The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/14/2012)
My father was a man who loved bacon, the taste of bacon and the smell of bacon frying in a skillet, of coffee brewing, and of the fragrances of a wood-fired stove. Happily, my mother preferred cooking on a wood-fired stove, said she could control the heat better. As the daughter of the fading years of the frontier, she was taught to cook on a wood-fired stove with cast iron cookware. The aromas of breakfast on fishing trips into the High Sierra are some of my fondest memories as a child.
It wasn’t only the aromas of those early morning breakfasts, it was also the sounds, sizzling raw-fried potatoes and onions and eggs frying in the bacon fat, sunny side up with crinkled edges, and the crackling of a wood fire. Carcinogens, cholesterol, and saturated fat aside, it’s hard to beat those breakfasts.
My father relished his senses. He savored his “wee dram” of single malt Scotch, caressed my mother’s shoulder, watched the colors of a sunset at the beach, listened to my mother play the piano, and delighted in the aromas of his roses. He was connected to himself because he was connected to his senses. Sadly, nowadays, much of gardening has been dogmatized. While sustainability is right on, it suffers from being taken over by the politically correct and morphed into a purse-lipped ideology. A pinched correctness takes us outside of ourselves into artificial world of dogmas. Gardening isn’t an intellectual pursuit. It’s a sensual experience.
It begins with the feel of dirt running through our fingers sans gloves. It’s pleasurable as well as a necessary. Good soil flows, and as it flows we can check it contents. It’s also important to smell the dirt, sticking our noses close to it, checking out whether it smells fresh or not. Sour soils or alkaline soils aren’t happy soils.
The tactile sense is the first sense by which our parents communicated with us, holding and caressing us. No ideas or dogmas, just touch. Also, it’s the first sense we use in gardening, not only letting soil flow through our fingers, but also touching the plants, even caressing them. Plants need to know we care for them. A garden is not a world of disparate, external entities as in a machine, but an organism where members are related to one another internally. We relate best by touch. Kale doesn’t grasp ideas, and as anyone who has grown kale knows, it’s not always correct. If not touched, roses need to be smelled.
The aroma of a garden is the aroma of life. For most of our external lives, we live in sterile environments. We scrub and wash everything to death. At work we are usually encased in steel, glass, asphalt, and concrete, all of them dead. Walking through a garden in the still of the evening, there are the aromas and sounds of life, a scent-laden moisture in the air, the whirr of life unseen, and the moldering of fallen leaves, all signs of fertility. Sometimes, we’ve become so accustomed to the harsh artificial sounds of civilization that we can barely hear the softer natural sounds of life.
A breeze rustling through a garden, the songs and chirps of elusive creatures, and the skitterings of fleet-footed foragers are all the sounds of life. We hear these sounds only in a garden or the forest.
Gardening is a great way to connect with ourselves because a garden isn’t an idea or an ideology, it’s an experience of sight and taste. A beautiful red berry or a tomato plucked from a vine, a snap bean stolen from a bush, and a bright green of a leaf of lettuce freshly picked all connect us with ourselves.
Of all the people I know who think they possess the truth, be it religious, horticultural, or political, I seldom find a happy one, so busy are they in defending and attacking one another. They're seldom at ease with themselves. The astemiously correct are worse, conjugating everything by a grammatically correct ideology. Relishing life, sensualists are connectd with themselves. On loan from God, a garden is a sensualist’s paradise.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012
Gardening Etcetera is edited by Dana Prom Smith along with Freddi Steele. Dr. Smith can be emailed at email@example.com, and he blogs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com.