When I was out taking photos of mushrooms, I came across two people who had an empty basket. I saw them again when I reached the far side of Hills Pond in Menotomy Rocks Park, Arlington Massachusetts, USA. This time the basket was full of hen of the woods mushrooms that they found at the base of oak trees. They also had honey mushrooms in a cloth bag.
They told me that the number of mushrooms you can collect at one time in Europe is limited so as to leave some for others. Here there are no such limits. They had never seen so many mushrooms. In fact, they would need to give away some of the bounty they had collected.
The woman, who told me she is a member of the Boston mycological society explained that while books and online resources (like this one) can be helpful, the best way to learn which mushrooms are safe to eat is to go out with a local expert acting as guide.
While I find fungi fascinating for their aesthetics and biological complexity, they also have cultural significance and have been used in art. The Maya carved wonderful mushroom stones. A jade pendant (below) bears witness to the Chinese appreciation for fungi which have long been an important part of traditional Chinese medicine.
Fungi have been found to support the health of forests while keeping them from filling up with dead wood. Historically, humans have used mushrooms as food, medicine, and for their psychotropic properties. More recently, fungi have been used to control insect pests and to clean up organic waste. No doubt additional uses will be found as we learn more about them and their roles in ecosystems.
Arranging rocks so shapes, colors and patterns complement can be an interesting and absorbing challenge. In times of dramatic change, that can take me beyond our limited human perspective on time.
All of the rocks in the arrangements below are agates. The first photo shows a bowl with small cut and polished agates from around the world. The next three show specific types of agate – bubblegum, Fairburn, and Lake Superior agates, respectively. For the most part, these agates were left as they were found with colorful patterns natural on the surface or revealed by abrasion. I find the matte finishes and rounded shapes of the natural stones to be particularly appealing.
Take your time with what can be a visual adventure. You can learn something about agates, of course, but also about your particular tastes. Perhaps you will catch a hint of the slower “life” in these stones that might provide a bit of calm in these turbulent times.
When walking about in nature, I respond to the visual beauty of shapes and colors, the effects of light, and the motion of trees and water. The fresh scent after a rain or the call of a bird may add a grace note. The slower natural rhythms and quiet provide a soothing contrast to visually jarring aspects of the constructed world, tight schedules, and everyday stress. But on the other hand, when exploring in nature, one can suddenly come across a jutting cliff, or a rushing waterfall which has a sense of pure natural power which is anything but tranquil.
When I visited Japan to view a number of famous gardens, I was expecting to experience integrated compositions of beauty, tranquility and harmony. I found these in abundance. I learned for example, that massed contours of clipped azaleas can make one feel levitated – like floating on clouds – and that some gardens unfold horizontally, as one might view a scroll in a sequence of linked images.
With these gardens, a vision is being shared and yet each person experiences the garden from their own individual perspective. In a way, a living dialogue happens. I observe and respond to the garden moment by moment, and the garden moves and changes as I move my eyes and feet. This provides delight, energy, grounding, peace, comfort and wonder.
Upon reflecting back upon the many experiences of the trip, perhaps the least expected was the depth of my response to specific areas of Shinto shrines. These sites were not gardens but ancient sacred sites. Stone steps set in the earth led up a short way into the woods to a small square space marked off with a simple straw rope. Within this space was a low boulder.
Nearby was an enormous tree that curved up from a rectangular bed of gravel. The tree was circled by a rope from which hung white paper constructions. At yet another site, I saw a sacred spring that was noted with a sign.
For me, as a foreign tourist with no background in Shintoism, these ancient sites, with their trees and boulders, had a basic and primal quality which was very compelling. I responded to their simplicity, clarity of form, and relationship to the natural setting where dappled light through the leaves enhanced their ancient feeling. They had dignity and great power.
It is interesting to speculate whether these ancient sites have had an influence on the design of gardens created primarily for aesthetic purposes. In Japanese gardens, tress and other natural objects are used with great respect for their essential qualities, and boundaries are normally strong and clear.
When I returned to the United States, I went looking for places that had some of the natural power of these ancient sacred sites. I found that energy when viewing large boulders that had been jumbled together and left by the glaciers.
