Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gardening with the Goddesses

Discussing how an experienced gardener isn't afraid to admit a mistake, pull out a plant, pitch it, move it, and start all over again, Michael Pollan compares the gardener's method to evolution.
[However, e]volution has a double rhythm: only after nature, in her promiscuous creativity, throws up countless new possibilities and combinations does natural selection (her critical impulse, if you will) step in to determine which work best under the circumstances. . . . Nature creates without an end in view; fitness is but an afterthought. The gardener in his own little world, like the artist in his, performs both functions, hatching the trials and then culling the errors. [Hint to Pollan, women exist.]

But as much as he seems like a god in his garden, practicing his own local brand of natural selection, the green thumb entertains no illusions of omniscience or omnipotence. If he's any kind of god it's a Greek god, one whose power is sharply circumscribed by the willfulness of men and other gods. Unlike Yahweh, Athena bargains, cajoles, even loses one now and then; mortals can keep secrets from her. [The experienced gardener] suspects that the garden over which he exerted absolute mastery would be a pallid, thin, uninteresting place.

~Michael Pollan in Second Nature: A Gardener's Education.

I think that's right, both about gardening and about the Goddesses/Gods. I'm lucky to work w/ the v patient Landscape Guy who never scowls when I say, "Well, I think we should dig up all those day lilies and all those ostrich ferns and switch them into each others' spot, now that I've had a year to watch them where they are." I'm still learning and still listening to the plants. When the day lilies don't bloom well and the ostrich ferns look a bit parched, they're telling me: "We need more sun," and "We need more shade."

In A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism, John Michael Greer says that, for polytheists:

The distinction between divine and human is real, but both exist in a common world defined by mutual relationships.

From this difference-in-relatedness unfolds the central concept of polytheist religious practice, which is reciprocity. Religion in the Pagan sense is a matter of exchange. While the gods are greater than human beings, they are not infinitely so, and humanity thus has the potential to bring something of its own to a relationship with divinity. Each participates in the relationship in a manner proportioned to their relative place in the cosmos, but the relationship is never merely one-sided. . . . If Pagan gods are verbs, as the Christian god is sometimes said to be, the verbs in question are some conjugation of "to give." Yet human beings and, indeed, all other entities have the capacity to give as well, and in giving, to imitate the gods. Once again, hard and fast lines become difficult to draw.

I think that Greer's point is similar to one that Pollan tries to make throughout his writing: Humans are part of nature. A garden is nature in interaction with a human. Sometimes, the plants control us and get us to do their bidding; sometimes we cajole the plants into doing what we want. When it works right, there's an exchange of gifts. The interaction, I think even Pollan would admit, can sometimes be that of his interactive, Greek god gardener and can sometimes be that of a destroying, I-Know-Best-Pesticide-Wielding Yahweh, but it's an interaction.

All of which argues, in my mind, and heart, and sore-from-weeding fingers, for the notion that you can come to know the Goddesses/Gods through gardening and that, through the Goddesses/Gods, you can become a gardener. How does your relationship with divinity influence your gardening? How does your experience as a gardener influence your relationship with the Goddesses and Gods?

Picture found here.

1 comment:

nanoboy said...

I like Pollan, but he's not very right about evolution. As a scientist, I have to shake my head at him when he talks about it. It's sort of a pop-evolution philosophy. the trouble is that no one is controlling anyone's evolution, except when humans deliberately breed lifeforms. The rest of the time, it's just natural selection (and various stochastic mechanisms) that determine what sticks and what doesn't.

Seriously, if you want to know about evolution, read Dawkins or David Sloan Wilson. They know what they're talking about when they discuss evolution, though you will likely disagree with their their theological opinions, such as they are.