Sweat

July 13, 2007 | 36 comments
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All winter I plotted how to improve the garden, my first focal point for exercising “good stewardship” over the acre plus we moved to a year and a half ago. Last year’s garden had gone all right. I loved every minute in it, especially the time spent with animals, like Woodhouses’ toads and cliff swallows, which helped keep the garden in good order. But I got a late start and the harvest fell short. This year, I pushed to start my tomatoes on time along with other herbs and veggies that don’t mind sprouting indoors. I schemed how to improve our red, clayey soil. I saved money to hire a local man to till our ground.

Jed, the tiller guy, drove his little blue Ford tractor way out to our edge-of-the-desert lot. In less time than it probably took him to mosey out from town and back, there it was: the garden plot, opened up and turned over, ready to accept the least stroke of green intention. The day was cool. Very little sweat of the brow fell.

Walking over the tilled dirt, I mentally rotated pepper, tomato, bean and melon beds. Planning was fun, but my bliss shattered when I discovered the body of one of our Woodhouse’s toads lying on the garden’s surface in mortal tatters. The tractor’s blades had caught it as it lay torpid underground finishing out its hibernation.

Two days later I discovered another toad, dead, its right arm and foot severed. The tractor had struck this animal, too, as it lay buried. But the blades hadn’t churned it up as they had the other toad. With its good arm and leg, this toad dug its way out, crawled a short distance then died from its injuries. I stood looking at it thinking what an idiot I was for failing to foresee this problem and prevent it.

This stewardship thing’s tricky. “Be a good steward of the ground,” people say. “Exercise good evironmental stewardship.” I’m willing to accept personal responsibility for being what’s popularly called a “good steward” over the earth and its creatures. But just as with questions regarding love, what it is and how to do it well, people (or is it just me?) seem confused about what a good steward is and how to be one.

Originally, the office of steward belonged to servants responsible for keeping the castle table stocked with food and drink so their masters could glut on it without interruption. The role expanded to include the management of property, finances, or other affairs belonging to some other person or entity. In all cases, stewardship required running any and all matters smoothly and conscientiously.

The work of a good steward, as NT parable demonstrate, profits everyone in the environment in which he or she operates, from the “master” of the vineyard to the vines. So it’s fair, I think, to posit that a good environmental steward has a working knowledge of how an environmental system ought to function efficiently, even profitably, for everyone involved, including those who might inhabit the environmental system in the future. Then the steward acts well upon that knowledge.

But unlike the comparatively closed system of a castle or household or the controlled one of a business, we don’t understand to any degree of completeness the nature of nature. Even where we think we’ve been paying attention and ought to know it all, scientists make discoveries that require re-tooling everyone’s beliefs about what’s going on.

And if, as some have proposed, the human brain is evolving and human consciousness along with it, where can we settle in our thinking about how to be in the world?

The obvious answer: We can’t. A truth about working with nature is that at times we will act without knowing what is necessary or true. We will make mistakes. We are making mistakes, as we do in other realms of our behavior and beliefs.

The oft-referenced stewardship model is a venerable one and has its uses. It comes with challenges yet remains workable in castles, businesses, church callings, and household responsibilities. It even makes sense that a few individuals of special gifts and training step up to assume environmental stewardship roles.

But the good steward model doesn’t clear up the murk in the average person’s behavior toward nature, especially where the concept is bent to mean something like managed exploitation rather than the NT good steward standard of the profitable servant. We lack the omniscient creativity of God, so where work-a-day environmental stewardship is concerned, are we doomed to play the role of the unprofitable servant for the foreseeable future?

My guess: Any model we seek for improving peoples’ relations with nature ought to improve relations between people. Because I believe our clumsiness with other species is an extension of the clumsiness we experience within our own, and it will hardly work to buoy matters up on one end without thought for the best interests of the other.

Well, you know, I love my toads; I need their help in the garden. After the tilling fiasco, I loaded my kids in the van and we drove to a gravel pit where we scavenged as many big stones as we could carry, threw them in the van then unloaded them in the garden. Over the next two days we moved rock till middle-aged me could lift not one stone more. We built five raised beds, ten feet or so by three feet or so, and filled them with a mixture of our clay-soil and store-bought, mulchy compost. Next year, I’ll have only to mix new compost or manure into the top few inches of soil. I’ll do so with hand tools. We’ll drive up to the gravel pit, collect more stones, and build raised beds till it hurts. Gradually, we’ll eliminate the need to till our ground. The toads will be happy and safe. I’ll be happy. No sweat. At least, not that bad kind.

