Maya Lin and the Wise Old Man

Juniata College (my alma mater) in Huntingdon, PA has a unique environmental art installation called the Peace Chapel. Maya Lin is famous for designing the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, but this piece, far off the beaten path, is fairly low key. A college alumni-philanthropist commissioned the work and had it placed in the Baker-Henry Nature Preserve. Rarely was the Peace Chapel discussed on campus, but occasional events were hosted there. Most students didn’t even know where it was. It has a very eerie, Stonehenge-esque vibe to it. Spartan, stripped down, a stone pathway leads you to a large inlaid ring of granite.

I hiked this area quite a bit in my school days and rarely encountered a soul. I especially didn’t see anyone when I went at my favorite time: weekdays, late at night. Usually as a way to decompress, I would drive to the trailhead, often past midnight, and wander in the dark up to the site. No flashlight. No smartphone (those didn’t exist). I did this too many time to remember. Each time I treated it like a kind of quest. Not sure what for exactly. At some point, after maybe the third or fourth visit, I had the notion that some encounter would occur there. Maybe my psychology classes where influencing me. Carl Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious I found intriguing. His archetype of the Wise Old Man I was particularly drawn to. I would purposely put myself through a slightly frightful, chilly, dark walk in the woods to a possible modern druid site of worship (there were rumors) in order to chance an encounter with this white-bearded figure.

Philosopher in Meditation by Rembrandt

Nothing ever came of these quests. No white bearded man sprung out of the woods. Just silence and anticipation. Maybe that was the quest. Just to be with the silence. But it hasn’t deterred me. I still enjoy solitary walks in the woods at peculiar times. One of my favorite pursuits is an evening snowshoe hikes up nearby Asahi Mountain. Rarely do I see anyone, which is a blessing in population dense Japan. I’ve gone in the pitch dark of 4:30 AM as well. Not always searching for the old man. It could be aliens I’m on the hunt for. Or silence. Which is becoming increasingly rare. First, I need to remove my earbuds…


What do you think?