December 10, 2012

Hidden Joys - Right Around The Corner

If you are like most folks, the longer you live in one particular place the less likely you are to explore new things that are close by. It is just human nature to start to take where you live for granted. For example, I know people who have lived in Arizona for thirty years and have never been to the Grand Canyon. I bet there are those who have grown up in Hawaii and spent no time at the beach.

Betty and I have lived in Arizona for 28 years, the last eleven of which we have been enjoying our satisfying retirement. So, it is not because we haven't had the time, it just that we stopped looking for things in the Phoenix area that might be fun and interesting.

But, within the last several months we found two places and events that have existed for years that are within thirty minutes of our home...that we have never experienced before.

The Japanese Friendship Gardens just celebrated its tenth anniversary last month. Named Ro Ho En, this is an authentic 3 1/2 acre Japanese Garden featuring a tea house with monthly tea ceremonies. Over 300 Koi fish populate a a large pond in the center of the gardens. Located just a few blocks from the center of Phoenix, and built over part of the I-10 freeway, this nearly 4 acre joy is serene and beautiful. Landscape architects from sister city, Himeji, Japan, made 60 trips to Phoenix and City of Phoenix delegations made five trips to Himeji since 1987 when the idea for the gardens was first hatched.

You can probably guess that Betty took her camera and took hundreds of photos. Here are just a few to give you a visual treat:

A few months ago  we went to something quite a bit more lively than the Friendship Gardens: The Burning Bush Drum Circle. The first Friday of each month, a group of drummers gather in a parking lot in a Phoenix neighborhood and pound away for the next two hours.

Actually, the sound is much more than just the rhythmic beating of drums. All sorts of hand percussion instruments are brought. It is not unusual to hear flutes, a didgeridoo, shakers, bells, and tambourines play together. Add to that a belly dancer or two, a young lady playing finger cymbals, a few brave young men twirling flaming sticks, a bon fire and a special evening takes place.

On some nights up to sixty drummers appear, some as young as twelve, others probably in their late 70's. The clothing styles range from 60's tie-dyed T-shirts and dreadlocks, to Docker pants and polo shirts. Most bring folding chairs or stools as they hover over beautifully decorated African drums.

This past Friday night we discovered that this monthly event was moving to a downtown art gallery now open in an old ice house building. We decided to experience the drum circle again in this new location. While the crowds were smaller, the drummers were just as enthusiastic.

Frankly, this type of event is not what one normally expects to find in Phoenix. Known more for its expensive resorts and 300 golf courses, the metropolitan area has not been particularly diverse in its cultural offerings. Over the last few years that has begun to change as entrepreneurs take over old warehouses or industrial buildings and convert them into artist lofts, galleries, and small restaurants. Once almost a ghost town at night, downtown Phoenix has become much more urban in its feel. Adding the Burnish Bush Drum Circle is one small step in the right direction.

Again, here are some photos from Friday night to help you get a sense for the Burning Bush Drum Circle and art show:

Betty becomes part of the show!

A video sample from last May. Not the best quality but you get the idea.

Inside the gallery

More from inside the art exhibit

I am sure there are dozens of other hidden joys that are waiting for us to discover them. Last year Betty and I found a free, weekly, open mic music night at the Tempe Art Museum. Who knew?


  1. Hey, Bob...

    Great post. And an important point, particularly if one is in boredom mode or cannot think of something to do.

    About 2 months ago, I suddenly "woke up" to the fact that I live in ground zero for the Civil War in the East. And me, an avid Civil War amateur historian. Just goes to show you how you can miss what's right in front of you.

    My big revelation has led me to an activity that's giving me a lot of satisfaction: trips to Civil War battlefield parks. Within a 2-hour car ride I've got scads of them to cover. And for me it's great fun to plan the 2-day trips, research the battle, and then actually hike and explore it to get that "I was there" experience.

    Since I realized what I was missing a couple of months ago, I've done Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Antietam. Next: Chancellorsville!

    Cheers ;-)

    1. Great example of missing the forest and the trees! Betty and I have discussed taking a few months in our RV to visit Civil War battle sites. We have been to Gettysburg, but that was 30 years ago.

      I used to live within 2 miles of Valley Forge and could see it from my backyard. It took several years to visit.

  2. Very timely post. Mike and I are catching a train this morning for a short ride to Los Angeles, where we'll be meeting fellow members of our Spanish class for lunch and shopping at Olvera Street. People travel from all over the world visit to visit this famous and historic street, and yet Mike has never been there, and I haven't been there is over 35 years. We'll think of you and Betty as we raise our first round of margaritas around 12:00 noon!

    1. Have a great time visiting an L.A. hot spot, practicing your Spanish, and enjoying a margarita.

  3. Wow, two great ideas for my next trip to Phoenix. (And since I don't live there, I will really go to them!)

  4. The Gardens, in particular, are worth 45 minutes to just relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.

  5. Good post. Does Betty still use the rather simple camera that she used to use? What kind of camera is it? She does a great job with her photos.

    1. Yes, she still uses a Cannon Power shot. She does take most important photos at 14mp but her trick is editing. She spends a lot of time on each photo.

  6. It is fun to be a tourist in your own town. We had the grandsons last week and took them to the Comcast Bldg. to see their video wall, which is all about the holidays now, then went to Love Park to shop the Christmas Village, then Macy's for their Nutcracker display...whew! It was fun for all of us.

    Living here in the cradle of Liberty we often do the Independence Mall tour with out of town guests, but there's a lot more than just the history around here and we need to experience more of it.

    Love Betty's photos!!

    1. I spent my first 11 years in the Philadelphia area but it wasn't until I was in my 50's that I saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

      It is fun to be a tourist at home. At this time of year I still get a thrill from taking someone to a local resort for an outside lunch and have the temperature be in the low 70's. After 28 years it never grows old.

  7. I live 12 miles north of Seattle and have never been to its famous International District. Or many other places, probably.

    I love drumming groups - especially when they invite you to join in.

    1. Seattle has enough beautiful spots that it would take a serious effort, even for residents, to see them all.

      Betty has always wanted a set of steel drums. The drum circle was as close as she is likely to get.

  8. Have you spent any time at the Heard or been to the farmer's market downtown?
    I have yet to get off my duff to look around here and we have been here for about eight years. Thanks for the push!

    1. We have been to the Heard Museum several times but not the downtown farmer's market. There are several markets in Scottsdale and North Phoenix that are closer and good. But, from what I've read the one downtown is excellent.

      Go exploring!

  9. How cool! I applaud your willingness to adventure! I tend to get stuck in a narrow focus myself but I have been to the beach. :) There's a beautiful Japanese Garden in Hilo and a weekly drum circle at the beach near our house. I'll have to keep my eyes open for something entirely different! :)


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