Not long ago Mrs. C. and I decided to visit The Portland Japanese Garden. Portland’s climate is similar to Japan’s and our garden is considered one of the best in the country. We visit every few years and try to time our trips when the cherry trees are blossoming. Helpful guides are on hand to explain the history of Japanese landscape design and the evolution of a garden which was once the site of our zoo’s elephant house. We’ve always preferred wandering around on our own, but this last time a tour was departing as we entered. We joined it.
I snapped dozens of pictures; as usual I never fail to be rejuvenated by the garden and inspired by Japanese culture and their love of nature. Toward the end of our tour we paused to take pictures. I noticed a knee-high stone carving of the young Buddha a short distance from the path we’d been following.
“What can you tell us about this sculpture?” I asked, pointing at it.
Our guide scratched his ear and ran a hand through his sparse hair. “I can’t tell you much,” he said.
This seemed out of character; until now he’d been a font of information, a botanical and cultural encyclopedia.
“I’ve been a volunteer guide here for about twenty years,” he explained. “This statue of Buddha turned up a few months ago. We have no idea where it came from or how it happens to be here.”
The tour’s curiosity was piqued and cameras clicked like a swarm of cicadas.
“We’ve researched the statue and learned that it’s approximately a hundred and fifty years old, but we haven’t managed to learn anything more. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s possible it came from a temple and was taken as a souvenir by an American soldier during the war.”
That didn’t explain how or why the Buddha ended up here. When the tour was over Mrs. C. and I returned to the statue so I could take a few more pictures. The Buddha wasn’t all that massive, but it had to weigh close to thirty pounds. Heavy for a war souvenir. Had it sat in a GI’s garden until he grew remorseful and decided to return it? Curious since Portland was a long way from Japan. Of course it might not have been a GI at all. But someone managed to breech security and lug it through dense foliage and twisted uneven paths.
Secrets and mysteries are said to be the domain of sphinxes, but here in Portland we have a mysterious and enigmatic Buddha. Perhaps one day our Buddha will open his eyes and let us in on his secret. Until then, someone had better keep their eyes on this guy. He wanders.
Here are a few more photographs of the Portland Japanese Garden.