Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a garden, a scholar, a couple of hours ~


Something there is about a garden… Particularly a Chinese garden. With a Chinese scholar’s room overlooking the quiet courtyard, a row of clean brushes awaiting the writer’s hand. Each turn is another perfect vista, an image to be sketched, framed with words and translated to a blank page. In Portland, the Lan Su Chinese Garden hides in the city’s busy downtown area like a geo-cached treasure.

Its high walls surround an island of carefully pruned trees, moving water, and the song of happy birds. In the teahouse, you can order Snow Dragon tea, served in a lidded gaiwan. You can buy a small plate of candied mango slices, and sit in a carved chair, feeling the stress & pressure of ordinary American life fall like petals to the raked gravel beneath the open windows.


As Richard Louv argues so convincingly, our brains are hardwired for the greens & blues of outside spaces, the places of growth we build around ourselves. Humans need trees. We need the music of moving water, the whisper of leaves, the tissued fragility of a white blossom on a stone path. And at the end of the path, an open pavilion, where a black desk sits in silhouette.

As a child, the scholar’s desks at the VAA library fascinated me. And perhaps — as many things from childhood — I remember them in spite of their possible non-existence :). Memory is a trickster — not always loyal to reality.

Still, what I remember is space for thought. A desk w/ only writing implements, laid out in an aesthetic order that invited even a young girl to write. Brushes hanging from a stand, an ink stone awaiting water. My own desk is nothing like this, of course. There’s a screen — ubiquitous writer’s tool; a keyboard, a glass of tea, a pen holder, too many small pieces of paper needing attention. The Zen-like calm space of the Chinese scholar’s desk…? Not so much. :)


But in a Chinese garden, where the rocks create miniature windows into another world, and even the birds seem to sing more lyrically, everything seems slower. More possible. And I find myself remembering what ‘this moment’ is all about.

I’m not good at just being. Are you? Does anyone have a secret they’d like to share, beyond the hard time of sitting and following the breath, or moving one foot beyond another, w/ attention fixed to the quiet swoosh of air & movement? Perhaps that’s the allure, for me, of a scholar’s garden: the idea that once there was time enough and space enough and that beauty was the thread connecting it all.

Inspired by my respite, I’m trying to simplify my desk. I figure: start there. One small victory, right? Then who knows? I may even create my own garden haven…

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