Special gate now marks entrance to Japanese Garden

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from an Ashland woman, the city has shaped and erected a beautiful torii gate at the entrance to Lithia Park’s Japanese garden.

Made from steel columns with lintels from the wood of a monkey puzzle tree that fell in the park two years ago, the serene icon carries the Japanese sign for peace on one lintel. It surmounts steps off Winburn Way.

The torii is the gift of Ann Auble, in honor of her husband, Carmon Auble, an aerospace engineer, who died here in 2008.

On many visits to Ashland, years ago, she fell in love with the Japanese garden, adding “it has a lot of meaning to me … and this torii is such a stunner. It couldn’t have turned out any better.”

Torii gates are used at Shinto shrines to mark the entrance into a sacred space.

Ian Wessler, an Ashland landscape architect and designer of the torii, said, “My first feeling on seeing it up is gratitude and appreciation for the incredible effort that made it a success. Everyone came together with care and community to do it.”

The effect, as you walk upslope and under it, into the garden, he said, “is that it’s strong, soft, inviting and also stands alone. It’s in the right place at the right time and I’m very happy.”

The installation comes during commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, marked by many events in Ashland. 

William Olsen, woodworker with city Parks & Recreation, put the torii together, curing the monkey puzzle wood over two years, milling and oiling it and assembling the lintels using black walnut splines and dowels — no glue, nails or screws — and in the style of traditional Japanese joinery.

“I love it. It’s been a very educational process,” says Olsen, who learned such joinery from Japanese masters in his early education in Tasmania.

The steel columns are powder coated in black. The block joining the two lentils not only has the peace symbol but, says Olsen, a little smiley shaped by the wood grain. A copper sheath covers the tops of both lintels. The wood displays natural “blueing” of the monkey puzzle tree, which, says city Parks Superintendent Bruce Dickens is the most resistant to the elements of all evergreens. 

“It has a lot of intrinsic value, being made from the monkey puzzle tree,” says Dickens. “I see such craftsmanship and character. A lot of feeling went into this. It’s not another pre-manufactured piece of playground equipment. This thing was built with love.”

Felicity Lynne, the daughter of the Aubles, said, “It makes me think of my dad, reflecting his wonderful character traits — strength and perseverance. It’s a wonderful work of art. It tops out this wonderful garden and makes it intriguing to enter.”

Where the old monkey puzzle tree stood, about 20 yards distant across Winburn Way, a new monkey puzzle tree has been planted. Benches will be erected flanking the torii. The city has torn down the dilapidated old “tea house” at the top of the Japanese garden — “It looked like a bus stop,” says Dickens — and will replace it with a nice one in redwood and cedar, with only the back and left side enclosed. It will look down across the garden.

A small plaque of stainless steel will be mounted somewhere in the garden, carrying a haiku poem written by Aubel’s son Scotty. It reads, “In this Zen Garden / eternal serenity / shared with ancestors.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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