Thursday, February 28, 2013

Garden of One Thousand Buddhas: Arlee, MT

To continue with last week's theme of illogically placed attractions, I visited the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, Montana.  Arlee is just over an hour from my house, the closest town of any size is Missoula.  When I first heard there was a Buddhist garden here I thought it was a mistake. 

Off the main highway you drive a few miles to what seems like the middle of nowhere and as promised, there it is.

A very large center statue surrounded by other statues, land and the mountains.

Along this road there are other houses including one across the street that has a cross in the window facing the garden.  I wonder if that is intentional?  I was also chased by a couple of stray dogs; dogs that aren't welcome at the garden.  This is considered a holy place and they ask that if you bring your dog, that you leave it in the car.

Something that the lady behind this tree with the "Please No Dogs" sign either didn't read or decided didn't apply to her because you can see her little black dog galavanting around the grounds in the background.

It was quite cold in Arlee when I visited the garden, much colder than I expected and colder than it was at my house when I left.  I am only wearing a sweater over a short sleeve shirt and my gloves managed to get left at home.  Still, I want to see this more closely and to possibly verify the existence of exactly 1000 Buddhas so I get out and walk up.

As you walk towards the only entrance to the circular shaped garden (set up with 8 spokes to represent the Dharma wheel) you find what almost looks like a fountain but there is no water.  Trinkets have been left all over the steps.

There are a few miniature statues here, all draped in a vast variety of items.

Like this plastic Indian figure and a glue stick.  There are pony tail holders, charms, bracelets, toys and even an ID card from a school complete with the student name and photo still intact.  Did he leave it himself or does he have no idea what happened to his ID card?

Even this rusting wrench was left behind.

The variety of things left is so diverse I find myself wondering whether people leave them as offerings or prayers or if people leave things to be funny or disrespectful as with this statue of Ganesha wearing a cross.

Beyond this area you come to the first spoke and to the first rows of Buddha statues.

These near identical statues are handmade concrete and the brochure says they contain prayers, mandalas and "blessed substances".  Ultimately, I didn't count the Buddhas.  First, there were other people here and I didn't want to be disrespectful of their experience.  Second, I am freezing.  One of the spokes was not completely filled all the way to the end.

I assume these Buddha statues here at the Buddha Barn (my name, not theirs) are awaiting placement when the weather warms up.  There are a few other outbuildings and a gift shop which I did not visit.  During the summer months they offer guided tours of the garden, which really should be more garden-like at that time. There are planting areas in between the spokes on the wheel that you can walk all the way around.  I will definitely return in the spring to see what it looks like here with the grass all green and the flowers in bloom.

All of the spokes lead to the central figure:  Yum Chenmo.  This name means the "Great Mother".  The brochure says, "Her image is the embodiment of the Buddha's teachings which elucidate that it is through the love and compassion for all sentient beings in unity with the enlightened wisdom realizing our inter-connectedness with all phenomena, that we may be awakened to our innate true nature."  The throne is said to be filled with prayers, sacred texts and once again "substances" from "around the world". 

I am impressed by this statue for its purely artistic beauty and the sheer scale of the installation.  Especially considering it is placed in the middle of nowhere Montana.

In addition to the smaller Buddha statues, there are 3 larger statues.  I don't know if they count towards the 1000 or if they are in addition to that.  These represent the "Buddhas of the 3 times".  I am not sure which one this is because it is cloudy and I don't know my North/South/East/West without the sun or being back in Texas where I lived my whole life until now and just knew.

In the very back there is a small pond which is currently frozen and 3 more statues.

Quan Yin, the Bodhisattva of infinite compassion.

Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the 14th Dali Lama's teachers.  This statue and the next one are both carved in granite.

Tulku Orgyen Chemchok

When I mentioned that I visited the Garden to a few people who live here they said, "You went where?  I didn't know there was such a place."  I imagine people who don't live here have an even harder time believing it.  Montana conjures images of hunters and militia not Buddhists.  I am finding that the Missoula area at least is a little more diverse than an outsider would expect.  Missoula is a college town so maybe that explains part of it. 

Some asked why I would even bother to visit this Garden.  "Are you a Buddhist?" Usually asked with wide eyes or one eyebrow lifted.

