Garden Philosophy

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by orthogonal, May 24, 2002.

  1. orthogonal Registered Senior Member

    I'm starting to lay out a small orchard of espaliered apple and cherry trees in my garden. I spent the first three days of this week digging tree stumps, hauling rocks, and leveling the soil. At the end of each day I barely had the energy to eat my supper and take a shower before falling into bed. It's mindless pick-and-shovel work, yet I don't think I would have rather done anything else this past week.

    My mom has congestive heart failure. Her prognosis is quite poor. I recently flew home to spend time with her, and expect to return in the near future. While I realize that everyone in life has to deal with loss of a loved one, I suppose I was feeling like Yossarian in Catch 22. Which is to say, I was taking it all quite personally; I don't care that man is mortal, what I care about is that my mother is dying.

    Which explains why I'm so thankful to have the opportunity to dig tree stumps and haul stones this week. We've finally had a lovely stretch of weather here in the Northeast; spring has arrived just in time for summer. As I dig, I occasionally lean on my shovel to better hear the song of a newly returned migratory bird. We live so far back in the hills that there isn't another sound to be heard. Hawks thermal over the clearing in the heat of the day. I occasionally swat at the black flies, but mostly, I realize this place is paradise.

    A paradise in which my mother is dying. So I have my moments of insanity. I curse and hack a root that puts up a resistance to being yanked from the earth. One moment I'm contemplating the beauty of a nearby wild-cherry tree in bloom, and the next I angrily smash a rock into the pile with all my physical might. And I'm talking to myself all day. Stupid things mostly. I'll pull a single word from a idle thought and scream it as though it were profanity. Twice my wife has opened a window in the house and called out to ask I was alright. (She's wisely decided to let me work alone) I wondered briefly if I might be losing my mind. Actually no, I'm not losing my mind. I'm losing my mother. Between my brief fits of insanity, this is what I thought whilst digging in the ground this week.

    I thought about an event from my 4rth grade class. I remember our teacher telling a poor girl who sat at the back of the room that she was probably going to fail the grade. The girl typically said nothing and diplayed little emotion. The teacher repeated this warning to the girl at least weekly. Finally, as we sat at our desks on the last day of school, the teacher handed out our report cards. As we all silently looked over our grades, a tremendous wail arose from the back of the class. The girl had opened her report card and found that she would have to repeat the grade. She ran out of the classroom screaming with our teacher just behind her. We all sat looking around at each other awkwardly, until finally someone voiced what everyone was thinking, "But she knew all along that she was going to fail?"

    That's the way it is with us. To dwell upon death whilst our loved ones live is pointless and counterproductive, as well as disturbing. Since I was a child I've understood that men are mortal. Even before I read Seneca, I could have told you that, "The hour which gives us life begins to take it away." But rationally "knowing" a thing is quite different than emotionally experiencing the thing. I might even be ahead of some people inasmuch as I have death figured out to my own satisfaction. But it wasn't my own death that had me flailing away out in the garden like a madman, it's my mother's dying. It has nothing to do with the concept of nonexistence, but everything to do with the fact that I'll miss her.

    By Wednesday, I'd figured out that I was angry because I'm going to miss her. It's my own loss that's making me mad. And as such, it's a selfish anger. I wasn't throwing things anymore. Instead, I settled down on Wednesday to listen more to the birds sing, and enjoy the sight of the cherry blossoms as I worked. I must have remembered a hundred distinct memories of my mother on Wednesday. And when I cried as a result of some of these memories, the tears were more sweet than bitter. I might have dug my way out of a hole this week.

    Hmm...philosophical understanding by way of a pick-axe? Perhaps philosophy students entering the University might be handed a shovel along with their books?

    Last edited: May 24, 2002
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  3. Meowdar Registered Member

    I think something you might find that further acts as a balm is the poem "Thanatopsis". After reading your post that's all I could think to say. I'm taken aback and still thinking of your sudden epiphany and adding it to my own philosophy of death. I hope after the foreshadowing turbulence is over in your life it'll all be smooth sailing. Lo siento
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  5. Counterbalance Registered Senior Member

    I am blown away, though gently, with a sudden realization. Today is May 24th. The anniversary of the day I had my own life-altering “epiphany” while working in a garden from a clear dawn to a star-pricked indigo dusk. Back-breaking work, much of it on my hands and knees. Practically every pore of my body clogged with dirt. Pulling, picking, scrabbling, shoveling and hoeing.

