Sunday, October 9, 2011


Acer saccharum is luminescent in early October with its florescent orange foliage. For this reason sugar maples are one of my favorite trees.

Here in Ithaca, New York we are currently experiencing a very long stretch of gorgeous, cloudless autumn days. October is my favorite month, and 2011 certainly has not disappointed.

I am especially excited to have seen the grand opening of Marc Keane's moss garden I stumbled upon over a year ago at Sticks and Stones Farm in Connecticut. It was a wild coincidence that this moss garden was going to be installed at Cornell and I would be there to see it. I have been anticipating its arrival since.

That afternoon, a couple days ago, I made my way down the beaten path along Fall Creek. The day was pristine and the waters rushing through the gorges and down the falls left an impression in my memory. I arrived at the Johnson Museum of Art on campus and followed a group down to the newly opened wing. The sight of the garden through the expansive windows literally took my breath away, and that doesn't happen very often. We were invited to explore the officially titled Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Garden before the presentation began.

The stones and mosses all came from Sticks and Stones Farm (though Marc did mention that he harvested some mosses from the Cornell campus, blended it with sand and sprinkled in into the bed of the cleft, a couple years will reveal a beautiful mossy patina!). A quick glance revealed numerous species, though it is predominantly Plagiomnium cuspidatum and Polytrichum commune. I was too engaged with the holistic view of the landscape that I did not spend my time there with my face in the ground identifying all the mosses as I would normally do. I will let the pictures speak for themselves:

A perfect juxtaposition of textures.

A true master/artist/magician with stone.

An audible element of tranquility.

A group of volunteers, the Friends of the Tiger Glen, will maintain this garden twice a day, everyday to ensure its aesthetic qualities.

The curator of Asian art, Ellen Avril, started off the presentation explaining the inspiration for the garden; the Chinese parable of the "Three Laughers of the Tiger Glen", the moral of which demonstrates how overcoming differences can lead to mutual understanding and unity of friendship. This scroll depicting the story has recently been accessioned into the museum's collection.

Kano Doun Masanobu
Japanese, 1625–1694
Three Laughers of the Tiger Glen
Hanging scroll: ink and colors on silk
10 1/2 x 26 3/4 inches
Acquired through the Lee C. Lee Fund for East Asian Art

Marc then presented the audience with his design and building process. It was fun seeing the pictures of the stonework being laid out at Sticks and Stones Farm, knowing I captured those same images over a year ago.

Here is the story of the Three Laughers taken directly from Marc's website:

"The Tiger Glen is the setting of a famous Chinese parable, often reproduced in Chinese and Japanese paintings. In the story three men, each of whom represents a philosophy or religion, experience a flash of enlightenment and mutual understanding. The story goes that Huiyuan, a Buddhist priest, lived in seclusion from society in his mountain temple, swearing never to leave its precincts by crossing the nearby Tiger Glen. One day, he was visited by two close friends: Tao Yuanming, a Confucianist, and Lu Xiujing, a Daoist. Late in the day, as he saw them off, Huiyuan was so lost in friendly conversation that he unwittingly crossed the Tiger Glen. At this, the three men broke out laughing, realizing true wisdom surpasses a strict adherence to dogma."

In the center of the photo you can see the 3 large, upright boulders (one behind the pine) representing the 3 laughers with a disconnected stone bridge that transverses the cleft in between them. The pine represents the rugged nature of the mountains depicted in many of the paintings of this tale.

Questions were taken at the end of the presentation. People inquired about his inspiration and how he laid out the stonework. To this he relayed a Japanese phrase which translated to "listen to the request of the stone". It is apparently an established way of designing with natural elements in that part of the world - such a lovely and respectful way to design in my opinion.

When someone in the audience asked how long moss lives for, Marc asked "Is there a moss expert here who can answer that?", as if prompting me to reveal myself. Timidly I raised my hand. He smiled and gestured for me to answer the question. "Ah, so you must be the one who was at Sticks and Stones," he said after my response. "I would really like it if you could map the mosses in the garden, I know there are a ton of species in there, I'm just not sure what they are." Enthusiastically I said I would love to.

At the end of the session after everyone gets up to go admire the garden again before sunset. I get up to leave and turn to see Marc standing right in front of me. We exchange greetings and he tells me he really would, honestly appreciate it if I would make note of all the species and create some type of corresponding map - as if his sincerity was not clear during the Q & A session! Again I expressed my excitement for the project! I hope to be able to make the time to do it in the next few least before the snow arrives.

Yet another mossy opportunity has fallen into my lap :)

No comments:

Post a Comment