A gardener's groans for the future

People misunderstand gardeners. They think we are like normal people and resist loss and what Robert Frost calls “the diminished thing.”

We are not. 

We may have all those feelings going on but we also have another one. It is the gardener’s gene and genius. Groaning is its name. It is a groaning for the future, the one that will live in the seed after we are long fallow.  

What will happen to the morning glories? They may be perennial but what if the new people forget to water them two years in a row? What about the lupine? How long can it take neglect and still purple? Gardeners don’t mind dying; we know the seasons much too well for that. We mind not seeing what happens next.

Maybe you groan another way. Most people have a place like the gardener’s curiosity. We feel things that words can’t utter. We lean toward a future we can’t find. We join environmentalists in that groaning.

In an important essay in the May 2 edition of The Nation, Naomi Klein argues that something called capitalism is at war with something called the climate. We know this within our hearts but we don’t really know it yet. We will, after the next tornado terrorizes or the next Sandy strikes.

Klein’s argument is part of the gardener’s groan for the future she can’t quite find. Four themes summarize her viewpoint: “Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is what we know. … Climate change is slow, and we are fast. … Climate change is place-based, and we are everywhere at once. … Climate pollutants are invisible, and we have stopped believing in what we cannot see.”

Klein swears she is not judging us or blaming us but instead helping us recognize that we are products of an industrial project -- one intimately, historically linked to fossil fuels.   She referenced a lecture by farmer-poet Wendell Berry, who said all have a duty to love their “homeplace” above all others.

But what about rootless people who live on their computers and always seem to be shopping for home? 

“Stop somewhere,” Berry replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.” 

We would begin by remembering the generations, those as far back as we can go and as far forward as we can imagine. Thus, we home. There we garden. There we plant the seeds and the bulbs and count on their growth to continue long after we are gone.

There we “revise” and “revision” over and over again. By planting for the generations, we find the future whose bloom we won’t see.