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Moments Within, Shangri La


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Is Shangri la, a metaphor, a figure of speech or how one perceives of an experience?

Shangri la, is often used in a similar context to which “Garden of Eden” might be used, to represent a paradise hidden from modern man. It can sometimes be used as an analogy for a life-long quest or something elusive that is much sought after. For a man who spends his life obsessively looking for a cure to a disease, such a cure could be said to be that man’s “Shangri-La”. It also might be used to represent perfection that is sought by man in the form of love, happiness, or Utopian ideals. It may be used in this context alongside other mythical and famous examples of somewhat similar metaphors such as The Holy Grail, El Dorado and The Fountain of Youth.

Politically and geographically, the independent and previously independent nations isolated from the West, such as Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Tuva, Mongolia, the TocharianTushara Kingdom of the Mahābhārata and the Han Dynasty outpost Dunhuang have each been termed Shangri-La’s.

In Orange, Texas one is able to find a magical, mystical destination that can have the ability to pull and tug at the eyes, heart and mind. Should you be a Texas native, I may hear a responding, “sure”, come from you. But, ah, there is a potent place here within our midst that has high need to be bragged about loudly.

Saying the word”Shangri La”, in a state that is known for cowboys, horses, cattle and oil and the Gulf industries, many would go, “you have to be crazy”! Really does a place such as this exist in the state of Texas? Well, I will share with you that it does in fact exist and I have been to “Shangri La”. Really!

I was trying to find  places to visit when in Beaumont, Texas that where close by and unique. This is a part of Texas that I have not spent any relevant time in. I am one of those souls that loves to wonder around, chat with people, see what is unique of an area as well as the history of how an area came to be settled. I will admit I have been a seeker since childhood. I find it fun, enjoyable, a learning experience as well as the chance to meet and share with  really very special and unique people.

I arrived at Shangri La on a very chilly Texas winter day this week. I had to get out in the midst of nature. I had read of Shangri La in a travel magazine. The words I remember where, “As one of the most earth friendly projects in the world, Shangri La offers a glimpse of how people can live in harmony with nature”. Those words hit me, with much of what has great meaning to me today in my life.

Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is a testament to a mans dream of a vision from a moment in his life time, from reading that of something as simple as a book. The book “Lost Horizon”, by British author James Hilton, published in 1933 describes Shangri La. A heaven away from the turbulent mundane world. Many have searched to seek out the mysterious land described by James Hilton, and over time, more and more evidence supports the belief that Shangri La is hidden away somewhere in the southeast tip of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.

Here in Texas I did find a place of a true vestige to a mans dream to attempt creation within the scape of  Texas, a Shangri La!  H.J. Lutcher Stark is in fact the man, who did read the book Lost Horizons, and this was his inspiration to create the garden for his personal use. After much work was done, the garden was originally opened to the public in 1946. Visitors from around the world came to Orange to see the beautiful gardens. In 1958, a major snow storm destroyed the grounds killing much of the vegetation. The garden was then closed to the public.

In 1961, Stark and his wife Nelda Childers Sparks, established a non-profit organization whose aim has been to enrich the quality of Southeast Texas by promoting, encouraging and assisting education, the arts and health and human services. After the death of Nelda Childers Stark in 1999, the Board of Directors realized Shangri La’s potential to provide environmental education to the public and decided to reopen the facility.

Shangri La, is a project that of being  with a focus on environmentally sound design and materials used within the garden allowed Shangri La to become the first project in Texas and the 50th in the world to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum Certification for LEED – NC. This verifies the design and construction of Shangri La to have reached the highest green building  and performance measures. The features within the complex are of natural soybean – based insulation, solar heating and cooling panels, waterless urinals and ultra low flush toilets. This is just a small sample of what can be found here that is environmentally earth friendly.

Much education is available here as well with hands on learning programs, There are several areas besides the garden to journey through here. There is a nature center with many treasures to enjoy including a Beaver Pond with fish, water fowl, including beavers. Adams Bayou boat excursions with the chance for an up close and personal adventure of observing the vast ecosystem that as well includes a 1,230 year old pond cypress tree called the “Survivor”. There is a mile of boardwalk area that spreads out over the waterways filled with fish, reptiles and other wildlife. Ruby Lake is home to thousands of nesting birds including herons and egrets. There is a state of the art Bird Blind that allows an intimate viewing of thousands of baby birds and there is a bat house as well where guests can observe the nocturnal creatures fly into the night from the adjacent amphitheater.

