About ten days ago I decided, on a whim, to plant my very first vegetable and herb garden in my yard. I am not at all sure what motivated me to do this. The desire seemed to erupt out of nowhere. Perhaps it had to do with all the biology I’ve been reading lately. As a result of Toscano’s fascinating analysis of developmental systems theory or interactive constructivism in the magnificent Theatre of Production, I recently reread Susan Oyama’s Ontogeny of Information and have been working my way through the outstanding articles collected in Cycles of Contingency. More generally I’ve found myself filled with an overwhelming hunger for scientific knowledge, such that I find myself inhabited by a deep aversion to anything that vaguely smacks of cultural studies (with the exception of ethnography), and am unable to get enough in the way of nature shows, books on physics and astronomy, texts in biology, etc. I suppose, with all this material about ontogeny and interactive constructivism, I wanted to see the process of ontongeny or development in action, how plants construct themselves, but also how my body might be constructed differently as a result of this inhuman encounter, how I might become other, like Tournier’s Robinson, as a result of this encounter with the soil. But maybe, above all, I wanted to do something other than think– at least philosophically –but to surrender myself to soil and grass and plants, completely absorbing myself in what I was doing. In this connection I often find myself wondering whether our bodies, our organisms, do not need a minimal degree of tension, otherness, materiality, in order to find happiness. Through placing my hands in the soil, through mixing myself in this alien stuff, I hoped to find this otherness that might relieve me of some of the malaise that accompanies a lethargic, overly intellectual, passive, consummerist lifestyle.
So the idea was conceived on day and the next day I found myself gardening. I’ve never gardened before so I had no idea just how big this project was. I plotted an area of my lawn that was roughly fifteen by eleven feet or 165 square feet. This struck me as a small area, but for a body such as my own, unaccustomed to manual labor, removing the grass and turning over the soil armed with nothing more than a mattock and a spade, this turned out to be a grueling, monumental undertaking. In two days, overeager and overambitious as I always am once I start something, I pulled up the grass in this area, turned the soil over, hauled in five hundred assorted pounds of topsoil, manure, and special planting sand, and planted a variety of different herbs and vegetables. I planted sage, rosemary, Italian oregano, English thyme, basil, chives, lavender, green onion, six different varieties of sweet and hot peppers, cucumber, variety romaine, and spinach (these decisions were dictated by the North Texas climate). The herbs were all pre-planted and were simply a matter of digging a hole and dropping them into the ground. Yet the romaine, cucumbers, spinach, and many of the peppers were planted directly by seed simply thrown into the ground. After these grueling two days, two days where I seemed unable to stop working once I started in the morning, where my mind was entirely clear and empty as I lacked consciousness and had simply become a digging mechanism, my body ached intensely for the following week, shaking at first, bringing wishes that I could somehow detach my groaning arms and legs from my torso for relief. I suspect this overexertion is part of the reason I fell ill last week.
Nonetheless, much to my delight this afternoon I saw, with jaw dropping wonder (why should I have been so surprised), the leaves of spinach, romaine, and cucumbers tentatively beginning to poke up from the earth as if by magic. How is such a thing possible? Why does it fill me with so much surprise? Why do I feel the bizarre desire to now sit beside the garden and watch as these tender young plants grow? As if I could actually see their cells “popping”– pop, pop, pop –as they divide and organize themselves, undergoing their miraculous adventure of emergence and self-organization. The garden does not look like much yet, I know. In weeks to come I hope to surround it with flat, irregularly shaped rocks. I fear that I will never get all of the hardy Texas grass out of it. Nonetheless, this is a strange and simple form of satisfaction. How delightful to deal with something real, with something that isn’t a theory, signifier, or a concept. How wonderful to escape into the dirt and muck and watch life come into being.