Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gone underground

A week without a blog post may be a record for GreeneSpace. My apologies for a violation of Martin Kuhn's sensible blog-ethical rule to post regularly. Alas, RL intervened. Three years ago my friend and talented landscape architect Laura Moore designed a patio and garden for us. We got the patio built a couple of years ago. Last week, it was the garden. Landscapers working fast and furious, leaving me with a sense of complete inadequacy for not knowing a lick of Spanish: should have bought the Spanish for landscaping book I saw in the university bookstore at Iowa State last spring. Crucial instructions were lost in translation as much "mulcha" was spread. The result is not 100 percent as anticipated, but largely the mistakes were felix culpa, and overall the vistas are pleasing and full of potential (for the filling up of these new beds is a long-term project to put it positively).

This project happened to come when I was reading the last chapter of Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire: on his experience growing Monsanto's genetically engineered NewLeaf potato. About "the satisfactions of the ordered earth" he writes,

The experience of the sublime is all about nature having her way with us, about the sensation of awe before her power--about feeling small. what I'm talking about is the opposite, and admittedly more dubious, satisfaction of having our way with nature: the pleasure of beholding the reflection of our labor and intelligence in the land. In the same way that Niagara or Everest stirs the first impulse, the farmer's methodolical roes stitiching the hills, or the allees of pollarded trees ordering a garden like Versailles, excite the second, filling us with a sense of our power.

These days the sublime is mostly a kind of vacation, in both a literal and a moral sense. After all, who has a bad word to say about wilderness anymore? By comparison, this other impulse, the desire to exert our control over nature's wilderness, bristles with amgibuity. We're unsure about our power in nature, its legitimacy, and its reality, and rightly so. Perhaps more than most, the farmer or the gardener understands that his control is always something of a fiction, depending as it does on luck and weather and much else that is beyond his control. It is only the suspension of disbelief that allows him to plant again every spring, to wade out into the season's uncertainties. Before long the pests will come, the storms and droughts and blights, as if to remind him just how imperfect the human power implied by those pristine rows really is.

The ivy and microstegium have gone underground. Not for good but for a season, and that will have to be good enough.

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