By Lawrence Hagerty, April 4, 2002
I sensed his presence for over
a week. It wasn't as if he was actually stalking me, it was
more like he just wanted to be nearby in case I needed to
talk. Although it had been a while since we had last spoken,
I wasn't surprised that he followed me on my first journey
to the deep woods of British Columbia. I was traveling there
with my wife to participate in a conference on spiritual practices.
It was when we were on the
small ferry, taking us to what would be our temporary island
home, that I knew for sure he was crossing the bay with us.
During the week that followed, I kept expecting him to make
an appearance. At times, when I was alone in the woods, I
would quickly turn around, or look up into the forest canopy,
fully expecting to catch a glimpse of my unseen companion.
Yet he never appeared.
Even during the most heated
discussions among our small band of utopian planners, he remained
out of sight. How strange I thought, for some of the conversations
we were having at the conference were exactly the kind he
relished long ago, when we were together every day. By the
time my wife and I were riding the ferry back to civilization,
I had given up on making contact with him. It was as if he
followed us just to enjoy the scenery.
We had a couple of days before
we had to return home, so we decided to spend the weekend
in Victoria, a delightful town on the southern tip of Vancouver
Island. The weather was perfect. It was the first day of autumn
and the winter rains had not yet begun. The melancholy we
experienced after parting with our friends, both old and new,
was quickly replaced by the positive energy of this beautiful
city. It was during our second day in Victoria that he finally
made his appearance. Like proper tourists, we visited one
of the city's most famous attractions, Butchart Gardens. Perhaps
you have been there yourself. If so, you already know of its
As I understand the story of
the gardens, early in the 20th century a businessman began
mining operations in a limestone quarry just outside the town
of Victoria. Eventually there was not enough limestone left
to make operations economically feasible. So this wealthy
industrialist closed the mine and laid off all his workers.
Not long after the closing, the wife of its owner, Jenny Butchart,
had the idea to turn this newly created eyesore of a quarry
into a garden. Thus began the long process of bringing in
topsoil and plants. Today, that former quarry is the sunken
garden section of what has grown into one of the world's largest
and most beautiful flower gardens.
While I was standing on a ridge
looking down on the huge sunken garden, he finally began to
speak to me. "So, what d'ya think kid?" was the
first thing he said. Only now, as I write this, do I realize
how often my father said those words to me . . . and how important
they have been in my life. It has been over 25 years since
he died, but I still vividly recall the expectant tone of
voice he always used when asking me what I thought. My dad
really cared about what I thought. That always came first
with him, not what he thought but what I thought. As I think
about this, I see how wise he was to first hear me out, especially
when he disagreed with me. It was not unusual for us to both
make slight adjustments in our points of view once we had
finished one of our conversations. Now, here he was, asking
me what I thought about the incredible beauty that lay before
What did I think? The answer
to that question could not be put into words. The stunning
array of color, rolling across the beds of flowers, reminded
me of waves breaking at the sea shore, ever-changing and each
one perfect. One of the things that had been discussed in
the conference of the previous week was the need to create
a new language, one that could better describe the wondrous
beauty we see in nature. So there I stood, taking in that
pulsating, living, breathing, breathtaking splendor and unable
to say anything more than, "It is so beautiful."
"That's pretty obvious,"
I sensed my father answering, "but what I was talking
about is the story of how this old limestone quarry was transformed
into a corner of paradise."
Then he began to tell me what
he was thinking, and it went something like this. He had been
thinking about the men who labored in this quarry a hundred
years ago. And what struck him most forcibly was how much
they were like so many people today. Although the quarrymen
had their moments of joy, most of their waking thoughts were
focused on survival. Granted, living conditions back then
made survival more of a life and death matter, but the stress
of living with a sense of controlled panic was not so different
from that felt by people living today's more affluent lifestyles.
