I was taken by surprise yesterday,
when asked if I … “make Zen gardens”.
I had not the slightest idea,
and had to ask for an explanation
of the term.
The result of that query enlightened
both the inquirer and me:
the answer turned out to be .. “No”.
What was described to me seemed to be
Disneyland versions of what cinema-goers
think a Japanese Garden looks like.
Water … Most assuredly.
But, No –
No stone Buddhas;
No Red, Arch-shaped Bridges;
No concrete stepping-stones with katakana characters;
No statues of Geiko Maidens carrying pitchers of water.
Such things would no more occur to me
than would putting plastic leprechauns,
gnomes, or fairies, in a garden in Ireland.
The garden, surely, is a place to relate to Nature:
– to the plants and animals that reside within
the confines of the well-tended garden ?
Features added to the garden ( I had –
apparently bizarrely – imagined) should be
“in keeping” with the natural surrounding
– a dry stone wall; a fallen tree
used as the front of a raised garden bed; or
a stone positioned as a directional guidepost.
But there is one man-made feature
that I would like to share with you …
While the only statuesque features, for me,
are the trees within the garden,
there is one object that I find indispensible
in any serene setting, and that is
an Ishidourou – いしどうろう
… the stone lantern.
Although Ishidourou may be found
in a staggering array of sizes and shapes,
the yama dourou is one that is
composed of natural stones.
Before moving to North America,
I had always appreciated the gentle flicker of flame
from the ishidorou’s lantern,
when enjoying the serenity of a quite evening
in our country garden back home.
Tragically – perhaps unsurprisingly –
there now exists the appalling practice
of outfitting modern stone lanterns
with electrical cords and light bulbs:
I can assure any potential owner
that such barbarous tastelessness
will never remotely approach
the gentility of a candle
placed within the lantern’s chamber.
It truly is a wonderful and soothing experience
to sit and enjoy a gentle breeze in the garden,
by the flickering glow of the lantern.
In the rare chance that it might be of interest
to one or two folk,
a few photographs of our lantern
taken after being given its annual bath
with soap and hot water,
and left to dry before being placed outside.
The rear of the Light Chamber
into which a candle may be placed.
The flame will flicker through the stone ‘grill’ in front.
If you have never considered
(or perhaps, even seen) an Ishidourou,
I hope that these few words
may pique your interest.