BUILDING WITH THE BREATH OF LIFE - Tom Bender - revised draft text 8 Jan.1999


A garden is a curious thing.

We know it is not flowers or plants or water or shade, or the music of birds (though such things are often employed in the making of gardens). We know this because we all know wonderful places which are certainly gardens, yet in which some or all of these delightful things are absent.

The true nature of a garden is tied to the energetic role it plays in our lives. At root, a garden is a place we make in our surroundings...solely to nurture our spirits.

A garden is a place created and reserved - to give joy, peace, sanctuary, or a sense of connection with worlds other than that of our mundane everyday activities. It is a place, most simply, of giving, of that impulse of love which underlies all life and creation. And it is a place where we can recognize, in the reflection of our touch, that we are in touch with the heart of the universe which sustains and creates all life.

Gardens connect us with the distinctive and unique spirit of the diverse places where we live, with the daily rhythms of the sun and stars, the cycles of the seasons, and of the universe revealed about us in such splendor. They attest to our part in these great events, and when we have no gardens, their absence proclaims the poverty of our sense of self and of the world which we are part.

In their ability to focus solely on the needs of our spirits, gardens have a particular ability to embody the principles of energetic design. In powerful meditation gardens, they can assist us in connecting directly to the energetic basis of all creation. They can be designed to create and enhance energy fields in the Earth's crust and give us opportunity to connect with them. They can raise our spirits and enhance our chi. They can help our buildings nestle into the native ecosystem, provide room and food for other life, temper our climates, and generate native landscaping to bring us in tune with intention that has evolved over millennia.

They can produce food - more intensively than farming
1 - while feeding our spirits. They can bring us in touch with time and duration beyond our own scope; with death and rebirth, with our ancestors and descendants, and with the cosmologies we evolve. They can become a pure vehicle for expressing sacredness, for honoring and celebrating the multitudinous dimensions of creation.

But most vitally, they can bring our hearts directly and wordlessly in contact with the power of Creation.



We suffer by ignoring our spirits. Like our bodies, our spirits require nurture and health. Unlike our bodies, they don't need roofs to keep dry, walls to protect, clothing to keep warm. In a world where material things for our bodily wants are intensely marketed, it is easy to forget the needs of our spirits.

Yet our spirits are vital. Our ancestors, with few of the material resources we have today, relied for millennia on the strengths of their spirits to connect with, and to find meaning and strength in the world around them. Their spirits performed a powerful and essential role in marshaling their inner resources for both survival and celebration. Through the strength of spiritual resources, joyful and sophisticated cultures have been developed and sustained for thousands of years even in regions of the Earth's deserts and arctic tundra where we would consider survival alone to be impossible.

Even today, our spiritual resources are more vital than our material ones. Emotional, mental and spiritual relationships evolved over tens of thousands of years into central and vital processes for our survival and health cannot be ignored. They do not vanish even in a world suddenly awash in material satisfactions.

In our enthusiasm for material things, we turn a blind eye to the true nature of our personal and social problems. The nurture and healing of our spirits is equally vital to the heights as well as the depths of the human condition. The strength of our spirits defines the heights of what we can achieve as individuals and as a society. Our emotional, mental and spiritual well-being forms the core of the real fullness and satisfaction we gain from life - love, meaning in our work and existence, satisfaction in being able to give and contribute, to have self-esteem and respect of others, and to reap the immense power, security and joy of being an integral and conscious part of the astounding unfolding of our universe.

How do we acknowledge our spirits? How do we feel, heal, nurture and enrich them? How do we learn to call upon them and reap the bounty they contribute to life? To do this involves changes in our values, in our relations with each other, our work patterns, our celebrations and rituals - truly changes in all aspects of our lives and culture.

It involves vulnerability, risk, and letting down the shields with which we block out the emotional consequences of our actions. It involves, too, changes in our surroundings - how we build and live, how we relate to the rest of life, and what demands we place on the resources of our world.

It involves creating homes for our spirits - homes that don't need walls or roofs, but which - like a garden - can provide nurture. Buildings themselves can become this kind of garden, but they have more constraints of material and functional needs which outside places don't. Outside places, our traditional places of garden-making, can also more easily nurture the rest of nature and our connections with it, and have more freedom in expressing our values.

