By Elisabeth Hammond (PWRT ’19)
After an unexpected heatwave that rivaled Florida, the weather finally cooled off enough to enjoy fully the outdoors. Without the boiling heat, a Friday trip to the Botanical Garden’s annual Garden of Lights was actually something to look forward to. While I’ve been to the famous Garden many times, I had never been there when the light festival was held. Needless to say, already a fan of the Garden, the event was something I anticipated.
The breeze was cool and the metro bearable as the group made their way from the academic center to the Garden with a noticeable mass of others. Many people streamed from the sidewalks and joined together on the walk to the gardens, and excitement that many felt could be shared by everyone.
The familiar path into the Chinese Gardens quickly turned into a fantasy world of color ─ massive lanterns in the shapes of dragons and children and herons crept out from under the bushes. The river of people branched into groups of two or three who stopped to take pictures and marvel at the artistic work.
But the real show was yet to come. Stepping past the two guardians of the garden I instantly feasted my eyes on the great dragon serpentining his way in and out of Lotus Pond. He greeted the guests as the Garden’s 25th anniversary spectacle. The multicolored light was made only more mystical when reflected in the dark waters of the pond.
Then began the walk around the Chinese Garden ─ through Friendship Hall, even the Springtime Courtyard had been decorated for the event, and then up the mountain, ducking a look into the crowded Pavilion of Infinite Pleasantness. Everywhere along the stone path were perched colorful lanterns that guided you through the area. I felt as if I could have lost myself in the etherealness of it all had I not been surrounded by so many people.
The tour continued in the First Nation’s Garden, a new addition this year. Lights had been set up around the Sacred Tree and presented a pattern that was in no way a mere, pretty show ─ it told a story. The colors cycled through the seasons with a thunderous heartbeat, all of which represented the Circle of Life and Mother Nature’s beating heart.
A large crowd had gathered some thirty feet away from the massive poplar and watched in hypnotized silence. It was the quietest part of the tour as we all stood there enamored by the flashing light and sound effects. I’m not sure any one person could have explained, in the moment, why they stood so silent and still.
From there we wandered through the Japanese Garden, which was not as brightly lit as the Chinese Garden, and the late hour made it hard to see all there was. Our group ended up gazing across the pond at the decorative, soothing lights that lit up a small island and chatting quietly about the event as a whole. A small stand sold traditional food that a few helped themselves to ─ it was a sweet conclusion to the wondrous night.
With weary but satisfied feet, we wandered home.