Carey Dodge


Monday, July 28, 2008


So, I haven't posted for a while... I have been busy meditating and going to Glasgow...

Spending time in the Tropical Ravine has led me to contemplate sanctuary. When I first started walking about in the ravine and thinking about it, wondering what I could add to this place I asked questions such as: Why would someone come to this place? What does this place offer? What is special about this place? How does this place relate to the rest of the botanic gardens? to Belfast? to the world? What do I think of while I am here? What state of mind do I enter into when I visit the ravine?...

I first thought of secret gardens as the ravine is hidden away. It is set aside. (You would not necessarily find the entrance unless you read a map directing you to it.) It is secret in a way. Which also makes it special. There is seldom more than a few people there.

It is very beautiful and rich and full of life. It is also warm which is very welcome on the cool summer days here in Northern Ireland ;)

Why would someone go to the tropical ravine? When I first started visiting the ravine it was around the time of July 12th and I really felt the aggression that is still a large part of Belfast's culture. The botanic gardens and the Tropical Ravine in particular were a welcome contrast to the rowdy urban celebrations surrounding the 12th night. The celebrations left the streets littered with garbage, filled the air with the smoke of burnt tires, wood and couches and made many people so uncomfortable or fearful that they either hid in their houses or left town altogether. If you lived in a beautiful serene place perhaps you would not need a sanctuary like the Tropical Ravine but I think any urban environment needs a place(s) like the Tropical Ravine.

This led me to study what makes a garden special or become a sanctuary. I read about Japanese and Chinese gardens where garden making is a high art. I read a bit about gardens in general. I thought about the novel, "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett and similar works such as the recent film "Pan's Labrynth", etc. The most interesting concept I came accross was shakkei or “a landscape captured alive” as translated by Teiji Itoh in his book, Space & Illusion in the Japanese Garden. I will write more about this in my next post.

Then I was forced to ask, what is a sanctuary?
I think Japanese gardens, the secret garden, monasteries, churches are sanctuaries but what is it about these places that make them sanctuaries? especially a peaceful sanctuary. i.e. Some of us find sanctuary in heavy metal music or cooking or some other such activity but what struck me about the Tropical Ravine is that the place instills a sense of sanctuary. Perhaps it is its rustic aged appearance. It is not finely kept with shiny new boldly coloured plastic signs that label each plant with its scientific name and origin (there are some but they are printed on metal plates that are fading and some of them are missing). There is rusted metal and plants that seem to have been there since the time the building was built.

There is also the fact that it is a living place. It is bursting with life. In that sense it is an inspiring sanctuary as opposed to a nostalgic sanctuary as a church may be. Anyone who has walked into an old and seldom used church might be filled with a sense of sanctuary but there is also a sense of nostalgia and the past. The Tropical Ravine is a living thing and lives still when you are not there.

until the next hopefully sooner post...

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  • At 7:04 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You are definitely getting there.
    A sanctuary like that one almost has a heart beat if you listen.



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