Challenging the Earth Mother
If I believed in God, I think my deity of choice would be Gaia, the neopagan Gaia, not the original Greek goddess. I would worship the Earth Mother. I would pray in the cathedral of vaulted pines and take a communion of blackberries. To me, Nature is the closest thing to God.
When I speak of Outside or Nature, I mentally capitalize the words, giving them their due as Proper Nouns. Outside is my church, until the mosquitoes (surely they are the demons of my religion) drive me indoors, or at least to the refuge of DEET. (I think I may worship DEET too, or at least give it the status of holy water.)
Whatever your religion, I feel that most gardeners are making some sort of homage to Nature when they garden. For Christians, there is the Garden of Eden to emulate. I was struck by the link between Christianity and gardening at the close of Children of Eden. In the play’s final scene, Noah’s sons and wives disembark from the ark, and each couple makes a decision on which direction to travel in order to repopulate the drowned world. The final couple decides on no direction at all. Instead, they choose to wander the earth in search of Eden. Depending on your paradigm, this is either a testament to our desire to return to a state of grace or an expression of a basic human need to live in harmony with Nature. Either way, it was a powerful ending.
Not only do I hold rather pagan beliefs, I make the same errors of hubris that mortals have committed against their gods throughout history. Once, during a rare moment after I had managed to wrangle Mike Outside to enjoy evening in the garden, he said, “Wow. It is like Nature out here.” “No,” I replied, “it’s better than Nature.” He was aghast at my presumptuousness. Although I expected a lightening bolt of doom from slighted Gaia, I escaped unscathed.
My garden IS better than Nature. Although most gardens are going for a “natural look,” the very concept of a garden is unnatural. Where, in Nature, does one see colorful perennials jam-packed together so tightly that constant maintenance is required, as in a cottage garden. Where do we find raked sand next to a perfectly contorted juniper, complemented by a half-moon foot bridge? How about a symmetrical ring of boxwood enclosing fussy hybrid tea roses? I argue that instead of imitating Nature, we are trying to create our own idealized notion of it, whether that is a sylvan glade, an orderly vegetable patch, or our very own Garden of Eden.
As we garden, whether we do it to glory God or fight evil Entropy, it fulfills a basic creative need within us to improve our surroundings. If in the process, some of us developed swelled heads and an inflated sense of self worth, well, there are worse sins. Like Round-Up.