    And as the day progressed a sort of parade of ideas began presenting themselves for consideration, many of them unbidden notions that I’d never thought of before. Something like a mental slide-show, thoughts were either unfolding, breaking down, or the opposite, coming together and taking shape in my mind, while yet other thoughts literally felt like they were slowly rippling through my head. And all were like puzzle pieces materializing that would pause and then pass on before my mind’s eye, moving out of the way for the next incoming thought; moving off to the sideline of my mind and taking a ’holding’ position on a mentally drawn blackboard.

    These were notions about my own life, my self, my body, and about my family, but that was but one small part of the whole ‘revelation.’ And the longer I worked, the more clear became the ’connectivity’ of all I’d been “viewing.” The puzzle began filling in. I sometimes had to stop to sit back on a mound of dirt to wonder what on “earth” was going on in my head--but kept realizing that it wasn’t only in my mind, it was in my body, too. An “opening up.” A barrier coming down between me and absolutely everything else. An awareness, but even more valuable, an understanding the likes of which I’d never experienced. Every sense alive and functioning as I’d never known it to before.

    For all the world I felt like I’d become something akin to a radio receiver, and at every level of my being. I don’t know how or why it happened. All I do know is that I was covered in dirt, the hair in my nostrils heavily coated with dirt dust, my ‘head‘ saturated with a rich earth odor. Perhaps, chemically speaking, my body was overwhelmed and forced to operate differently than on any other day of my life. I don’t expect I’ll ever understand why the experience took place, and that’s okay.

    It was the only time in my life I’d ever had that sort of day long ‘event,’ but not the only time I’d ever found clarity, direction or resolution while gardening, or dealing with nature in a hands-on manner.

    Yes, I do think philosophy students would benefit from spending a week or so preparing a new garden, or orchard. Each student given a plot to cultivate, to interact with, that was completely separate from other students or instructors. Each student having to dig, physically, while their mind thinks, and their body acts, reacts and responds.

    Orthogonal, I can’t recall being in an established orchard and not experiencing a sense of peace. Makes me wonder if the men who initially labored to plant the trees didn’t “wrestle out” all the theoretical negative energy. An act of purification, perhaps.

    And I wish you peace with the loss you’re facing.


  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  7. Adam §Þ@ç€ MØnk€¥ Registered Senior Member

    I find we learn more by doing than by reading.

    Regarding gardening and such, I think maybe when the mind sits in cruise-control and the body goes about its labours, the mind enters a state of not thinkning about things. Ever heard such a mental state described before? Meditation? The focus on small matters is gone from the mind, and sometimes the subconscious suddenly gets to reach out and smack you in the face with something important.

    Also very sorry for what you are going through. Death has only touched my life a couple of times, and I've always hated it.
  8. orthogonal Registered Senior Member

    Meowdar, Counterbalance, Adam, and Chagur (for his email), have my gratitude for the kindness of their replies. The affect of your words affirm the Swedish proverb:
    "Shared joy is double-joy, shared sorrow is half-sorrow."

    I enjoyed reading of the "epiphany in the garden" as experienced by Counterbalance. I suppose it's of little wonder that Socrates, Plato, and Epicurus taught philosophy from the confines of their garden.

    Now that I think of it, the best book I've ever read on finding joy in a garden was written about fly-fishing; Norman Maclean's , A River Runs Through It, begins:

    "In my family, there was no clear cut line between religion and fly fishing. We lived a the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others."

    I've nothing to do with fly fishing or with religion, but if I substitute "gardening" for "fly fishing", and "philosophy" for "religion," this jewel of literature becomes almost a handbook for both. Maclean makes a study of sensitivity. He asks his reader to notice the insignificant details which go to make up a world. He uses a trout-stream as a means for a quiet self-understanding. It's a wonderful book.

    To garden at all is an act of optimisim (especially in Vermont). In the sixteen past seasons, I might count a failure for my every success. During last summer's drought for example, I put a wooden yoke across my shoulders nearly every other day to carry water up from the brook. The losses were high despite my efforts, yet only this week did I bring up my last potato from the root cellar, and there are pizzas yet to be made with the tomato sauce my wife put away last fall. The buckwheat flour in my breakfast pancakes is sythed, threshed, hulled, and ground by my own hand. The maple syrup I put on these cakes came from our trees. I've little doubt that one of these days I'll be picking apples and cherries from the newly grafted trees that are currently only in my holding beds.

    Nearly every trip into the garden is rewarded with a discovery of some kind. As Counterbalance mentions, such a discovery is as apt to be about one's self as it is about horticulture. Despite the inevitable disasters, gardening is very much an act of optimism, not unlike life itself.

    Again, my thanks to you. May your gardens lushly thrive and bear plentiful fruit.

    Last edited: May 26, 2002

Share This Page