7 Reasons For Working Against Nature

“There are no green thumbs or black thumbs,” wrote horticulturalist Henry Mitchell. “There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises. It sounds very well to garden a ‘natural way.’ You may see the natural way in any desert, any swamp, any leech-filled laurel hell. Defiance, on the other hand, is what makes gardeners.”

Blogger CRISTIAN MIHAI recently wrote about the idea of truth being stranger than fiction. Many times I’ve found that lies I’ve told myself are easier to believe than truth and that stories I write about real events seem far more unbelievable than when I’m just coming up with stuff. Novelists take what is natural (chaos) and turn it into gardens.

In the natural world sheep throw their babies away if they’re weak or sick. Some people do the same. Most of us are okay with defying the natural on this.

I like wild places (this is a partial lie because I’m afraid of bears and parasites), but I love manicured places best: gardens, hay fields and beaches with boardwalks.

There is a sense that humans somehow invaded the planet and really should go back to where they came from. Humans write these things and talk about these things. I’ve done it myself (usually after oil spills), but there are valid reasons to stand in defiance against nature.

Back to the Land: I once was a proponent for this lifestyle choice. I went on guided walks in Brooklyn to learn how to scavenge food from Prospect Park. I learned that cattails taste like cucumber. I moved to a farm. I considered (briefly) making my own shoes. Yet every avenue I explored circled back around to leaving a footprint on something “pristine.” Without my help many an animal would have died of parasite overload or starvation after being caught in a bramble. Those natural potato beetles I squash everyday have taught me a lot.

Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes by John Singer Sargent

Cave Drawings: Okay, I suppose primitive art is interesting in a way, but John Singer Sargent’s portraits prove to me that practice and defying our natural state can be a pretty great thing.

Plumbing: I know it’s cliche, but it has to be mentioned.

Leisure Time: A nomadic existence being one with nature (which again is sort of a lie) doesn’t leave much time to invent the washing machine. Or the novel.

Novels: I like novels–no, I love novels. When you’re doing whatever has to be done to make shoes and to fight off wilderness creatures, writing and reading novels kind of takes a back seat. (don’t forget paper! I refuse to feel guilty about loving the invention of paper).

Computers: How many back-to-the land bloggers are out there? Quite a few. How many times have I found great “natural” remedies for common insect problems online? Many times. Yet sometimes I’ve given myself and my animals modern meds. I want to live!

Garden of Eden: News flash: we don’t live there. We’re not perfect. The other day an old comment I made (2013) on someone’s blog came back to haunt me. I upset a reader by clumsily trying to make the point that in my opinion every race, color and creed have the seeds of evil and good in them. The person wanted me to think that only people with a European heritage were “evil.” I respectfully disagreed and wished her well, even after this person told me to take my bullshit else where and that I didn’t belong on a blog that wasn’t even her own. Can I help it if I see us as all one big, screwed-up family? Can I blind myself to the danger of silencing others by labeling entire groups as “evil” or “guilty”?

When I was young I liked to point the finger and to imagine that with home-made shoes and no novels life would be better. But it was a lie. People may have the seeds of evil, but their defiance of nature has, in so many complex ways, created a lot of beauty as well. I feel sad that human creativity has been channeled so often in ugly directions. Celebrating our degradation is not great art to me. Take me to a garden, however flawed, draw me a picture, write a  novel about love. It’s an act of defiance–life-enhancing defiance.

Are you a gardener in life? Tell me all about it.




Human paths can be beautiful.



Green Acres, Garden of Eden, America

I don't miss Wall Street a bit.
I don’t miss Wall Street a bit.

I’m not one of those people who think all back-to-the land people are pretentious hypocrites. Americans were bred for it. Bred with the desire to change their surroundings in order to meet their needs and ascetic (and aesthetic) desires. Bred to spend little time on book learned philosophy and more time on blowing up mountains for railroads and installing solar panels to be “off the grid.”

We like the romance (or once did) of living nearly government free. We like the romance of the nomadic Sioux Indians on horseback because we’ve all come to this continent as wandering, fleeing people. We take photographs of “primitive” people with “simple lives” not because we like exhibitions at zoos, but because despite our almost diametrically opposed other desire for the most up-to-date material goods–there is a sense in us that simplicity will free us from ourselves.

Making some homespun music--sorta sounds like a violin.
Making some homespun music–sorta sounds like a violin.

Americans strive and want progress–an endless list of accomplishments to prove our worth, but at the same time we’ve known that this proving, this rat-race, this hard-driving road over scattered rail lines leads to no where in particular.

The manufacture of solar panels leads to industrial waste and not every person really wants to depend on their local weather for the wheat berries they grind themselves, but sometimes in the face of vicious human corruption that feels like it’s getting progressively worse, we type into our smart phones a search for a real estate agent in the middle of nowhere.

We can have horses then and grow our own stuff and wear home-made clothes with fabric from our sheep (who won’t have parasite over-load and die). We’ll live with the bears until they knock over our honeybee hives. We’ll uneasily buy a gun and shoot it into the air when the first shadow of a grizzly lurks in the yard. Then we’ll get so angry at a fox after it feasts on our chickens which we carefully raised from chicks shipped cross-country from a hatchery (we wanted a heritage breed) that we REALLY shoot and kill something.

Little baby chicks enjoying life before fox eats them.
Little baby chicks enjoying life before fox eats them.

When Europe killed Christians, slashed down their forests and found technology, the most desparate and brave people crossed the ocean to the last Eden. We’ve been figuring out what to do in it ever since.