Making places where our spirits can grow and flourish has a long tradition in the history of gardens.
2 It is an aspect of landscaping often neglected today, and one with potential and resources far beyond today's conventional garden-making. Learning to create gardens of the spirit can teach us much of the power and needs of our spirits and help us make the changes in our lives to heal and restore the spirits of our bodies, homes and communities.



Each place has developed a special and unique nature over time. Its particular combination of location, geology, topography, climate, and neighbors has resulted in a special configuration of conditions. Over millennia, a singular community of plants, animals, fungus; of creatures of the air, of the waters, and of the earth, has developed. That community has stood the test and forging of time and of survival, and shown itself singularly fitted to the conditions of that particular place. It has its own beauty with an unsurpassable sense of rightness.

When we come to newly inhabit a place, we bring with us our own sense of the rightness of the place from which we have come. For example, European settlers tried to recreate Europe in America. We may try to recreate lush temperate zone lawns in the sun-seared desert. We ignore the joys of winter in northern climes, and sit huddled indoors impatiently awaiting the coming of spring.

It takes time and perception, involvement and love, to become part of a place and to draw sustenance from being an integral part of its specialness. Gardens which acknowledge and connect us with the special spirit of each place can assist that adaptation within us. They also help us connect with those places in ways which enrich our lives and restore the powerful support which being part of a community gives to our lives.



If we live in winter country, for example, how do we deal with the spirit of winter in a garden? What is a winter garden?

In snow country, gardening is a summer word. Come fall, plants are dug up and brought inside, remaining ones mulched, braced, buried, and otherwise prepared to bear the onslaught of cold. Garden tools are put away, snow shovels brought out, thoughts turn indoor, and gardens are banished from our minds until spring.

There is one office building near the airport in Minneapolis that leaves its outside fountain running all winter. Every time you pass it, you see a larger and more strangely shaped mound of ice - steaming on coldest days as the water continued to cascade down over it, and eerily beautiful at night as lights shone from far within the growing sculpture of ice.

Perhaps the simplest winter garden we can create - a tiny playground for winter to touch our spirits - used to be a commonplace occurrence before the advent of modern window technology. Frosted window panes - the delicately ever-changing scenes of sparkling feathers, interlocking crystalline shapes and imaginary pictures. Melted off by sunlight in the daytime, regrown before our eyes in the cold of night. Scratching drawings into it with our fingernails. Melting peepholes with our noses or a warm penny.

Modern windows don't let enough heat out to frost up, but that doesn't mean we can't save one window in our homes - perhaps just a small one in the bathroom - to give us an ever-changing ice garden at our fingertips.

We're used to deciduous trees standing bare-limbed through the winter. But who hasn't awakened the morning after an unseasonable winter rain to see the sparkling magic of glistening ice-coated shrubs and trees? Too much ice can cause massive damage. But what happens if we install a tiny "fog generator" in a garden - a freeze-protected water source which emits tiny droplets of fog to waft through the garden at night and settle as a sparkling snowy or icy patina on the leaves and branches of garden plants, walls, and other objects?

Similarly, we all love the wonderland we discover the morning after a heavy snow - a world transformed into strange, hooded shapes. It is a silent world, and one given more to thoughts of play than the struggle to force our way to work. A windless snow gives one kind of world - suddenly visible branches and clotheslines precariously balancing an inch of snow, garden lights turned into bulky white mushrooms. A windy storm brings us into a different world - strangely sculpted forms that respond to normally invisible flowlines and eddies in space.

Fences and plantings and garden objects can be planned in anticipation of winter and of this ever-changing wonderland of sculptured snow which they can help shape and transform. And when the sun reappears, the dark silhouettes of trees and the shifting shadows of their branches against these sculpted mounds of snow create a palette any garden painter would love to own.

