Monday, January 31, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/5/05)

The gardens at the Tozan Tea House were designed with tea in mind or, more accurately, the experience of drinking tea. For the Japanese, the experience of drinking tea is not just consuming a pleasant beverage, as in having a “cuppa”, but an experience of rootedness and connectedness within oneself, a getting one’s bearings, a regaining of one’s temper after having lost it.

Coffee is for energy, tea for composure.

Since the tea is served in a bowl, rather than a cup, drinking tea is a two-handed experience. Unlike the cup which is kept at a distance and raised to the lips as though it were a foreign object akin to a knife or fork, drinking tea from a bowl requires that people draw the bowl to themselves, warming their hands, encompassed in the experience.

Now, to an American eye the garden at the Tozan Tea House is not yet developed, but to a Japanese eye the garden is already there in the way the land lies, the grasses, the bushes, and the trees, and, oh yes, the rocks and the critters. Rather than impose a foreign, geometrical grid on the land, a Japanese design draws its form from the lay the land. Much as a wise parent rears a child, drawing out rather than an imposing upon, the gardener cultivates the land’s gifts.

The design’s purpose is lucidity. Form and economy are the means used to accomplish the lucidity. The lines of the design reflect the contours of the land, not merely replicating them, but enhancing them, using the old principle of compare and contrast, rather than duplication and contradiction.

Since Japan is a group of small, heavily populated islands, land is used economically, drawing from it, rather than replacing it. Unlike the Western experience in which land is thought inexhaustible, as in a housing subdivision in which the land is cleared and regimentally planted, the Japanese conserve the land knowing it is finite. The tea house’s garden is indigenous, the tea house and its garden reflecting the land’s contours, flora, and fauna. Instead of being a beautiful picture painted by the designer for people to look at, the tea house garden is an experience.

William Temple, the late, great Archbishop of Canterbury, in his commentary of the Gospel of John wrote of lucidity, “To see life steadily and to see it whole.” Seeing life steadily and seeing it whole is the heart of the experience of tea at the tea house and its garden.

The garden is brain-child of Dr. Don Bendel, professor emeritus of ceramics at NAU and his alter ego, the late Yukio Yamamoto, master potter of the Tozan Kilns in Japan.

Located at the bottom of a hill just off Lonetree Road on the NAU campus, the first step into the Tozan Tea House’s garden is a few paces from the giant, wood-fired kilns where the tea bowls are fired. The garden encloses a rising path past the ceramic studio where the bowls are thrown. The path then crosses over an earthen and wooden bridge and on up to the Tozan Tea House where the tea is not merely consumed, but also experienced.

Since the Tozan Tea House is set on a rise, it offers vantage from which people can see not only the trees, but also through them, and beyond them to the forest.

The lintel of one of the doors into the Tozan Tea House is low which by tradition was for the use of the samurai warriors. They could not get through the door with their swords, forcing them to leave their swords outside. Similarly, a Navajo was once asked why the entrances into a hogan were so low. The Navajo replied, “So that when people enter our homes, they must kneel.” Such is the tea house. No body armor. No pretenses.

The quiet experience at the garden at Tozan Tea House is necessary for lucidity. Frenzy does not make for clarity. Since the garden is at peace with the land, people can be at peace with themselves and gain that lucidity to see life steadily and to see it whole.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Sunday, January 09, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/9/2011)

The Ides of March, March 15, bear ominous messages, beginning with the assassination of Julius Caesar by Brutus, Cassius, and other noblemen in 44 A.D. At one time, income taxes were due on the Ides of March, but the federal government reconsidered and moved them to April 15 in a vain attempt to make them less irksome.

However, the Ides of March also bear a benevolent message. It’s just four days away from the first day to plant onion sets on the 19th and, consequently, break that one hundred day horticultural grip on growing things in Flagstaff. Onions allow us a seven month growing season, starting in March and going clear through to October.

Although warmth is beneficial, onions need sunlight, and March 19 is the first day in the year with enough sunlight to grow onions in Flagstaff. Onions come in three categories, short day, intermediate, and long day. Short days, such as Vidalia, are down south, and long days, such as Walla Walla, are up north. Magnificent onions are grown in the Matanuska Valley in Alaska. While I was a Sgt/Maj, Special Troops, in Alaska, we played baseball at midnight in the summer when not tracking down miscreants and saboteurs. Flagstaff’s intermediate days are betwixt the two. Actually, Flagstaff is a favorable place to grow onions because of our dry climate and warm summers. Onions need at least six hours of sunlight a day, preferably full sun.

As with anything else in the garden, the first thing about growing onions is the soil. It should be friable, easily flowing through the gardener’s fingers, which means lots of compost. “Objets d’amour,” onions need soft beds, and not only soft, but rich as well which brings us to fertilizer.

A couple of weeks before planting, the bed should be strewn at about a five inch depth with a 10-20-10 fertilizer. This assumes that the gardener is using onion sets, which are the easiest, most productive, and priciest way to grow onions. Seeds can be sown in the spring, but they are chancier. Sets are akin to seedlings but far hardier.

Parenthetically, much to meine ┼░berfraus vexation, I’m slothful, leaving dirty socks where I took them off, books and magazines where I took off reading them, dirty dishes on the table, and generally letting things go. A cinch for the slothful, all onions need after they’re first planted is a little care.

Once the soil has been prepared, the next task is digging a trench in which the sets can be planted at the bottom. Onions require lots of moisture, and a trench allows for frequent watering without waste. In addition to water, onions favor a slightly acidic soil and a side-dressing of high nitrogen fertilizer every other week.

Onions do not take up a great deal of space and can be planted a few inches apart. Later in the spring along about June, the onions can be thinned to six or seven inches apart, the thinning yielding a crop of green onions, so that the remaining onions can grow into those large, opulent, luscious globes of late summer.

When I had my office on Westwood Blvd. in Los Angeles, I often ate lunch or dinner at an Iranian restaurant on the street. The waiters munched on onions like apples. Astounded then, now I do the same with my home-grown sweet onions. And onions like apples will keep the doctor away. An Arab proverb runs, “Every man should be given his breath.”

The second most popular crop after tomatoes, onions are used in nearly every cuisine and for good reason. In addition to being flavor-filled and flavor-giving, they’re health-giving, being anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, and anti-oxidant. For those of us who fret about our hearts, onions are our friends, and the same goes for cancer fretters.

Now is the time to order onion sets. I order mine from Brown’s Omaha Plant Farms in Omaha, Texas, at I’ve had good fortune with Hybrid Candy, Hybrid Superstar, and Hybrid Yellow Granex which is an heir of the famous Vidalia.

P.S. Trees need slow watering during our dry spell.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011