My backyard is a reflection of what I consider important for either educational or travel reasons. Even though my wife and I live in the horticultural "Zone 5", the garden has a definite South Pacific look. Cannas, hibiscus, and crocosmia, along with the more mundane hostas, clematis, Russian sage, and Black-eyed Susans, which grace the landscape. In addition to the flora, we have tastefully added statuary reflecting our interests. We have an Easter Island moai atop its ahu, a Buddha seated under a wannabe banyan tree, and a St. Francis blessing the entire area with peace and tranquility.

Recently, I was asked to teach a class on Chinese history and religion for USF. The best part of this course assignment is that it will include a two-week trip to China. Naturally, the first thing that I thought about was how to include the China trip into our backyard. I checked the covenants in our subdivision to see what they would exclude. While they didn't specifically prohibit building a Great Wall, it is doubtful that I will be able to build even a miniaturized replica. The covenants also seemed to preclude reproducing Xian's terracotta army even if it didn't involve the entire army of 8000 statues.

Giving up on the subdivision covenants, I surfed the Internet looking for something less imposing yet Chinese in flavor. After an hour of searching, I came across an interesting bit of knowledge. Did you know that the Chinese invented the arbor? Well, neither did I. However, some 4000 years ago, arbors were first used in the gardens of Chinese emperors.

My next task was to find an arbor dealer. Within the hour of returning to the Internet, I found a pagoda style arbor. It was meant to be. If the arbor were to memorialize our trip to China, then the arbor needed to look Chinese-esqe-a regular, non descript arbor wouldn't work. After some more keystrokes, the pagoda arbor was ordered and ready for shipping to the Campbell Compound.

It arrived within a week. After a couple of hours of assembling and staining my new pagoda arbor, it was ready for installation. Assuring that it was perfectly level, I deemed the project completed, all except for the climbing plants that would encompass the entire wood structure in time.

Al assembling arbor Al puttting up arbor

As I admired my arbor, it crossed my mind that I wished that my new arbor were a bit more massive-perhaps, 10-20% larger. Suddenly and inexplicably, I recalled the arbor of my grandparents in Merchantville, NJ. My grandparents had a very large white grape arbor that had a dozen concord grape bushes interlaced through the latticework. That arbor was massive. It had parallel benches facing each other under the canopy. I recall going out to the arbor on a hot summer's day and picking the grapes. As a child, I was fascinated by the texture of those treats. I would marvel at how the skins felt as I popped them into my mouth. Then I would de-skin the grape revealing an entirely new texture.

However, the most cherished moments were when my friend, Mr. Lee, would come over to talk to me about China and teach me his oriental wisdom. Many a lesson was taught under that grape arbor in Merchantville. The arbor and the grape vines would protect us both from the heat of the summer sun. As I would eat the juicy grapes, I would listen to Mr. Lee tell me stories of growing up in China and his reflections of his homeland. It seemed to my childhood mind that his homeland was the most mysterious and strange land in all the world. Little did I know that nearly a lifetime later, I would be visiting Mr. Lee's homeland.

I go out to my arbor now recalling the other arbor of my childhood and reflect upon what will be in store for me when China is no longer a mystery-shrouded destination but a very real reality. How will those memories of Mr. Lee's stories match with my firsthand impressions?

Leaning against my arbor, I also think about how life seems cyclical in nature. Things seem to go around and return to the places they first started. On life's strange cycles, time and experiences add things that cyclical experience. However, in spite of those modifications, all things seem so strangely similar.

Looking at the arbor from my office window, it seems that it was fated that I would have this arbor. I ordered it humorously imaging what my neighbors must think of our backyard. However, it is hauntingly discomforting to see how my life has come full-circle as if it had been scripted. On the other hand, it pleases me to think that I am adding experiences to Mr. Lee's circle and journey of life long after his death.