Perhaps it was the quaking, squishy feeling of the ground. Maybe it was the stillness and the quietude that entered my unconscious. Or was I responding to the other-ness of the place that occurred following the canoe trip across the lake? The place simply had a strong character that entranced me. Time stood like the stoic tamaracks growing out of the muck. My choice to design a metaphorical garden based on Minnesota’s mire-complex comes primarily from the heightened sense of awareness I experienced while visiting the peatland in Itasca State Park.
The garden I designed, while indexical of the peatlands, is a metaphor for the journey of life. The elements that exist in the place I’ve created come directly from the quagmire analogy that is so commonly used to describe our existential reactions to hardship and difficulty. Taken individually, these places along the path harbor both beauty and angst. When surveyed from above, the journey can be seen as winding continuously and poetically through various stations with a terminal spot for reflection and observation.
As we enter the Quaking Quagmire garden, our sight is limited by the low nature of the path. We can barely stretch our view across the tops of the sedge-laden fens to see that somewhere in the distance is a hill with spruces and tamaracks, there are decaying trees on another hill, and there is some sort of foreign maze of rods ascending. Before us is a bridge of sorts that we can see will lift us out of this low path and afford a better view so our attention is directed toward reaching it. Upon arrival, though the walk lifts us above the fens, it feels less stable than the low ground just exited. Each step causes the bridge to pivot and sway slightly. Though we may want to look around, our focus keeps coming back to footfalls that draw our attention inward as we search for our own stability. Around us are small, twisting pools of water reminiscent of the finger-lakes that flow through natural peatlands. The moving water reflects sparks of light and creates acoustic confinement that continues to pull our attention close. This wobbly path finally lifts out of the fens on the top of a small raised bog.
From there we acquire a surprising view: A wetland or lake emerges. This raised bog is topped by the decaying black spruce that is commonly found in peatlands. The effect of looking outward is multiplied by these vertical elements and invites us to think of energy and decay. Next, we visit the wetland and take a moment to observe the subtle and calming attributes of marsh vegetation and the visiting wildlife. Again, the draw of the path carries us along as we are motivated to explore the alien place that comes next.
These rods have been visible throughout the garden manifesting feelings of curiosity and wonder. Perhaps some visitors are excited while others are anxious about the event. These rods are indicative of the scientific testing of peatlands as well as the grid patterns of tree-farm industrialization that threatens to overwhelm Minnesota’s mire complexes. They also represent humankind’s fascination with math and our hope that we can unlock life’s riddles through science. Unfortunately, once life becomes obscured by the scientific method, it often can become as nonsensical and unsatisfying as the problem we are trying to solve. This ordered place closes in on the visitor and, while extremely dramatic, can become overwhelming. The visitor might shortcut the winding maze that leads through the grid choosing instead to brush up against these flexible spires to get through. An obvious completion to the grid presents itself as the gradual hill pulls away.
This final climb is graded to allow us to catch our breath and see more and more of the garden with each step. For the first time, there is no true path. We are free to explore the trip to the top in our own way. Drawn by the tall tamaracks and black spruces, attracted to the vistas that surround all around, and encouraged by the flattening ground we reach the crest of the raised bog. There we find a pool, perfectly round, still, and clear. It reflects us back at ourselves in the sky, amongst the trees, at the center of it all.