A Winter Break . . .

Jack the snoozy pooch takes a holiday break!

The period from mid November to the beginning of January was our version of a long break, and it flew by: Lori had to do end of the year reports for her business, which keeps her occupied every December going into January; I had to finish up grading final papers and exams at Linfield; while Thanksgiving (yes, it has been a while since I posted!) was the usual frenzied rush of turkey deliveries.

Just before Christmas my good friend Bob and a colleague of his from Juniata, Doug Stiffler, came out for a visit. We packed a pretty grand time into three days, which included a farm tour for Doug, a trip to Portland and the Japanese Gardens with a nice lunch at an excellent sushi restaurant downtown, a little tour of some fine wineries and wine bars, and a day trip to the coast, during which we drove all the way to Cape Perpetua and stopped for lunch at a favorite fish restaurant in Newport.

Doug on the left and Bob on the right stroll through the fifth largest Japanese garden outside of Japan in the world on a cold December morning.

The Tea House with cherry trees in the garden.

It was a wonderful experience going though the Japanese Gardens with Bob and Doug. Bob and I had been there together before, and, in fact, I think that is part of what motivated Bob to have Doug come along – Doug is a prof of Chinese History at Juniata College in PA, and is fluent in Chinese and married to a lovely Chinese woman whose family lives with them in Huntingdon. My last visit to Huntingdon was made memorable by a fabulous Chinese Hot Pot dinner at Doug’s house over Easter of 2012, when Doug and his family also took me on quite the Pennsylvania farm tour.

Every perspective is a postcard in the garden!

Doug, Bob, and I, I think it is safe to say, are kindred spirits – art, food, wine, language, literature, history, travel, farming – we all have a wide range of common interests (okay, maybe Bob isn’t all in for the farming thing the way Doug and I are!). It was great to hear about the cultural and philosophical concepts behind the Japanese Garden, and Bob has a bee in his bonnet that will, I think, make a graduate student’s career some day: he has the notion that major cultural differences between western and eastern peoples can be teased out in part through their gardens. Greek and Roman gardens, as he has rightly noted to me, are designed on the imperative of symmetry, and this was taken up by Europeans with their love of carefully balanced garden lay outs with their squares, their rectangular campuses and greens, the lines, the circles, the artifice of which is easy to unpack and immediately apparent. From the Roman gardens of Pompeii, to the Renaissance villas of Italy, to the green Commons of colonial New England, the artifice is readily apparent.

Bob in a contemplative moment. I don’t want to embarras you Bob, but you are the true definition of a friend.

Not so with the Japanese Garden. From every perspective that you look in a Japanese garden the views, sights, sounds, fragrances, are nearly perfect. Whether it is a swathe of camellias, a hillside of azalea, a meadow of white stone with islands of moss covered rock, a bamboo fountain, koi in a pond against a wall of green ferns and moss, every perspective is nearly perfect; the green, the murmur of water, the quiet, instantly relax. How do they do this? What is it about the culture that gave them a vision to create a style of garden so beautiful, so seemingly chaotic, whereby the artifice is so well hidden? Unlike the Roman based European garden, there is simply no apparent symmetry yet every view is perfect. It is as though the Chaos of nature has been captured but tidied up. As Bob rightly notes, this is perhaps something that could help to tease out fundamental differences in world view between eastern and western society. But I digress!

Okay, I can never go past the Koi pond without thinking of THIS cartoon . . . 

I AM going to get to this place at peak blossom time this year, the Shinto gods as my witness!

The day we went to the coast was pretty memorable – it was supposed to start raining as a precursor to an approaching storm, but the front was slow in arriving and we had clear, beautiful weather.  We saw the precursor of the storm however in the form of some of the biggest waves and swells I’ve ever seen on the central coast. The spray must have been shooting sixty feet ino the air at some points, and the Pacific was washing onto 101 when we took a pit stop at the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, eliciting some poetic observation from Bob about the power of Poseidon. While there we saw a Coast Guard training vessel trying to make it into about the smallest, narrowest, most treacherous harbor entrance anywhere. The seven crew members all stood atop the highest deck and were pitched back and forth by enormous swells. It was positively heart-stopping, and everyone cheered the seven crew members as they raced through the narrow channel, catching just the right wave that would propel them into the safety of the world’s smallest open ocean harbor.

Bob is right – every perspective is a vision of perfection and simplicity, like the cherry blossom at its peak. The Japanese style garden epitomizes the dictum ars est celare artem – art is to conceal art.

I then drove Bob to some family in southern Oregon (Sunny Valley) in the midst of a pretty nasty rain storm which made the driving a bit tough. After spending the night at Bob’s in-laws I headed home for a nice, very quiet, Christmas and New Years. We kept it low-key because we realize that we have a great deal to do this year, since we are trying to reach maximum capacity.  I am happy to report that we did nothing memorable over Christmas or New Years. However, a few days after New Years, Lori and I did go to the coast to catch the annual migration of the Grey Whales. We saw them both at Depoe Bay and at Cape Disappointment, where we actually saw the full tail of a whale as it breached the surface for air.

Just can’t get enough of that garden around the tea house!

The end of the year and New Years was a nice break, but all too short, and followed by . . .

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