hillbilly topiary

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Last Fall, the “tree trimmers” employed by the local electric company swept through Bolivar like a late-season tornado, leaving this peculiar destruction in their wake. I think their discussions with homeowners sounded something like this, “Oh, you want us to trim your tree, not cut it down — we’ll trim it alright.” These are just a few of the fine pieces of arboreal art that they created.

Japan — a poem by Billy Collins

Chicago Botanic Garden (2009)


Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

— Billy Collins

on the one ton temple bell
a moon-moth, folded into sleep,
sits still.

— Taniguchi Buson (1716-84)

my labyrinth

I just finished making my first labyrinth. I had thought about it for about a year since we moved into our new house. There was this beautiful clearing about 50 feet in diameter surrounded by seven post oak trees. So naturally I thought I needed a labyrinth. I chose a classical or Cretan seven circuit labyrinth. Seven circuit refers to the seven paths that you must take to reach the middle of the labyrinth. This kind of labyrinth has been around for about 4,000 years and is the type of labyrinth in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Labyrinths are often confused with mazes. Mazes are all about getting lost–that is the pleasure of making them (to trick the person who will encounter it) and walking them (the pleasurable disorientation of not knowing exactly where you are). Therefore, mazes usually have tall boundaries to prevent peeking and getting clues where to go. Labyrinths are all about finding your way. Labyrinths are unicursal, or single-pathed. You can’t get lost as long as you keep going. Labyrinths are also traditionally made with low boundaries which allow you to see and enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the labyrinth’s construction and see the goal or middle of labyrinth.

In recent times, the labyrinth has been used by new age adherents as a meditative tool. I naturally, being a believer, have more resonance with the Christian tradition of labyrinths as a prayerful space and a visual and kinesthetic allegory for our life as journey or pilgrimage.

I hope to eventually mound up some soil and plant the boundaries with sedums or liriope–maybe even some bulbs for the Spring. I hope those of you who live close to me will come out and walk the labyrinth at your leisure.