Monday, February 07, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/6/2011)

Beauty is often touched by a tragedy, such as in the building of the Tozan Tea House and Garden. The tragedy was the death from leukemia of Aaron Macy, a promising young ceramics student at NAU who was coming of age as a potter. His father, Douglas Macy, a well-known landscape architect in Portland, Oregon, grieving his son’s death, wanted to memorialize him with a legacy of beauty. At the suggestion of Don Bendel and Jason Hess of NAU’s ceramics department, he agreed to supervise the construction of the Tozan Tea House and Garden in his son’s memory.

With the 1989 blueprints of Hirotomi Ichikawa, the famous Japanese landscape architect, already in hand, Douglas Macy began the cultural and horticultural translation of a tea house and garden from Japan to Flagstaff.
Funded by Betty Peckard and other donors from Japan and America, the project lurched ahead over the years.

Serendipitously, Brad Blake and Phil Patterson from the NAU Research Greenhouses, discovered the project and offered their services in securing plants apropos to Flagstaff. As with any good translation, the garden’s design and plantings had to be faithful to the original as well as to the new. Now, some cognoscenti are likely to say, “Something’s going to be lost in the translation,” as though there are no plants indigenous or adaptable to Northern Arizona that would quite do the trick as well as plants native to Japan. However, often as not, something is also gained in translation, as in the gifts of the new language and the arts of the translator. So it is with the Tozan Tea House and Garden.

One of the principles of Japanese landscaping is using plants native to the site. Thus, the Tozan Tea House Garden is not a tit-for-tat, literal translation, but rather a faithful adaptation. Happily, much of the garden’s land was undisturbed so that the garden is already covered with native ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, and Gambel oak. The understory includes various penstemons and wildflowers along with native grasses, such as mutton grass, muhly grass, and spike muhly.

The land immediately around a Japanese tea house is planted with Arizona fescue. A hedge customarily flows in parabolic curves throughout the grounds of Japanese tea house garden, drawing the mind to take wing and fly to the uttermost parts of the imagination, shielded from the distractions of the hurly-burly. Since hedges are not native to Flagstaff, a hedge cotoneaster was used. A low water plant, it hails from Siberia, Eastern Asia, and the Caucasus, a hardy horticultural immigrant for the Colorado Plateau. Finally, along Lone Tree Road a line of New Mexican Locusts and Riles Roses from the NAU campus will buffer the garden.

A good translation always begins literally, but then transcends into style. The gain for Flagstaff is not in the plants, that is, in the content, but in the style or process. Ultimately, reality is in process, not content. How a thing is said is more important than what it said. The Tozan Tea House and Garden give everyone an opportunity to see the familiar in a new and different way, to see life steadily and to see it whole, to take that parabolic curve beyond the perimeters of paranoia into the journey of freedom, to travel into the outer reaches of inner space.

The Tozan Tea House Garden is Japanese in essence in its form and economy, and Southwestern in its horticultural language. It offers the lucidity of simplicity, as in Occam’s Razor of not multiplying entities beyond necessity and Robert Browning’s “less is more,” remembering that profusion leads to confusion. The Garden also offers that lucidity in the beauty of the Colorado Plateau.

For a moment of composure, the Tozan Tea House and Garden are located on Lone Tree Road, south of Pine Knoll Road on the right hand side of the road. Look for the great wood-fired kiln as a beginning point on a path up the hill to lucidity where a tragedy begat beauty.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

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