I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” Fair question. They’re a bit madcap at best. But, to creatives, this question is as cliché as the love triangle and as annoyingly commonplace as BMs.
The question people should ask is, “How do you connect your ideas,” because ideas are a dime a dozen. How is the million-dollar question—a question I’ll happily discuss with you over a glass of iced-coffee or a flight of good beer.
For Morning Blood in Mio, the ideas connected in strange, fascinating, and sometimes frightening ways. No matter how far-fetched, no matter how long I had to stretch my neural synapses to make sense of the flood of Mio-related stimuli, one thing remained at the center:
The Our Lady of the Woods shrine.
While a fraction of the overall book takes place at the shrine, it’s the literary blood that flows through Morning Blood’s veins. To switch metaphors, everything—from Chase Cross to Bob to the Devil and Death to God, herself—is caught in the near-mythical gravity of its pure awesomeness. There’s something ineffable drawing the entire cast of the book in, whether or not they want to admit it.
I think this is a reflection of how it drew me in. Little more than a hillock of stones from the road, you could easily miss it if you’re just passing through. But, risk a turn off M-33, and the shrine is there, beckoning to unsuspected travelers. When you find it, you simply can’t resist a visit.
A nice overview of the shrine’s history can be found at https://www.olwshrine.org/. It’s a great story of divine intervention, dedication, and community determination. Well worth a look, but not for me to tell. I wasn’t part of that history. I came in much, much later.
What I really want to talk about is my experience at the shrine. Now, without getting into too much detail, I haven’t lived the most pious life. My relationship with God and the church has always been wishy-washy at best. The Our Lady of the Woods shrine brought me back to religion (even if it was initially in a rather unorthodox way), and it also brought me back to writing. I’d all but abandoned both before my happenstance turn down 8th Street. In all honesty, I was restless, searching for a walking path or somewhere to get into trouble.
Without signaling, I pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road. Luckily, no one was around. They were all off having their own reawakening at the bowling alley or antique store, floating down the river, or perusing the makeshift stalls of the flea market beyond town. After I parked my Ion (the infamous “car that killed Saturn”) cock-eyed, half on the sidewalk, half in the road, my legs took over. Or rather something—someone—took over my legs.
Up the steps, alongside the babbling broke, past the family of stone deer, I ran my fingers across the rough limestone face of the shrine proper. The silvery tinkle of water as it cascaded from a small grotto lulled me into a reverie like I’d never felt before and haven’t felt since. Beside the waterfall, part of a greater homage to Saint Hubertus, the patron of hunters, a magnificent 8-point buck stood erect watching my every move. Inside the grotto, hidden in the cavern’s shadowy recesses, a black widow tended her web. It’s funny, normally I would have thought, “Holy sh… schnikes.” But, in the presence of such splendor, it barely registered.
I delved deeper and discovered a series of intricate side chambers, each glorifying one saint or the other. Saint Anne de Beaupre, the mother of Mary, barren and advanced in age before she birthed the most famous mother of all (a bit of clever foreshadowing there if you’re familiar with the story). The aforementioned Saint Hubertus. Saint Francis. And, of course, a myriad of apparitions of our lady, herself: Mary. Outside, scattered about the grounds around the shrine, I found similar iterations of Jesus: Christ the King, The Crucifixion of Our Lord, and the Risen Christ. In all seriousness, the sun shined upon these statues as I examined their intricate stonework. Two of the pictures included below show rays of light touching both Christ the King and the tablets of his Ten Commandments. If that wasn’t a sign…
These statues brought to life a lot of the stories I’d read in the Bible. They made abstract concepts real. There was only one thing I could do after such a revelation: tell jokes. Because isn’t that what we do with everything that makes us uncomfortable or that we can’t explain? No? Just me?
Thus, the shrine in Morning Blood in Mio was born. The triumvirate of Marys, weeping their woes away
en français, spouting off conspiracy theories, and compulsively cleaning the limestone. The trinity of Jesuses, woe-is-meing, loving every God-given second of existence, and being just plain stoned. Old Saint Hubertus playing his cat and mouse game with the sheep atop the shrine. And the rest of the wacky, loveable cast found in the book. I played around with some other personas for the statues to assume, but I think their final aspects suit both them and the story. I wouldn’t change a thing, other than maybe extended their time in the limelight.
Beginning in 2015, the parish of St. Mary’s Catholic Church began an extensive restoration of the shrine. To me, this is the perfect next chapter in the story of Our Lady of the Woods. In more ways than one, it helped restore me. So please, if you get the chance, consider donating to the parish to help keep this incredible embodiment of faith alive. If you can’t donate, take a trip up M-33. It might change your life.