In the Garden of Good and Monkey


In Japanese, the word for garden, 庭 (niwa; pronounced "knee-wa") is also the word used for yard. If that's the case, my garden is a three-foot by ten-foot concrete block surrounded by a sliver of dirt from which a plethora of weeds and mushrooms (and one magnificent tree-shrub) magically grow. I say magically because my garden basks in sunlight for, perhaps, fifteen minutes a day. Also magical is the fact that my clothes somehow dry back there. It truly defies scientific explanation.

My dream garden, on the other hand would be wide, wild, and chock-full of swinging monkeys. Oh sure, I like to stroll through traditional Japanese gardens. There's no arguing that they are stunningly beautiful and serene accomplishments. However, I've always found myself at odds with the assertion that the Japanese garden is at harmony with nature, or that it somehow proves that Japanese culture is more in touch with the natural world than western culture. Maybe it's my upbringing as a farm boy, living on the edge of a state-park where I spent a large part of my childhood running from bears (and wild dogs, and coyotes, and wild turkeys, and chickens...chickens are vicious, man!), but to me the Japanese garden is an attempt to reproduce nature on a human scale, reduce it to a manageable size, and thus to control it. It's the same impetus that leads to the kawaii-factor. Everything is easier to deal with if it's small and cute. Having said that, Rikugien is mind-bogglingly beautiful, and does wonders for the soul.

Most damning of all, traditional Japanese gardens have no monkeys.

You may remember Mark McKenna's Banana-Taill from previous posts here, here, here, and here, and a bunch more. I've been doing some more monkey art for him recently, and this is a taste of where it's all heading.