Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Grand Unified Theory of Gardens

"I was flipping through the cable channels the other night, trying to get an abstract sense of the way emergent processes of change and transformation generated by contemporary high-tech society are challenging cultural assumptions regarding diverse aesthetic forms to create a novel state of history… when, all of a sudden, I realized that everything I was looking at was the biggest load of unimaginably horrific crap ever."
Attributed to Richard Rorty, in article entitled, “Post-Modern Condition Upgraded To Pre-Apocalyptic”

The other night, after returning from the Liar’s Club where we enjoyed possibly excessive quantities of excellent local craft beer, we were trying to come up with a catchy name to call these times we live in. It was easier in “the 80s” or “the 90s” to just refer to the numerical decade. But “the 0s” doesn’t sound quite right, even stuck here in America in the waning days of the Bush II presidency. There was modern, but that was 100 years ago. Then, there was Postmodern, or as we took to calling it “PoMo”. But that was 50 years ago. And to call these days Retro is just a sad observation of how we cling to nostalgia when the going gets tough – reminiscing about the good old days when gas was cheap and Americans were respected.

Then, although the signs are everywhere present that serpents lurk in the grass, it came to me in a flash of inspiration so vivid that I could hear choirs of angels humming a wordless three-part harmony in the background, and believe me this is big, because I’m practically deaf.

Gardening is, at its most basic level, playing in the dirt. But that’s not my epiphany. Everybody knows that.

But deep in the dirt is where the roots of all growing things begin, and therefore gardening brings the gardener to the roots of life. But that’s not the epiphany either – every gardener knows that.

But “dirt” has also been defined as real or metaphorical matter in a place it doesn’t belong – hence “dirty feet” or “dirty minds”. So gardeners are not only likely to unearth the roots of wisdom when they garden, they must also deal with potential serpents, and other unimaginably horrific crap – much of which ends up sticking to the soles of their feet and burrowing deep under their fingernails. To illustrate my point, study the picture of the door of this church. Exactly how much redundancy do we need to tell the flock of this storefront church that the noon prayer begins at, say, noon? And if it’s "daily" why only M to F? And what kind of church isn’t open on Sundays?

So, my inspiration, my grand theory hit me like a load of unfinished compost flung from a pitchfork: if you want to become wise, you must get dirty first. How else will you learn to distinguish the horrific crap from the roots of wisdom? Whether or not that leads you to grok the meaning of the universe, or to deconstruct the semiotics of our contemporary state and awaken to realize we’re up to our knees in horrific crap, depends as much on what you had for lunch as it does on whether you believe Richard Rorty’s alleged insight quoted above. Dirt is dirt. Whether or not it’s good for your soul in what I’ll call these “Pre-Apocalyptic” days, depends on whether or not you are a true gardener.


Anonymous said...

Uh, that Rorty quote is from the Onion.

Martha in Michigan said...

Kinda like "pre-Apocalyptic," but it needs a snazzy shorthand, like PoMo for Post-Modern. Imagination fails me, as PrePoc is missing something....

Weeping Sore said...

I don't take myself too seriously, and thus I don't take Richard Rorty seriously either. Besides, the Onion is often as accurate at the NYT but without the self-righteousness.

walk2write said...

Wouldn't it be nice to have sample lives to choose from like in the Myth of Er? Then you could choose to "live strenuously" (top pick by The Interpreter) and not be sucked into living complacently, which seems (to me) to be the true root of all evil. Whenever I used to complain about weeding or mowing chores, I remember one of my elders saying something like "idle hands do the devil's work." It's not easy, though, to just sip and not gulp from the waters of Lethe and take regular turns at the compost pile. Great post, WS.

kate smudges said...

I'm with Martha - we need a catchy shorthand to describe these times.

Since I've been getting dirty for a long time, I figure one of these days, I'll start feeling wise!!!

Tina said...

Hmmm... my kids just call them 'the naughts'. Considering certain definitions, I agree.