My experience was to Garmond, my way to, Shangri La. I found it with relative ease. Once parked, I walked onto the grounds to find the entrance. I paid my admission and was greeted by the neatest woman, named Betty. She was bundled up well like me and asked me if I had been here before. I shared a no with her, that this was my very first time. From that moment of greeting she lit within me this enormous delighted joy. We were then joined by another volunteer and the two of these wonderful woman shared of the history of Shangri La with me. The energy of these two woman who were so into the portend of the relevant means of what Shangri La was about was very exciting.

I then started my journey through the garden area before the little bit of sunshine disappeared from my midst. I ended up starting at the children’s area and my eyes were suddenly transfixed upon blue bottles thwarted upon tree branches. This was a quizzical sight that you had to just stop and stare at. You could not just continue to walk by these few trees. Your eyes then catch the tarps waving in the breeze of blue, green and yellow. At first your eyes are not sure of which way to look and this is a great area for children of all ages to hang around in to play. Little ones shall not be bored as there are several areas here for them to play as well as learn. The area is child friendly. Also the entire garden area is a smoke free area. So, if you smoke you do need to light up before entering the grounds here.

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A part of the children’s area, The brilliant blue will catch of your eyes.

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Another part of the children’s area, wind chimes, a potted fountain and bird houses and feeders are found.

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Whimsical birdhouses or Martin Houses line a walkway.

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Giggles are a happy sound coming from a child of any age. For me I love to hear the giggle from one who is older in age. The laughter from an adult child is just as contagious as that laughter coming from a small child of single digit age. Have you laughed or giggled today? What might you be waiting for? Find your laughter and let it out!

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This area is what is called The Wetland Demonstration Garden.

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Now to enter the actual garden area, I am stirred to see what shall await beyond of the greenhouses.

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Greenhouses are in the back ground.

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I find a view looking through the entryway that pulls you into wanting to see what is beyond of here with anticipation.

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Reflections are found within the water areas, easily.

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When I first observed this area with walking towards it the moss appeared to look magical as the sunlight made it appear to look like snow.

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Winter time in Shangri La, flowers were few as it is not the time of year in Texas to see a large variety but you know if you observe well, somewhere here you will find a flower in bloom.

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A walkway made from recycled materials and I enjoy greatly curves in my pathway.

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Spanish Moss sways with the wind currents, as though damsels having a foray.

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For whom does the bell toll? Maybe the bells call to you. They allowed that feeling to arise as though escaping within of sacred grounds.

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I happened to enjoy these bells and they fit well with the theme of Shangri La.

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H.J. Lutcher Stark, I was told, would go out on Ruby Lake on his house boat in the 1940’s. When he was on the boat he was not to be disturbed. It was his time,  to think. The Stark’s( H.J. and  Nelda C.) also spent their honeymoon on the houseboat here on Ruby Lake. The remains of it are in the background center of the photograph.

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Another view of the remains of the houseboat.

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Flowers blooming are found planted in containers from the sugar cane industry.

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Color can pop up in the unexpected moments

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Art work

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This is only a small sampling of what can be found at Shangri La in Orange, Texas You can find Shangri La easily, where ever you are in life and on our planet. There are many places to find your personal Shangri La. All you have to do is, SEEK to Find your Shangri La. Each of us has within of us the ability to experience our own Shangri La. Should you need help in finding yours, find a quiet place away from all the noise, look within of the area you find of yourself and allow yourself time to slow down and be present in your moments.

For me nature is a priority for me to feel my moments. Shangri La in Orange Texas is a unique garden area with many great people that work here as well as volunteers who help preserve this wonderful special location for others to come to see and enjoy. My hats are off to the people at Shangri La who help preserve this little gem here in East, Texas.

I look forward to spring time to revisit and to see the bounty of color that shall over take of this garden. This is one of the most special times of the year to visit as well. I can say that there was not a large show of color on my visit since it is winter but the atmosphere is peaceful, relaxing and has the ability to pull you into being present with where you feet shall journey. I am able though to find the beauty even without all the painted ladies poking there  graceful petals upwards amass. I as well am delighted to see a garden area with a uniqueness of how it fits into the eco system in a way of working with mother nature and not against her.

Here is my best to you in seeking your Shangri La, experience. Much joy to that of you.

  Shangri La

Botanical Gardens

& Nature Center

2111 West Park Avenue

Orange, Texas 77630

Tele: 409.670.9113

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