Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wabi Sabi

When I moved to Ottawa in the fall of 2004, I lived quite close to the river and walked along it often. One of my first great discoveries was a rocky landing that was populated with stone figures. Small ones, large ones, some very simple and others quite elaborate. A plaque mounted at the site explained that the artist built these figures up each year, allowing them to wash away with each winter. Apparently he'd been doing this for some years.

The following year, I watched the process with real pleasure. He began in spring, and I'd often see him out there in hip waders, searching for the right stones and building his figures. By the height of summer there was a whole community dotting the landing and out into the river. Not to mention the human spectators who had paused in their walks/rides/skates to take a look.

And as winter arrived, and the ice started to take over, the whole thing would disappear, almost overnight. Only a few of the larger stones were left as a reminder that something had once happened there.

Last fall, I moved, and I don't live close to the river anymore. Yesterday, I went out for a bike ride that took me along that path for the first time this year. The installation isn't there. It appears there will be no community of stone figures this year.

I don't know why, and I may never know. Perhaps the artist didn't get some grant he needed to keep devoting the time to a project that had no revenue-generating capacity. Perhaps he moved on to something else. Perhaps he's sick or even dead.

The story goes that Zen monk Sen no Rikyu was asked to tend his master's garden. Having raked the ground until it was pristine, he surveyed the result and then shook the branch of a cherry tree, so that a few leaves fell back to the ground. This was his recognition that beauty exists in the transitive nature of things. Everything is either growing or decaying. Often both at the same time.

I know that all things come to an end and that other things take their place. But I sat for a long time looking out over where those figures used to be.


cenobyte said...

Steve Marsh, this post makes me very, very happy.

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