Most visitors to Portland’s Japanese Garden approach from a parking lot below the gated entrance. From that lot, you can choose to walk to the main gate along a winding trail that climbs the hill or ride up a switch back on a shuttle bus. With either of those options you slowly transition from the vestiges of the chaotic western city into the formal structure that lends serenity to the Japanese Garden.
When I arrive, I choose a third and lesser known option of traipsing Wildwood Trail through Washington Park and descending a cutoff that delivers me just outside the garden to a small holding area for items not currently employed. A variety of rocks, boulders, and pavers, are stacked atop pallets, parked here out of sight for now, and awaiting a new fate. Some of the pavers were once ballast in the sailing ships that once upon a time arrived in Portland to take on cargo. Too valuable to discard (in essence, mottainai), similar pavers can be found throughout the garden serving to provide interest and a cue to pause.
Today, I pause. Struck by the simple, bold lines and powerful abstract form created, I believe accidentally by what appears to be the pieces of a gate or a bridge. I stop and stare, wondering if the structure, whatever it is, holds the same elegance when constructed as the parts at rest. If these pieces were placed randomly, then the gardener that did so has natural artistic talent. Or, is the gardener so practiced at thinking about asymmetry, simplicity, and balance that even the act of placing these elements in storage reflected his dedication to Japanese gardening principles. I like to think it the later. Either way, mottainai is certainly etched in his way of thinking for nothing goes to waste, even when not on display in the garden.
Need I elaborate about what I could learn from this? Or on the difficulty of this accomplishment? In comparison, I work my art with words. What this gardener has done is akin to me creating a poetic masterpiece with all of the words discarded from my posts. If each time I edited text I saved the letters and words and together those words not only had meaning but related that meaning in a graceful and artlful way, then I could compare myself to this gardener.