By ARDEN BASTIA Inspired by a Japanese tradition, Charlann Walker has set up a wind phone on the banks of the pond on Squantum Drive in the Governor Francis neighborhood. Walker was inspired to install the phone in her neighborhood "because there's just
Inspired by a Japanese tradition, Charlann Walker has set up a wind phone on the banks of the pond on Squantum Drive in the Governor Francis neighborhood.
Walker was inspired to install the phone in her neighborhood “because there’s just so much going on right now. There are a lot of people that have passed over that I’d like to talk with.”
Wind phones originated in Japan after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake tore through northeastern Japan and triggered a devastating tsunami in 2011. Together, the events caused billions of dollars worth of damage and resulted in the loss of more than 15,000 lives. To cope with the grief, one coastal town found a unique solution.
Positioned atop a grassy hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a phone booth allows living people to call their deceased relatives and loved ones. Called the “phone of the wind,” the disconnected rotary phone inside a glass booth allows callers to send verbal messages to those they’ve lost, which the wind then carries away.
“I told my friend about it and she said, ‘I’m going to go over there and use it to talk to my younger self,’ and I’m thinking, I’d like to say some things to my younger self,” said Walker in an interview.
Walker’s daughter, Jennifer Helzberg, also installed a wind phone in her neighborhood in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Mike Dowling of Mike’s Landscaping helped Walker and her daughter with the construction and installation of their wind phones. For the wind phone on Squantum Drive, Dowling built a small box that he mounted on a tree. Inside the box are a phone and a notebook, so visitors can jot down when they were they and with whom they talked to.
Walker says the location is perfect. The pond is secluded and quiet, offering a peaceful place for reflection, complete with a bench so visitors can pause for a while.
The wind phone made a slight move to a tree further up the bank after a neighbor complained and the city removed the phone. Walker said she was slightly dismayed that anyone should complain about the phone. “I talked with my neighbors before installing it and they were all on board. I don’t know who complained,” she said, although she has her speculations.
“With COVID and all that, scaring people, losing people, sometimes you’d like to have a chance to say that one thing with them,” said Walker, who used the phone to talk with her cousin who passed a few years ago. “When I picked up the phone, I remembered a lot of things I wanted to say. She was very important to me. She left without me saying goodbye.”
Walker encourages visitors to paint rocks or shells with loved ones’ names to decorate the area. She has a vision of the wind phone becoming a community memorial.
“It’s closure, but it also reopens the door and keeps the conversation going. Making that effort, that statement to use the phone, is a different feeling for me,” she said. “I want people to walk by and just pick up the phone and unburden themselves.”
The first time Walker was inspired by the Japanese was after a 2012 visit to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. There, she encountered a Peace Pole – a tall pole with four to six languages on each of its four or six sides.
According to the World Peace Prayer Society, a Peace Pole is “an internationally-recognized symbol of the hopes and dreams of the entire human family, standing in vigil in silent prayer for peace on earth.” Each pole bears the message, “May peace prevail on Earth.” There are an estimated 250,000 Peace Poles across the world, from the peaks of the Himalayas to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The world’s tallest Peace Pole, standing at 52 feet, is located in Janesville, Wisconsin. The World Peace Prayer Society is a nonprofit organization with a mission to unite people across the world through universal peace messages.
A few months after Walker returned home, she installed a Peace Pole in her side yard. A dedication ceremony was held in spring 2013 with family and friends. Walker’s pole bears the peace message in English, Japanese, Hebrew and Spanish. For Walker, it serves as a daily reminder to live each day with peaceful intention and purpose.