Who is the Gardener?

I have learned this week what I already knew but had no words for. I am not the gardener in this land, but the garden that the land makes. Needle-and-thread grass makes me, with its sprays of delicate light in the wind and its way of drilling its seeds into the soil using the heating and cooling of days and nights. It is a beautiful plant that connects me to childhood and mystery. It also thrives in this dry climate.
In comparison, the weed-choked land, the gift of bad cattle management, and the orchard land it was developed into a little over a century ago, create different selves. I follow their paths, often unknowingly, and thus am created by them in their image. It is often an ugly image.

It replaces eternal ones, such as this doe and her year-old fawn, who watch me out of the last snow, in sagebrush that has turned weedy from overgrazing by cattle. There is little for them here now, but her gaze tends me, and make me in her image. I am gardened.

Many of the old orchards are weeds of mustard now. The idea of chopping the land into small spaces did not produce people with the ability to develop a culture other than to develop into the weeds that speak most clearly of the introduction of foreign crops in this ancient space. These weeds, and the people who buy and sell the land they grow on, are gardened not by the land and its water but by sets of laws imposed upon them.

But they are still gardened. To say that we, humans, have a garden is to say that we stand in the place of the earth and try to recreate that relationship to our own benefit. Here’s a glimpse into my garden this morning.

It, of course, also gardens me, if I let it. I do. I’m not the only one. A woman down the road has sown poppies in the cheatgrass and rescued a barren, scarred hill into a delight that can recreate the land for thousands.

We make ourselves by tending the land, so that it can tend to us. If we cover it with black plastic to kill that relationship, our children will grow up in a zone of death. It will take time, but it will come. That is not gardening.

This is gardening:

This is respect.

Understanding Nature

This field of swiss grain above Lake Constance is a good example of the kind of conversations humans have with the earth. This represents technology brought from Asia to Europe and used as a tool for people to live on a land without enough resources to support their population without a technological intervention of some kind. These techniques were imposed on less settled peoples by a priestly class seeking to bring the world into the order of the Garden of Eden. They fine-tuned the rewriting the land as God’s Word in monasteries, and disseminated it from there. This is a middle-eastern field, a page from the Bible, written across old post-glacial space, and over the culture that preceded this field and its people. Its current lush green represents a new imposition: chemical agriculture, laid over what was a model farm in the 1950s for the perfection of pre-industrial, pre-chemical agriculture on a model of cleverness and discipline, also gifted to the Swiss by monks. In all senses, it is a profoundly cultural space, which can be re-read and re-written, should we wish. It is not nature.

The World as a Decorative Object

Willow, Lake Constance

Formal gardens transform the earth into a system of social arrangement. Relaxed gardens, the English gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries and their heirs, recreate this social arrangement on the model of English country estates and a life of sophisticated culture built on the foundation of the physical world. The orchards of the Okanagan are one form of these gardens. The willow above, beside a lakeshore villa in Switzerland, is another. Both are beautiful. Both are artificial creations, serving  the purposes of human social hierarchies. This is the Western way of integrating the earth into human social spheres. Our next step is to integrate these understandings into indigenous understandings, not the other way around.

Open and Closed Air in Indigenous Switzerland

In Zurich, this is nature. A sobering thought.

Or, rather, it is a school sports field. Note the tree. It is placed where there is room. Note as well the aesthetic, architectural arrangement of elements. There is a human world in which nature is an architectural element. What the earth is, well, that’s another matter.

The Ripeness of Colour

The emotional colourings of trees and the balance between these colourings can be very beautiful.

This form of art is as much a garden harvest as any other. In this case, the art is in an old, private graveyard in Zurich. It is a place of great spirit. This form of ripeness — this agricultural harvest —  cannot be created by landscaping or by work. It has to be allowed to find its balance. By it, we can find our measure. Beautiful!