Blurring at water's edge: An artistic suggestion

Maya Lin is famous for the simplicity and natural beauty of her work.

From her famous Box House to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., and, of course, to the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Lin's work and her use of geometry are unmistakable.

And yet, for all that, a word she used repeatedly in her recent appearance at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco was this: blurring.

That's not a word usually associated with great art.

Yet it was the one she chose, and it is the word she asked the Tri-Cities for help in achieving.

She asked us to start small.

Lin would like the park to be surrounded along the water's edge with an irregular strip of natural vegetation to invoke the feeling of the original occupiers of this land.

Her first contribution to the site was a piece with what she had in mind.

It is a large stone circle with the names of trade goods etched on the sides in English and Sahaptin, a Native American language.

Other circles to be constructed will represent the seasons, salmon, welcome, longhouse/tribal, story-of-the-river and myth of Coyote, the mischievous presence in Native American creation stories.

But the circles will be low to the ground. Lin wants the original one raised a bit -- about 4 inches -- but it will still be unobtrusive.

In her talk, Lin touched on the point that the park today looks little like it did when Lewis and Clark visited the site in 1805.

She wasn't talking just about the paved parking lot. It was also the grass. The cultivated and clipped look. The straight edges along the banks where mown grass abuts the gravel shorelines. The unnatural symmetry.

A Native American group opened the ceremonies at Sacajawea with a traditional musical greeting to all the visitors at what was once an important trade site.

The performance was a reminder that the gentrification of Sacajawea State Park took place on ground with deep importance in tribal culture.

That is where the blurring of the edges comes into the matter.

Governmental budget cuts eliminated Lin's original concept for the park, which was to include collaborative efforts to restore the park's natural environment, including fish habitat.

Lin is a dedicated environmentalist.

She would like to see at least the perimeters of the park along the Snake and Columbia rivers returned to the natural growth that was there when Native Americans used it as a marketplace and when Lewis and Clark saw it.

In other words, recreating the natural plant life of the Mid-Columbia as we see it elsewhere along the rivers of the area, and on the hills and valleys that surround us.

The Vietnam Memorial is illustrative of the concept of great art that is precisely right for its environment. Her design -- which looks like a wound in the Earth itself -- captures the profound meaning of the sacrifice.

Lin was refining her Pasco project on this visit and expects to return to the Tri-Cities when it is dedicated later this year.

In the meantime, she asked her audience at the event to try to convey the idea of blurring the edges to the public at large.

It should not be too radical an idea for us, to let a portion of a park on an ancient Native American commerce center to look a bit more like it did when people by the hundreds went about the business of their day.

We received the advice from one of the world's greatest artists.

It would be a mistake to ignore it.