Sometimes there would be Sundays where I would get up super early and take the train out to Washington Park by myself, not planning to come back until the deep evening.
And I would buy a ticket and climb the hill before really anyone else got there. Starting the day with a little sweet biscuit with the imprint of an animal on top, which the staff at the cafe knows to bring me a biscuit with a turtle on top, and a pot of genmaicha, I would look out over the hill and into the garden from my spot on the deck of the cafe.
I didn’t get to go often, maybe once a month for most months, the winter having been too cold. Occasionally I thought it disrespectful to the place if I went in all the other seasons, but not in the winter, so I still did go, but not for very long, not as often, and not early in the morning either. There still was a certain beauty to the half-dead garden in the winter, still being maintained, my breath on the air.
But most times, with my pot of tea triply steeped and I’ve gotten every last extract of tea I could from it, the turtle swimming in the tea, I would go down the creek trail in the garden, and I’d find a bench off the beaten path. It’d be fifteen degrees, maybe eighteen, and I would just sit and think. Sometimes I’d just zone out and let the landscape make imprints in my eyes. And I’d sit there for an hour or two before getting up and changing to a different bench.
Once the morning hours had lapsed, the tourists started coming into the garden. They were always hurried, always in motion. I’d sit there and watch them go. If I wanted a picture, it was harder to take it during the day, as there was always someone stomping down the path, never really stopping. Sometimes they would ask me why I was sitting there, and I’d just answer that it’s what I liked to do. No big statements, no righteous justification. They can experience it fast, and I can experience it slow. I’m a turtle.
As the early afternoon rolls around and I’ve sat on several benches and the weather’s closer to twenty degrees, and the tourists are everywhere, it gets harder to think, so I retreat a bit further. There’s a few places where not many of them go. I sit, and I zonk out again. The staff keeps an eye on me from afar. They used to come up, ask if I was okay, but after a few months of doing that, they just accepted me as the girl who came, got her turtle and her tea, and just sat for a while.
I wouldn’t often pull my camera out after the first trip or two. Sometimes, if I was sitting somewhere unusual, or if I happened into a clever angle I’d never seen before, I’d snap a quick picture before going back to my view and my thoughts.
I haven’t been since the before times. I miss that garden.