Category Archives: Quotations

A Doorstep for Orin’s Sugarcamp

December 12th, 2016 | 15 Comments »

On the weekend we installed the granite slab that marks the ‘front door’ of Orin’s Sugarcamp, my latest art installation at Glen Villa. (You can read about the project here.)

Doing this was tricky. It involved transporting an 800-pound slab of rock across a snowy field and a partially frozen stream on the back of an open wagon. That takes skill, particularly since the snow is very slippery right now. But Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, the talented men who work for me at Glen Villa, managed the job with ease.


A small stream marks the boundary between the field and the woods beyond.
A small stream marks the boundary between the field and the woods beyond, where Orin’s Sugarcamp is located.


Orin’s Sugarcamp is a short distance into the woods, along a well-worn track. The tin maple leaves we hung several weeks ago to define the area are now partly covered with snow. Seeing them sway in the wind and hearing the bell-like sounds they make as they lightly touch one another transformed the job from a scary endeavour into a magical experience.


A cluster of leaves hangs from a large spruce tree in front of Orin's Sugarcamp.
The area now covered primarily with spruce and hemlock was once a maple forest. In the 1950s and 1960s, Orin Gardener produced maple syrup here.


The wagon with the granite slab was hooked to a tractor which Jacques drove slowly across the field. He drove even more slowly across the stream, then carefully continued along the forest track, avoiding potholes and icy patches.


The slab is ten feet long and well protected by boards and a wooden crate.
The slab is ten feet long. Even though the granite was well protected by boards and a wooden crate, I was nervous that it would slide out of the wagon and crack when it hit the ground. Thankfully that didn’t happen.


He and Ken attached chains from the crate to the tractor, then lifted the slab out of the wagon and lowered it into place.


Jacques and Ken are skilled workers who can operate almost any piece of equipment, even under difficult conditions.
Jacques and Ken are skilled workers who can operate almost any piece of equipment, even under difficult conditions.


The slab marks the threshold to a sugarhouse that used to exist, whose history the project honours. With snow covering the ground, it isn’t possible to position the slab precisely; that job will have to wait for spring, when the snow has melted.


In the spring, once the snow has melted, we will adjust the height of the doorstep and centre it properly.
The granite slab is a portal. Stepping onto it, symbolically you enter another time and place. The inscription underlines this movement from the everyday world into a place that resembles a shrine.


Come springtime, we’ll make some minor adjustments — lowering the central table where syrup was boiled, for one, and possibly adding some steps to lead up to the ‘front door’.  But for now, with the granite doorstep more or less in place, the work on Orin’s Sugarcamp is finished.

Last week, though, before the granite slab was delivered, we added one more element to the area, something simple that I think adds to the apparent reality.

Compare the before photo…


A photo from October this year shows the roof and elevated boiling pan.
This photo is from October when we first started hanging the tin maple leaves.


with the after. Can you spot the difference? And do you think the addition helps or distracts?


This photo is from the end of November, when we had only a light frosting of snow.
This photo is from the end of November, when we had only a light frosting of snow.


Finally, let me share with you the words I chose to be cut into the stone. They are a quotation from Chrysippus, a Greek Stoic philosopher who lived in the 3rd century BCE.


The first part of the quotation...
A single photo won’t show the whole quote, so here is the first part …


When I spotted this quotation at Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden near Edinburgh, I knew right away that I would use it at Orin’s Sugarcamp. It simply felt right.


I knew immediately when I spotted this quotation at Little Sparta that I would be using it at Orin's Sugarcamp. It simply felt right.
and here’s the second. The work was done beautifully by Rock of Ages, Stanstead , Quebec.


The Gods can be known to exist on account of the existence of their altars.

At Little Sparta, the quotation appears inside the temple of Baucis and Philemon. This small building celebrates a story told in Ovid’s Metamorphosis about an elderly couple who offered shelter on a cold night to Zeus and Hermes, not knowing who they were. It’s a familiar idea, told again and again in fairytales and with Christian equivalents.


The Gods rewarded Baucis and Philemon by transforming their cottage into gold. A few tiles on the roof show the beginning of the transformation.
The Gods rewarded Baucis and Philemon by transforming their cottage into a magnificent temple. A few gold tiles on the roof show the beginning of the transformation. As for Baucis and Philemon, they were first made priests of the temple; when they died they were transformed into trees marking the entrance. That transformation is also shown as being in progress.


I was tempted to shorten the quotation but decided not to.  While at first reading the words seemed redundant, the more I thought about them, the more they seemed to reflect the complexity of an idea. (I can’t judge the accuracy of the translation, nor do I know whose translation it is.) Chrysippus did not simply state that gods exist and that altars prove the fact, but rather that we are able to know about the existence of gods through the memorials we make to them.

No god is being worshipped at Orin’s Sugarcamp, not even the god of sweetness known as maple syrup. What I am celebrating, and recognizing through the quotation, is the work that was done in this place and the people who did it. A simple stone wall was all that remained of a sugarhouse where syrup was produced over many years, and always in a traditional way. Horses pulled wagons around the sugarbush, collecting sap from buckets nailed to the trees. The sap was boiled, canned and labelled, then sent out to be enjoyed by people I knew and people I didn’t.


