“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes…” Marcel Proust
I traveled to Madison Wisconsin. I anticipated the trip as a view to their deepest winter landscapes. I anticipated desiccated, dry botanic bones and horticultural sculpture. I wanted to collect evergreens and acknowledge structural habit. I wanted to see how temperature and snow-cover impact survival and hardiness.
I wasn’t imagining urban; seeking an international experience; or requiring sophistication. I wasn’t thinking oriental.
New eyes. Different landscape. In turning a corner of a wondrous wintry collection of grasses and structural shapes, the botanic garden’s path led to a distant pavilion of gilded and graceful arches with winged pediments. http://www.olbrich.org/
Where in the world was I? What powerful King and craftsmen transposed the warmth of this art into such a cold clime? It was the magic of theatrical artifice. The view conjured dancers amid palms; spotted leopards hunting in tangled jungles; elephants spouting fountains of murky river water; and people conducting their business and managing their lives in glinting rainbow of colored silk and shimmer of beaten gold.
In short, everything that a Quaker gentleman from Philadelphia should most resent, despise and condemn.
Instead, I was struck dumb. My wife would say that it was a natural reaction.
The path became a sinuous curve of Naga-hide. The Hindu representation of this snake god plays well within our Christian context of being reborn within a new skin. For me, especially, it connects with the elemental forces at work in nature. I carry my snake stick as a talisman and also as a reminder of the interconnectedness of all things.
Here I found myself an heretical Christian, walking a Hindi snake-skin path to a pavilion dedicated by a 95% Buddhist-worshipping culture. I didn’t have time to consider the horticultural implications.
Then I turned around and walked back by the way I’d come. It was obvious that a great many people had worked a great many hours to bring us to this understanding. And nature connects us all. It was a revelation.