I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden lately—removing a tree, pruning, cleaning up, hoeing, and weeding. I must admit I feel much better about the world. When chain-sawing a tree into little pieces, it is easy to think about those people who continually call for preparations for war instead of negotiations for peace. When pruning, my thoughts focus on those who constantly reduce funds for human needs, foodstamps, Medicaid, and education, while eliminating taxes for people who already have more than enough wealth for themselves. While cleaning up, I visualize those who cater to the preferences of their multi-million dollar campaign contributors, while the ideals of public service and the general welfare decline. As I hoe and chop and hack, I release my pent-up frustrations with the proliferation of weapons and the innocent or near innocent victims of their abuse. When weeding, the confusion of immediate and temporary profit at the expense of long term environmental degradation and the increasing probability of global climate catastrophe transforms into clarity as I pull up each unwanted and undesirable weed. In the garden, the plants yield to my care and my power, and I can gradually resolve all the problems of the world.
The garden offers respite from a jungle of unresolvable tangles in the rest of the world. The work releases stress. Mounting anger and helplessness find their targets in real-world associations, but the result can be constructive. We can exercise a degree of control over the design and cultivation of the garden, as long as we take our steps in small increments that match our limited energy and resources. Keep it small, and we can manage. The larger it gets, and the more subject to weather, pests, intruders, and other unforeseen influences, the more the garden resembles the tangled jungle beyond it. We have to learn to cooperate with the changes that come and exercise our influence with humility.
We learn that politics can shape our garden in small but meaningful ways for the future we want to enter. The garden can become a haven for birds, beneficial insects, butterflies, and the animals that need a home. The garden can match the environment, its water resources and climate-suited plants, and become a testing ground for reducing chemicals, poisons, and additives that reduce the health of the whole. The garden can preserve plants and seeds that provide genetic variety and diversity. The garden can recycle mulches, pavers and walkways, and reduce the waste that we send to the landfill. Food for the picking and beauty for the senses are at hand in the garden.
So many benefits, but none of them offer an escape from politics. Instead they offer a healthy way to reenter them. Just leave the dirt in the garden.