Sunday, September 02, 2007

Gardening Philosophy

I've been working on the garden this weekend--preparing the bed for planting in a few weeks. This whole process of preparation has been putting me in touch with my ancestors. As my fingers grub in the sandy dirt for the roots, and sift out the rocks, and haul out the boulders, as I shovel the compost into the wheelbarrow and transport it to the garden plot, my whole body responds: this feels like what it was made to do. This is what my people do. We dig out the rocks and the stumps. (We use the big rocks to make walls between the fields.) We haul in compost and manure, and then rake it smooth, create the rows and hills and plant the seeds. Then comes the hoeing and the weeding, the daily attention. And then, our crops fail. Locusts, drought, tornados, hurricanes, bad seed, blight. That just seems like the logical next event.

When I first read Garrison Keillor*, I was struck by how much those Minnesotans he describes were like My People. I looked for common roots, but there's no Scandinavian ancestry in my family. Then I realized that what we had in common was the farming culture. If you're a farmer, you're probably not going to be an optimist. You may be a true pessimist, but it will be a pessimism that can turn inside out and become happiness, because when you always expect the worst, you are often pleasantly surprised, and you never experience disappointment. You may be a fatalist, but fatalism is the purest path to happiness, because if you are prepared to accept whatever comes, you have lost the attachment that Buddha teaches is the source of all unhappiness.

Farmers show how a person can be happy without necessarily being cheerful.

Another view of this is that if the world is bleak, your best chance at happiness is to create it inside your own mind. And that is valid because even if the world is wonderful and your life is great, that's where your happiness is anyway, inside your mind. T.M. Shine illustrates this concept extremely well in this week's Timeline. (Warning: Shine uses gratuitous vulgar language to appeal to the demographics of the weekly paper he writes for--I think he has an f-word quota, to make up for the fact that he is over 35.)


*Garrison Keillor has a new book coming out this fall; I recommend it sight unseen and will probably review it here sometime in October. Here is a passage that illustrates pretty well the philosophy I attribute to him:
"Being Lutheran, Mother believed that self-pity is a deadly sin and so is nostalgia, and she had no time for either. She had sat at the bedside of her beloved sister, Dotty, dying of scarlet fever in the summer of 1934; she held Dotty's hand as the sky turned dark from their father's fields blowing away in the drought, she cleaned Dotty, wiped her, told her stories, changed the sheets, and out of that nightmare summer she emerged stronger, confident that life would be wondrous, or at least bearable."--Lake Wobegon Boy, p. 2

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