The Illusion of Expanse
When I think of retreat, I think of the illusion of expanse—a locale of the mind. In this gaming with place, I have lifelong, a retreat to which I repair. I become a foreigner without a journey. I experience a sense of dislocation, crucial to me as a writer, without re-locating. I am thinking of two in the town where I write. I ‘live’ elsewhere. I speak my mother tongue, but hear the mother lingua of others. Pocketed like nesting boxes in this province, there are two superb sanctuaries for invented exile, a superior form of retreat. One, a fourteenth century Classical Chinese Scholar’s Garden. The other: a Japanese Garden superlatively planned. These two treasures of the city are preserves—not in likeness to each other, but in their calibrated harmonies and juxtapositions, symbolic "events" and objects, hidden occasions for beauty, way-stations. These are not only places for the filling up of what is empty in myself, but amazing theaters of artifice, topography (swale, berm, hillock, waterfall, slope, steep), respite for the journeying spirit. It should not consternate visitors that in the Classical Garden, fractured glimpses from exquisitely carved camphor casework representing cracked ice are of Old Town. Any state of reverie must be drawn from within and can sustain dissonance. Both the Japanese and the Chinese have a word for this vista that translates as "borrowed view," the idea of a world set just outside, a beyond, as in the purposeful deep-set aperture in a Renaissance painting. These gardens, unalike, become balconies for overlook, lanterns to illumine the incipient idea. Centuries-old traditions, transmuted in one, replicated in the other. Serial small moments of revelation. In the Scholar's Study and garden, poetry is an integral element. In the Japanese, principally the nuanced voice of the landscape (itself, a poem): rocks, heart-hand-eye-selected (poems); paths with no visible juncture (poems). Also integral are the resonant place names. I choose not to distinguish; let them find seekers: Strolling Pond Garden; Moon-locking Pavilion; Zig-Zag Bridge; Half a Window Clustered in Green; Stone Mountain; Garden of Awakening Orchids; Moon Bridge, Celestial House of Permeating Fragrance.... Seasons commemorate an uncommon awareness of the temporal. In the Japanese Garden, transience and passage marked by the vigor of the young, the longevity of plant and tree life in the heady force of a protracted middle-age. But in complex systems for support of the fragile, in the gnarled inter-depen-dence of roots, erotically conjugal, in the brief lives of blossoms—transience, veneration for age, the vulnerability of all living things. In the Chinese Garden, precise in its refine-ments, an oblique overlay of forms, blooms, fragrances; the headiness of that camphor in the Scholar's Study. To enliven the senses. That’s what I’m after when I leave home. The humdrum of commerce and traffic do not obtrude on this encapsulated weather. In the Japanese Garden, the acoustics of running water, of silence prevail. The clothes I imagine myself wearing say "traveler." In the Chinese Garden, I am preoccupied with small steps. I wear silken slippers. I move soundlessly across the bridge. In the Japanese Garden, I am a thousand-year-old traveler with knapsack, foot-weary, my battered hat a comforting eyesore as I move toward the rain shelter to sit inexplicably heartened under a tin roof of resonating patter. In any city so fortunately gifted, these are illimitable rooms. Any citizen may joust with epiphany, open the album to continuum, embark on a trek to the interior, where the poet, inside the smallest box, nested in the Natural Garden (of Chaos), scrawls with invisible ink from the novelty shop. A good memory is still better than pale ink. I sit here, sitting, writing with a feather. Send me back your own gardens, pastures, axioms, maxims. It may be, in our separate maxims, we write for each other. Salud. Thank you for thinking of the rain.