“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. It rained on and off all day yesterday here, and it’s supposed to rain for days to come. The ground is soft and wet and I intend to get out and dig in it a little bit, turn over soil, plant some seeds. I always get wayyyyyyy muddier than anyone else I know, even very small children, but I don’t care. I’m not competing with anybody or any image of what a garden supposed to look like. I dig in the soil from time to time because its a way for me to live deliberately, to face the essential facts I often miss, like the miraculous effects that rain has on plants, especially in the spring. If you garden, even like a clumsy perpetual beginner like me, it’s easy to understand why the archaic Greeks, say, made Zeus the weather god. Digging in the soil you begin to see that what you are really doing is opening things up for the plants or the seeds. You can’t make anything happen, in other words. You can only clear the way for higher forces.
My daughter and my friend Liz (who wants to go to lunch and otherwise stay indoors today because it’s raining) don’t like to garden. They don’t like to get dirty (and I admit, nobody has a knack for getting head-to-toe wet and muddy like I do….only if a person was blind and drunk and working without tools could they get dirtier….) My daughter Alex complains that everything seems to take forever. But I like that gardening with hand tools goes at about the same pace that it has for thousands of years (or maybe a little faster. Our ancestors would have starved if they gardened at my pace). We inherit our bodies, including our hearts and minds, from ancestors who lived thousands of years before us. We have in us the potential to receive the essential wisdom nature. We have in us the same ability to sow and reap, to observe and participate. In the current “Water” issue of Parabola, there is an interview I conducted with the modern Taoist master Sat Hon who explains how in prehistoric times the earliest Taoists read the Yellow River like a book. They sketched the way water flows as a way of conveying the way things go. The straight and wavy lines of this ancient “Water Script” (there are some illustrations in the piece) later became the hexagrams of the I Ching: The Book of Changes.
Isn’t life amazing?