Art and Nature Merge to Create a Transcendent Experience at Three Sisters Sanctuary

The sight of this fire-breathing dragon, unleashed, is electrifying as flames shoot out of its mouth and high into the air!

Art and Nature Merge to Create a Transcendent Experience at Three Sisters Sanctuary
Three Sisters Sanctuary: A magical walking meditation on art and nature in Goshen, Massachusetts.

Three Sisters Sanctuary: A magical walking meditation on art and nature in Goshen, Massachusetts.

Switch off your smartphone. Take off your Apple Watch, Fitbit, or analog watch if you still wear one, as I do. Disconnect from all technology and thereby from our invasive, artificial construct of time. Take a deep breath, enter the gate, and immerse yourself in the art and magic that is Three Sisters Sanctuary.

It's a lovely, midweek late August day. The undercurrent of autumn's coolness permeates the mountain air, so Laureen, my wife, and I decide to take a ride. It's too beautiful to be indoors, and still on our minds is the pandemic that remains pervasive in our heavily trafficked tourist area. So before either of us utters a word, we simultaneously conclude it's the perfect day for a contemplative nature stroll. Words uttered, I turn up the stereo—we cannot get enough of Ben Platt, both Broadway and pop—and head the car north for Three Sisters Sanctuary in Goshen, Massachusetts.

As I drive, we are witness to passing vignettes of lush green mountain terrain speckled with colorful wildflowers and occasional signs of autumn, like small patches of radiant orange leaves flaming from treetops. It's a glorious preview of the coming season of Mother Nature's own spectacular fireworks display. So, perhaps it goes without saying, we were already giddy from the drive when we arrived.

The view from the road is vibrant and magically playful, reminiscent of childhood, with sculptures created from a vast array of found objects. Many of these items are recognizable. Others cause me to cock my head like a curiously perplexed German Shepherd trying to spot something identifiable among the elements. But, I enjoy this moment of pause. It is the gift of art, keeping us considering and reevaluating ideas and beliefs we pick up in life, sometimes unintentionally or unknowingly.

On entering, the large-scale expansion of sculpture and the meticulous care paid in homage to the land that I've observed through the years settles over me. I am reminded of St. Francis of Assisi's words, "Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible." I suspect this sentiment is apropos of the sanctuary's evolution.

I hear Laureen's voice and walk in that direction. After just a few steps, I see her standing near the house, chatting with Richard M. Richardson: environmental artist, land curator, and caretaker of Three Sisters Sanctuary. It's always a pleasure to talk with Richard when he is on sight.

Richard has a gentle deliberateness about him. It's his view that nature has channeled this work through him, and I'm inclined to believe that. The whole of him seems to belong to this land, just as this land belongs to him. From previous conversations, I'd wager Richard would tell you the land belongs to no one because the earth belongs to everyone—all life. Nonetheless, Richard and this land are symbiotic, and it is palpable.

We part ways. Richard remains on his porch. Laureen and I go on our solitary journeys through the sanctuary.

With a quick glimpse around, I see sculptures everywhere, and for a moment, I'm unsure where to start. Suddenly, I am not just aware that I left my watch and phone in the car, but moreover grateful. Being uncertain in a situation can make me reach for technology. It's an autoresponse from living and working in the 21st Century. I don't know what I expect to find there other than distractions. Yet, it's a thing I sometimes do. I shake off the feeling realizing I need this digital detox day.

The fire-breathing dragon, unleashed!

The first thing I focus on is an old cement dog statue. It reminds me of Santa's Little Helper from The Simpsons, and I laugh out loud as I pass by and pat "him" on the head. So, if a quick visit with a cement cartoon dog wasn't whimsical enough to snap me out of my digital dependence, I came nose to snout with a mosaic dragon head as I rounded the corner. I am acquainted with this dragon. We've met before, and I'm glad to have stumbled onto it so naturally.

I've learned to locate the dragon on arrival. Once I have its location clear in my mind, I know where it is in relation to my movement. And, I know to turn toward the dragon if I am lucky enough to hear its short, loud hiss, the alert that the show is about to start. The sight of this fire-breathing dragon, unleashed, is electrifying as flames shoot out of its mouth and high into the air!

