to all denominations. As more retreatants attended events at the center, the sisters felt very connected to people they met from other faiths. “Praying with people from different denominations changed our hearts to be ecumenical hearts,” Sister Mary David Walgenbach said as she showed me around on a snowy February morning. Eventually, the sisters began a long, slow process to become an ecumenical order of nuns open to Protestant women as well as  Catholics . Nowadays, all kinds of people go on  retreat  at the monastery, either as individuals or in groups. The retreat house accommodates 19 people, plus the monastery has two more isolated hermitages for people seeking solitude. “There are more and more people who want to get away from everything because our world is more and more connected in every way,” said Sister Denise West. Buddhists are frequent visitors. “The Dalai Lama was here in ’79, so Buddhist groups like to come,” said Walgenbach. Sometimes they’ll do 10-day retreats, using the monastery’s nature trails for walking meditation and taking meals in silence. Nonprofit organizations also rent the monastery’s meeting facilities, plus breakout rooms. The sisters replaced their original Benedictine House — which was deconstructed and 99.75% recycled or reused — with a new, eco-friendlier monastery, which opened in 2009. The 30,000 square foot, two-story structure is “right-sized” at half the size of its predecessor. The sisters worked with Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc. to envision one of the country’s greenest  buildings . In 2010, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded Holy Wisdom Monastery a  LEED  Platinum rating. Four years later, the monastery became Madison Gas and Electric’s largest solar customer. The monastery building generates 60% of its energy needs. The sisters are aiming for 100% eventually. “For us, sustainability is not a trend,” Sister Joanne Kollasch said on the monastery website, “but a commitment to the earth—a 21st century expression of 1500 years of Benedictine tradition.” The designers carefully planned the location of windows based on the orientation of the sun to reduce glare and minimize unwanted solar heat gain. The new building also uses geothermal heating and cooling. Friends of Wisdom Prairie The monastery’s grounds cover more than 130 acres, including woodlands, Lost Lake, gardens, orchards, nature  trails  and restored prairie. Lots of animals live on the property, too, with whom the sisters try to live with in harmony. As Sister Mary David Walgenbach showed me around the monastery, we stopped in a room downstairs that the sisters use for prayer. She told me about a  turkey  that would often catch sight of his reflection in the room’s windows while they were praying. “He’d puff up, turn around,” she said. “And we would split laughing.” When somebody suggested setting bow and arrow hunters on him, the sisters leapt to his defense. “We said, ‘You can’t harm Brother Tom!’” Walgenbach remembered. They fed him from the back door of their house to help him through a harsh winter. Come spring, he flapped off with a roving band of hens. The five sisters couldn’t take care of the monastery’s land without a lot of help. “We depend on  volunteers  all over the place,” said Walgenbach. While they’ve been relying on volunteers to help restore prairie lands since the 1990s, the more formal  Friends of Wisdom Prairie  was established in 2014. The sisters are thrilled to have Greg Armstrong, who directed the University of Wisconsin Arboretum for twenty years, as their director of land management and environmental education. The Friends raise funds for caring for the land, including reducing runoff into the lake and constructing a bike trail. Environmental volunteers join in work parties while learning about ecological land management. Sometimes the Friends host special events, like moonlight snowshoeing on the monastery’s trails or lectures on subjects like owls of Wisconsin or climate change and eco-spirituality. Life among the sisters Times have changed and religious life holds less allure to most people than it did 60 years ago. “Not a lot of  women  are flocking to become sisters,” said Walgenbach. “But we have a niche.” Holy Wisdom attracts women looking for a more contemplative life, who share Benedictine values like listening, respect and silence. The five sisters live together across the lake from the monastery. Walgenbach and Kollasch entered religious life as Catholic nuns in the 1950s. Sister Lynne Smith, a Presbyterian pastor, became the first Protestant sister in 2000. Sister Paz Vital, a lifelong Catholic, and Sister Denise West, who comes from a secular background, both joined the order in the last few years. The sisters often have a sixth woman staying with them who is going through the six-month Sojourner program for spiritual seekers. That’s what originally brought West to Holy Wisdom. “I came here to learn spiritual life with zero intent of becoming a sister,” she said. But once she was back home in New York City, the former  schoolteacher  felt an undeniable pull back to the monastery. It’s a pull that many progressive Christians around Madison feel, judging from the Sunday morning turnout when I visited, or the 100 people who showed up the day before to help the sisters devise a ten-year plan. People are hungry for connection with the divine, each other and the land , and Holy Wisdom fills this void for folks in Madison and further afield. Images via Teresa Bergen and Kent Sweitzer

