Mindful Observation

I am currently in Portland, Oregon on a twelve day sabbatical of sorts. The Portland Japanese Garden opened an international training center about a year ago whose mission, among other things, is to train up a generation of professional caretakers of North American Japanese Gardens. I am here for the next twelve days soaking up as much of the culture, history and technical details of what it is to build and foster a Japanese style garden.

The seminar has afforded me time to reflect on how I approach my work and life as a whole. One of the most important things I can do, in beginning to develop as a Japanese Garden caretaker, is to take the time to observe the natural world. Simple things like how light and shadow play across the land, how water flows through the landscape, how rocks of different shapes and sizes exist in nature or how different tree species behave in their native environs.

I am encouraged to develop an eye, slow down, take time, expand my level of awareness. One way to do this is to sit with a pencil and sketch pad and attempt to draw simple objects. It does not matter how great I am at drawing (because I am not), it is the act of noticing nature, and the characteristics of what is right in front of me, that matters. I am trying to draw simple, singular objects to start. Will I be able to continue this when I return? Who knows, but for now I will keep taking a deep breath and looking around me, pencil in hand.

Josh Steffen
Horticulture and Facilities Manager


3 comments

  1. Josh, this is wonderful and a great inspiration for us as well. Glad you are getting to have time to just be in the moment.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. We are so excited about the Japanese Garden at Wellfield! And you are helping us to know that it is more than just a garden.

  3. Awareness is important in any sort of landscape design, although it does seem that American landscape design exhibits more environmental ignorance than other types. We tend to incorporate features merely because they are the fad at the time, whether or not they are appropriate to the function of the landscape and surroundings. Ironically, Japanese maples are a classic example of that here in California. Several designers have tried to explain to me that EVERY good landscape includes Japanese maples. . . seriously, here in California, where we have homes of exquisite Spanish Colonial architecture!


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