I began to wonder if some of that power could be brought into a designed garden and whether it would prove to be peaceful or unsettling. The additional question arises of whether being unsettled in such a way would be a good or bad thing. The answers may vary from person to person, but it is always good to remember that we have a fundamental relationship with the pure power of nature.
This article first appeared in the May/June 1999 issueof the Journal of Japanese Gardening which has since been renamed, Sukiya Living; The Journal of Japanese Gardening.
Many of us are attracted to the playful, quaint and fanciful. Children take to it naturally, of course, but you can also find it in New Yorker cartoons and a satirical print of a calligraphy class – see detail below. I think that is a good thing. A taste for whimsy is one of the more appealing human traits.
The gentle art of whimsy can provide an appreciated point of light in these dark times of pandemic. During a virtual church service, two children vigorously “played” a large organ displayed behind them in their little Zoom rectangle.
When is the last time you engaged in banter or added a whimsical touch where it could bring you and others who come across it a moment of joy?
I find Morrisonite to be particularly rich in details. Both the jasper and the beautiful location where it is found stimulate the imagination. I can count on delightful surprises when I attempt to capture its endless patterns and colors in closeup photos.
The slabs shown below include an entire cross section of a jasper seam. The second photo shows a small section of a slab. Several examples exhibit the overlapping egg pattern that also occurs in several other types of jasper.
Lapidary artists find a great deal to select from. While the finished cabs can be set in jewelry, the best are often acquired by collectors who prefer to keep these little works of natural and lapidary art just as they are.
Turn a piece of Labradorite and you can sometimes see flashes of bright color. The crystal structure selectively reflects these colors to the eye in an effect called “labradorescence”. A valuable variety from Finland known as “Spectrolite” has colors that stand out against a darker background.
While this stone has been compared to the Northern Lights and some prescribe to it protective or visionary qualities, Labradorite’s colors alone are enough for me to want to spend time with it.
Unlike many waterfalls, this place of water flowing over granite ledges is visible from the road with convenient parking spaces just off New Hampshire Route 16B. The dramatic tumbled ledges of Jackson Falls have been sculpted in places. It is worth following how the water flows over them, or just sitting and taking it all in. After many visits, I realized there is an entrance to a trail lower down that provides a different view of the falls as seen in the photos below.
That the United States still has many such places of wild beauty seems particularly poignant to me. Those who find this stream do not seem out of place enjoying nature rather than our unfortunately common practice of destroying natural beauty in the process of shaping it to our will.
The first photo shows an arrangement in my garden designed to evoke a falling down structure I encountered as a child camping in New Hampshire. This “well” was originally constructed in the White Mountains by pioneer Dolly Copp to capture stream water which was piped downhill to her home.
When I returned to the site in New Hampshire in 2012, it was still a place where fireflies gathered in the evening, but all indication of a manmade structure was gone (second photo below).
I noticed right away that there was what looked like a dry stream running along the back of my yard:
During a trip to Japan, I noticed this superb dry stream where Somehow the flat plate-like rocks in the stream bed suggest rushing splashing rapids and more. The way the rocks are set feels inevitable, yet not immune to the forces of time. This gift by a true master reminds us that we have access to where transience meets eternity, even as we ourselves change.
Just for fun, here is an actual stream in a place that should by rights be dry:
Many viewing stones are completely natural, although some are cut so they can be placed cut side down in a carved stand. With an impact that belies their small size, viewing stones can be highly evocative of mountains, waterfalls, or pools. They are worthy of contemplation for the response they produce in us.
At times they resemble animals or are prized for their surface patterns. A tiny figure may be added to complement the mood of a stone. Larger ones are displayed outside in gardens. Placing a number of them together on a stand provides an opportunity to linger and enjoy the “conversation” among their diverse colors, shapes and textures.
Like jade, tourmaline comes in many colors. Individual crystals can grow quite large at times – a two-inch green example is shown below. They are also found in handsome clusters and penetrating quartz. When many narrow crystals (or hollow ones) are aligned, a cat’s eye effect may be achieved with a bright band that intensifies, fades and moves with the light. Gems are cut in a rainbow of single colors and multi-colored slabs are also used in rings and pendants. “Watermelon” tourmaline is famous. Blue is relatively rare with the intense blue-green Paraiba highly prized.