Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Death, December, and the Nature of Urban Gardening

Gardening is teaching me the unavoidable truth of death. Society seems to tell us living longer is better, or that being younger is more desirable; essentially that death is to be feared and avoided. But the garden tells us otherwise. And I will go further and say the layer of “urban” to garden reinforces the theme of unavoidable death. I apologize for getting gloomy here, but it’s December and it gets dark too early.

I will start with the more intuitive understanding of death in the garden.

We have to understand that death is part the natural cycle of the garden: simply one small transformation with the context of a large transformation, namely birth, sprout, growth, death, and re-birth, or the life cycle. Plants must die in order to set seed and live again, and truly so that we can live. This is the nature of December and this time of year.

I could go on to talk of the death and life of the soil. In death soil becomes alive. For composting I put dead and decaying plant and vegetable matter mixed with dead leaves or chopped up trees. At the moment of the mixing life begins. Tiny bacteria and fungi grow and live. Then larger insects and grubs, like worms, are attracted. The soil almost vibrates with life; all from death.

I want to add something a little less conventional when talking about the garden, and something that is a little more real for me right now.

Last week (Thursday December 10, 2009) Carl, a homeless guy who came into the coop regularly and was quit the character, was found frozen to death just two or three blocks away. I don’t really have any insights into this matter, just that death seems to surround us, and most of the time we can ignore it or try to avoid it until death is too close to be ignored. I must have been doing a good job of ignoring death because Carl’s death shocked me. It has really confused me. His death seems senseless. I mean, how can a man freeze to death? Why and how do we let that happen? Could i have done anything?

But I have to comfortable with death, though sometimes senseless like with Carl, in such a way that I don’t hide from it. The nature of this urban garden, and I’m sure others, is that Carl will not be the only homeless guy I know that dies while I am here.


Ryan Fasani said...

help me think further about the generative nature of human death. is there one? can we correlate this with the compost and other garden parallels? looking for further ways to make sense of this all. thank for the help.


justin.owings said...

i guess i think of transformation. and the idea of history coupled with the idea of potential.

death is the transformation from life to death...but does it stop there? i dont think so. a.k.a the death involved with the vegetable matter is not the end of its life. it is resurrected. compost is really just an example in which me can SEE the resurrection, the death of a person we cant. we cant sense the resurrection of a person, but we can believe it. believing it assumes there is more to life than what we perceive through our senses.

history and potential means that Carl still has a history and it will continue to act on us, even now. i see the potential for something good in that. its like looking at the garden bed with nothing growing in it. the bed of dirt is beautiful because we know its history and can see its potential. we can look at Carl in a similar way.

thanks for pushing me further.

Ryan Fasani said...

i would encourage you to develop your understanding of the potential of history with your recent reflections on memory, or re-membering. there's a lot of room for work there, that is for example, the relationship b/t history and memory, the role of re-membering in realizing the generative potential of human death, and so on. thanks man.