Vermont garden makes its own way through life and beyond

MARTY BASCH FOR THE BOSTON GLOBEOn the 14 acres of the Path of Life Garden in Windsor, Vt., this musician sculpture made of driftwood represents creativity. MARTY BASCH FOR THE BOSTON GLOBEOn the 14 acres of the Path of Life Garden in Windsor, Vt., this musician sculpture made of driftwood represents creativity. (MARTY BASCH FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / November 2, 2008
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WINDSOR, Vt. - For some, life's journey leads to a sculpture garden of wood and stone on the banks of the Connecticut River. Others just find it.

At the Path of Life Garden, visitors step through a dark tunnel beneath a train track and onto a 14-acre field with an 800-tree hemlock maze, thin bound birches, a brookside hammock, and hulking dead maples, each representing an aspect of life.

"The whole garden is about the circle of life," says Terry McDonnell, a Norwich therapist, as he walked along the mowed pathways. McDonnell and family built the garden (located off Route 5 between Simon Pearce and Harpoon Brewery) after an inspirational trip to Ireland's Life of Man Japanese garden.

What was a hobby 10 years ago, and remains a work in progress, has grown into a place of meditation and inspiration. The paths lead through 18 distinct "rooms" or stations, which make use of symbols gleaned from a number of cultures for such aspects of life as adventure, learning, wisdom, forgiveness, hope, and even rebirth.

Life's branches, paths, dead-ends, and plateaus are reflected during the self-guided tour. Their meanings are different for every visitor; some stay for 15 minutes, others for hours. As in life, many experiences (stations) can be avoided or missed, save birth and death, which visitors must pass on the way in and out.

As you enter, a single stone surrounded by herbs and a ring of Stonehenge-like rocks express birth. Adventure is displayed in the circular maze of hemlocks, bright green in spring with a bell in the center rung by those who get there. A lone white oak atop the Hill of Learning is the Tree of Wisdom. Colorful prayer wheels can be spun and reflect hope.

Towering driftwood sculptures of a band - the wood culled from Northern California's Russian River - represent creativity. The amphitheater setting is used in summer for bonfires and drumming sessions; the sculptures are removed in winter. McDonnell recently added two tepees near the musicians where visitors can spend the night, or snowshoe to in winter, and plans to showcase other works of Vermont and New Hampshire artists. Even the river is symbolic: flowing thoughts.

Two stones topped with cairns separated by a large circular rock show union with a path leading to benches for family. One of life's monumental choices is parenthood, and for those who don't have children a path leads to two stones: niece and nephew.

A circle of Easter Island-esque statues represent community and a path to a single stone under trees conveys solitude. Some climb the hill of ambition, near a trio of McDonnell's beehives. A stark tepee embodies sorrow. Tall birches transported from Georgia and surrounded by bushes that hang with fruit in season offer forgiveness.

A side path to a small bridge and hammock signal respite, a peaceful place to listen to the water. Visitors leave small mementos by a Buddha statue across from a stone maze path signifying contemplation.

On the way out, a band of decaying maple trees stand for the grim reaper while rebirth is a fenced chapel of wispy trees.

"This is like therapy without the therapist," says McDonnell.

Marty Basch can be reached at

If You Go

Path of Life Garden

36 Park Road., Windsor, Vt.


Daily year-round, dawn to dusk. Gift shop open May-October. Adults $5, children ages 4-12 $2, under 4 free. Tepee overnight $75.

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