The only difference between then and now is the fact that
our lives of quiet desperation today are being lived more
As I listened to my father's
thoughts, I realized that things haven't actually changed
all that much in the century just passed. The quarrymen, and
the women who held them together in body and spirit, were
in the same spot that many people are in today. For example
loggers, who earn their living by cutting down trees, have
families that need to be fed, children to be educated, and
doctor's bills to pay. Just as the earlier quarrymen hadn't
set out in life to carve gigantic holes in the Earth, today's
logger doesn't see his or her mission as that of stripping
the mountains of their protective trees. Their primary goal
is simple, to take care of their families. Most of them, I
suspect, would much rather spend the day hiking with friends
in the forest than they would cutting down 200 year old trees.
Their primary mission, caring for their families, is pure.
It is the system they are caught up in that is out of balance.
My mind tried to reconcile
the human struggle for a livelihood with the stunning natural
beauty that lay before me, and I noticed that my thoughts
began to center on the undeniable potential we humans have
to actually create paradise on Earth. I began to see how seemingly
small steps can be taken that will eventually transform this
planet back into the paradise it was before our species became
so carried away with the wonders of industrialization. There
are so many little things we can do to better integrate industrial
advances and environmental awareness without major sacrifices
to our standard of living. All it takes is for people to understand
the truth and not continue to be misled by the never-ending
propaganda of those who are not willing to move into a sustainable
Then I heard my father say,
"Isn't that one of the things you learned this past week?
Didn't you experience first-hand how deeply interconnected
everything and everybody truly is? Just because you don't
happen to live in a forest, it doesn't mean you can ignore
their destruction. Just because you don't live in the Middle
East, it doesn't mean you can ignore the plight of that part
of the human family who does live there." How true, I
Whether we work in forests,
factories, or offices, if we are not careful they can become
cold, deep quarries, which admit few rays of sunlight. Yet,
I found myself looking down on what had once been such a brutish
pit and saw only beauty. Here was the proof I had been looking
for it really is possible for us to turn this planet
into a paradise. I believe that part of the magic of Butchart
Gardens is the fact that it was the very same workmen who
first dug the quarry who were the ones that brought in the
topsoil to begin the transformation into what it is today.
It was when that thought formed that I fully understood the
nature of the problem we had been working on during our week
in the woods.
If, as many of us believe,
it is possible to return this planet to the paradise it once
was, then why haven't we simply gone about doing it? Suddenly,
the answer seemed so clear, and so simple: We transform our
world by first transforming our own consciousness. A century
ago some hard-working quarrymen had the good fortune to be
working for a man who was graced with an enlightened wife.
She was not willing to let her husband simply cast aside those
souls who had once helped them build their wealth. After her
husband closed the exhausted quarry, Mrs. Butchart hired them
back. But this time their work became an act of love toward
this Earth. Shovel by shovel, they covered the bare rock with
soil. Plant by plant they returned life to the land. Today,
the loving spirit of all those whose labor went into preserving
this land can be clearly felt. It is possible, I realized
as I gazed upon this quarry-turned-paradise. It truly is possible
to reverse the damage we have inflicted on the land, on each
other, and on ourselves.
"That is exactly what
I was thinking," I heard my father say.
The next day, after taking
the ferry back to the U.S., we drove down the Olympic Peninsula
toward Tacoma, the city in which my father had been born the
very year those workmen first began to add topsoil to the
quarry. Only the naked gashes from sections of clear-cut forest
disturbed the serenity of our drive. Just east of Tacoma,
my father took his leave. I suspect he returned to his favorite
boyhood haunt, the foothills of beautiful Mount Rainier. At
least I like to think of his spirit poking around up there.
As I sit at our kitchen table
and put these thoughts on paper, the roar of a neighbor's
leaf-blower comes in through an open window. At first, the
noise irritates me. Then I remember the tranquility of Butchart
Gardens, and I think back to the days when there were no gardens
there, only a noisy quarry. Out of nowhere, I hear his voice
once again, "So, what d'ya think kid?"
I am thinking that it is time
to get to work and turn this quarry into a garden.
"(Re)Building Paradise" Copyright © 2002 by
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