The Inuit have as many words describing snow as we have words describing traffic jams. When snow or ice is brought close to our attention, we see its daily changes, personality, and beauty. One morning it may become a cloud of puffy giant flakes, another a coating of white hail-like ball bearings, a carpet of rainbow reflecting crystal, or perhaps a glistening icy crust with strange and gaping caverns below. Make a garden to bring us close to these tiny magic worlds.

On really cold days, when the Celsius and Fahrenheit thermometers are falling towards the same minus numbers, the air itself becomes transformed. Ice particles in the air create glowing rainbow-tinged sundogs spanning the sky outward from the sun. Breath, car exhausts, and chimneys emit clouds and streamers of frozen smoke, that create beards of crystal hoarfrost on surfaces they come in contact with. A winter cloud garden! What a wonderful tool to create a garden floating free in the winter air.

In-between places, on the edge between different worlds, hold special beauty of their own. I remember sitting one day at the edge of a mountain stream half buried in snow, shells of ice encrusting the boulders, watching air and water bubbles migrate slowly about through the interstices between the rocks and their icy shells, seeming to defy the common sense rules of gravity. What beauty, this, in a garden.

A shallow pond, located where it can warm and thaw, and then refreeze, can create another ever-changing scene of tiny icebergs, dark water against snowy banks, or glistening smooth surfaces against its fluffy white surroundings. Waterfalls in winter, like the fountain in Minneapolis, create another ever-changing spectacle of icy beards, frozen mist, and dark crashing water. And what could be done to bring to our gardens the magic spaces under a melting glacier or snow bank - the silvery faceted vaulting overhead, glowing blue with transmitted light, the sound of tiny waterfalls, and the screens of icicles in front of openings?

These, then, are some tools for changing gardens into winter gardens. But what about ourselves and changing ourselves into winter people? The Japanese, instead of heating their homes and walling off themselves off from their gardens, used to wrap themselves with quilts and sit with shoji open, listening to the snow falling silently around them.

What then also of grassland gardens, celebrating the oceans of grass waving in the wind? Or underwater gardens, or rain and rain forest gardens. What of gardens of the desert, open to the scent of far away places on the wind, to the silence of emptiness, to the sea of stars, to the welcome of shade and water?

One stairway in Japan, at the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, on a rainy day gives an unforgettable experience of walking down a mountain stream. Stone walls reflect and reverberate the sound of water rushing down stone gutters at both sides of the steps, while closing our vision off from all except the motion of that water. Vertigo, waterfalls, water gushing and leaping downward. You reach the bottom feeling like a drop of water having leapt down a mighty cascade. [Kiyomizu]



Gardens of the Spirit are places that change our lives. They are places that connect us to our inner energy and power, our intentions, and our purposes in this life. They are gardens that bring us to wholeness, so we come to all our actions connected to and supported by the entire web of Creation. They are places that take us between the worlds and touch us with the deeper flows of energy in the universes outside of our material one. They are places that connect us in deep and wordless ways to time and the flows of creation, and the infinite joy and love that feeds all that exists.

Zen meditation gardens are extraordinary historical artifacts, but have little application in everyday lives in today's world.

Or have they?

Of all things, the modern marvel of the computer is bringing the need for meditation gardens out of the esoterica of spiritual practice and into the heartland of everyday scientific research and corporate practice. Strange bedfellows, perhaps, but stranger marriages have succeeded before!

Computers are touted as totally changing society - eliminating need for offices, allowing people to work at home, and giving students access to all the knowledge of history without leaving home. They may be marvelous things, but every new thing brings need of its "mirror duality" to restore balance. By making some things easier and better, other things suffer in comparison.

What needs are not met by the computer? What new needs are generated by its existence? Computers have dramatically increased the information load our minds have to process. They manage the rational processing of information, but as yet do little to assist the vital subconscious connecting and implication finding that we do at night or in quiet times. What they have generated is a new need for the time and environments that encourage us to do the vital work of creating wholeness out of our fragmented information and fragmented world.

Here, of course, the meditation gardens come into play. Some of the most effective meditation environments contain patterns and processes which parallel "thought forms" connected with and stimulating our mental processes:

* In a pool of water beneath a waterfall, trapped water bubbles float up to the surface and into the sunlight - a visual analog to thoughts and ideas floating to the surface of our consciousness which stimulates our subconscious processing to do the same.