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36 Responses to Sweat

  1. mlu on July 13, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    This is a nice piece–I very much like reading something about gardening here. Gardening is not only one of the most civilized of occupations, it is also one of the grand metaphors for how to live. Our gardening instinct is a placemaking instinct, which is a worldmaking instinct. It’s an inexhaustible source of pleasure and insight.

    Even so, I note that it’s possible to love nature without loving people–in fact, it’s becoming increasingly common. We have no shortage of nature lovers who would eradicate much of the human population to make the earth a suitable reserve for their fantasies, like totalitarian elites removing the local population from the forests to return them to their pristine condition for the pleasure of the lords.

    Still, I think your point is true in the way of the great truths: we need to assert them because there are times and places where they are true, and believing them makes them true and they ought to be true more generally. People are generous, people are kind, etc.

  2. Jacob on July 13, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    You are touching on the beauty of the atonement, here. While we are to be wise stewards, most of the time we are just blundering forward in the dark (“see through the glass, darkly”). It is through these fudged events that we tend to learn the most. Granted, it sucks for the toads, but at the same time, the marvelous thing is that we can be forgiven for our ignorant mistakes. I hope that happens for me all the time. In answer to the question, “are we doomed to play the role of the unprofitable servant for the forseeable future?”, my answer is yes. We can’t be anything but, since we ain’t anywhere close to perfect. We will make mistakes, whatever our stewardship happens to be, and that will inevitably hurt something, or somebody else. So I think the stewardship model still works, because whether it’s the environment or developing our talents, there is always some sort of murky waters that we have to trod through.

  3. Jim Cobabe on July 13, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    I relate more to the nature of wilderness. People — they are strange to me. Awkward, hostile, complex, difficult to understand.

    This week I’m leaving the civilized world, my annual pilgrimage to the forest, to work the rest of the summer many miles from the nearest gas station. For the last ten years it has been a personal annual ritual, a celebration, a blessed relief from the crowded stress of being around too many human creatures.

    Sometimes, in places like WalMart, I feel like I will succumb to screaming horrors if I cannot get away from the overbearing crush of humanity. Every season I approach my limit of tolerance for other people. The wilderness beckons. Each time the summer work ends, I ask myself — why go back?

    How pleasant to have the luxury of growing a garden for enjoyment. And to afford the concern about wild things that we might be disturbing in the process. Yesterday on the mountain I stopped on my hike to talk to a gathering of sheep herders. It was simple talk — coarse, pragmatic. The biggest concern was about coyote predation on the young lambs, and if the looming thunderheads would bring heavy showers that would muddy up the trails. I suspect they would have found the expression of concern about killing toads in the garden to be incomprehensible, unfathomable.

    In reality, we live only at the expense of countless other living things, the myriads of organisms that sacrifice their all for the sake of our sustenance and comfort. We must be more important than all of them. Why else would God have created us so that other things must die, in order that we might live?

  4. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 13, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    mlu said: “Even so, I note that it’s possible to love nature without loving people–in fact, it’s becoming increasingly common. We have no shortage of nature lovers who would eradicate much of the human population to make the earth a suitable reserve for their fantasies, like totalitarian elites removing the local population from the forests to return them to their pristine condition for the pleasure of the lords.”

    Another kind of strip-mining mentality. Why do you call such people “nature lovers,” or are you using the phrase ironically?

    For the record, I adore people. Overall. Nature holds no ascendency over people for me. Sometimes I wonder if this whole world is striving for consciousness, with people being the most daring extension of the quest, and with perhaps some people more turned on to life than others.

    “Still, I think your point is true in the way of the great truths: we need to assert them because there are times and places where they are true, and believing them makes them true and they ought to be true more generally. People are generous, people are kind, etc.”

    I’m interested. What part of the post provoked you to say this beautifully sad thing?

    Jacob said, “Granted, it sucks for the toads, but at the same time, the marvelous thing is that we can be forgiven for our ignorant mistakes.”

    Yes! Repentance! This might be the shadow sociopath in me, but I’m not really as interested in being forgiven as I am in the “Wow, a new door just appeared in the wall!” aspect of repentance.

    The term “environmental stewardship” just seems such a pale phrase for describing the “put yourself out there, pay attention, put what you think you know at risk, look Other in the eye” kind of experience people can have with the creation.

    Which reminds me of something that happened in class recently. I was telling my students that the paper they were getting ready to write was a great opportunity for discovery. The class heaved a communal sigh. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Something wrong with making discoveries?” “No,” a student said. “Discovery’s good. We just don’t have time for it.”

  5. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 14, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Jim said, “I relate more to the nature of wilderness. People — they are strange to me. Awkward, hostile, complex, difficult to understand.”

    You’re not, I guess? Just a simple misanthrope who wants to keep to himself, have some peace?

    “Sometimes, in places like WalMart, I feel like I will succumb to screaming horrors if I cannot get away from the overbearing crush of humanity.”

    You, too, huh. But what are you doing in Walmart in the first place? I haven’t been in a year and a half. It helps not to go.

    “Each time the summer work ends, I ask myself — why go back?”

    And how do you answer yourself? Really.

    “”How pleasant to have the luxury of growing a garden for enjoyment. And to afford the concern about wild things that we might be disturbing in the process. Yesterday on the mountain I stopped on my hike to talk to a gathering of sheep herders. It was simple talk — coarse, pragmatic. The biggest concern was about coyote predation on the young lambs, and if the looming thunderheads would bring heavy showers that would muddy up the trails. I suspect they would have found the expression of concern about killing toads in the garden to be incomprehensible, unfathomable.”

    Hahahaha! So…?

    “In reality, we live only at the expense of countless other living things, the myriads of organisms that sacrifice their all for the sake of our sustenance and comfort. We must be more important than all of them. Why else would God have created us so that other things must die, in order that we might live?”

    I remember hanging around cynical mile markers like this twenty or so years ago. It’s true, of course, that we often live at the expense of other organisms. That’s kinda what this post is about, and about learning how not to do that, one organism at a time. You’re right that it’s a luxury to worry about toads. But if you think that’s all that I’m worried about–not hurting the little toadies–you’re being too clever.

  6. Ray on July 14, 2007 at 12:22 am

    I remember seeing people roll their eyes and shake their heads when a Prophet encouraged everyone to plant a garden – even if only a small pot on a windowsill. I must admit, even though I grew up in rural farm country, I have no particular attachment to the land. The rest of my family does; I don’t. I pretty much kill everything I try to grow, usually out of neglect. However, I also understand, I think, why a Prophet would say such a “trivial” thing. There is a spiritual connection to creation that can occur when you connect physically with creation. It doesn’t always occur, as witnessed by myself and my wife, but it can – as witnessed by many in our families.

    I would lament the mentality that causes students to be so burdened that they lack the time to discover, but that is a discussion for another time in another post.

  7. mlu on July 14, 2007 at 4:29 am

    Any model we seek for improving peoples’ relations with nature ought to improve relations between people.

    I took your penultimate paragraph to be your main point: our attention to nature teaches us to love humanity better. I don’t doubt at all that you are one of those people for whom love of nature and love of people is a harmonious whole, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

    My experience suggests that this isn’t always the case. I wasn’t using “nature lovers” ironically. I know lots of people for whom love of nature seems a kind of pagan hedonism, a form of selfishness. And brutal dictators have often loved their gardens and their country mansions.

    But other experience suggests that loving life and working to understand and strengthen connections, both in nature and in community, make a better story that is often true now and will be universally true in due time, mostly because of people who choose that story and act on behalf of it.

    I take it as a story that’s not entirely true now, but one that is coming true. We began in a garden and will, as T. S. Eliot noted, return there, knowing the place for the first time.

    Jim: We also will be devoured by other organisms, so I’m not sure much follows. The Elizabethans would have said we were most important, not because we devour other life but because only we were created in the image of God. And as Patricia said, this superiority is a stewardship assignment. The prophecy about dominion was prophecy. It has come true. We have dominion. Grizzly bears live or not depending on decisions we make in our various councils. What we do with that dominion is a moral question, to be sure, but questioning whether or not we should have it is like questioning whether we should know what we know. We cannot not have dominion.

    The part about us living off death makes us common. The fact that all of life dies and lives only through the death of other life should teach us something, I think, and not at all that we are superior. More that we are one.

    There are things I love about Wal-Mart–though not the crowds or bubblewrap. I love the hard study of where waste exists and how it can be reduced. I love the creators who imagined and then built vast systems that actually worked–railroads and sawmills and hospitals and department stores. It was their gardening instinct.

  8. Jim Cobabe on July 14, 2007 at 8:07 am

    I think there’s nothing excessively clever about wresting with life. Cruel reality intrudes like a dog bite. Happily, we have means to at least temporarily avoid many of the brutal and unpleasant consequences of mortality. But eventually, entropy wins, and happiest of all, nature cleans up the messes we leave.

    WalMart — minimizes the pain by maximizing the efficiency of my shopping trips. I can hold my breath for that long.

    Sheepherder anecdote — the quality of challenges we encounter unavoidably temper the way we face life. What we perceive as “stewardship”. Thinking about the rotting fly-blown carcass of a dead lamb on the ground nearby. They didn’t even *notice*. To me it seemed callous indifference. But they eat mutton most every night. Stomach churning, I couldn’t stay for supper.

    Life just isn’t food neatly wrapped in a package, trash and waste that disappear, not for all. For them, sweat and blood are not a choice, there are no showers or clean laundered clothing waiting after work.

    Why come back?…

    It’s not really that hard of a call to make. Too much of comfort and luxury go with “civilization”. Just seems that a lot of regret goes with, every time.

  9. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 14, 2007 at 11:44 am

    “I took your penultimate paragraph to be your main point: our attention to nature teaches us to love humanity better. I don’t doubt at all that you are one of those people for whom love of nature and love of people is a harmonious whole, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”

    I didn’t think you were implying otherwise. I was just trying to understand what you meant and why you said what you said.

    This paragraph does contain a main point: that the level of bad behavior people demonstrate toward nature is an extension of the bad behavior people exhibit toward each other. Thus any progress we make in our behavior toward nature ought to be paralleled in improvements in how we treat each other, and the other way around.

    It might work to learn from nature and apply what we learn to humanity. For some people, I can imagine it does work that way. I don’t see the disconnect between people and nature, though, that many assert. As you suggest, one way or another, we’re part of it. This is not to say that we’re no different from other species; obviously (and as you’ve said), we are. Perhaps, as I commented above, we’re the farthermost extension of an entire system’s quest for greater consciousness; perhaps we’re seeking broader dimensions to creativity–maybe even godhood. We have our narratives to explain who we are and what we’re about, but those change. Jesus provoked a powerful narrative shift, new language–and thus a new way–for being in the world.

    We think we can get away with inflicting more of bad behavior on nature, whom we believe has no law or else we believe ourselves to be above it, than with mankind, who has an extensive and evolving set of laws governing its behavior, along with somewhat heightened consciousness where the well-being of our own kind is concerned. But the abuse, exploitation, destruction, apathy, annoyance, clumsiness, insensibility and so on we display towards nature is not behavior we exhibit only toward nature; if we’re doing it “out there,” it’s happening inside governments, businesses, communities, and homes in one form or another. We may not even be aware which things we’re doing to each other are destructive, clumsy, etc. We might say, “This is the only way to handle this. Nobody knows a better way, so there must not be one.” We might say, “This is how it has always been done.”

    “There are things I love about Wal-Mart–though not the crowds or bubblewrap. I love the hard study of where waste exists and how it can be reduced. I love the creators who imagined and then built vast systems that actually worked–railroads and sawmills and hospitals and department stores. It was their gardening instinct.”

    Wal-Mart corp. would probably love being mentioned in the same paragraph as innovators like the railroad barons and the development and institutionalization of hospitals. I think of them more along the line of the feedlot. mlu, you appear to be even more optimistic than I am. Good on ya. I’ll look to learn from you.

  10. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 14, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Ray: “I remember seeing people roll their eyes and shake their heads when a Prophet encouraged everyone to plant a garden – even if only a small pot on a windowsill.”

    My garden is on the edge of the desert. I garden, in part, to get down to interfacing with my environment in an explorative way. It’s a striving for meaning, like writing. When I’ve lived in tighter quarters, surrounded by homes and having very little visual access to the night sky, my garden helped me maintain the connection to larger realms. It was also expressed my faith that the whole works was still there. Plus the veggies brought joy to our palates.

    “I pretty much kill everything I try to grow, usually out of neglect.”

    It’s not too late.

  11. Jim Cobabe on July 14, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    And how do you answer yourself? Really.

    Almost thou persuadest me…

  12. greenfrog on July 14, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    …the level of bad behavior people demonstrate toward nature is an extension of the bad behavior people exhibit toward each other. Thus any progress we make in our behavior toward nature ought to be paralleled in improvements in how we treat each other, and the other way around.

    We think we can get away with inflicting more of bad behavior on nature, whom we believe has no law or else we believe ourselves to be above it, than with mankind, who has an extensive and evolving set of laws governing its behavior, along with somewhat heightened consciousness where the well-being of our own kind is concerned. But the abuse, exploitation, destruction, apathy, annoyance, clumsiness, insensibility and so on we display towards nature is not behavior we exhibit only toward nature; if we’re doing it “out there,” it’s happening inside governments, businesses, communities, and homes in one form or another. We may not even be aware which things we’re doing to each other are destructive, clumsy, etc. We might say, “This is the only way to handle this. Nobody knows a better way, so there must not be one.” We might say, “This is how it has always been done.”

    It took me years and years of learning to see and see past my own delusions and desires to gain a glimmer of this insight that you articulate so clearly, but it is now at the core of the way I want to live the rest of my life.

  13. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 14, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    “Almost thou persuadest me…”

    To what? Become a Christian?

    If you want to say something to the “civilized” world before you leave it this week, try. Rant, however, isn’t saying something “to” anybody, it’s speaking it against them.

    If you care about something, speak of it in such a way as to make it possible for others to care about it. Ranting or having tantrums provokes people to dig in their heels deeper.

    Up to you. I’ll ask the question again and you can answer it or not: Why do you come back to the pressing hordes at the end of the season’s work?

  14. Russell Arben Fox on July 14, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Patricia, thanks for this post. I knew you were good, but after reading this I find myself so excited to be sharing blog-space with a human being so aware of life, so concerned about stewarship, so in tune with the agrarian virtues of harmony, simplicity, health, and wholeness.

    You might be interested–as might anyone else following this thread–with some older posts on this same general subject that have been published here at Times and Seasons. We have a fair number of gardeners among us. Here’s a selection:

    Nate Oman, “The Eternal Significance of Cucumbers”

    Jim Faulconer, “The Quotidian”

    Russell Arben Fox, “Of Gluttony and Gardens”

    Nate Oman, “Of Fathers, Compost, and the Resurrection”

    Adam Greenwood, “Falls, Gardens, Deaths”

    Russell Arben Fox, “Are Mormons Crunchy?”

    Jim Faulconer, “Salting the Water”

  15. Jim Cobabe on July 14, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    I said, “People — they are strange to me. Awkward, hostile, complex, difficult to understand.”

    P.G. rejoined:
    “You’re not, I guess? Just a simple misanthrope who wants to keep to himself, have some peace?”

    My perception is that I am much stranger than the people who so confound me.

    “Misanthrope” conveys the wrong sense. Self-examination reveals strong hatred in me only for a very small group, and to a very limited extent. Perhaps something like “confused” and “perplexed” generally serve better.

    I’m certainly not indulging in a solitary reclusive lifestyle seeking “peace”. Mostly doing it now because I came to feel so useless trying to do other things. I can minister as a steward to trees in the forest, and know that I have accomplished something unequivocally good and useful. I think maybe the forest is grateful.

  16. Jim Cobabe on July 14, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    P.G. said

    Why do you come back to the pressing hordes at the end of the season’s work?

    I’d probably be less confused if I understood that better myself.

    Perhaps the easiest reason to explain is that the high mountain environment in winter is generally uncomfortable, and can be decidedly hostile to human life. Not much to romanticize about in a blizzard.

  17. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 14, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    greenfrog said, “It took me years and years of learning to see and see past my own delusions and desires to gain a glimmer of this insight…”

    It took me years and years, too, some of it along hard and provocative roads. I might add that I have no intention of stopping with what I think I know about this now. I understand from experience that if I tip an insight this way or that, the more important, more productive truth will show itself.

    Russell: Thanks for the list! I’ve read some of these; in part, they’re why I wrote a gardening post.

    As for the “so aware of life, so concerned about stewarship, so in tune with the agrarian virtues of harmony, simplicity, health, and wholeness,” part of your comment, thanks, but I’m making as many mistakes as anyone. I do find making mistakes a little more stimulating than many people, I suppose.

  18. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 14, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    Jim C. said, I said, “People — they are strange to me. Awkward, hostile, complex, difficult to understand.

    “P.G. rejoined:
    ‘You’re not, I guess? Just a simple misanthrope who wants to keep to himself, have some peace?’

    “My perception is that I am much stranger than the people who so confound me.”

    I don’t see you as much stranger. I see that you see yourself as much stranger.

    ““Misanthrope” conveys the wrong sense. Self-examination reveals strong hatred in me only for a very small group, and to a very limited extent. Perhaps something like ‘confused’ and ‘perplexed’ generally serve better.”

    Now we’re talking, and thank you for taking my misanthrope question as a real question, because it was. You may not be a misanthrope (I’ll take your word for that), but confusion and perplexity, coupled with defensive anger, often jingle together deep in a misanthrope’s cargo pants pockets.

    But it looks like the firefighter has contained the blaze to a small area of especially rough terrain. Well, those fires are often the hardest to get at.

    “I’m certainly not indulging in a solitary reclusive lifestyle seeking “peace”. Mostly doing it now because I came to feel so useless trying to do other things. I can minister as a steward to trees in the forest, and know that I have accomplished something unequivocally good and useful. I think maybe the forest is grateful.”

    More honesty. Love it. And I’m grateful to you for looking after the trees. It’s kinda like what I do in my garden with the toads, so why did you diss my toads? That’s a rhetorical question.

    You have the command of language to write about your caretaking of the forest in such a way as to educate and engage and provoke wonder in an audience. If you did that, you’d be ministering as a steward to the forest and to people. You could even keep your confusion and frustration if they’re important to you–Ed Abbey did.

    “Perhaps the easiest reason to explain is that the high mountain environment in winter is generally uncomfortable, and can be decidedly hostile to human life. Not much to romanticize about in a blizzard.”

    You’re implying that my fair and golden life has provided me soft pillows in front of a cozy fire where I can eat bonbons and wax dreamy about toads. To a degree, you’re correct; I have lived a privileged life. I’ve admitted that elsewhere, like here: http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=348

    Really, though, you’re leaping to a hasty generalization about how I experience life based on assumptions you’ve drawn from this (perhaps single) post. That’s okay, of course–but you might wonder if you’re missing something.

    And plenty of people could romanticize the experience of being on a mountain in a blizzard. It might even be possible to whittle out an argument that you are romanticizing the experience of being on a mountain in a blizzard when you bring it up in this way. At any rate, your language seems to paint hostility with a dark but still faintly glowing halo.

  19. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 14, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    Maybe “aura” would be a better word than “halo.”

  20. Jim Cobabe on July 14, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    P.G.: “…write about your caretaking of the forest…”

    Done some of that. A couple of samples on my blog tonight, Snail Hollow Gazette.

    P.G.: “…you’re leaping to a hasty generalization…”

    Frank advised me that “short and pithy” is the rule. Seems to lend itself to hasty generalization. I might not get another chance. Perhaps we could strike a happy medium.

    I entertain romantic notions about blizzards, death in the wilds. Informed by real experience. Also experience with serious sweat. This is no way intended to be a spoiler for your observance of the sanctity of toad life — just by way of letting you know that other people — with and without halos — see these things differently.

    Perhaps there is still room enough for all of us.

  21. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 15, 2007 at 12:12 am

    “This is no way intended to be a spoiler for your observance of the sanctity of toad life — just by way of letting you know that other people — with and without halos — see these things differently.”

    Or maybe see things more similarly than they realize?

    “…there is still room enough for all of us.”

    Agreed.

  22. Tatiana on July 15, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Patricia, I know just what you mean about the toads. I felt terrible when I tilled the earth to make my one attempt at a garden two summers ago. I turned up writhing earthworms that I had inadvertently chopped in pieces. And even while only doing my lawn to get it neat, I disturb and unhouse and kill countless little creatures, spiders, insects, snakes, salamanders. It breaks my heart, and I wonder is it really worth it.

  23. plover on July 16, 2007 at 1:14 am

    I have just taken a trip through the American Northwest and have been struck by the breathtaking contrast of irrigated green with golden desert. As I rode along the Columbia River i wondered about the controversy of agriculture. Wes Jackson suggests that the ideaa of stewardship is not adequate in regards to tending theh earth because the very act of plowing diminishes (particularly in industrial ag) a resource–soil–that has taken millions of years to create. If I understand his work correctly, he is working to create perennial grains that would not require plowing.

    When I first read Jackson’s argument, I found it very disheartening. Frankly, part of my reaction to it was because of my deep love of growing a garden. When I place my hands in the soil, when I water the plants, I come to diminish my alienation from the earth. It is those times that I am most open to long-term questions and meditations. Emotionally it is difficult for me to see tilling as inherently wrong. What I like PGK is that you walked the newly tilled field and assessed and and reconsidered how to engage again in the future. Agriculture with all endeavors is filled with ethical dilemmas.

  24. Jim F. on July 16, 2007 at 1:26 am

    PGK: Welcome and thank you. I would give a lot for one of your toads in my garden. I suppose, however, that I will settle for my shy garter snakes.

  25. Joshua Madson on July 16, 2007 at 2:34 am

    P.G.,

    Ive enjoyed your post immensely. I also noticed your reference to Ed Abbey. His writings and more so Wendell Berry’s have influenced much of my thinking in how I approach nature. Perhaps they merely expressed what I’ve always felt. I’ve never been comfortable with hurting anything living. I can hardly kill a bug. I wish I was less “modern” and more in touch with the natural world… I find something very romantic and beautiful in the communion with nature…

    My father made me garden when I was young and I detested it, especially the weeding. Im happy to say that one of the highlights of each day is tending my little garden. All life is sacred and holy.

  26. plover on July 16, 2007 at 9:02 am

    I wanted to add my thanks for your post also. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  27. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 16, 2007 at 9:51 am

    Tatiana, have you heard the story about the king who wanted a new dish on his royal menu? He demanded it be something hot as summer but cold as winter. His chefs exhausted themselves trying to create this paradox for the palate, but they failed miserably. Disgusted, the king roared, “Isn’t there anyone who can make what I want?” A kid walked in, handed him a dish, and said, “Try this, sire.” The king took one bite and a smile of wonder lit his face. “That’s it!” he said. “What do you call it?” The kid said, “I call it, ‘the ice cream sundae.'”

    So many paradoxes we haven’t found ways to resolve … yet. But I know the solutions are out there. Personally, I live with the dilemmas, take responsibility, and look for the better way. In my garden, as in other parts of my life, I live with the tension between apparent limits and rising possibilities.

  28. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 16, 2007 at 10:26 am

    plover, you encapsulated my points, exactly, I haven’t read Jackson, but I’m deeply glad to hear of him and grateful to him for dedicating effort into helping the rest of us who feel this problem to solve it.

    “When I first read Jackson’s argument, I found it very disheartening. Frankly, part of my reaction to it was because of my deep love of growing a garden. When I place my hands in the soil, when I water the plants, I come to diminish my alienation from the earth. It is those times that I am most open to long-term questions and meditations. Emotionally it is difficult for me to see tilling as inherently wrong.”

    I’m not certain, of course, but tilling and gardening to diminish alienation from the earth is probably a lot less wrong than making no effort at all to cultivate one’s wonder at creation and deepen one’s humanity. But I know there are better ways. Wolves have their raison d’etre, but they’re not going to find them. Hummingbirds have their raison d’etre, but they’re not going to make great leaps in the science of agriculture (they did beat us to the harnassing the aerodynamics of helicopter-type flight and inspired us to do likewise, though). The challenge as I see it is not that there aren’t creative solutions to such problems but to keep the ball rolling, in our lives and our cultures, till we find the next best thing.

  29. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 16, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Joshua said, “Perhaps they merely expressed what I’ve always felt. I’ve never been comfortable with hurting anything living. I can hardly kill a bug. I wish I was less ‘modern’ and more in touch with the natural world… I find something very romantic and beautiful in the communion with nature…”

    This is a widespread lament, and I just want to suggest hope–there are ways to be more “in touch” with life. The Garden of Eden was great while it lasted, but I really don’t think that God intended that we remain forever in paradisaical stasis. I have no desire to go back to that garden–I think we have it in us to make what we have even better than that lovely starting place. I think there are ways to build human communities where “nature,” as we say, as if were are no part of it, can abide. Many people, including modern cities, are experimenting with planting trees and other plants on roofs and terraces (if you think the landscaping atop the church Conference Center is simply to make it pretty, think again). Take hope, read up, think about how to change something to get that connection with nature that you desire.

