Earlier this week I came across the travel blog WheresMyBackpack.com. The post I read is a tribute to gardens. And it got me thinking about the gardens I’ve visited – there’s been a few. Especially if I count all those visits to my grandparents as a kid. Without fail they included a walk around the garden, my mother and grandmother swapping tips. Often as not we’d leave with a sack of horse manure in the boot, us kids complaining all the way home about the stink. Mum didn’t care. She knew what it took to make a good garden.
Some of the gardens I’ve visited have been comforting, some restful, others have been more challenging. In Minneapolis, a kilometre or two from the mighty Mississippi river, one late October afternoon I visited the Sculpture Garden. The squirrels were scampering up and down the trees, busy with their preparations for hibernation – you had to watch where you trod. The prairie wind already smelled of snow; the coat I’d brought from home was barely adequate.
I hadn’t done any research. If asked I’d probably have said the gardens would be filled with topiary. Buxus clipped into classical designs was a bit of a fad of mine at the time – I’d been to Versailles and Chateau de Chenonceau a year or two previously. Actually, I didn’t know whether Buxus was even capable of surviving those harsh Midwestern winters. It is.
What I didn’t expect, was this!
The Spoon Bridge and Cherry, designed by Claaes Oldenberg and Cooseje Van Bruggen. It reminded me of home: the big skies, the big space of the South Pacific. Juxtaposed against the Minneapolis skyline the sculpture forced a change of perspective. Standing on the Napier foreshore during a southerly swell or on top of Kaweka J, the highest peak in Hawkes Bay, has a similar effect.
When I visited the Saa Kaew Ku Sculpture Park in Nong Khai, Thailand, it was January and officially winter. Actually it was hotter and a lot more humid than our hottest Hawkes Bay summers. The park is on the outskirts of the town, a kilometre or two from the mighty Mekong, and the easiest way to get there is to cycle. I’d been told the sculptures were a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist traditions and during that sweltering bike I wondered what I might see.
For me a park implies large grassed areas, usually mown, wide-open spaces not dissimilar to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. But Saa Kaew Ku was a relatively small area jammed with concrete sculptures that struck me as bizarre.
At first glance it was difficult to identify any similarities with the sculptures I’d seen in Minneapolis. To my western eye the detail of these concrete giants was overwhelming. It required concentration and assistance from my fellow travellers to decode them. But the effort was worth it. In a way the idea behind the elephant and the yapping dogs is not that dissimilar to the Spoon Bridge and the Cherry. And it had a similar effect – it made me think about my life and my attitudes.
In each of these places the plant life is a back drop to the creations of the sculptor. It takes the practiced eye and a bit of research to understand their significance. For example at the Sculpture Garden the lake is the shape of a linden seed, and the paths are lined with linden trees. But I didn’t know that then or anything about what the they might represent. At the sculpture park the ponds are not merely for aesthetic effect. They are an opportunity for visitors to make merit. The carp were huge!
Travelling to me, whether at home or overseas, is about looking, listening, and attending to the details. It requires a willingness to be confronted. Sometimes, I’ve been rewarded by “aha” moments that I’ve continued to reflect on for months, occasionally years.
Sometimes I’ve been rewarded by a glimpse of enchantment.
Categories: Off-shore Adventures