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A Shining Presence in Duke’s Valley

Home and Garden

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change. — Buddha

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

Gleaming Buddha looks over the Harshbarger home

in Duke’s Valley south of Hood River.

By JANET COOK

News staff writer

July 16, 2005

After a long journey from a shop in northern Thailand, a brass garden Buddha sits peacefully in Paul Harshbarger’s garden in Duke’s Valley. The Buddha statue, which weighs more than 500 pounds, was set in place by a crane last week where it looks out not only at Harshbarger’s beautifully maintained garden but at Mount Adams in the distance.

“It’s got a nice view, so the Buddha should be happy,” Harshbarger said.

Harshbarger, an investment representative with Edward Jones, has been looking for the perfect garden Buddha for years during annual trips to Southeast Asia. He spotted this particular Buddha two years ago in a shop in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. He didn’t pursue it at the time because he didn’t think he would be able to get it home. Last year, he saw the Buddha again and decided to look into shipping it to the U.S.

“The first shipper I talked to said no,” Harshbarger said. Buddha statues are considered religious items and, officially, an export license is required to ship them from the country. But the official government stance on the practice is loosely adhered to, and applies more to ancient statues from historic sites. Harshbarger found another shipper who said he could send the Buddha, and arrangements were made to transport the large statue to Bangkok, where it then was sent by ship to Los Angeles. From there, it was transported by train to Portland where Harshbarger picked it up with his truck. The whole process took about two months.

Harshbarger knew this Buddha was the one he’d been looking for as soon as he saw it.

“They come in all shapes and sizes,” he said. Most are sitting in a certain position, but “their facial expressions can be quite different.”

Harshbarger first went to Asia in 1967, when he spent 18 months as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote village in Nepal. He hadn’t been back to the region until 1997, when he returned to the village to see it again after 30 years. The return trip rekindled his interest in Southeast Asia and its culture, and Harshbarger has traveled there every year since. In the past eight years, he’s traveled extensively in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma.

Harshbarger isn’t a Buddhist, but he’s intrigued by the religion.

“If I were going to be anything, I would be Buddhist,” he said. “It’s a very tolerant religion and a very relaxing religion.”

Harshbarger said he wasn’t sure exactly where to place the Buddha until he got it home, but he’s pleased with the perch he chose.

The journey is the reward, according to a famous saying. But for this garden Buddha, the destination is hard to beat.

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