* A single drop of water falls into a water basin, sending out concentric ripples permeating the entire basin - an analog to ideas falling into place and affecting arrangements of whole thought structures.

* Two rocks - one concave, one convex - emerge from the shadows of a garden. The shadows giving relief from new inputs and the peace to sort things out; while the quiet tension between the two rocks forms a visual mantra - "connect, connect, connect."

The Zen garden, or an adaptation of it, becomes a vital antidote to the data overload of computer addiction. It generates a crucial and balancing process to the kind of mental calculation the computer imposes upon us. Together, they give us a far more powerful means of transmuting information into wisdom.

Computers allow us to work closeted away by ourselves. But we still have need for the non-structured, face-to-face get-together, brainstorming, and unanticipated synergizing of different fields, questions, and personalities.

So need for yet another, but more conventional, kind of "computer garden" also emerges - for a public eatery/garden where, the computer "heavies" can get away, let their throbbing eyeballs rest, watch or join with others; bump into dancers, journalists, janitors and secretaries, and let their worlds touch and spark with those of others.

It is easy to think of gardens as a celebration of life. It is harder, perhaps, to think of them as celebration of death. Some gardens go to great length to avoid experience of anything but the full bloom of life. Blossoms are cut and removed the moment they pass the peak of bloom. Fallen petals and leaves are vacuumed up and quickly hidden from sight. Flowers are continually transplanted to keep only currently blooming ones visible in the garden. Dead or dying trees are relentlessly pruned and removed to avoid any hint of death.

Yet to anyone with their hands in the dirt of gardening, death is a familiar and integral part of the cycle of life. Death becomes the compost from which new life grows. It is a giver of fertility and potential - something to be celebrated rather than denied.

Some gardens do celebrate death. The cherry tree and its untimely fall of petals is a central theme of Japanese gardens and philosophy. The New England autumn, with vibrantly colored leaves falling to the ground and floating on ponds and streams; the image of red sumac or golden aspen with their leaves brilliant against the fresh snow are familiar images, as are the beautiful skeletal forms of bare trees silhouetted in the snow in northern winters. Yet we still avoid coming face to face and truly celebrating death in our own experiences and in our gardens.

The exceptions are some of the gardens created as part of modern crematorium chapels in Scandinavia. They seem more able than even the highly praised architecture of the region to express a deep and powerful connection with nature - particularly unique in that they deal with death rather than merely life.

One of the most powerful chapels and gardens is the Resurrection Chapel in Turku, Finland, designed by Erik Bryggman in 1940. The seating in the chapel is placed to one side, and the other side is a glass expanse opening into a garden of moss-covered rock and aged trees. The altar, and a wide aisle are offset to the side of the chapel toward the garden, forming a balance point between the congregation and nature. The pews are set at an angle in the space, curiously, it seems at first, until you become aware that your attention is being called not only to the symbols and rituals within the space, but also through the open side of the room to the signs and rhythms of nature outside.

The changing seasons, the birth, death and rebirth of the plants, the glorious burst of beauty of the flowers climaxing the long cycle of renewal, the falling leaf, the passing bird all become part of your experience of the ceremonies. The duality of the setting becomes powerfully united at the close of the ceremony, when the dead are carried by the living through a ceremonial door in the open wall, out into the forest, into reunion with the cycles of nature and life itself.


The Scandinavian crematory gardens remind us of something else - to think of gardens not just as things in themselves, but to think of them together with our buildings and how we use them, and in relation to the rituals of our lives. They can be an important way to reconnect our activities with the broader context in which they take place.

Celebrating the cycles of birth and death in gardens can be accomplished in many ways. One is combining the rituals surrounding birth and death in the same gardens. In many societies a ritual associated with birth is the burial of the afterbirth, often accompanied by planting of a tree. With a community coming to the same place, with related rituals for birth and death, the meaning of one is meshed with the meaning of the other, into a greater meaning of the ongoing cycles of life and death, not just the happy or sad event alone.

