It started with too much free time and random browsing on the iPad. Google Earth is fascinating. You spin the globe, pick a continent, zoom in on a place, and begin exploring. You jump into Wikipedia to learn more about the area or a specific site; watch a few foreign films on Netflix and videos on YouTube to get a sense of the place, its people and their way of life, both past and present; read the travel sites and blogs; and mine the Internet for related content. And suddenly, you become more culturally literate. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, especially for a lazy, modern day adventurer. The purists will say it is much better to visit and live there to truly get the full experience. I would tend to agree, but learning and exploring with a few swipes of a finger without the commitment of time and the usual hassles of travel are a convenient virtual getaway.
Now back to the story. One day, an idea came to me while zooming in on an aerial view of my summer house I share with another family, nestled in woods of New Fairfield, Connecticut, by Candlewood Lake. We affectionately call it the Igloo, since the main house looks like a large igloo, snow white and dome-like. Wouldn’t it be great to build something interesting on the property that could be viewed from Google Earth (also Google Maps)? The thought of having a satellite image of something unique but easily recognizable appealed to me.
What People Want?
After weeks of brainstorming and surfing for ideas, it finally clicked. It was inspired by the tumultuous events in 2011, including the ongoing global economic crisis, the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements throughout the world. What do people really want? It took me back to the Declaration of Independence, and the answer was there – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Happy Birthday, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy ending – yes, happiness was it!
Of all the symbols and images, what better represents happiness than the Smiley face. A circle, two cheery eyes and a bright smile makes everyone feel good upon seeing it. There is beauty in its simplicity and universality in its appeal. It transcends all ages, races, religious beliefs, cultures and geographies. On a t-shirt, on a button, on a wall, on a balloon or as part of a text message, it brings joy and a smile to everyone. A large Smiley face, viewable from the sky above, would be a great project. Yes, it’s a little corny and perhaps somewhat sappy and outdated, but fortunately, Smiley is above all that.
The next challenge was how to build a large Smiley face? At first I considered using a very large yellow vinyl sheet cut into a circle and printed with black eyes and a mouth, similar to the process used to print large banners for outdoor billboards. This monster size poster would be placed flatly on the ground secured by stakes and fasteners. But somehow, this didn’t feel right – it seemed too commercial and unnatural, especially next to a state park which abuts the property. Other concepts, such as a painted concrete slab, outdoor tiles, black benches on grass and several others were considered, but eventually rejected. The solution needed to be as elegant and pure as Smiley.
A Zen Garden – it was so obvious and so right! Zen is more of an attitude than a belief, very similar to the pursuit of happiness. Zen is peace, Zen is simplicity, Zen is oneness with the world, Zen celebrates life, Zen is now. A Zen Garden in the shape of a Smiley face would be the perfect reflection of peace and happiness.
The Smiley Zen Garden was born. Once conceived, it was clear of how it should be designed. The circle, eyes and mouth would be composed of black stones. The face will be of lighter, yellowish river pebbles that may be raked like a traditional Zen garden. The color contrast of the stones borrows from another great symbol, the Yin Yang. The happiest of gardens will become one with the nature, surrounded by neighboring granite, trees and the bubbling sound of a brook within a park like setting. A garden that smiles to the world.
This is the beginning of the story of the Smiley Zen Garden 🙂