The dragon head is seated atop a sizeable stone wall. Before moving on, I walk around considering the trinkets that appear carefully chosen and purposely left behind. It is an eclectic collection of religious and pop culture iconography, succulent plants, brightly colored chunks of glass, and personal treasures such as photos. There is also loose change scattered about the sanctuary, often in rock formations, including this wall. I pause in front of a neon pink-haired troll and remember the Kilroy character my grandfather taught me to draw when I was very young. Then, unexpectedly, I stood in front of an altar in a Soho art gallery celebrating Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) 25 years prior. I saw myself fishing a photograph out of my wallet and placing it carefully so that I, too, could summon spirits with what I hoped was an enticing trinket. In a flash, I settled back into myself. This wall feels sacred, and I know what I will leave here the next time I visit.

I revel in a stroll around the grounds, finding art in unexpected places, looking above and below to spot treasures otherwise overlooked. Two women approach. We smile at each other as I nod upward to direct their gaze to the eagle in the tree. Walking beneath the branches makes the eagle easy to miss. The grandeur of this regal bird suspended above our heads injects a powerful, Phoenix-like presence. I pause briefly to ponder the personal losses and upheaval of the last 18 months. I am not unscathed. Surely, I'm not the only one who feels the desire to rise from those ashes.

I brought my camera today, so I wander, reflect, and take photographs, losing all track of time. The people I see are staying mindful, allowing each other ample room to explore. No one crowds anyone, and I've smiled back at many smiling faces on this crisp, sunny day. I am in the moment.

I'm making cairn art when I hear Laureen's voice again, calling to me. We make our way through the mazes of paths to each other. Moments later, I hear another voice calling out to us as we stand near a raw quartz boulder. The man is wearing a facemask, so we quickly put ours on as well. Then, in unison, the three of us volunteer the words, "I'm vaccinated!" with each responding, "Me, too!" Still, we're strangers, and we keep our masks on.

He began explaining that a PBS special he'd seen mentioned the two quartz boulders that flanked us. If you stand with others between the two spectacular formations and stretch your arms wide to the side, you can feel the energy from the quartz running through your body. Our recent companion refers to it as electricity and has doubts about the claim. So we decide to give it a go! Spacing ourselves between the two quartz, we stretch out our arms but don't touch each other.

Almost instantly, my fingers and toes start tingling. I look over to see how Laureen and our new mate are doing. It's evident by their eyes; both are smiling. Of course, I'm smiling, too. We chat about our experiences briefly, and our new friend goes on his way. Laureen sets off to find a quiet place to read the poetry book she's brought with her.

I linger with the quartz, standing between the two, feeling their energy. As I stand with my eyes closed, happy and content, I hear buzzing and feel wings zipping around my head. Opening my eyes, I see dragonflies racing between the stones, seemingly playing in the energy field. This moment is transcendent. I beam and feel connected to everything.

Ambling along a path, I come upon a beautiful monarch butterfly. Every move I make, it flutters along with me, and I wonder if it has anything to do with my quartz experience. Finally, it lands on my shoe and becomes a passenger on the ride. After a time, it flutters away, leaving me thinking if I were in a Pixar® film, I would follow gleefully, finding a new adventure or enchanted land—where a life lesson would ultimately await, of course. A big goofy grin breaks out on my face at the thought of an animated me on a cartoon adventure.

I can tell by the position of the sun I have wiled away the afternoon. Delighted but feeling the pangs of hunger, it's time to find Laureen. Before leaving, we relax together on a swing built for two, and she reads to me the poem, The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

The poem concludes:

"It doesn't interest me where or what
  or with whom
you have studied.

I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company
  you keep
in empty moments."


The true mysticism of Three Sisters Sanctuary lies in its capacity to be whatever you need it to be. You'll see whatever you need to see, just as I did. And, if you choose to tap into it, there is a healing vibe in the art of these natural surroundings. In this place, vibrant colors, found objects, and whimsical creations blend seamlessly with stone arrangements, contemporary sculptures, and various iconography on this expressive expanse of land. And, it sustains me.