These ideas can be incorporated into the design of a garden itself. A garden can focus, using rocks as a media, on death and rebirth - igneous rocks, such as basalt or granite, breaking down into sand, reformed into sandstone, sedimentary or metamorphic rocks. The concept of death as enriching compost of life can be a theme of a garden. A garden of death can focus on fungi, which live on and reprocess dead or decaying organic matter. A fungus garden, composed of various kinds of mushrooms, puff balls, shelf fungus, etc. - glowing luminously at night or unfolding almost while you watch after a rain, can be an absorbing kind of garden celebrating the processes of life feeding life.

A walk through most any forest in the Northwest will bring you upon the cut end of a log four to six feet in diameter, which in itself forms a wonderful garden of death, being host to a prolifigate variety of raindrop-covered mosses, lichen, fungus, and seedlings of new plants taking root.

A garden celebrating death and rebirth can, in those rain forests, be formed from a fallen log or rotting stump which has become a nurse log out of which new sprouts of new trees take root. A century later, we can sometimes see in the forest a row of giant dancing trees, standing tiptoe on their roots, with a hollow space uniting them, where their common nurse log has long ago rotted into new compost to quicken their growth.

Or a garden might focus on the indomitable life-force in something like the redwoods, which seem to generate new life out of old in ever more inconceivable ways. Regrown from stumps, downed logs, roots - any remnant of life exposed to the power of water, sun and soil - their perseverance and will to life are amazingly empowering.


Even something as abstract as time or duration can be brought close to our hearts in a garden.

Think of a tiny garden, only a few feet across. Within it are but two rocks, some gravel, a bit of moss. It is separated from its surroundings by shadows. Yet the garden is not enclosed - what lies within is merely kept intently in focus before our eyes.

One rock lies half submerged in the grains of broken gravel which surround it like a sea lapping and wearing at an island. Enduring and patient it lies, as it has lain for more than 400 million years, since the formation of the earth itself.

From the depths of the shadows, it's neighbor reaches out across the surface of the gravel to within inches of the first rock. This rock's surface is wrinkled and stretched, a lava river whose edges froze and hardened while the flow within pulled on and on. Looking closer, it's dark surface turns here and there into rainbows, where the glacial taffy pull within has stretched the skin into fragile and delicate golden angel hairs of stone, which catch and reflect a shimmering light.

A newborn infant, this rock! Squeezed from the core of the earth and frozen in the release of pressure and heat, it is seeing its first circling of the stars overhead.

Between the two lies but inches. But within those inches lies time - vast reaches and dizzying expanses of time. Sunrises and sunsets, day and night. Years, centuries, eons piling one upon another like waves upon the shore. The entire history of a planet, the wheelings of its galaxy, the birth, death, and successions of its surface, its ages and its forms of life.

Across this gulf, the rocks are yet the same. Part enduring, part reborn of itself from the debris and wear of time - re-fused and re-formed again and again in our planet's inner fires, and brought again to the light of day and night and the stars which gave us birth. Both are formed, as our planet, our sun, ourselves, and the stars over our heads, of the ashes of the same stars now long dead.

Across the gaps of space and time we see, and know them - our brothers, our sisters, ourselves.



Another important role of gardens can be to celebrate or honor - in a much more immediate and experiential way than with a bronze plaque saying "Joe Smith Memorial". Gardens can celebrate such things as natural phenomena - earth, air, fire, water, or spirit. They can honor people, by creating a place where we have time, space and attention to experience each other's many facets. They can celebrate dreams we have of our destiny, our future, or values which we hold.

Natural phenomena such as water, wind or rocks can obviously be used as tools in a garden to create experiences. Celebrating them in a garden is a quite different thing. Water can be used in a garden, without calling attention to itself. But when a garden calls attention to water, which focuses our minds on its importance to life or its myriad wonderful qualities, it celebrates water. There are many ways to praise water without using it as a vehicle for that celebration. Water, for example has been honored wonderfully in Japanese gardens containing no water - only rocks and gravel.

