"your heart is in the verb"

Summer is rushing by me, like I'm riding down a white river. Is it really nearly August? Have I not written in almost two weeks? Needless to say, I have been busy: the lovely Alicia, my youngest sister, was here for several days; Brian and I were reunited after his 10-day climbing trip; I've organized my resume and paper work for teaching jobs; I continue waiting tables almost every day; I'm cultivating my garden and several promising friendships; and when possible, I venture into the woods.

I'm also trying to get some reading done. I'm currently reading Michael Pollan's Second Nature: A Gardener's Education. I love it. I love his courage and honesty and humor. I love that he has the balls to criticize Thoreau. I love that he writes about how perverse and simultaneously natural it is that we associate roses with sex. I love that he writes so openly about his failures as a gardener, but without the failures, how would we learn? How would we grow? As he points out, our failures, more than our successes, teach us about our gardens, our soil and our plants needs.

Here's a passage:
"The garden is an unhappy place for the perfectionist. Too much stands beyond our control here, and the only thing we can absolutely count on is eventual catastrophe. Success in the garden is the moment in time, that week in June when the perennials unanimously bloom and the border jells, or those clarion days in September when the reds riot in the tomato patch--just before the black frost hits. It's easy to get discouraged, unless, like the green thumb, you are happier to garden in time than in space; unless, that is, your heart is in the verb. For the garden is never done--the weeds you pull today will return tomorrow, a new generation of aphids will step forward to avenge the ones you've slain, and everything you plant--everything--sooner or later will die. Among the many many things the green thumb knows is the consolation of the compost pile, where nature, ever obliging, redeems this seasons deaths and disasters in the fresh promise of next spring." (Pollan, 132)

In this essay, "Green Thumb," Pollan tries to define what it means to have a "green thumb." Is it merely a term used by the novice or those disinterested in gardening for those with experience and relative success? Is it divinity? Is it a natural, latent talent, or is it the product of hard work and study? Here, the title of his book starts to become clear: the green thumb is the gardener with the experience, the imagination, the creativity, and the love for gardening that makes gardening (after perhaps many seasons during which this might not be the case) second nature. A person with a green thumb can move through her garden in almost a meditative state, a state of peace and love, while she dead heads flowers, prunes suckers from tomatoes, weeds strawberry patches, and squashes aphids. He points out that this state of mind is not a constant: there will always be frustrations and confusion: "So simple: grace in the garden but a form of puttering" (134). I laugh at this line: that's me, sometimes with grace, often puttering! Still a novice, with enough fails to fill up a year of Garden Friday Fails, but still, I love being out in my garden, and I'm not afraid of trial and error.

What is a green thumb? Do I have one? Who cares as long as "insnared with flowers, I fall on grass"?

1 comment:

  1. great post. that pollan book sounds fantastic. i admit i am a perfectionist, but the garden is still a happy place for me...for some reason the usual lust for order and symmetry and control of my surroundings doesn't quite extend to the garden. i'm at peace with most of the imperfections, and i don't even like the idea of a garden where those don't exist.

    i can't wait to read that essay about the "green thumb" concept. that's something i've thought a lot about lately. i used to believe super-successful organic gardeners kept dirty secrets, like surreptitiously dumping miracle-gro on their plants...either that or magic. sorcery and witchcraft! but now that i'm learning more i understand it's just a combination of knowledge and experience. claiming to have a brown thumb is a cop-out for people who've given up, not caring enough to really try or too proud to persevere through failure.

    when do you leave for your trip back east? i hope you have nice weather.