First I would say that if you have read any of the other posts here you will know that I enjoy the unusual attraction:  The Beer Can House in Houston, the house shaped like a shoe in Pennsylvania, The John Dillinger Museum in Indiana.  The Missoula Museum of Art might be nice, I don't know, I haven't been there yet.  But, I expect that it isn't all that different than the Dallas Museum of Art (other than in size) or the Omaha Museum of Art or the Podunk Museum of Art.

Second, I don't need to be a Buddhist to appreciate the beauty of a garden or a work of art.  No more than I need to be Christian to be awed by the architecture of a church or the workmanship of a fantastic stained glass window.  I have always been interested in all kinds of religious symbolism, traditions and stories.  I am not Catholic but I have a statue of Joan of Arc and her saint card in my china hutch.  I also have an angel right outside the front door, 4 small Buddha statues on the top of the mirror in my bathroom, Hindu Mala beads, and the Hindu symbol Adi Shakti tattooed on my wrist. 

The commitment of any person or persons to something meant to be beautiful and inspirational and to bring peace and love to others is admirable to me, regardless of the vehicle they use to do it.  And I have to believe the people who dreamed of this Garden and then made it a reality are some very committed individuals.  Otherwise, this tiny town in Montana would have a lot fewer Buddhas in their midst. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Dollhouse: Florence, MT

David and I drive past The Dollhouse on a regular basis.  One day as we passed, we discussed what kind of a business - because it was obviously some kind of business - it is.  I am inclined to think it is a salon with a catchy name and very little clientele since there are rarely more than one or two cars in the parking lot.

Pretty much like today.  One of those must belong to the proprietor since there is no parking behind the building.

David is inclined to believe the name is literal and that it is a doll store.

No way, I say.  There is no way this town of only a few thousand people would be able to support a doll store that size.  So this past Tuesday, I stop in on my way to look at a house (let the house-hunting begin!).  Before I even get inside, I see that David is right.

I hate it when he is right.  At least he isn't here to gloat in person.

Not only is this doll store in the least logical location to me, it is both a very large doll store and a museum.  As you walk in you are in the store half and they have almost every kind of doll imaginable.  I say "almost" because you won't find a single American Girls doll here.

There are traditional dolls like Raggedy Ann and Andy and lots of Precious Moments.

All kinds of "life like" dolls.

Including some I find to be quite creepy.

But none as creepy as the Kewpie dolls, of which there are several.  These dolls look like they know where the butcher block in your kitchen is and they plan to visit your bedroom with an assortment of knives after you are asleep.

Some dolls are just plain weird.  I can't imagine the person who would see this pair and think, "I must own those!"

I am not fond of this trend towards life-like faces.  What was wrong with Holly Hobbie and Strawberry Shortcake?  I did not see any goth, vampire or zombie dolls so I still haven't obtained the roller-skating goth zombie doll I saw when I was in Omaha.  Also, no Monster High here.

There are dolls with tattoos, dolls of all nationalities, made from all kinds of materials.  Cases and cases and cases of them.

There are some fantastic - and very expensive - dolls here too.  These handmade completely wooden dolls are from the Xenis Collection and were designed after fairy tale characters.  You can see Red-Riding Hood in the back.

Captain Hook is really impressive. These dolls were in the $1,000 to $1,500 range...per doll.

The store also boasts a generous collection of miniatures and doll house furniture.

Figurines, ornaments and stuffed animals.  There are also doll clothes and carriages but surprisingly few doll houses.

There is only one other person in the store while I am there and based on the conversation she is having with the owner, I assume she is a regular.  I ask the owner if there is a museum as there appears to be additional rooms in the back with no lights on. She says yes and escorts me to the back for a look.  She is very helpful and knowledgeable about the dolls in the museum because they were owned by her mother.  The museum is at least as large as the store portion but these dolls are not for sale.  She says she has duplicates of some or she could order others but these stay here.  And, this isn't even all of them.  She has overflow rooms full of dolls because her mother owned so many she can't display them all.

She tells me of how her mother went to the bank and asked for $500 to start a doll store.  The banker was hesitant to do the loan but ultimately did and that is how it all started.  Now the daughter carries on the legacy her mother began.

The doll on the left is Martha Washington, part of a large collection of the First Ladies.

There were several collections around famous people like this one of Shirley Temple dolls.  This makes me wonder, do you think Shirley Temple Black owns the dolls made in her image?

