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Gardening in End Times

Japanese Beetles Enjoying a Pear

I’ve been a gardener since we got married.

We planted a few tomatoes near the duplex we rented in Iowa City the spring after the wedding. As we lived our lives, raised our daughter, and sought economic stability, we either planted a garden or harvested what was there. When we owned a home, first in Merrillville, Indiana, and then in Big Grove, the garden got bigger and I became a better gardener. There is evidence in this year’s abundant harvest.

It didn’t come naturally even though gardening is elemental. The brief narrative of my gardener’s life.

As I step back from the working world to focus on home life what seems clear is society is moving at a startling pace toward disaster. Our industrial society consumes everything useful in nature, leaving us with foul air and water, depleted soil, polluted and acidified oceans devoid of marine life, and a warming world with all the consequences that yields. The earth will survive as it has. We people seem to be on the downside of our prominence. In multiple ways these are end times.

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek asserts there is a chance for a new beginning in the terminal crisis in which human society finds ourselves. His arguments are not convincing to us regular humans.

What do we do?

What we have done is argue about approaches. Should we have a carbon tax? Should we ban abortion? Should we ban plastic straws? Is wind, sun, nuclear or natural gas a better source of electricity? Should we cut taxes and reduce government’s role in our lives? Should we become socialists, or even worse, democratic socialists? Should we let go of Hillary’s emails? Should we all just try to get along? Approaches don’t work and we should let go of them all.

The better question to ask is what story do we want to tell? As others have said, notably author Joan Didion, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” What narrative will take us out of the current crisis?

For me it’s “I’m becoming a better gardener.”

Regardless of pending social collapse we must go on with our lives. Partly to keep our sanity, and partly — importantly — to take steps toward a more livable world. We will never go back to the Iowa of 1832 before the great division and clear cutting began. What we can do is plant the seeds of a better life where we live. Our forebears left us a disaster. What can we do about it? Make the best of it with forward-looking narratives for the next generations.

I get it that many people don’t have means to do more than survive. When I see the abundance of our garden it’s hard to believe people go without a meal. Yet they do, in large numbers. We can feed a couple of them, but is that enough? It’s something.

The essence of the narrative is the verb to become. “I seem to be a verb,” R. Buckminster Fuller wrote. I seem to be that verb. We are not predestined to anything except our human span of nine decades, and that only if we are lucky. We live in an imperfect society that beckons engagement. I’m not sure working toward perfection is as good as doing something positive is. Knowing what to do requires a better narrative. One that hasn’t been invented for the 21st Century and beyond.

I plan to work on a better narrative, although garden in end times doesn’t seem too bad.

2 replies on “Gardening in End Times”

Paul, I’ve meant to comment on this post for weeks, and with a little downtime here at school, will try to organize my thoughts about your post.

I love this statement in your blog:

>The better question to ask is what story do we want to tell? As others have said, notably author Joan Didion, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” What narrative will take us out of the current crisis?

For me, it’s “I’m becoming a better gardener.”<

I learned about peak oil shortly after moving back to Iowa, and was pulled, kicking and screaming into that mindset we are killing ourselves by our lifestyles. There was a time of panic, then acceptance, then, "how do I do better?" Rural Iowa isn't the place to spout, "doom is coming", so I did exactly what you did, started to become a better gardener. I learned about hybrid vs. open pollinated seed, I learned about soil health, and most of all, Iearned how growing your own food helps your soul.

Now, I'll admit, I curse up a storm in my garden, and around the end part of July, school kicks in and suddenly, my garden is an overgrown mess, but we've perfected many recipes with the fruits of our labor. My wife looks at my garden as a giant boondoggle, for me, it's my way of dealing with problems that there are no answers to!

Thank you for articulating this in your blog. I appreciate it!


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