A man buys a quarry and turns it into a Japanese garden…
Some people read a Bangor Daily News article about a guy who buys a quarry and dedicates the next 37 years of his life transforming it into a Japanese garden and say “That’s odd,” and move on. Then there’s Big R.
(Before we get to the garden, just know that her ability to sniff out the absolute weirdest and coolest things to do wherever we go is a major reason I love Big R so much. )
…and, from him, you can get a personal tour
Ken Cleaves, as Big R informed me, is a guy who bought a 60-acre quarry in Lincolnville, ME in 1982 for $16,000. He has spent the last 37 years transforming the land based on Japanese design, landscaping, and gardening principles. To get a personal tour from Ken, himself, all we had to do was call him. Like on his personal phone. Directly.
Just call Ken.
Naturally, we called Ken. Turns out Ken was willing to give us a tour on the Saturday morning we were set to return to Boston. Over the phone, he gave us driving directions because “it’s not easy to find on Google Maps.” It was one of those beautiful, mild, sunny, mid-coast Maine mornings when we set out for “Schleppinghurst” (so named because Ken has had to schlep all manner of things all over the property).
How odd is this duck?
I’ll admit, going into this whole experience, I expected Ken to be an odd duck at best. I had no idea what kind of person up and purchases an old quarry in rural(ish) Maine and then spends 8 hours per day, 7 days a week for 30+ years turning it into a Japanese garden.
Wonderfully odd (in all the right ways)
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Ken and his wife, Arlene(?) are wonderful people. Ken was generous, warm, avuncular, and endearingly self-deprecating as he showed us around the grounds. As we toured the place, Ken’s humility became increasingly evident. Walking the grounds, I developed a profound respect for his undying commitment to a singular vision for the kind of life he wants to create for himself. He’s a man who wanted to surround himself with beauty, and he’s done that for himself in the most remarkable way.
In many ways, similar impulses draw me to making furniture. Firstly, furniture has an outsized impact on how I experience my physical environment. Second, furniture lives at this delicate intersection between utility and art/sculpture that fascinates me. I can only imagine that the same is true of the landscape for Ken.
Below are a few photos I took on the tour. I wish I had taken more, but it was just so amazing to experience the place, that I didn’t want to interrupt that moment too much by trying to capture it. The property his huge, and these four photos don’t come close to doing it justice. If your curiosity is piqued, there are some more (much better) photos of the property and Ken in this Maine Homes article.
So here’s to Ken Cleaves and Shleppinghurst, a stunning accomplishment and a beautiful example of how to live an extraordinary life.