Category: Featured

Garden Writing is About More than Plants

The biographical, philosophical, meditational, and countercultural world of American gardening literature

Riddle: What literary genre has historical roots that predate Socrates; features hundreds of American writers including Thoreau, Washington Irving, and Edith Wharton; and is a genre that you’ve probably never even heard of?

Answer: American gardening literature.

Don’t roll your eyes.

It’s a thing.

American gardening literature is a blend

In fact, American gardening literature is a big thing.

I have three volumes of gardening literature anthologies in my home library alone. Amazon has an entire department dedicated to “Gardening & Horticultural Essays.” Yes, just “essays.” It has two dozen other departments dedicated to gardening and horticulture in general.

The genre of American garden writing runs the gamut from technical to inspirational, from garden bed blueprints to meditations on weeding.

There are, for instance, seed catalogs that merely list seed specifications. They hardly qualify as literary endeavors. And then there are literary seed catalogs . . . those rare (and free!) publications that are informational, occasionally witty, and serious about their prose (one of my favorites is published by Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon).

Among contemporary books, you have The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, which is my standard “go-to” book but hardly qualifies as serious literature. And you have Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, by theologian-gardener Vigen Guroian, which might be lovely but scarcely talks about gardening techniques.

And then you have The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe, which is a beautiful hybrid: mostly how-to gardening advice, but laced with a meditational bent that, though rarely overt, informs the book as a whole.

Deppe’s book is what I mean by “American gardening literature.” It’s packed with gardening advice from a highly-educated and experienced gardener (Deppe holds a PhD in biology from Harvard), but it’s about (oh … Read the rest

How I Use the Gardening Blockchain Crypto-Johnson Rod Algorithm to Deal with the Modern World

Confused and Contented in the Garden

“I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand.” The financier/philosopher Nassim Taleb starts one of his chapters with these words in Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder.

Taleb goes to great lengths to point out that modernity (a thing he loathes) is a highly complicated world that, truth be recognized, nobody understands. The world is integrated, labyrinthine, complex, technological, speedy–all adjectives he employs. And he’s right.

It reminds me of a conversation that my wife and I had last spring. She was talking about a friend’s investments and his conviction that the United States economy is going to fall apart. In addition to gold and silver, he’s also buying guns. She asked what I thought, and I basically said, “Yeah, maybe. And definitely, at some point . . . like maybe in 500 years or maybe next week. Who can possibly know? You know what I know? I know that sickly spinach plant I re-planted two weeks ago is going to make it. That’s what I know.”

I don’t understand this world. Heck, it goes beyond that: I don’t understand the world, trust the world, or even particularly like the world.

The World

Now, by “world” I mean the modern world, the cultural-economic milieu in which I find myself. I’m not referring to creation or other people in general. I’m not a Gnostic who thinks matter is evil and the world is run by an evil demiurge. The evil demiurge that most afflicts me is in Washington, DC, and that’s a political statement, not a metaphysical one, though the evil is getting so powerful I’ll soon need metaphysical analogies to capture the enormity of the problem.

The dichotomy between the two senses of the word “world” is instructive. There’s “the … Read the rest

I Was There When Vegas Came Back

What I Saw in Sin City

I went to Las Vegas last week, spending four nights at the iconic Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. I spent Tuesday evening walking from the Nugget to the Strat, where I surveyed Vegas from 100 stories high for two hours.

The next morning, I covered five miles of downtown Las Vegas on foot, covering huge swaths of area.

On Thursday, I walked the length of the Strip, clocking in over 32,000 steps.

I took a two-hour bus tour and talked with the guide. I talked with Uber drivers. I chatted with all sorts of workers, from a farmers market vendor a half-mile north of Fremont Street to bartenders who make those frozen concoctions along the Strip.

I made notes. I came home and surfed the web. I bounced observations off my traveling companion (wife).

I then put all this into a giant blender and poured out these observations.


Primary Observation: Vegas is Back

Vegas, economists say, got hit the hardest among major cities. Nevada casinos alone saw revenues drop $6 billion in 2020. Vegas’ lucrative convention business was shut down. The reverberation through everything—other tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants—has been devastating.

I could see it Tuesday evening when Marie and I walked 2.1 miles from the Golden Nugget to the Stratosphere. We marveled at the ghost town feeling. After we left the Fremont Street area (which had plenty of people, but not crowds), we didn’t come across a single pedestrian until we got a few blocks from the Strat. The uber-cool Art District was empty . . . I mean, zero people. (The Art District isn’t terribly popular, but to see no customers or tourists over the course of about 20 minutes of walking?)

