Thai High

Kirk R. Brown John Bartram

A jewel from Thailand viewed through the winter bones of Olbrich Botanic Garden in Madison Wisconsin

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes…”  Marcel Proust

John Bartram Observations Kirk R. Brown

John Bartram observes the Thai Pavillion at the Olbrich Botanical Garden Madison WI

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.

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

This Thai gable end is mortise and tenon construction. Gold leaf is hand applied and the roof shingles are high gloss, fire-glazed terra cotta.

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.

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.

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

The skin of the Naga was represented by the scales of paving along the sinuous path

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.

Olbrich Botanic Garden Madison Wisconsin Kirk R. Brown John Bartram

The Naga guards the entrance to the Asian jungle recreation

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.

Olbrich Botanic Garden John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

The Thai pavilion has a platform for dancing, ceremonial services and parties.

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.

Kirk R. Brown John Bartram

Olbrich Botanic Garden boardwalk over the dry pond.

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