In creating a garden to honor something, we are in a sense reciprocating - giving something back to it to recognize what it has given us. In a garden honoring something, we are giving ourselves an opportunity to more fully become aware of it and to appreciate the value and intrinsic beauty and specialness of it. We are at the same time making a statement that we do honor things outside our immediate material needs.

In doing so, we make a vital change in our lives, and in the world around us. In the act of honoring or giving, we move from a secular world of "I want" to a sacred world where we come to value and honor and hold sacred ourselves, our neighbors, and the world around us. In giving honor to something, we act out of love, not out of calculated self-interest, for love is the pure act of unstinted giving. And we enter a different world.

Let's think for a minute how we could honor air with a garden.....

Look closely at a cloud. Watch its delicate and slowly moving shape as it moves across the sky. Look closer. See the transformations taking place in its gauzy filaments as they emerge into view and disappear again in the unfolding and transforming circulatory patterns within the cloud. Watch the cloud drift through the air. But it can't be moving through the air! Anything that delicate, and with such complex internal movements would be ripped apart as it pushed into the air ahead.

Focus your eyes wider. Look at two or three or four clouds at the same time. They probably seem to be moving in concert, maintaining the same spacing as they move across the sky. The clouds aren't moving through the air. They're riding within a river or stream of air, which itself is being pulled along from place to place by differences in pressure, temperature, and density of the surrounding air. From space, sometimes these giant streams of air can be seen rotating in great gyres of air and clouds. Even the streams of cloud and fog pouring over a mountain top or down a river valley are being borne along within rivers of air which enfold them.

In a sense, clouds are not objects themselves, but only visible interfaces within the rivers of air which have become discernible through water condensation. At certain conditions of pressure, temperature and contained water, conditions form where the evaporated water vapor in the air condenses into water droplets or ice particles and forms clouds. As conditions change, the water or ice may again vaporize. Often a bank of fog will appear to be moving rapidly, yet the end of it may never move, as the cold air is warmed and the fog evaporates.

So look again at the clouds. We can begin to feel the location and movement of these invisible rivers of air whose inner structure they make visible. Sometimes we can see the edges of the river in the movement of birds or adjacent cloud masses. How wonderful the delicate unfolding and transforming structure of clouds within these massive great rivers flowing endlessly within our ocean of air.

We are dwellers at the bottom of an ocean of air. It is a giver of life, and of beauty. Its transparency to our eyes means we have to depend on other means to make its beauty visible to us. Clouds, fog, soaring birds, wind chimes, scents wafted from far away places, and the movement of breezes through prairie grasses or leaves of trees all bring glimpses of the beauty of that ocean.

Even if we have no ground, no trees, no water - nothing but the roof over our heads - we still can have an incredible garden touching these beautiful, often overlooked, yet awesome aspects of nature.

Both the French architect LeCorbusier and the Mexican landscape architect Luis Barragan pioneered wonderful rooftop gardens that don't try to carry the ground up on top of buildings but which look to the sky and its beauty. Barragan's cloud garden is a starkly walled rooftop, excluding view of everything except the sky, the sun, the dramatic, ever-changing cloudscape, and at night the wheeling of the moon and the stars. [Barragan garden]

Even more enchanting is a cloud garden at night, with the clouds softly luminous from the moonlight behind them, shifting shape as they pass in front of the moon, with soft colored auroras forming and transforming around the moon itself.

Yes, a cloud garden may be an entire rooftop terrace of a building - with a panoramic view of the sky or a carefully framed view of sunset, moonrise, or a mountain top where fog or lee clouds form and disperse. But it can have equal power from just a carefully placed skylight over a bed, or a window attentively framing a view with the branches of a tree. Cloud gardens need little water or fertilizer, and are generally easy to maintain. Care, however, must often be taken in their design to "shadow out" the presence of other things people expect to see, and to focus dramatically on the clouds themselves.

Our cloud garden can make us wonder as well what other things we perceive as distinct and separate objects are really just the barely visible manifestations of larger invisible flows. Do we see the river of life which connects and sustains the health of the soil, the plants, animals, birds, and fish? Do we see the rivers of pollen fertilizing one forest from another, or the thistles feeding the birds which in being fed spread the thistle's seeds?

