After graciously receiving the “go-ahead” for my project proposal, it is time to embark on my journey. My first order of business is to determine where a meditative space would be most productive for my community.

(6/10)

Initial ideas for a public space: CHAPEL HILL PARKS & REC. LAND, CHAPEL HILL HIKING/RUNNING TRAIL, DURHAM ACADEMY UPPER SCHOOL.

I’m most intrigued by the possibility that the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department may already have an open area in mind for this sort of project. I emailed parksrec@townofchapelhill.org, expressing my inspiration and synopsizing what I hope to achieve by constructing a Rock Garden for our shared community.

Dear Parks and Recreation of Chapel Hill, 

Hi, my name is Declan Ross and I am a resident of Chapel Hill. I hope I am emailing the right department!

Recently, I was inspired by travel and study to formulate an Independent Study Project through my school (Durham Academy) that seeks to give back to my community with influence from ancient Chinese culture.  Beyond my reading, research, and multifaceted study of Chinese history and customs, I would love the opportunity to construct a North Carolina-climate-friendly Chinese garden (the original zen garden) that would be available to the public for relaxation and meditation. Daoism (the native religion of China) and its teachings of inner-peace motivated me to start this summer project. The first Chinese garden, or a yuan (园), was a place where the emperor could rest and renew his energy in post-Han Dynasty tradition. I’ve contemplated over these last many weeks—with the challenges of COVID-19 and the long-overdue mandate to confront our nation and our town’s racist past and present—how I could give back to my community, especially as a young white man. I saw how the families of my Chinese-American friends faced cruel discrimination with the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, and I found my self searching for ways to affirm their presence in my life and in our community. As I walked through UNC campus last week in solidarity with the nationwide protests in response to George Floyd’s death, I understood how much our community could benefit from a public meditative space, dedicated to the ideals of self-reflection, balance, and peace.  We must be mindful of our need to rest and renew as we continue to stridently advocate for justice and reform.

I’m seeking your help in finding a public area to build this rock-garden meditative space. I’ve measured out a roughly 10×10 foot area as a preliminary model to construct what I’ve planned, but I am completely open to working with whatever size or shape space is available. I’ve thought of some possible areas, such as a space off one of the public trails, on a small plot near one of the recreation centers, or around the library grounds. Other than the space to work with, I wouldn’t require anything else from the Town of Chapel Hill, and the entire project would be supervised by my high school advisor, Bonnie Wang. I will receive funding from an Independent Study Scholarship.

Thank you! I hope you are safe and well.

Best,
Declan

My first email to Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation.

(6/11)

Today, I received an email from Steve Wright (he works at the Chapel Hill Public Library). He told me the library is interested in my proposal, and that he has arranged a faculty meeting to discuss its viability.

I am excited by the opportunity to work on the Chapel Hill Public Library grounds. A place that is frequented by all types of Chapel Hill citizens, yet remains quiet and peacefully focused, is perfect for a Rock Garden that is meant to restore its visitors through serenity.

Updated ideas for a public space: CHAPEL HILL PUBLIC LIBRARY GROUNDS

(6/26)

After nearly two weeks without a response, I checked in with Mr. Wright about the project. Yesterday, he emailed me to explain that he is trying to put me “in contact with a Library staff person regarding a possible next step” for my proposal. Today, I was introduced to Tim Logue.

(6/28 – 7/14)

Over the past couple of weeks, I exchanged regular emails with Mr. Logue, and also his co-worker, Dale Morgan. They have been extremely supportive in my endeavor and I am grateful to be working with them.

I asked them about the feasibility of my general plan, and where they envision a rock-garden fitting into the Library campus. They explained that there are plenty of promising sites along the walking trails behind and around the main building. I arranged a time to meet with Mr. Logue and Ms. Morgan at the library in order to walk the path in-person.

(7/15)

Today, I visited the library and photographed the most promising sites for deliberation at home. The images and a description of each possible construction spot are available in the gallery below.

(7/18)

I re-visited the four best-looking locations on my own and took some rough measurements to make an informed decision on where I want to build.

Spot #1)
PROS: Flat, part-sun, close to creek, natural fencing (trees).
CONS: Closed-in, close to flood zone, low foot-traffic.

Spot #2)
PROS: Flat, near water bridge, open air, natural canopy, good views.
CONS: Overly shaded (hard to grow flowers), close to children's climbing wall and play instruments (hectic audio environment).

Spot #3)
PROS: Strong scenery (bamboo grove), sunlit, seasonal water source.
CONS: Hardest to access (farthest from the library building), in flood zone, large rocks and logs covering the area.

Spot #4)
PROS: Highest altitude (fresh air, hopefully lower humidity and fewer bugs), close to a paved trail (wheelchair access!), clear ground, good climate for plants.
CONS: Uneven ground, no nearby water source (a necessary element in the traditional Chinese rock garden).

Today, I emailed Ms. Morgan and Mr. Logue to inform them that I’ve chosen Spot #4 as my ideal workspace. I went with my gut and chose the location that inspired me most and felt right in the moment. I like the idea that my garden will be accessible to everyone. My plan is to remedy the issue of a missing water source with a high-quality bird bath and complementing mirror, if possible.

(7/27)

Last week, I was informed that Mr. Logue and Ms. Morgan would be out of office until July 7th.

Today, I received an email from Ms. Morgan accepting my decision and outlining the procedure to run my idea past the Director and Assistant Director of the library. I’m ecstatic to have come this far, and thrilled to move forward!

I’ve finally found the trailhead of my path. Now I will take my first steps.