Once we got to the Strat, there were … Read the rest

How to be a Holy Drunk

A few notes on Sebastian Flyte

The early pages of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited describe the drunken antics of students Lord Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder (the narrator). Ryder makes the later observation that he “got drunk often, but through an excess of high spirits, in the love of the moment, and the wish to prolong and enhance it; Sebastian drank to escape.”

This difference is the same difference G.K. Chesterton touched on in his early book Heretics: “If a man drinks wine in order to obtain pleasure, he is trying to obtain something exceptional, something he does not expect every hour of the day, something which, unless he is a little insane, he will not try to get every hour of the day.”… Read the rest

The Chicken Heart that Sucks Out Our Souls

Photo by Changbok Ko on Unsplash

The great Stoic Epictetus pointed out that education is the means to freedom.

Unfortunately, education today frequently becomes the means of slavery.

Everyone knows that the cost of higher education keeps escalating. Even the excellent tax advantages of educational IRAs and 529 plans haven’t made it easier to pay for college because education inflation outstrips the plans’ benefits.

A handful of families can afford to pay for their children’s education, but most cannot. So what do those families do?

The children get student loans.

The result? The loans often hound the children into their forties, forcing them to work intensely to pay the principal and interest. Does a man with a snootful of office life and savage commutes dream of what so many great men, from Epictetus to Russell Kirk, lauded: a leisure tinged with slight poverty, a small amount of money but a large assortment of books, a meager stock portfolio but a blooming garden, a mediocre car but lots of time with his children?

Tough.… Read the rest

What is a Perfect Piece of Knowledge?

An allegory of sorts:

I once read the following (the source escapes me):

Our surroundings call forth certain behavior. We tend to act like students when we step in a classroom, and we tend to act like shoppers at the mall. This is . . . the logic of ‘ecological psychology’: I am not a wholly separate entity from my surroundings, but rather, my [surroundings] and I form an interdependent behavior setting.

I loved it. “Ecological psychology.” Whatta concept. It told me why I’ve always insisted on having a study/library in my house, where the kids’ clutter doesn’t roam and the kids themselves are vowed to civilized behavior when they enter. It explained why I reserve the room for calm reading, thought, and writing. It explained why I want to drink when I’m in a bar.… Read the rest

How to Think about the Cell Phone

Weapon of Self-Destruction or Tool of Self-Improvement:

The cell phone. Is it a great thing? A useful thing? An annoying thing? An addicting thing?

A ton of writers have condemned the cell phone on all sorts of grounds. They’re tired of rude talkers who use it in restaurants, parks, and churches, and they’re disgusted by the way cell phones seem to give people a sense of being: “I cell, therefore I am.”

At least one writer, though, decries all this decrying. Jeffrey Tucker, writing at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (http://www.mises.org/story/1849), cogently argued that it’s just more criticism of capitalism, of the Marxist sort. It’s an approach that’s been used repeatedly: Criticize a new technology as an extension of man’s alienation, pepper the essay with quotes from Nietzsche and Freud, and raise the specter of addiction. A few more such jeremiads and the psychiatric profession has a new mental illness to profit from, then maybe the government will get involved with funding.

Tucker also thinks it’s just fear of something new:

“Because our eyes see something new, something we haven’t been socialized to expect, and because the market is expanding and democratizing so rapidly, it creates the illusion of something having gone oddly wrong. Instead of seeking to understand it, the temptation is to reach into pop culture’s bag of ideological bromides and decry it as some sort of pathology.”

These are excellent points.

But he doesn’t address questions that any good disciple of Marshall McLuhan would ask: How does this technology affect the user? What is this need to be in constant touch with everyone, everywhere?… Read the rest

How to Raise a Sane Child

Rule Number One: Don’t be a Nominalist

My three-year-old son Jack received a menagerie of thirty-some plastic animals at Christmas to go with the dozen or so he already owned. He played with his “anmuls” constantly, carrying them around in different containers (wagon, bag, box, hat) and setting them up in odd places, like the piano.

One night he came running to me, terribly excited, saying I had to see a surprise in his room. It turns out that he and his big sister, Abbie (5), had put the animals on the dresser. But not in a haphazard fashion. In Jack’s awe-filled words: (the “r” is soft in Jack’s pronunciation): “See, yions, tigus, cheeeetahs! El’phants, then hippos. Dogs. See, yitto (i.e., “little”) anmuls then big anmuls, see!”

In short, Jack, with Abbie’s help, had arranged all the animals close together based on species and roughly in order of size. The elephants and hippos were first, followed by the various big cats, then horses and zebras and similar animals like deer and antelopes, then dogs.

It was riveting stuff for ol’ Jack.

Gilson and the Problem of Universals

By chance, I had just come upstairs after reading from Etienne Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience. I had been reading Chapter III, “The Road to Skepticism,” which deals with the problem of universals.… Read the rest