Let’s face it: gardening is a thing for losers. By “losers,” I mean those people who are content with their little homes and their little jobs and their little lives in their little towns.
Thing is, I’ve concluded we’re meant to be losers. Hollywood portrayals to the contrary notwithstanding, we’re meant to be small: we are small, on a finite earth in an incredibly-finite slot of time. If we start aspiring to more than smallness, we are leaving our proper sphere. Discontent and dissatisfaction and unhappiness–and Prozac and therapy and ennui–follow.
Gardening might be the quintessential little pursuit, thereby making it a perfect (or nearly perfect) existential fit.
There’s more to it, though, which just dawned on me last night while lying in bed. In her splendid book Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, Winifred Gallagher wrote, “whenever it’s not otherwise occupied, your mind is apt to start scanning for what could be amiss.” The result are stupid worries and enervating anxiety.
I find the garden an excellent way to occupy the mind, thereby naturally fending off the results of such “negative bias.” At its worse, such occupation is harmless. At its best, it’s stimulating. It’s always productive. Plus, there’s a ton to think about and learn.
When I started, I knew nothing about plants, gardening, weather, soil, harvesting, or the myriad of other things you need to understand about gardening. At 42, I was wholly ignorant of every element of the gardener’s mental universe. I will never be able to make up that knowledge and will always be something of a gardening hack because of it. I mean, how can I ever catch up with people who come from a gardening family or who started in their twenties?
I don’t really care. There’s so much to know, it keeps my mind occupied. The learning, though, is pretty easy. The information is easily-digestable, plus there are endless ways the information can be applied. The result is an area of study that occupies the mind without taxing it, in a way that fits one’s existential circumstances (smallness), with a method that produces food for one’s family.
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