TRAVEL CORNER Review of the wooden floor garden at the “Dodecagon”

A three-quarters moon woke me before dawn, splashing into my guesthouse room through oversized windows with no curtains or blinds. The guesthouse proprietors believe in big windows. And why would they believe otherwise? I had a full frontal view of the open ocean. Whistling buoys off in the distance lullabied me through a twentydegree opening in the window. A crack that also invited in a cold, surf breeze to tickle my feet while the moon and Venus filled the window and my face with fresh light. All was still in the compact guesthouse so I figured I was the first one up. I wanted to pick the best viewing spot of the wooden floor garden so I walked in quiet, deliberate, fullfootprint steps. The floor was cool in the middle of summer. The guesthouse is called the “Dodecagon.” The proprietors, Mean and Dean (they didn’t volunteer their real names and I didn’t push them), built the place from the ground up on the far edge of Provincetown in 2006. The Dodecagon can accommodate a maximum of twelve people. Mean and Dean believe in the power of 12. The signs of the zodiac. The months of the year. The twelve year cycle of the Chinese calendar…The guesthouse is billed as a refuge from the refuges. A place to test your ability to truly unwind. Its centerpiece attraction is a twelve-sided wooden floor garden modeled after Zen rock gardens. The room is large. How large? I racked my brain for memories of high school geometry to calculate the area of a twelve-sided polygon. I broke it down into triangles and a square. Walked off a side of the remaining square. I guessed 1001 square feet. Mean informed me it was 576 square feet. It feels larger because there is no furniture. Just a magnificent mosaic of wooden tiles. Twelve kinds of wood. Mean and Dean invite guests to a daily sunrise ritual in the Dodecagon. A ritual to set the day off on the right path. The wooden garden was still dark. I sat on one of the twelve benches planted squarely in the middle of the twelve walls of the dodecagon. I chose to face the small door. I could make out shades of difference on the floor. It was polished. I could see that much. I waited for the story on the floor to unfold. As the dark outside turned to gray the floor turned increasingly silver. Like a bed of silver-lined clouds with wisps and curlicues coming in and out of focus. The beech and birch tiles lighting up first, then fading. Mean and Dean came into the dodecagon just as the sun was about to break. Two other guests followed them in. Mean and Dean sat together on one bench. The others also shared a bench. Dean whispered that the Dodecagon was best first experienced alone and that they should split up. And then the sunlight lit up one side of this fantastic room. Taurus, the glorious bull of the zodiac, pieced together by hundreds of tiles of different shades of wood, of different degrees of polish and size, shone alone above the wafting silver cloud that covered the rest of the wooden garden. We kept our awe to ourselves. One minute later the next constellation came to life beneath our sleepy eyes. The next minute the next. I didn’t realize how precisely the signs of the zodiac were brought forth until I timed the next and the rest of the dozen. Every minute on the minute. When the entire zodiac gleamed before us I looked up. The roof was as much the wonder as the wooden garden floor. It was a maze of skylight and shaft designed to harness the predictable and meticulous rising of the sun. I felt the reflection from the wooden garden lighting, warming my face. It was as if we’d slowly opened the lid of the Golden Ark

And there was more. Mean motioned for us to move one bench over. Each constellation took on a different luster. I turned my attention for a few seconds to the blue sky through the window behind me. It was a morning of rich, unfettered sunlight. My gaze was pulled back to the wooden garden. With each passing minute a ring of wooden tiles was revealed moving towards the center of the dodecagon. Each ring getting smaller than the concentric circle around it. Each ring different. One with mahogany diamonds on a field of beech triangles. The next reversed, with light diamonds on a dark string of triangles. The rings were paired in this way, like the odds and evens, the black and the red of a roulette wheel. At the epicenter of this magnificent room, at the heart of the magical wooden garden was a monolith of sorts. A twelve-sided, conical kiosk standing as tall as an average man. The Dodecagon’s roof had revealed twelve paths from the center of each of the viewing benches to the kiosk. Twelve paths as narrow as a maiden’s foot, cutting through the concentric rings of thorns, horns, and hooks carved into the inlaid wooden tiles. Dean whispered to me to walk the path. To stay on the narrow path. One foot in front of the other. Mean whispered that staying within the lines encourages focus, balance, and patience. The virtues of the Dodecagon. I did. Sweating, but otherwise composed I stood in front of a tablet of tiles attached to my face of the kiosk. Twelve by twelve with one tile missing. One hundred forty-three tiles etched with familiar but undecipherable markings. I moved the tiles around. They made no sound, as if connected by air and magnetism. I hoped to find a clue. A pattern to work towards. The others in the Dodecagon soon joined. We worked independently for I don’t know how long. And then the room went dark. Mean and Dean whispered that it was time to leave. We filed out. I couldn’t wait to come back the next day, the second and last day visiting the guesthouse. I knew now what to expect and what to do to maximize the pleasure of grounding myself in the magic of a new day dawning. Another chance too at solving the riddle before the light was extinguished. I hoped I would have the place to myself. The two other guests that first morning looked spooked. I was enraptured. And I think many of you will be too if you make your way to the Dodecagon. I predict that more of these wooden gardens will spring up closer to you. If you can wait.

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