I spent Easter in the Twin cities with my roommate, and on our second day there we visited the conservatory with her grandmother. The day was just chilly enough to make the fragrant humidity a welcome change. We only saw the Palm Dome, Sunken Garden, and Bonsai exhibit, with a speedy walk through the Japanese Garden. We didn't even get a chance to visit the zoo. Even so, the conservatory made a big impression on me.
The conservatory was celebrating its 100 year anniversary, and stepping inside felt a little like going back in time. There was something timeless and location-less about it, and I could easily imagine people in the early 20th century doing much the same things as their 21st century counterparts. Artists setting up easels to paint the gardens. Lovers walking the paths arm and arm. Children making a wish before tossing a penny into one of the fountains.
Suddenly the outside world and all of its trappings fell away. I forgot I was in a city. I forgot about school, and that we'd be making the long haul back to Iowa later that day. Instead I walked around in a daze, marveling at the contrast (or perhaps the similarity) between the ribbed windows above and the spindly leaves all around.
(When I took this picture, the woman behind me commented and said "I wonder how many people have that exact same photograph." There's something really cool about that.)
After about five minutes, there was no denying that I was in love. This place managed to combine the sensory experience of being in nature with the peaceful, contemplative state of mind native to art museums. If I lived anywhere nearby, I'd probably visit every other weekend.
Now more than ever, I think it's important to have places where we can simply give in to experience. Places like the conservatory facilitate a slower, focus-driven way of thinking, from the closeness of the palms in the main atrium to the intricacy of the bonsai trees. Even the organized beauty of the sunken garden has something to offer in the way of contemplation and attention. All you have to do is give in to the spell of the conservatory: the hush of running water, the feeling of freedom from the rules of time and space, and the connection to something simpler, greater, and altogether too beautiful to capture on camera. You just have to experience it for yourself.
Until next time, then.