Now that winter has dumped several feet of snow on a garden that was almost snow-free, I’m back by the fire, metaphorically at least, dreaming of the seasons ahead.
I’m dreaming about a trail that will lead around the property. I’m considering the route it will follow and what I will call it. I know the purpose of the trail — it will connect art installations now in place and others I’m working on, or planning. And while there are problems about the route, the big question is what the trail should be called.
The choice of a name may seem inconsequential but in my mind it matters enormously. A name does more than describe, it defines significance, and finding the right name is proving more difficult than I anticipated. The name I’m searching for will encapsulate what links the different installations and how they add to the experience of walking the land. It will identify something meaningful.
The trail as it now exists starts in the Upper Field beside the Skating Pond and leads into the woods.
The trail continues beyond the sundial clearing into a meadow-like area with a small stream.
Currently there is no installation in this space, tentatively named the water meadow. I plan to create something for the site but I don’t know what, although Heraclitus comes to mind. Over the summer I’ll spend time in the area, giving it a chance to speak — and giving myself time to hear it.
Beyond the water meadow, the path splits and splits again. At the second division, a tall tree trunk painted yellow announces Two Roads.
As in the poem, the two roads that present a choice to the walker lead to much the same place. At that spot, years ago, there was a farmhouse and a barn. Now it’s a quiet spot, out of the way, with a glade that reminds me of a poem by Yeats. In a year or two I will make an installation for the site, and possibly Yeats’ poem will be the genesis. But my idea needs time to grow and ripen, like the nine rows of beans he dreams of planting.
Beyond this site the route becomes complicated. There are simply too many ways to go, and too many sites that call out for recognition. The marks that history has left on the land often dictate where an installation needs to be placed and these land marks are not arranged neatly in a loop. Sometimes they veer off abruptly. Sometimes they are too close together, or too far apart. And sometimes the rhythm of the walk dictates the need for an installation even if there are no historical marks or striking natural features. That is the case in the fields near Lilac Cottage, a small house surrounded by lilac bushes, that many decades ago was used by a tenant farmer.
On two sides of the cottage are farm fields, and I’m working now on installations for both. Crossing one field will be a simple avenue of crabapple trees that I hope to plant in early spring. Crossing the other will be a more complex installation, inspired Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Scottish garden, Little Sparta, and tentatively titled The Past Looms Large.
Logic dictates that the path continue beyond the Big Chair, from the sun-filled field into a rather gloomy forest. The transition from light to shade is abrupt and is matched by a change in topography. From a dry, relatively flat field, the path leads downward, becoming increasingly soggy, provoking a change in mood that I hope to make explicit. (Dante, anyone?)
A short distance beyond Orin’s Sugarbush the path comes out into another field. Here, walkers cross a stream before heading up the hill to the Skating Pond where they began.
Walking the trail I’ve sketched out would take a fast walker an hour at least. Loops off the main trail could easily add another hour or more. And loops seem necessary: at almost every junction another site calls out to be honoured.
These site specific installations speak to what was, but also to what may be. It is easy to walk across the land and see nothing, or to see only a tiny part of what is there. It’s easy to miss the spirit of the place. My hope is that the art I create makes this more difficult. That it helps us to see.
Which bring me back to what this trail will be called. I’m searching for a name that brings to the surface the ideas that link the installations. Regular readers will know that I like using words outdoors. (I wrote about this recently on the English website ThinkinGardens. You can read that here.) Words are a part of the installations I’ve created to date and that will probably continue. The passage of time and the history of the site are elements as well, yet I know there is something more, something deeper that I haven’t identified.
I want a name that rolls off the tongue easily, that isn’t pretentious. Most important, though, it needs to encapsulate what the trail as a whole reveals about the land and the experience of being on it. It needs to speak to the deep heart’s core.
Do you have suggestions? I welcome individual words or combinations of words — even crazy thoughts. Because who knows where a thought will lead?