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TEMPLE OF TOLERANCE This back yard is monumental for meditation


Published: Mon, September 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


People wanting to find a peace are among those who visit the boulders.
WAPAKONETA, Ohio (AP) -- Sporting a gray ponytail that reaches halfway down his back, Jim Bowsher arrives at his front door in jeans and a black T-shirt that reads "Peace."
He intends to give a tour of his back yard, but the trip through his living room takes a half-hour. Every object -- there are a lot of them -- has a story: spear points from his archaeological digs; religious icons salvaged from churches; coins, tapestries, busts, books, artifacts and art from all over the world.
"I just want to show you one more thing," he is fond of saying.
But he is no mere collector.
The wiry, energetic 57-year-old is a writer, a teacher, a storyteller, a historian and an amateur archaeologist who drew on many interests to create a backyard monument to his live-and-let-live philosophy of life.
Bowsher calls it the Temple of Tolerance.
It is, to say the least, a surprising sight.
An airline pilot passing over Wapakoneta, in northwestern Ohio, once spotted it and asked the co-pilot, "Did I just see Machu Picchu in the middle of a residential area?" Bowsher knows because the captivated pilot who thought he had glimpsed a Midwestern version of Incan ruins stopped for a visit -- as do many others.
From the street, Bowsher's modest house at 203 S. Wood St. gives no clue to the creations that lie behind it. Out the back door, though, is what academics would call "an art environment."
What you will see
The journey through the enormous back yard (several contiguous lots that probably add up to the dimensions of a softball field) begins with a walk through a maze of vegetation that leads past rock shrines and a tiny house made of a barrel.
(Bowsher couldn't let the one-room barrel, which once sat on Wapakoneta's outskirts, decay into oblivion. But that's another story, he says.)
Then the maze gives way to a large open area where sits the thing that has put Bowsher's house on at least a few maps, in the book Weird U.S. and on the public-TV show "Rare Visions."
The Temple of Tolerance is a small-town Stonehenge, a mountain of beautiful boulders on which visitors are welcome to meditate, perform, play and, not infrequently, get married.
"I wouldn't climb up there," said Mayor Donald Wittwer, who officiated a wedding two years ago in Bowsher's back yard. "All I needed to do was fall off."
If the stability of the structure was his concern, the mayor needn't have worried: Bowsher says the temple is underlaid by a rock and clay foundation and tiered -- to give it the strength of a pyramid.
"It's not going anywhere until the next ice age."
The last ice age gets some credit for the temple's creation. Bowsher hunted throughout northwestern Ohio for erratics -- the boulders left by the leading edge of the glacier that scoured much of the state. To these he added stone cut by humans -- obelisks, parapets, millstones, gravestones, steps and anything else of beauty he could salvage.
In balance
The result is a mound of carefully balanced basalt, granite, limestone, quartz, flint and magma, topped by a fire pit and surrounded by smaller installations.
"To me, it's almost a geological formation," said Larry Harris, a Houston architect who leads a folk-art tour that stopped in Bowsher's back yard two years ago. "It was very much a landscape, not just an obsessive collection of junk like you see in some of these places."
Also, it's a playground.
Bowsher's yard is fenced, but the gates have no locks. He loves to talk about the kids who visit -- troubled and untroubled, sometimes seeking someone to talk to, sometimes just seeking fun.
As if on cue, four neighborhood boys arrive on bicycles and begin holding races around the temple.
Then Jessica DeWitt, 19, stops by -- a frequent visitor since childhood.
"When I had problems or I needed to think, I'd come here," she says.
She plans to marry her fianc & eacute; atop the temple in 2007.
Out-of-towners find the structure through word-of-mouth, Internet sites such as Harris' (http://narrowlarry.com) and offbeat travel books.


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