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Eco-friendly spiritual living at Holy Wisdom Monastery

Touring restored wetlands at a Wisconsin nature conservancy

November 1, 2019 by  
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The village of Williams Bay, Wisconsin hasn’t changed much since Harold Friestad was a kid, he told me as we walked through Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy (KNC). Now almost 80 and the conservancy’s chairman, Friestad is proud of being a factor in stunting the small town’s growth. He was president when the village board bought 231 acres of lakefront property in 1989 to create KNC. “What I want on my tombstone,” he said as our sneakers sank into the wetlands , “is, ‘Because of Harold, there will never be a stoplight in Williams Bay.’” Nature conservancy history The nature conservancy sits against Geneva Lake , long a summer playground for rich Chicagoans . Before that, it was home of the Potawatomi people. The name Kishwauketoe comes from a Potawatomi word meaning “lake of the sparkling water.” The current conservancy land was once a rail yard. But when the train was decommissioned, developers swooped in, wanting to build hotels, golf courses and shopping centers. Area residents wished to stop the developers and keep Williams Bay small and quiet. The Williams Bay Village Board, led by Friestad, negotiated a price of $1.575 million for the 231-acre parcel. “People knew I was a businessman,” said Friestad, who worked for Lake Geneva Cruise Line for 50 years, retiring as general manager in 2015. “They didn’t know I love nature so much.” Even though he got an excellent price — a 10-acre estate could now cost $15 million — Friestad said, “A lot of people didn’t like the idea of me spending all that money to buy it.” But now people value the conservancy, and some of Williams Bay’s 2,500 residents even bought their homes in the village so they could walk the wetland trails every day. “It’s almost sacred now,” Friestad said. “I don’t know how you put a value on it. But it’s priceless to me, and it’s priceless to many, many people.” Donations, volunteer hours, summer interns and a few part-time workers power the conservancy, which has never received tax dollars. During my weekday visit, one woman was chainsawing dead branches, a couple of folks were repairing a boardwalk and a controlled burn was going on in the distance. In the conservancy’s nearly 30-year run, the crew has restored more than 65 acres of prairie, planted a 15-acre arboretum, created a spawning area for lake trout, installed boardwalks over the wettest wetlands, cleared invasive species and constructed a four-story viewing tower. They’ve also built and continue to maintain more than 4 miles of trails. Visiting the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy On the October day I visited, the conservancy was quiet. I saw only a half-dozen other walkers during the hour or two I was there. Things are busier in summer, Friestad said, when up to 500 people may visit in a day. Non-human residents include deer, coyotes, foxes and raccoons. Some years, beavers move in. The conservancy has a public education campaign about the benefits of beavers, not the most-loved local animal. Reptile-wise, the conservancy is home to garter snakes and the rare Blanding’s turtle, which has a striking yellow throat. People can walk through the area on their own 365 days a year. The conservancy also offers many guided walks, some focusing on particular aspects, such as history, geology, botany or trees . Those who want to get dirt under their nails can join volunteer workdays and autumn seed harvesting. Every summer, the conservancy hosts a 5K run/walk. I’d recommend the Friday morning walk, which Friestad usually leads. Trail cams Kishwauketoe participates in the statewide Snapshot Wisconsin program, a network of trail cameras. The project provides information for wildlife managers and lets citizen scientists get involved in monitoring Wisconsin’s natural resources. Jim Killian, KNC board member, Wisconsin master naturalist program instructor and coauthor of an upcoming book on the conservancy , learned about Snapshot Wisconsin while attending a master naturalist conference in March 2018. “I immediately sought permission from the Wisconsin DNR [Department of Natural Resources] to host a wildlife trail camera for the Wisconsin Snapshot Wisconsin in KNC,” Killian said. “Because of the location and size of KNC, I learned that I qualified to host two trail cameras in our conservancy. While the program participation requirements are quite stringent, I thoroughly enjoy this volunteer work.” The cameras work with a motion sensor. “At night and in low light, the cameras utilize an infrared flash to capture images,” Killian said. “That is why they appear as black and white. One camera is located on the edge of a small open field/prairie area, while the other is located on the edge of a very dense, wooded area and on the bank of a small stream, which is a popular watering spot for wildlife of many varieties. This stream remains as a source of open water all year, including in the midst of a very cold winter.” Killian services each trail camera at least once every three months to replace the memory card and batteries and to upload the captured images to the Wisconsin DNR. The DNR places the images on a website and invites the public to help classify them. Of the thousands of images captured at KNC so far, Killian said deer are No. 1, followed by squirrels, turkeys , coyotes, raccoons, opossums, cottontail rabbits, redtail foxes, woodchucks, blue jays, cardinals, sandhill crane, northern flickers and mink. Do the trail cams reveal any surprises? “The humor of wildlife,” he said. “I would have never suspected that animals do the funniest things, including selfies, when they know or sense that their image is being captured by a camera. This is particularly true for deer.” KNC is open year-round. If you’re looking for immense peace and quiet, visit in winter … and bring your cross-country skis . + Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy Images via Harold Friestad / Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy, Wisconsin DNR Snapshot Wisconsin (trail cam imagery) and Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Touring restored wetlands at a Wisconsin nature conservancy

