Gardeners and farmers less fearful of death?
From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills
When our bed of irises (in the photo above) bloom for one brief but glorious week in late May, I think, strangely enough, of a letter a friend of mine received from a doctor in Minnesota. The doctor observed that in his medical practice, rural people face the prospect of dying with more equanimity than urbanites.
He theorizes that people who live close to the natural world and to farm life have their thinking shaped by the way life and death follow each other up and down the food chain every day. They understand that death is the unavoidable way of nature and it applies to everything and everyone. Urban people more often live in a sort of surrealistic plastic bubble where they never see a nice neighborhood doggy tear the guts out of a lamb or a cute raccoon slaughter a henhouse full of chickens. They have never seen a hog die after having its throat slit to bleed properly so that the meat tastes the way they want it to taste. They do not associate their eating with anything dying. They become paranoid at the realization that they must die too and try to find ways to avoid every possible or even imagined threat of death that comes their way. That doctor didn’t say it, but mine would add that this paranoia is adding 500 billion unnecessary dollars to the cost of Medicare and Medicaid programs according to recent statistics.
I suppose that there are quite a few urban people living in areas of high crime rates who are even more conscious of the inevitability of death than rural people who care for animals or must deal with the wild animal kingdom, but generally speaking, I think the good doctor has it right. I would add gardeners in the group of those who accept death philosophically. There is an underbelly of sadness to the delights of gardening. The flowers in the photo above, mostly irises, are the result of my wife’s nearly year-round care, but peak bloom lasts hardly a week around Decoration Day. Some flowers last less than that. I am particularly fond of a little wild one, purple cress, that comes up and blooms for three days in our lawn in April when it is often still very chilly. For it to prosper I have to wait until it matures and goes to seed in June before mowing where it grows. So for three days of enjoyment, we wait all year and then have to endure a shaggy lawn all of May. I don’t mind the unkempt lawn because it is much more interesting that plain old grass, but visitors infected with Neatness Disease get very nervous at our unmowed sward.
To develop the knack of being able to enjoy the temporary nature of all existence is the secret of happiness, I think. It requires the realization that the fullness of life means weeping as well as laughing. It also means that what dies down does rise up again and so preserves our hope for the future.
The paranoia so rampant in society right now stems at least partly from the fact that so many people lead a life sheltered from the reality of nature. They don’t see life the way it really is: the entire food chain sits at a huge banquet table, eating and being eaten. Such people begin to entertain strange ideas. For instance, if we would just quit eating meat, some of them think, many of our problems could be solved including not having livestock exhaling and emitting carbon dioxide. I think most of us eat too much meat too, but it is impossible to solve any carbon dioxide problems by getting rid of livestock, as some people seem to believe. Nature abhors a vacuum. Take the domesticated animals away, and the land no longer used to raise livestock would fill with wildlife. It already is happening and eventually something will have to be done about it.
Herds of deer, sometimes thirty or more in number, are now roaming at will over the farmlands where I live. If they were cows, people would be having fits. Eventually, if we quit eating meat, there would be just as many wild animals burping and farting as there are livestock now. I ask people affected by carbon-phobia how much carbon emission comes from squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, geese, deer, bears, elk, rats, birds, not to mention dogs, cats and horses etc. etc. etc. No one seems to know. The only concern at the moment is about getting rid of cows, as if these are the only animals that belong in the equation.
I have another question: how much less carbon emission would follow if the 6.5 billion human beings on earth would all just quit eating beans. The carbon phobic society doesn’t seem to have thought of that. They are too busy worrying about death from cow breath.
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author of The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land), The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life, and just released: Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers.