Every school child can name the four basic flavors, ticking off on their fingers the sweet-sour-bitter-salty mantra. But just as there’s a fifth finger, there’s another flavor that most of us overlook or simply weren’t taught because it can’t be easily described, any more than we can describe a cat’s purr: It’s umami, or savory. Think mushrooms, olive oil, oysters, or avocados. Their flavors don’t fit neatly into traditional taste tests, so we just say “good.” Same with a cat’s purr.
Likewise many gardening books, like formal education, are mostly derivative, transferring old bones form one pile to another while teaching us methods of coloring inside the lines. This is important for goal-oriented horticulturists, who are all about results; soil testing, pruning just so, planting in rows, special soil mixes, and all those other tools and techniques make sense from a purely productive perspective.
But our right brain urges us to slow down occasionally, to leave efficiency in mid-stroke and savor little unexpected experiences. There is magic in the everyday, and our physical senses are ready to receive. Once you smell fresh-cut basil, just seeing a photo of it will conjure the fragrance in our mind. We need to feel the hot sun on the back of our hands, or raise our arms a bit to let a sudden breeze chill the sweat under our shirts, smile when a dragonfly lands on our tomato stake, taste the tangy sourness of a clover flower stalk, and pay attention to a wind chime as it interprets an otherwise silent breeze into language our eyes and ears can understand.
This is what Augustus Jenkins Farmer — Jenks as I know him — is all about, and more. This book shares his take on both the left-brain basics of how we garden — the quintessential tools and techniques — as well as the intangibles of why we love what we do.
~ Felder Rushing, Foreward, Deep Rooted Wisdom: Skils and Stories from Generations of Gardners by Augustus Jenkins Farmer.
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The ultimate method [that Ted Hughes uses] to balance the forces he finds is the [same] one [with which] he began: myth. In doing so, Hughes sets his shoulder against the Audens, the Larkins, and the whole blank, alienated intellectualism of the modern enterprise. As magicians, we are doing the same work. Our culture is hostile to the numinous, disenchanting nature that it might be destroyed, splitting man and woman into consumer slaves[, and] selling us the grave goods of industry. It is time that we made our spells potent in song and deed, make terror our ally. Hughes relates to that: The inner world separated from the outer world is a place of demons, the outer world separated from the inner world is a meaningless objects and machines.
I suggest we befriend and bring back the demons, the abominations, the jaguar spirits and with them destroy the machinery that is murdering us, singing meaning back into things. Yet we must also face up to our own complicity, our own guilt. The confession must be made. We are not somehow set apart from this, as some of the egocentric approaches to the left hand path suggest[;] we are inseparable. There can be no self-deification unless the hero undergoes change. Entropy is not attainment.
~ Apocolyptic Witchcraft by Peter Grey
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before, —
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turned so
Some veil did fall, — I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite
And day and night yield one delight once more.
~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Pre-Raphaelite Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Paul Negri
The technology that’s useful to help a human worker do his job more effectively is not the same as the technology that’s needed to replace him or her with a machine. As cheap abundant energy becomes a thing of the past, replacing workers with machines will no longer be a viable option, but providing workers with tools that will make their labor more productive is quite another matter. The problem here is that very few people are used to thinking in these terms. While every industry in the world once had a vast amount of practical knowledge about the tools and training human workers needed to do their jobs well, nearly all of that knowledge is endangered, if it hasn’t already been lost.
~ The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered by John Michael Greer
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Judith Laura has recoded audio for some of the meditations in her books, all 20 of the guided meditations from Goddess Spirituality for the 21st Century and from the 1999 and 2010 editions of She Lives!
If you’re like me, you’ve read dozens of books that include meditations or other exercises that you can do to improve your experience of the material. Some of them even suggest that you record the meditation, etc. so that you can listen to it with your eyes closed, while drawing or journaling, or while doing the described movements. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never bothered.
I love the idea of having the meditation recorded, especially by the author. I’m a complete techno-Luddite, but surely it’s possible to embed the audio for such meditations in Kindle books? Or to include a CD or a link to a website in dead-tree books? A link to a YouTube video?
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I’d love to see more authors follow Judith’s example.
Robert Michael Pyle
Next on my booklist: The Tangled Bank by Robert Michael Pyle.
What’s next on yours?
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I haven’t read the book, yet, but there’s a level of professionalism here that’s really refreshing.
We had rain last night and snow this morning — big, fluffy flakes that dusted the ground and the magnolia trees before more rain made them melt. There are a few things I’d like to do in the garden — weed the southern half of the herb bed one more time, put away some wire supports that are still out in the cottage and woodland gardens. I’m worried that the daffodils and day lilies are already trying to sprout — it’s been unseasonably warm here until the last week or so. I’d like to do a bit of protective magic on them. But today was too cold and wet. Instead, I stayed inside and read about gardening.
A very dear friend gave me One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place for Yule, and I’m loving the discussion of early Twentieth Century gardening and Welty’s relationship with her garden.
Gardenista has a lovely post about cottage gardens. This, in particular, rings true: “The gardens we love are more about feelings than facts.” Another beloved friend recently sent me a picture of a plaque with Alfred Austin’s quote: “Show me your garden, provided it be your own, and I will tell you what you are like.” And every garden is, of course, greater than the sum of its parts.
One of my favorite garden writers, Amy Stewart, has listed tons of gardening ebooks available for $1.99. I’m adding half a dozen of them to my iPad Kindle, starting with Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden. Who knows? By the time Spring comes, I may even have read all of them.
Is gardening one of your resolutions? If so, or even (especially) if not, you should read what Andrew Weil has to say about it. I especially like his Wendell Berry quote about growing our own food: “It is — in addition to being the appropriate fulfillment of a practical need — a sacrament, as eating is also, by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies.” I know that gardening is, indeed, a sacrament for me.
Do you garden? How do you pass the months when it’s too cold?
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