On Sunday, I went out to work in the garden for the first time this season. It’s only February, and it feels way too early to be out, but the sun was shining and no snow was on the ground. A sweatshirt, hat and light pair of gloves were plenty to keep me warm.
I used the green plastic wheelbarrow that is getting a lovely patina of scratches from its usefulness, to move wood chips from a pile by the compost, over to a path I first made last year. It’s a path that goes off of the official brick walkway for about twenty feet to a clump of three trees on the eastern edge of the Temple grounds. The three trees, all mature maples, have grown as a sturdy triangle. When standing between them facing west, one tree is behind your back and one on either side. It’s a natural ‘room’ – a place to be in the universe that has some orientation – not just floating in space – but the vertical presence of steady trunks guarding the flanks and protecting the back.
I first put a bench there, but simple benches, while nice to rest on momentarily, are not actually very comfortable to sit on. To be truly inviting, a garden bench needs a back of some sort – something to lean against – some relief from the insistent uprightness of our lives. It’s hard to stand up all the time – though of course I love it – we love it – to be head toward heaven and to move through space – sitting, running, walking, standing – the postures of human aliveness. But sometimes, I just want to sit back – to be held and supported – even a wooden back will do sometimes.
But back to the green wheel barrow with the scratches that demonstrate its happy service. And back to the triangle of trees. Last year, we made the path to those trees, put a small circle of crushed stone under the trees and then a bench there. I have since replaced the simple bench with a cheap white plastic chair that looks to me like a throne between the trees. Now it’s a place to rest and survey the kingdom from the safety of the redoubt. We tried to make the curve of the path inviting to those walking on the main path. We fiddled and got something OK, but it never felt quite right.
But on Sunday, I took several loads of woodchips to refresh the path that was by now almost invisible – what with the weathering of the woodchips and their natural inclination to disperse. My intention was just to add another layer, but as I worked, it occurred to me that the path needed more curve. The most enticing path to the triangle throne needed more playfulness.
Even though just a short distance, I saw clearly that it needed to start off headed due east, then swerve to the south, and then back to the east. A simple curve was not enough, it needed more change to be inviting. So I amplified what was there in possibility – made it stronger – more eccentric.
And for me, some subtle delight in shaping the curves – getting the sweep of the outer edge just right and then the transition and change of direction. Like the shaping the side of a voluptuous pot, the belly curving out in a fullness and then diminishing. The swelling and the return forever moving—even in the finished piece.
Then the inner elbows of the curves called for decoration – so I moved one sculpture ten feet closer – into the crook – as if it was the reason the path did not go straight. Then the other elbow felt empty so I moved a broken cement pedestal that was languishing in obscurity by the shuffleboard court to fill the void. And the obligatory round zen rock on top to mirror the shape of the sculpture.
Later that afternoon, I made two friends come out and see what I had done. I felt like a little boy who wants to show off what he has done. But my excitement outweighed my reserve and my pleasure was amplified in the sharing.
For the past two days, I’ve been looking out the window of my room at the back of the temple. I can see the beginnings of those wood chipped curves and a piece of the white chair is visible between the trees. I am filled me with a subtle delight and I smile.