At this month’s meeting of the Blount County Master Gardeners a fellow member gently, almost embarrassingly, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I really miss your posts in After Eden.” She thought I had stopped writing. I have not stopped. But I have not written–at least I have not written recently for After Eden.
As some might recognize, the title for this post comes from a sonnet by William Wordsworth that begins, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:– / Little we see in Nature that is our; . . ..”
I confess, I am not a particular fan of Romantic poetry. But if there ever were an after Eden poem, this is one. Writing this sonnet in the very early 19th century under the advancing shadow of the first industrial revolution, Wordsworth mourns humanity’s lost connection to Nature, the cost of trading our sensitivity to the majesty of the created world in return for materialism, commerce, and emerging technologies. Doing so, he laments, leaves us “out of tune” with Nature, whose grandeur now “moves us not.” The point of this post, though, is not Wordsworth’s sonnet, which I’ve quoted in its entirety at the end of this post. It is my own “late and soon.”
Now, do not misunderstand. My getting and spending was not on commodities for the sake of material acquisition. It was all garden related, and the spending was more in time and muscle than in dollars and cents. I built and installed a wonderful seven-foot bridge that came as a gift in three tightly packed boxes. It now spans a usually dry runoff ditch, which I prefer to call a dry creek bed. I love the sound of walking on the wood planks suspended over the empty space below. I moved by hand a little over three cubic yards of topsoil that contained far too much heavy Alabama clay, filling in low areas on the sides of a newly installed driveway. I took a six-week online course from North Carolina State University on annuals, perennials, and ground cover vines, and did quite a bit of course work including photographic plant profiles on yarrow, or Achillea millefolium, and on Lamium maculatum, popularily known as dead nettle.
I also began researching and writing a history of the Blount County Master Gardener Association to help celebrate the BCMGs’ 25th anniversary. And I planted. Planted on hills, planted in new beds, planted along the new driveway, and transplanted bearded irises and day lilies, or to be more specific after my online course, Iris germanicia and Hemerocallis. There was a significant amount of Liriope spicata, or as it is much more fondly called in the South, monkey grass, to be moved as well.
And after I planted I watered, and watered. Oneonta has had prolonged periods of dry weather in recent years. In the late summer and fall of 2016, Oneonta went over 65 days without rain. The following spring, my roughly half-acre tended garden of trees, shrubs, and perennials lost several Japanese maples and several dozen oak leaf hydrangeas. Just this past year, four dogwoods already stressed by previous insect attacks gave into the added stress of the drought. I can see two flowering crabapple trees now in clear jeopardy of flowering little more than one additional sparse year. The weather related damage has not just begun, though. In the last decade a tornado and excessive winds put a red oak through my roof, a white oak through the steps to my deck and on to several other mature trees in domino effect, and another oak from my lot onto my neighbors’ pool.
Neither is there much expectation that patterns will change. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report from August 2016, published in January 2017 offers the following sobering outlook:
In the coming decades, Alabama will become warmer, and the state will probably experience more severe floods and drought. Unlike most of the nation, Alabama has not become warmer during the last 50 years. But soils have become drier, annual rainfall has increased in most of the state, more rain arrives in heavy downpours, and sea level is rising about one inch every eight years. Changing the climate is likely to increase damages from tropical storms, reduce crop yields, harm livestock, increase the number of unpleasantly hot days, and increase the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. (EPA Aug 2016 https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/climate-change-al.pdf)
The world has been too much with me. Everything done of late had the feeling of being imperative, being crucial; everything to be done soon had the sense of urgency. My own harried schedule and defense against a changing climate and changing sun and shade patterns due to lost trees kept me moving and ever mindful that I do not own this garden. I may pay the taxes on the land, but I cannot control it. I can tend it. I can care for it. I can landscape it with aesthetic intent. I can certainly foster it, but I cannot make it grow as I want it to. I cannot command the garden, much less the climate.
In Wordsworth’s time, the trade, the “sordid boon,” for “getting and spending” was a dissociation from Nature, a loss of connection. Ours is not just alienation from the fullness of the created world but from the very fabric of our environment–trading not just our sensitivity to, but the very nature of, Nature itself as we have known it locally.
A poem I wrote about one of those lost Japanese maples was published in a journal of nature poetry earlier this fall. It seems fitting to end with that.
© Susan K. Hagen and After Eden, 2018
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.