Sunday, February 3, 2008

Dark Forest Meditation

Susan from Garden Rant said that the Secret Garden was “simply too other-worldly for us to relate to.” But this is exactly the kind of garden I do relate to. And it seems that Piet Oudolf has been making mystical gardens like this for sometime.

What is it about the other-worldly, “dark Forest” gardens that appeals to me, anyway?

At the library, I stumbled upon a book called “The Power of Myth,” which is based on an interview between Bill Moyers and the late scholar of comparative mythology, Joseph Campbell. (I highly recommend it—it seriously reopened my heart to religion.)

I think there are a couple of “dark forest” things going on in my mind.

1. Anima mundi….the animated world, the world full of soul and souls. What do you think about this? Too pagan or romantic for your tastes?

I thought I had uprooted (or at least suspended) my belief in things like God four or five years ago. But to my surprise, beneath my former religion was the simple idea of anima mundi. I don’t even know where I picked this up (and I just found the term for the idea), but I believe it. Sure it’s a romantic idea, that the jay is our brother, that the same spirit runs through all of us, and that we can “Paint with All the Colors of the Wind.” But to me, it means that we are all part of the mystery of life. It means respect and reverence toward the people, animals, plants, and things around us.

2. The Hunter. Something interesting I learned in the Campbell book was that in the land of Canaan the people were farmers and they worshipped a goddess. The Children of Israel were hunters and shepherds and they worshipped the male god, Yahweh, who, according to Campbell, was a war god. It’s not surprising then that the Children of Israel ransacked Canaan, and not the other way around. I’m not a religious scholar. Let me just move onto my point: The farmer and the cowman should be friends. Everything needs a balance of yin and yang, of animal and plant, of masculine and feminine. I think the “dark forest” element in the garden is important to me because it makes the garden more animated, more manly, and, like Ellen said, more visceral.

But there will be no animal sacrifices in the garden.

3. History. I like moss, lichens, patina, ware, rust, and signs of past life, like this chimney on a trail in Petersburg, Alaska (Here with my brother, Peter the Tourist, last summer).

4. Nostalgia. When I was in middle school I was obsessed with the Prydain chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. It was, you know, about a boy who wants crazy adventures, gets caught up in them, wanders the land trying to find himself, finds his ancestry and inner strength, and becomes king. Campbell would have called this the classic hero myth, right up there with The Odysseus, Luke Skywalker, and King Arthur.

My neighbor's planter reminds me of The Black Cauldron. It could use some plants.


Frances said...

Thanks for visiting Faire Garden. I found your dark forest musings interesting, you are brave for putting such ideas out in the open of the garden blog community. I have linked you in mine.


Becca said...

Nice post. I too am a fan of the Prydain Chronicles. I also have a large cauldron like the one in your photo. Funny, I never associated it with The Black Cauldron.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

In addition to having read that Joseph Cambell book, I also saw the TV programs of Bill Moyers' interviews with him. Fascinating, powerful stuff. I think if more people felt the spirit or soul of the natural world, they would treat it with more respect. Although I am a Christian, I reject Christianity's view of nature as something to be used & mastered by humans, as it does not evince a proper recognition of the unity of life on the planet.

Gardener of La Mancha said...

Frances, ya, this was kind of a crazy post. Thanks for visiting.

Becca, I've only met one other person who knows the books, outside of my family. It's nice to know there are more fans out there.

MMD, thanks for sharing your faith and ideas. Well said.

Ellen said...

I too, believe the world is full of soul, and I am often moved to tears by the connections I feel between people and animals and plants and the planet. But I don't call it religion because of that word's connotations: hierarchy, patriarchal, controlling...

Ellen said...

P.S., I just ordered the first of the Prydain Chronicles. Did you ever read Edward Eager's books: Half Magic, Knight's Castle, Magic by the Lake...?

Gardener of La Mancha said...

Ellen, I don't think I've read any of Eager's books. I know my youngest sister has read Half Magic.

I don't read a lot of fantasy these days. But I have a couple more recommendations, if anyone wants some:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susannah Clarke. (a new classic, in my opinion)

The Once and Future King by T.H. White (an old classic)