Raking Worries Away: An Unexpected Way to Meditate

By: Ross West, Summer Intern from UF

For me, meditation has always been a subtle endeavor. I rarely intentionally set aside time for it. In fact, until reflecting on meditation in the concept drive for the rake shack, I had never really thought about it. What is meditation? In my eyes, it’s simply a break from the normal.

When I was much younger, my grandparents lived on the St. Johns River. Their land, encompassing many acres, was a pristine playground. My grandpa’s personal inclination for exploration allowed my brother and I to take to the land how we best saw fit. 

My brother was usually on the river catching fish (or trying to) into the late hours of the day. But my most memorable experiences were spent trekking the banks of the St. Johns, looking for the oldest glass bottles I could find. I would spend hours canvassing the cypress knee-riddled banks to find that one relic. I’d mostly find plastic liquor bottles or Budweiser cans from the early 90s, but an occasional stumble upon a piece of history made for the most triumphant of findings. 

Whether it was sitting on a bucket next to my brother with a fishing pole or trudging through the muck to find a hidden treasure, these moments of respite—the moments that took us away from the everyday—were those that brought us closer to the land we inhabit. While I was fortunate to have this enclave of exploration, many aren’t. That’s where raking comes in.

Raking in Meditation and Mindfulness

Raking is simple. There are very few movements involved. You pick the rake up, drag it across the earth and repeat. The rake, as it scratches the ground, leaves behind an audible crunch of leaves and a set of uniform striations. There is order invested in the act of raking and in the traces that the rake posits. Similar to traditional Zen rock garden raking, this process evokes mindfulness—an intimate conversation with the land. 

The rake shack, a design-build project conceived and carried out by the Master’s in Landscape Architecture Advanced Construction Studio in the spring of 2019, seeks to foster an individual experience with nature. The structure is 10’ tall with wooden slats that allow for light to permeate to and through. The shadows cast by the slats serve to reiterate the striations that a rake often asserts on the earth. The structure’s primary purpose is to revere the tool that can bridge the gap between man and nature. For this reason, the shack holds the rake proudly on a central axis.

In Gainesville’s context, the act of raking while overlooking the Gator Pond (a sinkhole located next to the architecture building) may serve as a meditative respite from the confines of studio projects and trash paper crinkling. At the Dix.Hite Longwood office, raking may serve as a complement to gardening—a continued development of the connection between what we grow and, ultimately, why we grow it.

Since the construction of the Rake Shack on UF’s campus, the structure has provoked some interesting conversation. While some passersby may gaze at the structure in wonderment, snapping a few pictures and moving along to their next destination, others may stop and ask questions such as, “That big ole’ structure for one rake?!” or “Why would I rake here when my wife makes me rake at home?!”

These questions serve as both a source of humor and as a fruit of the project—no matter the intent of the rake shack, people are stopping, breathing, and engaging. And maybe they’ll even give it a try.