This time of year is difficult for the gardener. It is that time when the first seeds are put into trays and put under lights to “extend the season” as we say around here. I am no different. I have my onion sets, my kale, hyssop and lemon mint (for the bees) already going. I just put up trays of peppers and tomatoes in my workshop where they are protected from the cold-swings outside. This time of year reminds me of something that I typically don’t like to be reminded of: that I have no patience.
But patience is what it takes to succeed. Patience to remember because “All good human work remembers its history” as Wendell Berry writes, and patience to realize that all that we desire will not be fulfilled. Gardening, and all that it stands for is a pleasant but often stern reminder that we lack the very thing that we need the most; that is, the patience to truly understand that it is not necessary to always get what we want. Philosophy is an endeavor that is very closely related to gardening.
Philosophy is directly translated as “ philo-sophia: the love of wisdom”, and wisdom takes patience just as growing food takes patience. There are those that understand this such as John Seymour, Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry and others. But in doing philosophy, one soon comes to understand that the first step in being a philosopher is to recognize one’s own limitations, called ignorance. The gardener soon comes to realize their ignorance by recognizing microclimates, soil and the plants themselves among many other things. This process of recognizing and further more accepting one’s own ignorance takes patience whether that is with regard to gardening or to understanding philosophical concepts. The trick is to recognize our limitations, overcome our ignorance and have the curiosity to realize that doing so is important. That takes patience.
To become patient takes discipline. Berry writes, “Correct discipline cannot be hurried, for it is both the knowledge of what ought [italics mine] to be done, and the willingness to do it.” (People, Land, and Community) There is an “ought” to the correct discipline, and it is in this aspect that we have lost our way. We “ought” not take advantage of each other and we “ought” not treat the environment as a source of raw material and a place to cast our trash. We can and we do, but we ought not to.
We have lost our way but in doing so, we become aware that we have lost our way. From this point it will take time, and with that cost comes the necessity of correct discipline and patience to adjust ourselves to the ignorance that has engrossed us. Our curiosity has led us down paths unimaginable. We have created environments and introduced changes that were far beyond most people’s wildest dreams a mere fifty years ago. Our curiosity alone, however, has proven to be problematic because we have not had the patience to learn how to use it. A garden can put your curiosity back on track; it can teach us what we ought to do with the time that we have.
Rather than a philosopher that happens to garden, my garden has become a simple reminder of what it takes to be a philosopher: correct discipline, correct curiosity and the patience to tell the difference. It reminds me that I have limitations that I must live within or pay the price for not doing so. It reminds me that I am dependent upon people that I do not know and processes that I am not aware of nor have control over, and that I have a choice to change these problematic realities. My garden reminds me that I have yet to gain the patience that I need in order to gain the knowledge that I must have. My garden reminds me that I have time that I must take, that I must be patient to do so, and that I must take the time to realize that.