Robert Browning wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” More than one person countered with, “A wise man knows his limits.” That was my mental state as, backside in the air, head down but peeking around, I finished my “downward dog” but was mystified as the instructor called out, “Tree.” Around me, everyone stood, balancing on one foot. I crawled off my mat and judiciously retreated behind my camera.
My timing was off – I arrived in time for the Wednesday evening advanced yoga class – an “Hour of Power” – at The Canebrake. With yoga classes every day, I could have chosen an easier option. But at least I got a look at one of Oklahoma’s finest yoga facilities.
Lisa Bracken, who co-owns The Canebrake with her husband Sam, discovered the benefits of yoga several years ago, following an accident in which she broke her back. She ultimately went back to school to earn a master’s degree in kinesiology. She also became a certified yoga instructor and, in addition to her other responsibilities at The Canebrake, teaches several of the classes as well. The Yoga Barn is a key element in the success of The Canebrake, but there’s a lot more to this amazing eco-resort.
A Bit of History
The land around The Canebrake has been in Sam Bracken’s family for a number of years and the location – on Fort Gibson Lake– was a favorite destination for the Oklahoma City family. Sam says, “My parents [Barth and Linda Bracken] raised, trained and showed Tennessee Walking Horses. That was to be their retirement project. It was so successful that it wore them out.” Neosho River Ranch, in addition to being a horse ranch, also had a lodge that the Brackens had dedicated to marriage retreats.
Sam and Lisa owned a restaurant in Colorado but sold it in the early 2000s and moved back to Oklahoma. Sam continues, “I kind of had this [idea] in my head for a long time. The timing was right. Mom and Dad couldn’t physically keep up with the groups who were coming to the lodge. I cooked, managed the ranch, whatnot. But Lisa and I wanted to test-drive this green, yoga shtick and see if it would work in eastern Oklahoma.”
The first thing the couple did was repurpose an equipment barn into the Yoga Barn. They worked with professionals who were open to experimentation. The insulation is shredded denim and the paint on the walls contains no volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Benefits were noticed immediately. Workers commented, “I don’t need to wear a mask,” and “This paint doesn’t make my head swim!” With the installation of a heated cork floor, the barn became a showplace that attracted contractors from around the area anxious to see the innovations.
Now the facility includes a Guest Services Building – once the 17-stall horse barn – an indoor volleyball court, laughingly called the “adult sandbox” and walking track from the original indoor riding ring; a boutique; spa; conference room; lounge and restaurant. Accommodations include elegant suites in charming cabins and comfortable rooms in a two-story lodge. Wherever they could, the Brackens incorporated environmentally-friendly techniques – so many that they were given a gold certification by the state Tourism and Recreation and Environmental Quality Departments.
Pleasure With a Purpose
The name says it all – if you understand what a canebrake does in nature. River cane grows in floodplains and around creeks and rivers and is called a canebrake. Water rushing through the cane comes out calmer, cleaner and clearer. According to Sam, “That’s the way we think people will feel when they come to The Canebrake.”
The Canebrake is an adult getaway – guests must be over 16. (And no, 16-year-olds can’t check in by themselves!) Sam says, “Oklahoma has plenty of dude ranches and family-oriented places. This is a place where you can come, relax, have a massage, a glass of wine, a nice meal, well-presented, that someone has cared over. And you don’t have to fly to Santa Fe or Tucson to do it.”
“Cared over” is key. The kitchen is open and diners can watch their food being prepared. Jack and I chatted with sous chef Sarah Leavell and garde-manger Stacy Jordan as they worked on our food. We started with a lovely salad of Chablis-poached beets, baby spring greens and pickled onions. “I worked eight months perfecting the brine for the onions,” Stacy told us proudly.
Although Sam presides over the kitchen and approves every item that goes on the menu, he gives his staff lots of leeway for creativity. And, totally unlike the ego-driven chefs on TV, he gives credit where credit is due. In return, he gets a staff that is happy and engaged in making this a prime fine-dining location.
I haven’t even gotten to our room – which was great – or my massage, which relaxed me almost to a comatose state. And I haven’t mentioned the summer Zip-n-Sip where, on Saturday afternoons, you can try the 300-foot zip line, then go to the bar for a flight of beer or wine – or a sundae (reservations, please). But one of the best features is The Canebrake’s dog-friendliness. Our dog, Roxie, was greeted with a treat and had her own bowls and a soft pillow in our room. Thursday night is Dog Night on the patio and dogs eat free from a menu that includes goodies like roasted pork meatballs or hearty turkey noodle soup – specially-made for the dogs, but taste-tested by the chef himself. There are also five miles of trails on the property for long walks and even an agility playground. Dogs do need reservations.
Sam was right: our stay at The Canebrake was restorative. We’re usually pretty clean anyway, but we definitely felt calmer and clearer-headed after such a relaxing escape. Give yourself the gift of a great getaway at The Canebrake.
Need to Know:
The Canebrake is about seven miles east of Wagoner on Fort Gibson Lake.
33241 East 732nd Road
Wagoner, OK 74467
Saturday lunch, 11-2
Sunday brunch, 10-2 (reservations requested)
Accommodations available Wednesday-Saturday nights; conferences/large groups by arrangement