To halt mining, a tribe and a logging community weave together

October 7, 2017 by  
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In the 1980s, a mining company tried to divide a Wisconsin community. Instead, it created “one of the country’s fiercest grass-roots environmental face-offs.”

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To halt mining, a tribe and a logging community weave together

Madison, Wisconsin commits to 100% renewable energy

March 23, 2017 by  
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Madison just became the first city in Wisconsin and the largest city in the Midwest to commit to 100 percent clean energy in just the latest example of how President Donald Trump can’t stop the renewables revolution. The state capital and college town is the 25th US city to commit to the transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy following Tuesday’s city council vote. The vote allocated $250,000 to develop a plan by January 18, 2018 for city operations to achieve goals of 100 percent renewable energy and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, including electricity, heating and transportation. “Madison’s historic commitment to 100 percent clean energy shows that we are determined to lead the way in moving beyond fossil fuels that threaten our health and environment,” Madison Common Council Alder Zach Wood said in a statement. “The benefits of a transition to 100 percent clean energy are many. These goals will drive a clean energy economy that creates local jobs, provides affordable and sustainable electricity, and results in cleaner air and water. I am proud to be a part of this council that has made the historic commitment that will lead our community to a more sustainable future.” Related: San Diego to become largest U.S. city to run on 100% renewable energy Abita Springs, Louisiana also voted on Tuesday to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. The Sierra Club said that Madison and Abita Springs both committing to 100 percent clean energy demonstrates that there is bipartisan support across the country for a renewable energy future because liberal Madison voted for Hillary Clinton while conservative voters in Abita Springs went for Donald Trump. “Transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy is a practical decision we’re making for our environment, our economy, and for what our constituents want in Abita Springs,” Greg Lemons, mayor of Abita Springs, said in a statement. “Politics has nothing to do with it for me. Clean energy just makes good economic sense. By establishing a 100 percent renewable energy goal, we have an opportunity to use solar power that we can control in our community, for our community. Clean energy is a way that we can save money for Abita Springs both today and in the future.” Other American cities that have made the 100 percent renewable energy pledge include Burlington, Vermont; Aspen, Colorado; the California cities of San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose; Rochester, Minnesota; St. Petersburg, Florida; Grand Rapids, Michigan; East Hampton, New York; Greensburg, Kansas; and Georgetown, Texas. Via Sierra Club Image 1 , 2 via Good Free Photos