  She has Cher, Jackie Kennedy, and quite a few Gone with the Wind dolls and figurines.  There are some Barbies in the collection but only a few (still in the box) and usually only where they match some other type of collection, such as Marilyn Monroe.  I didn't see any Barbie or Barbie-type dolls in the store.  I imagine they leave that to Wal-Mart.

That doll on the stool looked frightening real.  The owner stays with me and tells me stories about some of the dolls, tells me about the different makers or how her mom came to own them.

Like these that were obtained at an estate sale.  Though there are dolls here from Thailand, Italy, China and other places her mother never traveled. All of the dolls were purchased in Western Montana either through stores, estate sales or individuals offering to sell them to her mother.

I asked my neighbor if the store has been there they whole time they have lived here and she said yes.  That is at least 6 years.  I honestly can't imagine how she manages to stay open unless she has income from other sources.  And although I am not someone who is normally interested in dolls, the store and the museum are quite impressive.  More impressive is the owners dedication to carrying on after her mother and her obvious passion for the store and her mother's collection.  Everyone should be so lucky in their everyday work life.

And yes...I bought a doll.  I was tempted (NOT) by the 1st birthday Kewpie doll but ended up going for the traditional:  Raggedy Ann on a rocking horse for my granddaughter Audrey's birthday coming up in March.

Theresa's Dolls & Gifts
5908 Eastside Highway
Florence, MT
M-S 10am - 6pm

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Audubon Adenvture: Mission Valley, MT

As I have stated in recent posts, I am really excited about the wildlife here in Montana.  I like seeing the bald eagle that fishes the river across from my house gliding around the mountains in the afternoon.  I like that I can look over to the field behind my neighbor's house and see deer.  So, when I saw in the Missoula Events Twitter feed that a local Audubon society was doing a day long event I was excited to sign up.

David?  Not so much.  I think his original reply was, "Do you need me to go?"  After that reply?  No.  So I resolved to go with or without him.  It turned out that Diana was willing to join me so I didn't end up alone.

Nor did Diana and I stay alone long.  The group was to meet at the "field house" at the university.  I know what a field house is but when we arrive, we are unsure which building it might be.  We are driving around looking for people who might be interested in spending the day looking for birds when we see a young man in the parking lot.  Diana speaks to him through the window and he says that he is looking for the same group.  So I say...wait for it...

"Do you want to get in the car?  You look cold."

I KNOW.  Totally a Criminal Minds moment.  The second the words were out I knew that I shouldn't have said them and I certainly should have asked Diana first.  I looked over to her and said, "Is that okay?" and she said it was.  So, he gets in.  I told Diana later that he seemed okay because he was walking around with a lunchbox at 7 am.  Diana said it is the lunchbox that he carries the head of his previous victim in.

He didn't murder us.  In fact, he spent a lot of time against the window asleep like this.  He also wasn't alone in the back seat since we adopted a young woman too.  The young man even accused me once of acting like his mother because I offered him fruit I brought.

Mission Valley is an area approximately an hour north of Missoula.  We go to a gas station after leaving the university to pick up a few more people for our caravan.  This gas station has everything - gas, snacks, outdoor equipment, clothing, cowboy boots, gifts.  Hunter (the young man in my back seat) bought some chips and a drink which he then left on top of my car when the group started an impromptu meeting in the parking lot.  When I came out, I moved my car and realized there was stuff on the roof.  I then proceeded to dump his entire bag of chips out in the parking lot.  I went in to buy a replacement but he had gotten the last one of that flavor.  I bought two others and hoped he would get over it.  So far, we are not off to a good start.

Things don't get a lot better.  Diana and I both though we would be driving to one or more places and then getting out to look, possibly to hike in to an area.  That didn't happen.  The whole plan is to drive around and to mostly stay in the car.  We are driving down dirt roads and the birds we are viewing are WAY in the distance.  The leader in the front car drives, someone spots something, there is a lot of back and forth on the walkie-talkies (the one we were issued is being managed by Hunter) and we stop.  Sometimes we get out.  The first time we get out, I forget to turn my headlights off so my car starts making noise.  I say something to Diana.  The bird flies away.

At this point I am told, not very nicely I might add, that we need to be quiet because birds are sensitive, especially those we are looking for today.  Taking photos from this distance, in or out of the car doesn't produce good images.  I had the best lens I own on but they were simply too far in the distance most of the time.  If I remember correctly, that is a rough-legged hawk.

