Twenty-five years ago, when Betsy Scheidemann of Williamsville got married, she assembled the wedding party for photos at Forest Lawn's Mirror Lake. Periodically, she returns to that serene spot, sitting on a bench to gaze at the water, birds and the trees, which this year include those hit by the October storm.
"It's so pretty," she said. "You can put everything aside for a bit and just relax."
Such places, abundant in Western New York, offer time to relax, along with a way to lose ourselves and, paradoxically, to get in touch with ourselves.
Whether it's spiritual refreshment, meditation or a peaceful place that human beings seek, there can't be a more rewarding time for such a search than the upcoming days and weeks. It's the season when some religions mark their high holy days and when spring appears in obvious ways, from the yellowing of the willows, the blooming of bulbs to the ice floes streaming down the Niagara River, signaling that winter's icy grip is relenting.
Some of these inspiring sites are bigger than life: Niagara Falls, of course, and Letchworth State Park come to mind immediately.
Others are more personal and private: a porch, a patio, a garden path, even a small Zen garden atop a desk.
Betsy Scheidemann is among many who find solace at Forest Lawn, with its 267 acres of sculptures, monuments, city history, flowering trees and migrating and nesting birds.
But even the tiniest of cemeteries can evoke a mystical sense. For example, the fence-enclosed cemetery at Fort Niagara State Park offers a chance to explore tombstones that are almost 200 years old, including one for Robert Harrison of the U.S. Infantry, who died at Fort Niagara on July 23, 1813, at the age of 25 years, six months and 19 days.
Also within the park is a shore-hugging trail that provides a "top of the world" feeling as one overlooks the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, Fort Niagara, Niagara-on-the-Lake, all from the same spot. With benches along the way, there is ample opportunity for early morning reflection coupled with a view of the stunning landscape.
For some, inspiration abounds at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery -- the art, the building, the view from the back steps.
For Ernie Renaud of the City of Tonawanda, "Gap," a light-filled installation by James Turrell proves both intriguing and inspiring, but it requires time, attention and silence to be fully experienced. First, eyes need to adjust to the darkened room, much as entering a movie theater. Once viewers gain their equilibrium, their attention focuses on a large framed space on the opposite wall that appears to be filled with misty, purplish-blue light.
Those who venture to the edge of the frame get the sense of being enveloped in a daydreamy space where it's hard to define boundaries.
"I'd never seen that kind of light, from an unknown source," said Renaud. "It had no specific meaning for me. It was just an environment, but I thought the room could be a tool for contemplation."
Though the drop of Niagara Falls remains the big draw, there are smaller, more intimate ways to experience the wondrous waterway. One is at Three Sisters Islands, which are connected to Goat Island by arched stone bridges. It's a spot with a magnificent view -- with fewer bodies and cameras -- of the Upper Rapids before they cascade over the Horseshoe Falls.
And a spot to contemplate a bit of local lore. The islands were named for Asenath, Angeline and Celinda Eliza, daughters of Gen. Parkhurst Whitney. They are said to have bravely accompanied him in 1816 onto smaller islands over ice-covered rocks, earning them the honor of having the islands forever commemorate them.
Within Cassadaga's Lily Dale, often called the world's largest spiritualist community, is an old growth forest called Leolyn Woods. It deserves notice on many levels, the natural, as well as the metaphysical.
The forest has been cited as one of the Northeast's most significant. Among examples of centuries-old trees is a hemlock, estimated to be around 300 years old; a black cherry with its first bough 50 feet high, and a cucumber magnolia, perhaps the largest forest grown of its type in the state.
Along the wooded path is a trail to a pet cemetery, the oldest known in the United States, thoughtfully tended by volunteers each spring, with tombstones and markers attesting to the personalities of both pets and owners.
Most famous of the inspirational spots, however, is Inspiration Stump, located in a grove where some say they experience heightened awareness and peace. It's the spot where psychics have held services since 1890 and, for believers, it's a spot filled with spirit.
>St. Columban Center
A series of blue banners along the roadway proclaim "Be still and know that I am God," setting a contemplative mood at the St. Columban Center in Derby. It's continued by the white-columned Georgian mansion with its Oak Room, carved staircase and a chapel with stained glass windows that portray "the divine abyss of mysterious ground."
But it's the view of Lake Erie from the back of the property that provides spiritual refreshment with its rosary garden, a walkway that includes the Stations of the Cross, a grotto dominated by a statue of Mary.
As a bonus, a clear day offers a view of the skylines of Buffalo and Toronto and nightfall brings on their twinkling lights.
h Letchworth State Park1
At Letchworth State Park, visitors are amazed by waterfalls, walks in the woods, stone walls. And a stop fittingly called Inspiration Point, which provides an overlook for the gorge and the circling turkey vultures that ride the thermals.
Often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth celebrated its centennial last year and remains a much-visited site because of the beauty of the 107 foot drop over the Middle Falls and the chance to gaze over its 600 foot deep gorge.
Walking into the Spring Flower Show at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens brings a full sensory assault. For those who have endured cloudy days, foggy days, rainy days, gray days, days when mud dominated -- this is instant cure.
There are 8,000 bulbs, plants, flowers waiting to awaken deadened senses -- white lilies, yellow daffodils, pink azaleas, purple hyacinths, clustered together in glorious symbol of new life.
For a cooling respite from the dazzling spectacle, look for a wee bench tucked into an ivy-covered arbor. It overlooks a fountain playfully spraying water on the statue of a young girl and offers promise of such refreshment to those who sit for a spell.