Terry McDonnell, a child and family therapist from Norwich, Vermont has been working on The Path of Life Garden Path of LifeP for the past 16 years. On any given weekend in the Spring, Summer and Fall you will find him working there. Lacking formal training in landscape design or sculpture, his inspiration comes from photographs, books, other artists, gardens and walks in the woods. Without the help of a landscaping crew, he does most of the work by himself or with the help of local contractors, friends and family.
Terry’s desire to build a garden that told the story of life came after visiting one of Europe’s most famous Japanese gardens, The Life of Man. Built in Kildare, Ireland between 1906-1910, The Life of Man symbolizes the journey of a human soul from birth to death. After happening upon The Life of Man, Terry knew he had the perfect use for the 14-acre riverside field he owned in Windsor.
He began the garden in 1997 by planting 30 red oak trees in an arc that mirrored the gentle bend in the adjoining Connecticut River. Later in the first year, the amphitheater of Creativity was sculpted to feature the work of local artist’s and for hosting music festivals. In 1998, he rented a u-haul trailer, picked up 800 bare-root hemlock trees in Pennsylvania and went to work with his nephew creating the maze of Adventure. In 1999, he traveled to Northern California and found the large granite Buddha for Contemplation and the 5-piece, 25 foot tall, driftwood band (Creativity) made from Russian River driftwood. Each year since, new features have been added. There was the Tunnel of Oblivion in 2000, and the mound of Hope with its Tori gates and prayer wheels in 2001. In 2002 he was busy planting the Tree of Wisdom, erecting the 50-foot high bamboo circle representing Forgiveness and adding a ring of tall sugar stones to Birth. In 2003 he devoted to planting blueberries and raspberries in Joy and establishing a shade structure over Solitude. In 2004 he worked with Ria Blaas and Herb Ferris to complete new installations in Community and Creativity.
Today, everyone in the family chips in to help with mowing, weedwacking, planting and coming up with new ideas. Several times a year you will find us camping in Creativity, having a bonfire in front of the band, and going for an early morning swim in the Connecticut River. Every other summer we invite a bunch of friends and have a drumming party in front of the band. The Path of Life is a work in progress. As such, it will never really be completed -- which is just fine with us! We love it, hope you do too, and look forward to seeing you along the path.
Enjoy! And please send us yours if you are so inspired....
Terry McDonnell The Field in 1996 befor designing the Garden in 1997
The Path of Life Garden Guide
The pilgrim soul enters the garden towards the East through the Tunnel of Oblivion, the darkness representing the beginning of life. From here one proceeds to the right and finds a small stone emerging from a shallow swale signifying BIRTH (1). Next, the first steps of childhood lead to a hemlock maze, reflecting a period of ADVENTURE (2).Upon successfully mastering the maze, one turns right and finds the HILL OF LEARNING (3),where one crosses a series of buried granite stone steps, signifying the milestones reached in school. At the top of the hill one discovers the TREE OF WISDOM (4), a white oak whose nuts contain the seeds of knowledge. Upon descending the hill one finds a circle of Prayer Wheels that can be spun in the spirit of HOPE (5)and well being. Beyond the prayer wheels one enters an amphitheater of sculpture that symbolizes a time of CREATIVITY (6).From here the path travels up river and the pilgrim encounters the experience of UNION(7),suggested by two granite posts flanking a round millstone. The hole in the millstone represents the mysterious connection that exists between two beings while the mass of the stone creates a sense of separateness. Adjacent to union is the garden of FAMILY(8),depicted by five large flat stones arranged in a circle. Visitors are welcome to sit in the circle with friends and family to reflect on the loved ones in their lives. After creating a family, some find themselves part of a larger COMMUNITY (9),represented by a multitude of stones arranged in a large circle. The individual characteristics of each stone stand for the unique qualities in each of us. Some people find they are spending too much time in community and enter a period of SOLITUDE (10),expressed here as a single stone surrounded by lilac trees and a shade structure. At other times in midlife, one might find themselves experiencing a period of AMBITION (11),portrayed by a large earthen mound in the middle of the field. Having climbed to the top of the mound, one can look back and reflect on the first half of their journey. Continuing upriver, mid-life also brings the first taste of SORROW (12). In this garden, the frame of a Native American teepee embodies our collective sense of loss. After a time of sorrow, some are lucky enough to find a time for FORGIVENESS (13), depicted here by a stand of bamboo poles reaching for the sky. The gift of forgiveness is often followed by a period of JOY (14)symbolized here by a garden of blueberries and raspberries for all to share. After leaving the garden of berries, the path turns to the left and climbs a gentle hill As one reaches these later stages of life, many people look forward to a period of rest or RESPITE (15).A hammock and picnic table located in a cool forest overlooking a series of gentle waterfalls provides our traveler with a well deserved break. Once rested, the garden allows for a period of CONTEMPLATION (16),and Buddha is discovered overlooking a stone labyrinth. As old age settles in the path to the center of the labyrinth becomes smooth and level. After pausing at the center of the labyrinth to wish for enlightenment, our pilgrim comes to a stand of large dead maple trees, the garden of DEATH(17).Upon being laid to rest, surrounded by weeping trees, our pilgrim’s soul passes though the garden of REBIRTH(18),and life begins anew. As a final gesture, the pilgrim re-enters the tunnel from which life began in the opposite direction. When traveling towards the West, the tunnel represents the Gateway to Eternity, and so our story closes.