    A note: Correct me if I’m wrong, Joshua, but I don’t think Joshua’s using “romantic” here in the way it has been used previously in the comments to mean an unrealistic idealistic attitude, in this case about the natural world. I sense Joshua’s use here to tap into the kind of romance I engage in when I’m out in the garden or in the desert, a kind of love affair with nature, sometimes referred to as biophilia. For a nice definition of the biophilia hypothesis, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophilia

  30. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 16, 2007 at 11:03 am

    JimF said, “I would give a lot for one of your toads in my garden. I suppose, however, that I will settle for my shy garter snakes.”

    Yes, I feel fortunate in having so many toads. They even come in the house through the garage. My husband has witnessed them cross the floor on some mysterious task, disappear into a corner of the garage, then leave the garage on the exact route they’ve taken in. We’re not sure what’s going on but we know something is. More on this later.

    We’re thinking about putting a pond in to encourage them to breed.

    Also, we have snakes–garter and gopher snakes. Also, desert whiptails and collared lizards prowl through from time to time. Swallows, hummingbirds, and nighthawks the airborne bugs flying around my garden. Who knows what else goes on when I’m not looking. This is the best garden ever.

  31. Joshua Madson on July 16, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    PG,

    Yes, I mean romantic in that sense not an unrealistic sense. In the area of Utah County where I live I am very bothered by over development and what I see as a failure of many city councils and people to realize the importance of open spaces, parks, and more sensible development, but why would you when you can double profits through rezoning. I’ve seen so many critical environment areas removed because well dollar is king.

  32. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 16, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    I understand how you feel, having left that same area just a year and a half ago. I lived in that valley almost 30 years. I arrived back when the weather segments of Utah local news programs gave visibility reports during their forecasts: “Visibility today is fifty miles.” Back when you could still hear coyotes hooting it up in the foothills above Provo and find porcupines underneath your car.

    Joshua, depending on where you are, you might try to find some swallows to observe. There’s something about swallows, about how they fly and how, if you keep at it, they’ll let you into the thick of them while they’re flying, that’s lovely and refreshing.

    Speaking of swallows, can anybody tell me how the cliff swallow controversy at Utah Valley State College–excuse, me–University–turned out?

  33. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 16, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    BTW, Joshua, if you want to watch swallows but don’t know where to find a colony and live anywhere near Payson, I can tell you where to go to find some. E-mail me through A Motley Vision, http://www.motleyvision.org/

    Click on the “Contact” button in the upper, righthand corner.

    The Payson colonies helped me maintain my sanity.

  34. jjohnsen on July 16, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Gardening and building does something to me that I’ve never experienced. This past spring I built raised beds in our garden, then planted the things we love, corn, tomatoes, melons. The work I do every day doesn’t satisfy me like filling those beds with soil, or pulling a weed that is trying to crowd out my tomatillos.

    Yesterday at church one of our neighbors approached me to say how amazed she was at my large crop of corn. How did I find the time, wasn’t it too much to handle? After listening to her go on and on, another member asked me “wow, how much corn do you have?”. I felt a little sheepish when I told him I had two 4×4 raised beds with corn in them. Maybe because I grew up in a family that always had a garden ,but it seems strange that you can impress someone now by having a tiny garden.

  35. Ray on July 16, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Stupid threadjack ahead; no need to read:

    Payson is a good choice for many things; Spanish Fork / Springville not so much. Any question about where I attended high school – back when Santaquin was a tiny map dot town? (This is a perfect situation for a smiley emoticon, so please imagine there is one here – all those who ignored the initial warning.)

  36. P. G. (Patricia) Karamesines on July 17, 2007 at 11:33 am

    jjohnson, I recently read an article in Mother Earth News about growing your own food. Sorry I don’t have the full reference right now; if you want it I can provide it later. This article lamented that people are losing the skills required to successfully raise their own food. I had never before thought of the work and consideration I put into gardening as being skills, but I like the idea.

    I lack the techno-skills many people in the Bloggernacle have and feel a similar awe and wonder.

    I, too, feel something in the garden that’s different from what I feel when I’m teaching or reading to my children or out hiking, but it’s all tied together somehow.