29 Apr 2009

Tender balance: Edinburgh-Kyoto Friendship Garden

Look straight ahead. What’s there?
If you see it as it is
You will never err
-Bassui Tokusho

On the edge of the grounds of Lauriston Castle, lies this one-hectare garden, stuck on and unassuming like one of those tabs you use to control the movable pictures in pop-up books.

There is a plaque at the entrance advising visitors that the garden was opened in 2002, as well as a host of other information, lines of wasted words that politicians use to stroke each other’s egos. We will ignore the facts and talk about more important things.

Like the way the large stones, black islands in a sea of light pebbles, catch the sun and turn the shadows around themselves. The edges look so sharp, yet they cut nothing.

Or how, on a spring morning, you can walk through this garden alone and watch the pink petals float down from the trees and land on the still pond before drifting between shoots of bamboo, where a lily is also blooming.

Broad, flat stones mark a path across one end of the pond, making a short journey feel much longer. Stand on the middle stone and you can look across to where the trees seem to grow like ribbons from the edges of a small bridge, underneath of which a waterfall is collapsing over a series of rocky platforms, sending rippling arches across the surface. You can watch these ripples widen as they reach out to you in their slow, calm deaths.

As the sun climbs you can take to the bamboo-walled shelter and look through the trees toward the lazy slink of the Forth estuary. The hours pass and it will be hard to leave the garden. The subtle changes in light nudge your perception like time against the minute hand just before it relinquishes the fight and lets go.
The truth is never taken
from another.
One carries it always
By oneself.
-Tetto Giko

26 Apr 2009

Crammond Island - A Letter to my Lover

Right now I can think of few things more delicious than being trapped on Cramond Island with you.

It would have to be a day like is was on Saturday, when the sun seems to be suspended higher than ever before, and its warmth is engaged in a languid battle with the cool breeze that slides along the surface of the Forth and over my skin.

Cramond constantly loses and gains its island status as the tide rhythmically covers and exposes the long walkway. The walkway itself it strewn with empty seashells, pert and perfect like nipples and surrounded by the husks of dried barnacles. The shells are everywhere and it is impossible not to step on them, though every crunch feels like I am breaking something priceless.

All around are the sounds of sea birds and crows and the gurgle of rivulets leaking from tidal pools. Beneath it all and almost imperceptible is the last-breath hiss of evaporation.

We would cross when the tide was low, bring with us our picnic, our binoculars, and an enormous blanket. As the tide turned we would watch the people marching back to the bustle of the mainland and the waiting ice cream truck. Then the island would be ours.

Despite being used as everything from a holiday playground to army defences, Cramond Island retains a sense of the undiscovered. The trails are narrow and the old war-time buildings are gutted and dilapidated. Even the massive pillars of the once mighty WWII submarine defence boom look more sombre than formidable.

So much has happened there, but it is all over. No one lives there now. What remains is the assemblage of all the busy, giddy noises of nature, bulging outwards to create a dome over island, a sense of impenetrableness.

So as planes fly overhead and boats sail past, we could make our way to the back of the island, past the crumbling walls of an old house and, further on, more walls of thick brush. We could let that Lost World feeling float through us as we poked around through all that abandoned history.

When we were tired we could find a wide, clear spot, unfold our blanket and lie down. We could let the sun soak into our bodies, the warmth commanding our limbs as we bask in being alone - utterly alone in the world.

12 Apr 2009

Kissing Yews: Malleny Garden

When I was a child there was an enormous boulder in the middle of one of our hay fields. Growing up around that boulder was a giant willow, the branches of which drooped over the stone and cast dancing shadows, particularly in the spring when the fuzzy catkins would burst from their pods.

In Malleny Gardens near Balerno, there are four huge yew trees known as the four apostles. They stand facing each other like stubborn chess pieces, each one daring the other to make the first move. Duck beneath the branches and you will find yourself in the midst of the standoff, until you notice how the light betrays the intimacy of the meeting braches, and you forget there was ever a war.

No doubt the height of summer is the best time to visit the garden, as that is when the 19th century rose garden is likely to be in its best condition. However any time of year is a good time to walk to the back wall of the garden, and follow the trail until it ends at the place where Malleny House begins to emerge from behind the bushes like some creepy mansion in a children’s story.

My other favourite site in the garden is the slime-covered fountain across from the house. The flow of water is down to a trickle, sliding off the green murk like ooze.

The garden is a small, quiet space that you can quite easily have to yourself, depending on the weather and the time of day. I image that early morning in the summer would best bring out the delicate features of the place, especially if the roses are in bloom.

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