Remember the story from April 2010, Great Blue Heron and Oak Tree Speak To Me? How I thought I was going to move to New York City, but springtime came to Southern Illinois and seduced me with daffodils and redbuds? How I was taking a walk and talking about how I loved the house with the life-size statue of Kwan Yin standing beneath the tree guarded by the two lions?
Well, now I need to tell you the story about that statue of Kwan Yin.
Flash back to fall of 1998. We had just moved into the house in which we’re still living to this day, November 2017. Back then, on the road that leads to our house, there was a small handmade sign that read “Holly Nursery” with an arrow. Greg and I decided to follow the arrow, and just two bends down the way from our house, we found the nursery—a small garden center and greenhouse owned by a salt-of-the-earth, kind couple.
Excited to grow the first gardens of what we envisioned as our Mandala Gardens, we selected some plants and went inside to pay. The first thing I saw upon entering the shop, standing regally next to the counter, nearly tall as me, in colors of deep red with artfully rendered contouring, was a beautiful statue of Kwan Yin holding a gentle gaze, her hands positioned in a sacred mudra.
The man who owned the greenhouse saw me admiring Kwan Yin.
“This is a stunning statue of Kwan Yin,” I said.
“Yes, she’s really special,” he nodded, studying her with appreciation. “The finish is especially nice.”
I looked to see if there was a for sale price, but it appeared as though she lived there.
“Would you consider parting with Kwan Yin?” I asked.
He smiled and shook his head softly, “Oh, no. Nope. I can’t do that. She stays here.”
“I understand. I wouldn’t want to part with her either,” I smiled. “Well, if you ever do decide to part with Kwan Yin, please let me know.”
“Okay,” he said in that Midwestern way that politely suggests ‘don’t hold your breath’ as Greg and I exited with our purchases.
About once every year or two, for maybe the next seven years, we ventured over to Holly Nursery to see what new plants were in stock. And every time, I would ask the Plant Man, “So are you ready to part with Kwan Yin?” And every time, he would chuckle and gently shake his head no.
On one of our annual treks to the nursery, we sadly discovered the business had closed, and seemingly had been closed for awhile. There were a few larger plants still growing, apparently for landscaping services, but most of the beds were untended, and the greenhouse and shop were vacant. The kind couple, along with Kwan Yin, were gone.
A few years later, I had begun taking long walks on the country roads. My route was a giant counterclockwise square totaling about six and a half miles. On the last quarter of the square, a small house with two concrete lions sitting statuesque in the yard caught my eye. I looked again and saw the life-size statue of Kwan Yin standing beneath a tree. Kwan Yin! Was this the house where the couple lived? It was the same Kwan Yin, I was certain.
I loved taking this walk and seeing the old donkey and the old horse, the oak trees, and of course, Kwan Yin. One day, while on my walk, I saw the couple in the yard with the statues, confirming that this was indeed their house. I waved hello, and they recognized me and smiled. As I passed by, I called out, “So are you ready to part with Kwan Yin?” And the Plant Man smiled and shook his head and said no.
Several years passed, and Greg and I began selling herbs and vegetable starts from an old haywagon in our front yard. Sometimes when I was watering the plants on the wagon, I would see a truck drive by, hauling a flatbed stocked full of landscaping plants, their blossoms blowing in the wind. I recognized the driver as the Plant Man who had the statue of Kwan Yin, and I learned he had begun selling his plants at the Marion Farmer’s Market. I was happy for him that he found a way to sell his plants.
We, too, were beginning to dabble in the Farmer’s Market scene. We had just spent our first season at the Harrisburg Market and the Carterville Market. Coincidentally, both towns had launched new markets at the same time we had started selling herbs on our wagon. By the second season, we were still vending at the Carterville Market, but we didn’t attend very consistently. We were hosting WWOOFers that summer. (WWOOFers are people who help us out in the gardens in exchange for room and board and the learning of gardening skills. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.) Our WWOOFers vended for us at the market.
One hot Wednesday afternoon that summer in June 2015, on Carterville Market Day, the WWOOFers were setting up at market when I realized they had forgotten the shade tent, a necessity in the blistering sun. I grabbed the tent, hurried to the market, and busily helped them finish setting up in time before the market opened. As I was catching my breath and preparing to leave, I saw the Plant Man standing in the stall directly across from ours. I was surprised to see him—I hadn’t seen him in a long while, and I also hadn’t realized he was vending in the Carterville Market. He saw me the exact same moment I saw him and immediately strode over to me.
He looked me directly in my eyes and declared, “I’m ready to part with Kwan Yin now.”
I heard his words very clearly, yet I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. This wasn’t our normal conversation.
I stood there stunned for a moment and said, “What?”
“I’m ready to part with Kwan Yin,” he repeated. “She’s standing beneath the tree that my grandsons are always climbing. I’m worried they’re going to knock her over someday. I think it’s best for you to have her, place her somewhere safe.”
The moment was surreal and electric. I hadn’t seen or spoken to this man for at least five years. And in all my years of asking, I never believed he’d actually part with Kwan Yin. It had been at least a full sixteen years since I had first seen Kwan Yin at his Holly Nursery and asked him about her. How unexpected this current moment felt, how random, that all these years later, we were both selling plants, at the same farmer’s market, in the next town over from our own; and that his stall was directly across from mine, and I was only at the market that day by chance, to deliver a forgotten item. Of all these things, the only instance that didn’t seem random was how he walked directly over to me with such purpose, immediately upon seeing me, as though he’d been waiting to see me, as though he’d been waiting for the moment that he could tell me that, right now, after all this time, he was finally ready to part with Kwan Yin. He didn’t even waste a moment on a greeting. Just an immediate, “I’m ready to part with Kwan Yin now.” And not because he no longer wanted her, but because he felt an urgency born out of love and protection for her well-being.
He and I arranged that I would come by his house that evening after the market. Greg and I loaded up our truck with blankets and backed into their front yard as he’d instructed. In this ceremonious moment of transferring Kwan Yin, we all gathered around the goddess and unceremoniously picked her up. Kwan Yin was incredibly heavy, surprisingly heavy. It took all of us to lift her onto the blankets layered in the back of the truck. We swaddled her lovingly, carefully, thickly. I thanked the man profusely. “Take care of Kwan Yin,” he said, waving, as we pulled down the driveway and cautiously drove home this Divine passenger.
The Goddess Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion, the reincarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, whose name means ‘listening to the cries of the world’ and is commonly depicted with one-thousand arms and one-thousand hands, with an eye in the palm of each hand. In the legend of Kwan Yin, fully enlightened she was about to enter the gates of heaven, but she paused upon hearing the cries of the world. In that moment, she chose to return to earth, vowing to help humans find their life path.
To honor Kwan Yin and her sacred vows, we placed her at the opening of our Spiral Garden. The entrance of the spiral garden symbolically represents the doorway between heaven and earth, and simultaneously, the spiral is symbolic of the life path, as we walk an evolutionary spiral and deepen into our center.
Today, Kwan Yin greets every individual who walks the Spiral Garden. She offers them compassion and mercy, forgiveness and guidance as they walk their life path and journey toward divine bliss in preparation to enter their personal gates of heaven.
This past April, two years after Kwan Yin’s entrance into Mandala Gardens, Greg and I went to the Marion Farmer’s Market. The Plant Man was there. He had a baby Burr Oak and a baby English Oak for sale. We bought them both. “Kwan Yin is very happy in the garden,” I told him. I showed him a photo of her standing at the entrance of the spiral, and he smiled.