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2006 09 20
Angle of Incident #21: Garden Corral

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By Gary Michael Dault

Malgorzata and I pass this house on Crawford Street every morning on our way to Il Gato Nero to have a latte and a croissant and to figure out the coming day.

Every morning I point out this house and its tangled garden and promise myself I’ll photograph it.

What I want to photograph is not the garden—though the garden counts for a lot here. What I like, and what gives the garden much of its meaning, is the small, white-painted, elevated wooden tray full of toy animals that is held up, as if for our inspection.

The tray is a miniature pen, a sort of corral. I’d say it aspired to be a model kennel, if it weren’t for the fact that, along with that commanding little figure of the plastic German Shepherd dog, the corral also holds a smattering of sheep and other barnyard creatures.

The German Shepherd is riveting: because its front paws have been placed up on the railing or fence around the corral, it now has the fierce energy of a coiled spring. It may be small, but it seems quite prepared to leap out and clamp it its teeth on your ankle.

In its role as diminutive watchdog, you can almost hear it bark.

It’s the angling that makes it fierce. Horizontal dogs (sleeping, standing, walking), like all horizontal things, are essentially serene, placid, aligned to the ongoing endless surface of the earth. But a diagonal dog, like all diagonals, is a shard of bounded, localized energy, kinetic as hell, the incarnation of action and change.

What was in the corral-builder’s mind? Why is the corral lifted so high? And thrust so far forward? How carefully did the corral-builder select the plastic animals for his (her?) display? Did the strange change of scale from sheep to dog bother him (her?). Was it deliberate? Or was the big German Shepherd just handy, just lying about the house? Or was it (a shudder passes through the body) specially purchased for the purpose?

“There are no miniatures in nature”, writes Susan Stewart in her indispensable book On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection London: Duke University Press, 1993, p. 55. These miniatures, this trayful of plastic animals, is, however, in nature—that is to say, in the midst of nature. The garden is wild. The corral is a farm. The small scale of the corral makes the small garden immense. It now possesses what Gaston Bachelard, in The Poetics of Space, calls “intimate immensity” Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, p.183ff. Bachelard quotes poet Noel Bureau to the effect that

He lay down behind the blade of grass
To enlarge the sky.

This raised corral, lifted like an offering to the urban sky, enlarges the garden. It even enlarges the street. And the city.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 09/20 at 04:07 AM

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