Do we see the rivers and oceans of energy and magnetism that flow from the sun to the earth and subsequently within the mantle and atmosphere of the earth itself? Do we see the floods of energy, which generate the aurora borealis, lightning, and bad tempers in Los Angeles? How much are we ourselves just nodes, kinks, and whorls within the fields of chi energy which generate and sustain life?

These cloud gardens remind us how narrow our viewpoint onto the rest of the universe is - in time, scale, frequency and meaning. They show us how often our 'proven' viewpoints radically change when we come to see from a new perspective. Even just this one little window from our optic nerve into a garden of a single cloud can change our sense of our universe and ourselves, and costs but a moment of time.

....Or what about, perhaps, a WIND GARDEN?

What of something as invisible as the wind? How could we celebrate such an ephemeral, yet powerful force of nature - without using the wind itself?

Wind is invisible perhaps, but its effects are often extraordinarily visible and powerful. There is a bowl carved into the rock in Mauritania, the Richat Hole, which is twenty miles across and two thousand feet deep, carved solely by the scouring forces of wind.
3 In Utah you can find sandstone boulders with strange striations on their surface - once sand dunes hundreds feet deep, piled up by the wind, compressed into rock, eroded to the surface and scoured again by the wind into strange and curious shapes. The surfaces of sedimentary rock, scoured by the wind to expose contrasting colored layers, as at the Dasht-I-Kiver in Iran, can present ethereal patterns more akin to interpenetrating fluids than to rock. 4[Dasht-I-Kiver]

Snow drifts or sand dunes - in their ephemeral living forms or frozen by temperature or geologic process - can present with startling beauty the effects of the passage of winds. Seen from satellite, these take exquisite patterns. Seen from inches away, the erosional patterns on the downwind edge of a sand dune can rival the greatest sculpture. The ripples of sand in a lake bed, frozen into rock, can be uncovered in certain strata, and become a focus of a garden.

Cloud gardens, or a garden of birds or butterflies hang-gliding on thermal updrafts, can be other ways of touching the presence of invisible winds. Or the fog blowing through trees. Or a view of fog rhythmically condensing and evaporating in the lee of a mountain peak.

The windswept shapes of coastal trees form indelible images of the power of wind, which can incorporate wind into a garden, even on a still night. Inland, the waves of prairie grass, the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind, the turning of maple leaves before a storm, or the sighing of a pine forest in the wind can all become part of a garden.

Wind harps, wind flutes, or wind chimes have traditionally been ways of bringing sounds linked with the wind into even an urban garden. Light silk canopies or hangings that can float in the lightest breeze can offer a special effect. The gauzy window curtains of years ago billowed out from the window at the slightest touch of air movement, bringing a wonderful anticipation of relief on hot summer evenings.

The great Mogul and Persian gardens didn't bother with such effects. They built elevated pavilions atop the walls of their gardens and the roofs of their buildings to bring them into a garden which was just the wind. Just a slight desert wind bringing relief from the heat. Just the subtle scents from afar wafted over hundreds of miles by the wind. Just the indistinct signs on the ground or the river of an approaching zephyr. Their hearts traveled with the wind, and the wind became the heart of some of their most subtle gardens.


The uses and potentials of gardens in an energetic universe are far different, and hold far more possibilities for the nurture of our hearts and spirits than gardens of a materialistic universe.

When we think of our senses as gateways to the universe, perhaps they should be celebrated. Gardens of light, or shade, or shadows, or moonlight. Gardens of sound, and of silence. Gardens of warmth, of coolness, of fragrance. Gardens of taste, of touch.

And then, of course, what of our inner senses? Some of the most wonderful gardens are gardens of immensely powerful emptiness - gardens that bring us into touch with the incipient moment of becoming, the seed from which all emerges. [Hoichi garden]

38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© 8 Jan. 1999


2 For a pleasant introduction to a traditional feng shui approach to gardens, see, Gill Hale's THE FENG SHUI GARDEN, Story Books, 1998.

3 Kevin Kelley, THE HOME PLANET, Addison-Wesley, 1988.

4 Ibid.