Orin's sugarcamp, as it looks now.
Orin’s sugarcamp, as it looks now.


Orin’s Sugarcamp is my attempt to bring a bit of that past into the present, so that others may carry the memory of what happened there into the future. It’s my tribute. My altar, if you will.


Orin’s Sugarcamp

November 21st, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The distorted the shape of the leaf to suggest how the shape changes in the fall. l
Just over a year ago I began work on a project in the woods at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec. I was inspired by an exhibition I saw at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in western Massachusetts. One piece in particular caught my eye, a collection of oddly shaped pieces of wood that contrasted in an interesting way with the straight vertical tree trunks around them.   [caption id="attachment_4682" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Cognito, a sculptural installation by William Carlson[/caption]   I knew almost immediately that I wanted to do something similar and


The Colours of Autumn

October 31st, 2016 | 12 Comments »
What an array of colours! The view looking out over the Big Meadow never fails to excite me.
I missed the peak of autumn colour this year in the Eastern Townships of Quebec -- where colours are as good as (or better than?) any place in North America -- because of some trips that took me away from home. So when a friend sent me a photo he took a week or so ago of the hills behind our house, I was delighted.   [caption id="attachment_4579" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Our house and boathouse on Lake Massawippi are dwarfed by the hills that rise behind.[/caption]   What a spectacle it was. Friends who were


Prospect Cottage: A Garden Review

October 12th, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The cottage retains its original strongly contrasting paint colours.
  The garden at Prospect Cottage, located in Kent on England's east coast, was created by the late Derek Jarmon, a filmmaker, diarist and early advocate of gay rights. It is a garden that sits lightly on the land while simultaneously conveying a powerful sense of place. It is also one that elicits a strong response from visitors. Either they like it or they don't, are intrigued by it or walk through quickly, dismissing what they see as a collection of rubbish with some flowers thrown in.   [caption id="attachment_4107" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]


Framing the View

August 16th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
A pair of trees frame a view. The mown path  directs your eye and your feet.
"No matter how panoramic its scope, a view of surrounding countryside becomes a genuine garden picture only when it has been framed." - Penelope Hobhouse Recently I came across this statement from the English garden writer and designer Penelope Hobhouse. I read it quickly, nodded in agreement, then paused and read it again. Did I agree? Does a view have to be framed in order to create a 'garden picture'? And what is a 'garden picture' anyway? a photograph of the garden or the picturesque scene itself? The more I considered the statement, the


The Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede

May 30th, 2016 | 13 Comments »
A river of cobblestones surrounds an uneven, curving path.
Memorials are tricky things to get right. In the past, when heroes were celebrated and the power of rulers was exalted in monuments that forced ordinary people to crane their necks skywards, understanding a memorial was easy. A man on horseback was a triumphant military leader. A statue elevated on a Greek-style plinth was a politician, or perhaps a king or queen. When the statue was part of a fountain or surrounded by figures of reclining women in various stages of undress, the message was probably one that celebrated the achievements of a country


Can spring be far behind?

April 5th, 2016 | 12 Comments »
Ice covers this stream in the woods.
Percy Bysshe Shelley knew a thing or two about spring. His Ode to the West Wind ends with a hopeful phrase: Be through my lips to unawakened Earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? At Glen Villa, the answer seems to be yes, it can be. Far too far behind. Is this April unseasonably cold? Perhaps not. But after a mild winter, and a few days of beautifully warm sunshine, my hopes were high. It seemed that the unawakened earth was awakening,


Is a Clearing in the Woods a Garden?

September 27th, 2015 | 13 Comments »
The trees were well identified.
"A natural clearing in a wood is a glade. But a perfectly round clearing the same size, in the same wood, becomes a garden."                                             ... Juan Grimm, Chilean landscape architect   Ten years ago, in March 2005, we planted a ring of trees in a clearing in the woods. The clearing had been used as a staging area the previous winter, a place where the trees we were selectively cutting were


Go With Me: A Book Review and A Challenge

May 17th, 2015 | 9 Comments »
This small book contains a world of ideas.
Last year, Michael Gordon, a gardener in New Hampshire, wrote about a book called  Go With Me: 50 Steps to Landscape Thinking. In his blog post he described how he used the book to enrich a tour he was leading through gardens in England. His description intrigued me and I immediately ordered the book on line. No luck -- it was out of print. I searched various used book outlets. Again, nothing. Finally, almost a year after beginning the search, I got hold of a copy. Reading this tiny handbook


Flora and Fauna in Ravenna’s Mosaics

May 4th, 2015 | 2 Comments »
The sheep in the apse of S. Apollinare in Classe symbolize the faithful.
For the last few days I've been in Ravenna, Italy, looking at mosaics that date back to the 5th century. And glorious they are. Scattered through the old city, all but one within easy walking distance, these mosaics decorate the interiors of basilicas, mausoleums and baptistries. They tell stories from the life of Jesus and celebrate Christian doctrine in some of its earliest forms. The exteriors of the buildings that house the mosaics are simple, undecorated brick. The interiors gleam with mosaics in gold, green, blue, red -- every colour and shade