Native Son: September 21, 2017

Still under the emotional influence of my 40th high school reunion the night before, Michael Brice, my best friend from those days, coaxed me into trading a day of watching football on a comfy couch for a visit to Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois.

Best trade I ever made.

Reunion of Souls


This girl just came up and sat down right in front of me while I was taking photographs. Initially a bit perturbed at the “interloper,” I chose instead to view her presence as a gift instead of a problem.

Many people come into our lives uninvited, and for reasons we do not understand.

Our choice of how we view other people matters greatly.


Only a few steps into the garden, I stood mesmerized by this small waterfall scene. How was I to know there were dozens more ahead? For all I knew at the time, this might be the best part of the garden.

I thought about my graduation day, surrounded by friends, family, laughter, tears. I wondered, back in May of 1977…is this to be the best day of my life, as good as it gets?

Life has no guarantees…regardless of what lay ahead of us, best to breathe deep and cherish the moment at hand.

Continued Below



Rounded boulders make this path a risky one; one that demands our full attention. It instructs us to focus on the moment and separate ourselves from the constant din of life’s distractions.

A good teacher can do the same.


This waterfall can be partially seen from three other locations. It teased and frustrated me with incomplete glimpses, but eventually rewarded me for continuing along the path with this lovely view.

Our goals are not always within sight. Press onward.


This unexpected irregular pentagon cutaway made me ponder its creator…who would think to do something like this in an otherwise “perfect” deck? And why the strange shape? What purpose does it serve?

It sends my mind off wandering…yet does so without disturbing the lovely view across the lake.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere…


People often speak of a path that is straight and narrow. I suppose it will get you there, but you sure miss a lot of wonderful things along the way. One of the hallmarks of Japanese gardens is the ever-changing pathways…designed to signal transitions and to slow you down…literally forcing you to slow down and appreciate the beauty of life’s journey.

“The journey is the destination.” — Dan Eldon

That may be the one thing I had figured out before my eighteenth birthday.


This Kare Sansui is raked frequently, whether necessitated by leaf fall, squirrel antics, or thoughtless footprints. It reminds me that everything and everyone is affected by elements outside themselves.

Life is messy. Nothing is ever truly finished. Maintenance is simply a part of living.

Nothing and no one on Earth goes untouched…


The strong, yet simple architectural lines of this Sukiya-style guest house make it distinctive, yet allow it to blend harmoniously into the surrounding garden.

I aspire to be that way myself.


A blind shot.

I held my phone camera up over this maple in hopes of getting a little foreground color in the photograph of this Kare Sansui, or dry garden. I have taken many chances, done many silly things in my life…most of which didn’t amount to much, but some brought me great joy. This is perhaps my favorite photo of the day.

Serendipity…it’s not just for breakfast anymore.


This grand gate celebrates change as it separates two distinct areas of the garden. It reminded me of my high school graduation, which separated the Class of ‘77 from our former lives as students.

Life has many gates, most of which are one-way portals.

Best to acknowledge…celebrate…and move on.


I debated whether or not to remove the fallen leaves from this stone basin. I chose to leave the basin as I found it. Finding beauty in something just as it is, without altering it to suit our personal or societal preferences…whether it is an object or a person…is itself a beautiful thing.

Children do that all day long.


This waterfall was like a train in the distance; I heard it long before I could see it, and yet it still surprised me with its beauty. It brought me much joy, and set my mind flowing with thoughts of other things in life for which I waited. Not all of them were beautiful…

Anticipation sometimes exceeds that for which we wait…the paper is more beautiful than the gift…and we are disappointed.

In time, we realize the exhilaration of anticipation is a wonderful gift in itself.


I can barely believe I took this photograph.

Impulsively, I held my phone camera out over the water and took a blind shot. A family with small children was about five feet away, just out of frame to the right…yet, to me, the image seems to possess a lonely, almost ghostly feel to it.

Sometimes we can be surrounded by people and things, but feel lost and lonely, estranged and isolated. I often felt that way in my younger days…and even contemplated suicide. Eventually, I learned that being by myself and being lonely were two different things, and anyone…rich or poor, healthy or sick… can be susceptible to silent desperation.

Sometimes a gentle touch or a kind word can be enough to save a life.


I did what you just did…laugh.

As I ventured through the garden…mind soaring, senses bristling…this whimsical sculpture surprised me and I laughed out loud. A minute later, I heard the next garden guest laugh. Then another…

Laughter in a garden is like a delightful bird that arrives unexpectedly, blesses us with its song, and is gone in a flash.


This elderly couple slowly made their way through the garden. He was slow, but sure of step. She was faster on level ground, but really shaky on uneven terrain. Together, they did just fine. I don’t know if they were married sixty years or sixty days, but I know a beautiful thing when I see it.

Sometimes we forget that couples are essentially two best friends who choose to travel through life together. They are the family we choose.


Anderson Japanese Gardens formally commenced in 1978, the year after my graduation from high school. Once young, it needed time to grow and develop. It soaked up sun and rain, was battered by storms, and hardened by snow. It was coaxed along by many people and always had someone who believed in it. With each year, it added rooms and developed features. Inch by inch, stone by stone, plant by plant…it grew and became something unique and wonderful.

Just like me…just like you…just like all of us.


I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town to small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Come out and see me at Chandor Gardens! Located in the heart of Weatherford’s Historic District, Chandor Gardens is the perfect place to get away and enjoy the simple pleasures of life that can only be found in gardens. Call 817-613-1700 or visit for details.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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