Let me just say that a group of people running around with their scopes and cameras getting excited about various birds, shutting car doors, etc. aren't quiet.  I got in trouble right away but nothing is ever said - at least not that I hear - to any of the other offenders.

I also find it weird that when we do get out of the car, it is sometimes right in front of a house.  When I took the photo above, we are on a city street, cars pulled on to the almost non-existent side of the road (except me, I am in front of the house, still on the road).  These people are all pointing their binoculars, cameras and scopes at a person's house.  The woman living there actually came out to see what was going on.  I can see how it would be a little disconcerting to look at the window and see that sight.  It is amazing that no one called the police.  One of the men rushes up to explain and to hand her binoculars.  She seemed less than enthusiastic to look at the bird in her tree - a bird she probably sees every day or doesn't care is there to start with.

At one point, we all pile out to look at an owl.  The main reason I came is because the information about the trip specifically listed owls as a bird we would see.  I want to see an owl so much that I get out of the car even though there are several large dogs rushing out and barking at us.  One of them appears to have the worst case of mange ever.  I try to ignore them and they don't appear to be doing more than barking at the others.  It is important to note that I am really afraid of dogs.  I have a dog but that does nothing to stop me from being afraid of other dogs.

I go over and I cannot see the owl.  Several people try to explain where it is to those of us who don't see it.

There it is right there.  Next to the branch that goes straight down.  Not that one, the other one.  See right there.  Yeah, I still didn't see it.  

I have no idea how the guy in the lead saw it from the moving car.

Look again.  Can you see it now?  The only thing that finally helped was it moved.  I saw the movement.  Again, it is really too far away and too close to the color of the tree for me to photograph it well.

And then it left and I wasn't at all ready to take an action shot, as you can see here.

So back in the car for more driving.  We make one more trip back to the gas station for bathroom break and snacks.  After that, we are supposed to look for snowy owls.  We found one.

On the roof of a house.  Once again we are in front of a house looking towards it with all manner of equipment.

I am excited about the owls but this still isn't what I expected.  I didn't think we would be looking at owls sitting on houses.  I had something more wildernessy in mind.  When our next stop is a golf course where a serious discussion ensues over the possibility of a particular kind of goose being present in a group of "regular" Canadian geese, Diana asks if I want to bail.

Yes, yes I do.  Actually, I have wanted to bail for a while and it turns out she has too.  Plus, I just got in trouble again.  This time I am the next to the last car when they decide to pull over by the golf course.  The car behind me comes around and tells me I need to pull off the road better.  THERE IS NO SHOULDER.  THAT IS SOMEONES YARD.  Plus, there are no cars coming behind us.

If it weren't for the promise of the snowy owl, Diana said she would have mentioned bailing back at the gas station.  Now to see if our adoptees want to stay or go.  Hunter stays and sleeps all the way back to his house.  The girl, Morgan, gets her things from my car and goes on with the others.  I hope they found the rare goose.

Diana and I agree that at least we know where to go.  Next time, we will go back and get out of the car.  Plus, I was interested in more than just birds.  I saw tons of things I wanted to look at or photograph but mostly couldn't due to trying to keep up with the group and the fact that I was driving (Diana did offer to drive).

Like these horses which I photographed from the car while we stopped so the leader could investigate a possible sighting.  I wanted to shoot from another angle though because there was a tree that was very orange behind them but we started moving and I had to go on.

Or these people ice fishing, also taken from the car.  We could have gotten out and walked around near here but the group kept going.

The next day, David and I decided to get out and drive around some of the roads around our house and see what we could find.  The funny thing is that I got better bird pictures doing that than I did with an actual group of people looking for birds.

A magpie about to take flight.

A red-winged blackbird.

A goose, although I don't think this one is Canadian.  More like Plastic.  But he makes a nice hat.

This was the best part.  We stopped when we wanted, for birds or otherwise.  I am not knocking the Audubon group or their interest.  More power to them.  But that wasn't for me.  I want to get out of the car or to stop the car when and where I want to.  And that isn't something that is easy to do with a group that large.  Birds are great but there is so much to see that I am not ready to limit myself in that way.

Here are some more images from the outing with David.

Blue-sky Barn

Cross in the Clouds

Winter Berries

Can I Help You?

Plaid Fisherman

Mountaintop Peek (Get it?  That one's for you dad.)