Monday, July 06, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/1/09)

"Grandpa, you should talk to Roxie in one word commands." Our granddaughter and my namesake, Dana Marie, heard me talking to Roxie, our three-legged, pink-nosed, aging yellow lab, in complete sentences. A third year student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, she's inclined to rational thinking, evidence, and analysis. A tall, blue-eyed, neocortical blonde, she owns a steel-trap mind.

I told her that my relationship with Roxie is more collegial than patriarchal, saving the patriarchal stuff for human beings.

She continued, "Gretchen says that you even talk to plants, birds, squirrels, bees, and skunks in complete sentences." I replied, "Not always. Sometimes, I curse them, but I remain engaged. A garden isn't a machine with interchangeable parts like cars and wind turbines. It's an organism. Everything affects everything else internally. A garden is better off with tender mercies instead of syllogisms.

A self-confessed technophile, she drifted off by the fireplace using
Roxie as a pillow, fiddling with one word messages on her Blackberry, never mentioning Gretchen's conversations with the television set.

Gardening's a relief from the soulless "I-It" formulaic relationships of answering machines' disembodied voices, ideologically driven decisions, and digitized human beings. Gardening's "I-Thou," "up close and personal," if a little chaotic. Gardening's largely limbic which, as one widely unaccepted theory has it, is that middle layer of the brain we share with other mammals, not the neocortical which we, as humans, keep to ourselves, except perhaps for an occasional anthropoid and extraterrestrial.

The neocortex is the brains' newest evolutionary part, giving us the ability to think rationally, to solve problems, and, also, to lie. Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness wrote, "bad faith is a lie to oneself" which is hiding from the truth. The neocortex also gives us the capacity for self-consciousness, like talking to ourselves, as in "why did I do that?" However, it comes with the price of inner internecine conflicts. As with Shakespeare's Brutus, we're at war with ourselves, "forgetting the shows of love to other men."

Dogs, birds, squirrels, and plants don't lie. Often a puzzlement, they're never deceitful although Roxie has a way of sneaking off when no one is looking.

Gardening's limbic, an emotional experience. Some people love life, some don't, and some aren't sure, but a committed gardener is a lover which, as we all know, is both an emotion and a virtue. Gardeners love to watch things grow, fret over plants that don't thrive, grieve at a plant's death, and, most of all, celebrate the flowering of life. In short, gardeners embrace the chiefest of virtues and the finest of emotions which makes them out of step with much of the reptilian, the lowest brain layer, in modern American life.

Also, gardening is alien to the frenetic, fast-paced quality of modern life. Soil may be enriched, watered, and cultivated, but nothing changes the sequences of time. As with Ol' Man River, gardens just keep "rollin' along." They can't be hurried. No fighting time. With the rhythms of nature, gardeners are in tune, if not with the "music of the spheres," with the harmonies of the earth. Gardens, just as does time, have no fast-lanes.

Gardening may seem absurd to many people, but cold, impersonal, fast-paced rational, formulaic modernity doesn't seem to have done much for human equilibrium either. Putting it plainly, the neocortex enables us to stress out. Getting in sync with nature's beat works by relaxing us and, thereby, allowing our neocortex to function efficiently without mauvais foi gumming it up. Our senses relax us. Gardening is about those senses.

Drifts of daffodils and the elegant beauty of bearded irises, the aroma of roses and lavender, and the taste of tomatoes and snap beans just off the vine connect us with the rhythms of nature, regaining our emotional balance and relieving our inner conflicts.

Torqued by their presuppositions, rationalistic ahedoniacs, people who don't relish their senses, stress out with unintended consequences, blowbacks, absurdities, and ironies. Gardeners, on the other hand, know that the best antidote for stress is the scents, scenes, tastes, and sensations of a garden in bloom. They enjoy life for having touched it.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

No comments: