He'd learned the names and ways of all the lilies and ferns but the Gardener wondered why he was still lonely. He’d taught the trees how to find water, the ferns how to store it, and the lilies how to clean it. Because of this, there were fish for the birds and birds for the dragons who brought rain and sun and night. But there was no one to see or remember these ten thousand years moving in circles at one perfect pace everyone could keep. The gardener had balance, he had time, and he had space. But he had no one to share it with, nor anyone to give it to.
Perhaps if he thought hard enough, he could change this. He looked at the paths he paved, the stones he stacked, and the bonsai dancers he crafted over the centuries, and decided what his garden needed was a fountain. Not a fountain just to be seen and heard, but lived in. He would feed it on one side with all he knew and loved of the past, and on the other, all he saw and hoped for in the future.
The pools began to fill with his mind. He felt a million souls awakening, tiny, quiet, and amazed on their continents on either side. To help them navigate the infinity of these waters, he imbued the people with his years of observation, ingenuity, and play. To give them layers through which to experience the garden, he gifted them with the powers of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.
One million pairs of eyes opened. The people pointed to the skies and water, at the way the light changed, and then at themselves with questions in their eyes. They knew how to build and learn with their hands and minds, but Why? they asked. Why, to share time of course, the black pines remarked. Indeed there was time everywhere they looked, but the people insisted on looking further. Why? they asked, their voices louder. To share in the balance, the heron offered. The balance she spoke of was evident all around them; wherever taking went, giving walked hand in hand. But the heron’s world was simple, the people said, and they continued looking for a greater authority. Why? the people asked, louder still. To share in the space, the dragon explained to them from his place in the sky. But even the dragon, who had brought them rain, sun, and night, was brushed aside and the people continued turning over stones and walls for answers.
On either side of the fountain, the people talked amongst themselves about where it was they’d come from, and where it was they were going. If the answer would not come from outside, they would decipher it here themselves. The answers must be hidden somewhere in the past, one side of the fountain decided. The other side of the fountain looked up from their huddle and laughed. One makes his reason for living by planning and building it himself, it declared. Both sides were sure.
From anywhere in the garden, humankind could be heard taking sides against itself. Soon digging and building joined the noise. The rest of the garden looked up from nests and dens. There was never anything to decipher! it objected. There is no forward or backward, all of life exists in circles!
The people mobilized anyway; the Great Search had begun. Despite their inherent abilities, they could not put together how to sit still, or that they had been created to enjoy the garden, not the other way around.
During all of this, the Gardener was quiet. Sleep was approaching quickly. He had never needed rest before but he had also never fed this much of the garden with so much of himself at once. He felt the fountain growing, and himself shrinking along with his intention. How had the fountain become this much work? Whom had he planned to show it to, anyway? He only knew that he needed rest. As the love for his garden welled up inside of him, his eyes closed slowly and heavily. One day, he thought, he would share the ten thousand beautiful years of his garden with o
The beginnings of this illustrated world started coming together when I began working with a 77 year-old gardener down the block in the summer of 2020. I loved the way he lived, thought, and so wholeheartedly cared about his community and environment.
2020 was so rough and I watched how it manifested in the lives of the people around me, how it changed all of our mental health, and how strangely our actions communicated what each of us were dealing with at the time.
While trying to navigate what the year was throwing at my family and me, I found out this gardener was suffering with dementia. His garden and his love for it were the only things holding him together.
During all of this, I found out one of my students in Hong Kong had a father who played the handpan beautifully. We decided to collaborate and I listened to his music while meditating on mental health and the conversations I'd been having with people surrounding it. It was like the whole illustration flowed straight out of his song.
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