By Peter Schaller
“You must have great soil,” my friend said as I showed her pictures of my garden, my thriving yard farm.
Since moving into our new house a year ago, my son and I set out to make our small yard into an edible paradise. In addition to producing clean food, sequestering carbon and improving the soil, it has also been a sweaty, gritty sort of therapy. After a long and complicated divorce, we had finally found a place to make a new beginning. What better way to cultivate peace than through plants?
As I processed her words, I felt a small bubble of defensiveness rising. I wanted to say to her “What do you mean, good soil? I have worked my ass off planting trees, digging garden beds, composting, weeding, pruning and…” well, trying to create a green nirvana.
I was reminded of an anecdote that is often shared among photographers. I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, but it goes like this:
A famous photographer was invited to a dinner party in New York, by a well-known patron of the arts. When he arrived, she greeted him at the door and said “Oh, I just love your work, you must have an excellent camera.”
The photographer politely said “Thank you” and proceeded into the house. The dinner was an amazing, seven course feast and the conversation was lively. As he was preparing to leave, the photographer turned to his hostess and said, “That meal was incredible, you must have an excellent stove.”
Pride is a ridiculous thing, after all.
I let this ferment in my mind for a while until is started to make sense. In almost 48 years of wandering around on this planet, I have found that few things motivate our actions as much as our own fear and insecurity. And so this small reflection presented me with two very humbling lessons.
Credit is for fools.
We so often want credit for our actions and ideas, as a means of reinforcing our worth—our very existence. I have wasted a lot of time waiting for recognition. Believe me, it’s not worth it. It dries and crumbles and blows away in a million unidentifiable particles. Credit leaves us nothing.
Instead, let us celebrate change and progress. It is our responsibility to participate, to the best of our capabilities, in creating positive change in the world. That does not mean that we need to be sprinkled with praise every time something goes right. The change itself, the process and the product must be enough to fuel our motivation to continue. We do not need to feed our egos with accolades.
Everything is nature.
I found that I was trying to take credit for a miracle that only nature could perform. Sure, in some small way, my work facilitated the natural processes taking place in my yard. But, I can’t begin to take credit for the amazing events that transpired, in my small paradise. Every day, sun, water, soil, microorganisms, minerals, insects, birds, and a million other things that I can’t even name, have been slowly and persistently collaborating. The birth and growth of a single plant, the formation of a single leaf is nothing short of miraculous.
This is the divine, working modestly for our sustenance.
Everything is nature. It’s important to take time out, as often as possible, to recognize how intimately interconnected our lives are to everything in nature. Without the careful precision of photosynthesis, we would not be alive. Without the generous participation of plants in the carbon cycle, however distorted that may be in our modern world, we would not be alive. Without the millions or microorganisms in our own bodies, in the soil and in our (plant) food, we could not survive.
Nature is everything and we are nature.
And so, my friend was correct; I have excellent soil. Even while I am sleeping, nature is working, creating small miracles that, with my limited imagination, I can barely fathom. My participation in the whole process is no more or no less important than any one of the millions of microbes that are tirelessly capturing and metabolizing nutrients, silently making it possible for seeds to sprout and fruit to form.
Photo: Peter Schaller
Editor: Dana Gornall