Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/14/08)

My fifty-five year old gold crown fell out while munching on a taco at the Tamale Pot. When discussing a replacement with my dentist, J. Thomas Montfort, he asked "Do you want gold again?" I replied," I'm not sure it's smart to invest in gold at 81, you know, the cost/longevity ratio."

Then he asked, "How long do you expect to live? How about your ancestors and relatives?" Taken aback, I realized that many died of cancer in midlife while several lived into their nineties. After I related these chronicles of death, he said, "Well, you've probably passed the dangerous period. How long do you expect to live?" "I'd like to hit 96, the Methuselah factor, as our financial advisor says."

Eyes twinkling, he said "Well, then, let's go for the gold." After a pause, he asked, "What're you going to do then?" I replied, "Recalibrate."

Then I remembered Hans Vaihinger's Die Philosophie des Als Ob, in which he pointed out that we really don't know much of what we claim to know, but act als ob, as if, we do. In theology it's called faith. Philosophically, it's called presupposition. Since I don't know, I decided to live als ob I'm going to hit 96.

As in dentistry, so it is in gardening. No matter a gardener's personal time-line, it's time to go for the gold, als ob, and recalibrate the garden which is best done in winter when the garden's naked of foliage with its shape and design revealed.

If a garden hasn't changed over the years, it's probably time to look at its design all over again on the assumption the gardener might've learned something as time passed. One of the advantages of age is that one picks up new ideas along the way. The old hymn reads, "New occasions teach new duties, and time makes ancient good uncouth." Winter gives our curiosity, the most useful of our emotions, an opportunity to take a hard look at our garden's design and imagine a garden more beguiling.

An effective garden in some way or another resembles nature, and nature is asymmetrical. The Grand Canyon is not a straight-line, immense concrete trench as if it were designed by the Bureau of Reclamation. If it were, it would be ugly. A tree is not perfectly balanced any more than a face. As a matter of fact, walking is an exercise in sustained imbalance. The trick to an interesting garden is a design that resembles nature as much as possible. In other words, rethink all those perennials standing in file as though they were sentinels on guard, and along with that those front yards dismally coated with gravel. Front yards shouldn't resemble the perimeters of military disciplinary stockades.

Nature is neither rectangular nor straight line. Its contours are unexpected and, thus, interesting. Curiosity is drawn by the unknown, not the known. A symmetrical, evenly balanced garden is static because it doesn't lead the eye. If a line doesn't lead the eye, soon enough the eye will stop following the line. A landscape is not done by the numbers, but with the mind's eye.

The latent power of an S curve intrigues the mind more than a straight line. In contrast, a straight line is power spent and leads only to an end, a conclusion. Life, as with a garden, is an unfinished experience. In short, T squares, rectangles, and graph paper tend to restrict the imagination and issue in homeostatic gardens, gardens without movement.

Walking along one of Flagstaff's many trails is one of the best ways to draw inspiration for a garden's design, taking note of nature's contours, its unexpected twists and turns. Since we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, mimicking its design is a valuable way to envision a garden afresh.

Indeed, following the contours of nature, our imaginations can take wing and fly to the uttermost reaches of our innermost space, as we go for the gold, fashioning our gardens anew als ob. Many are the roads to Elysium, but the fairest, as Sir Francis Bacon said, is round about.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How timely you should be speaking about garden paths. Just today I was looking at the paths I've carved in the snow of my yard, and they meander from bird feeder to bird feeder.