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Madison, Wisconsin commits to 100% renewable energy

Milwaukee youth revamp “Drift” bench with a vibrant paint job

August 18, 2015 by  
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Artists Working in Education (A.W.E.) organized a youth art project to revamp Milwaukee’s “Drift” bench with a new vibrant paint job. Inspired by the Midwest’s rolling topography, the curvaceous bench was created in 2011 in a KI Collaborative Architecture Studio at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) . Years of use, however, had worn out the bench. A.W.E. artists teamed up with students from the nearby Carmen High School to create a new warm color scheme and concept for the bench that featured white abstracted body forms running throughout. In addition to beautifying the landscape and the bench’s new home in Mitchell Park, the project helped participating students gain confidence through art. Images by Cassie Rogala + Artists Working in Education The article above was submitted to us by an Inhabitat reader. Want to see your story on Inhabitat ? Send us a tip by following this link . Remember to follow our instructions carefully to boost your chances of being chosen for publishing!

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Milwaukee youth revamp “Drift” bench with a vibrant paint job

Handsome lakeside cabin supports a cantilevered timber gallery in Wisconsin

April 22, 2015 by  
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Read the rest of Handsome lakeside cabin supports a cantilevered timber gallery in Wisconsin Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: aging cedar , basswood , cabin , cantilevered , clear basswood , family retreat , gallery , Lake Superior , lakeside cabin , paper-resin composite , Salmela Architects , sauna , timber cabin , timber gallery , V-shaped roof , wisconsin

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Handsome lakeside cabin supports a cantilevered timber gallery in Wisconsin

PETITION: Tell Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that climate censorship is not OK

April 14, 2015 by  
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Strange things are afoot in the state of Wisconsin, where a state agency has banned its employees from “working on or speaking about climate change.” Florida’s state Department of Environmental Protection tried it last month and now Wisconsin has hopped aboard the “ignore it and it will go away” train. In what the media has taken to calling an act of “climate censorship,” Wisconsin has become the latest state where the environmental protection rules and regulations are being constructed by people who refuse to accept that climate change is an integral part of our planet’s (and our people’s ) health. Read the rest of PETITION: Tell Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that climate censorship is not OK Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: banning climate change , climate censorship , Climate Change , denying climate change , environmental protection , petition , wisconsin bans climate change

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PETITION: Tell Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that climate censorship is not OK

The Keystone-style pipeline you probably didn’t know about

February 24, 2015 by  
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You’ve heard of the Keystone XL pipeline , but you’ve likely never heard of a new pipeline in Wisconsin that would make Keystone look minuscule in comparison. This 42-inch diameter crude oil pipeline is currently buried under every major waterway in that state, but plans for its massive expansion are slated for next year. Read the rest of The Keystone-style pipeline you probably didn’t know about Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: Enbridge , keystone , keystone pipeline , keystone xl , Line 61 , oil pipeline , tar sands

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The Keystone-style pipeline you probably didn’t know about

Melting polar ice is revealing life forms frozen for thousands of years

February 24, 2015 by  
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As climate change continues to eat away at Earth’s glaciers and melt polar landscapes, things inside them frozen for millennia are starting to come alive again. Thawing permafrost in Siberia and melting glaciers in Greenland are slowly unearthing a host of ancient life forms ranging from viruses and bacteria to plants and even some animals that have been cryogenically preserved there for thousands of years. Read the rest of Melting polar ice is revealing life forms frozen for thousands of years Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: ancient , Climate Change , crygenic , discoveries , frozen , Glacier Melt , life forms , organisms , resurrection ecologists , resurrection ecology

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Melting polar ice is revealing life forms frozen for thousands of years

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