By Galen Patterson
Beginning shortly after dark, some of the lights from the forest can be seen from the parking lot but the experience on the other side of the fence is entirely different.
Immediately upon entering, guests are directed by lights along the recommended pathway. The lights originally take the form of exploding cannons, but morph over time as they take the shape of feathers, flowers, cacti and various other natural creations while they guide patrons through the mile-long course.
As the guiding lights change to peacock feathers, a massive lighted peacock emerges from the distance.
In China, the peacock symbolizes dignity and beauty; here, they are a symbol for Arcadia and a reminder that coexistence can thrive where cultures collide.
The huge dragon occupying Lake Baldwin also serves as common ground between China and westernized America. The sign located in front of the dragon tells us that dragons are symbols of power and they have the ability to prevent disasters and bring luck. They have been an important symbol in Chinese history for 8,000 years and live in the ethnic stories and lore from Eastern Asia.
In Euro-centric lore, dragons inhabit caves and are slain by only worthy humans, or they safeguard valuables, waiting for intrepid adventurers to try their luck at an easy fortune. The dragon is a symbol for success in the face of adversity, both in life and death around the globe.
Near the Lake Baldwin Dragon, a tree with low-hanging branches supports strings of purple lights, with dripping blue flashes falling from no particular place above them as they guide patrons along the path.
The path guides walkers through the sea floor, through the mouth of a great white shark first displayed in Paris before it found its way to Arcadia. It takes people through carnivorous gardens and lighted tunnels to the Temple of Heaven and the nearby displays from the rest of the world.
The displays are framed with lights shining through a cloth covering. They change colors and move to captivate the attention of onlookers, but furthermore, they are a modern adaptation of the Chinese lanterns.
Chinese lanterns are believed to have first been used during the Han dynasty from 25-220 C.E. They served the practical functions of candles—like reading, or working at night—but had a thin covering to prevent them from being blown out by wind. Over time they became ceremonial, fostering art, creativity, beauty and riddles.
In the Moonlight Forest, the lanterns serve their original purpose and their adapted purpose: illuminating the movement in the dark of night, and injecting inspiration into the minds of onlookers. They teach us lessons and help those from the West understand those from the East.
The Moonlight Forest is open until Jan. 12, begins at 5:30 p.m. and is located at the L.A. County Arboretum in Arcadia.