Japanese gardens express the ultimate connection between humankind and nature, for these gardens are not only decorative, but are an expression of various aspects of Japanese culture. Gardens in Japan incorporate both natural and artificial elements, uniting nature and architecture into one entity. Carleton’s Garden of Quiet Listening combines two forms of Japanese gardens – the dry garden and the tea garden. Both come out of garden traditions associated with Zen Buddhism and are used specifically as aids to a deeper understanding of Zen concepts. These gardens are meant for viewers not to physically interact with, but are designed as visual stimulus in the meditative process. The viewer of the garden is physically removed from the actual garden, restricted to observing it from a specific viewing structure, such as the shelter in Carleton’s garden.
Carleton’s Garden of Quiet Listening, has an important place within several programs at the college, such as religion, East Asian Studies and Art History. It is a place that expresses a range of Japanese beliefs about the relationship between man and nature. Since the garden is an aestheticized and miniaturized landscape, it also illustrates some fundamental principles of other related art forms in Japan. Moreover, some of these beliefs about the relationship between man and nature and their connection with aesthetic principles are shared by other cultures of East Asia, including China, Korea, and Vietnam. Thus, the garden has broader applicability to other courses on East Asian culture. Furthermore, as the Environmental Studies Program is seeking to find more relevant courses in the humanities, several faculty are working on future offerings that would look at gardens as sites to study and discuss environmental issues and philosophies across cultures.
The Garden for Quiet Listening is a small space in which the shelter forms the main viewing point. Smoking was always discouraged, and there have been many conversations over the years about whether or not to post “No Smoking” signs. Because aesthetic preferences traditionally triumphed over practical considerations, signs were not installed. Additionally, the number of people who smoked in the garden was relatively small and instances of smoking fairly infrequent. Over time, staff found it necessary to manage cigarette waste and put a receptacle for cigarette butts near the shelter. For the past year or so, however, the culture of smoking among students on campus has clearly changed. The garden is now being actively promoted through social media as a place to smoke cigarettes or other substances. Whereas in the past, one might have encountered a single individual smoking from time to time, the garden now frequently has groups of smokers. Non-smokers can no longer enjoy the garden, not only due to the presence of cigarette smoke, but also because the shelter traps cigarette smoke odor, which is unpleasant to many people. The shelter is also made of flammable natural materials and poses a greater fire hazard than ordinary building structures. For all of these reasons, the decision was made to post “No Smoking” signs within the shelter to clarify college policy. Since the signs have gone up, they have immediately been taken down and stolen. Stealing the signs does not negate the policy; anyone encountering someone smoking in the garden may ask them to stop, and if they do not stop, may call campus security. Because of the negative health impact of second-hand smoke, the presence of smoking prohibits the non-smoking majority from experiencing the garden. Additionally the constant smell from cigarette smoke has also created an unpleasant environment for a space meant for contemplation, study, and aesthetic enjoyment. If one of the clear attractions of the garden for smokers is the lack of sheltered areas on campus where smoking is allowed, then the matter ought to be brought forward in a broader campus dialogue.
The Garden for Quiet Listening, like the Arboretum, is a unique resource. Carleton is one of the few liberal arts colleges to have a Japanese garden; moreover, it has consistently ranked among the top ten in the United States. It is used actively in our curriculum, and until recently was enjoyed by a broad spectrum of visitors from the Carleton community and beyond. Many staff members and community volunteers also spend a great deal of time and effort to maintain it. During the 2015-16 academic year, we will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Garden for Quiet Listening. Please help protect this living work of art and make it possible for everyone to enjoy it by refraining from smoking inside the garden.