Art Economics Low Politics Decline Political Theology Power Geopolitics

Ruminations By A Vegetable Patch

Contrasting the split between the organic and inorganic life unfolding before us

I sit wearily down on the rickety stool I’ve appropriated for the purpose of viewing my vegetable patch. I gaze over the raised bed construction and the rows of flourishing vegetables knowing that precious little will have changed since the last time I was here some 12 hours before.

This is my favourite reality. Months have passed since I shoveled two tons of topsoil into the large wooden frame the day after it was delivered. The construction stretches out before me like a kingdom; each row seems to have its own geographic location with its own problems and distinct characteristics. I’ve spent many hours lost in the kingdom, time well spent. From my position, the tangled, chaotic jungle of the peas is nearest — tentacles feeling and slithering up poles hastily constructed because I didn’t know what the plants were and improvised as they grew. The first location, first mistakes made. The pea plants overshadow the leeks which follow, reaching out for and soaking up the sun, as if the leeks are small men dominated by a New York skyline. As if to conspire with the peas, the celery juts up on the other side of the leeks forming a shorter, though denser jungle than even the peas. Regardless of such farming incompetence, the leeks endure and grow.

The celery stalks themselves are a concern. Thus far, there are too many of them and they seem too thin. As we journey across the kingdom of the veg patch the celery row also marks the end of the ‘‘top-end’’ after which we come to the middle which is largely empty save a few scallions. The now-harvested lettuce row has left behind an empty plain that awaits the transplantation of the turnips from the seed beds. For now, however, it is a desert-like nothingness of topsoil which daily sprouts weeds attempting to muscle in on the lucrative living space.

At long last we reach the end of the empty zone of the middle and are greeted by the gigantic, flapping leaves of the cabbages. The top end of the raised bed is the territory of vines and creeping eerie tentacles and stalks, the bottom with the sheer bulk and scale of the cabbage umbrellas. Below the leaves themselves, however, weeds once again shoot through as if hiding.

Behind me is an old cabinet with smaller planters — swedes, and the aforementioned turnips are waiting impatiently to rejuvenate the wasteland in the centre. Isolated and alone in a separate planter entirely stand the radishes. I contemplate the celery once more, kneeling down in wet dirt and gently inspecting the multitudinous stalks and contrasting to supermarket celery and images on the internet. A thought flits across my mind. I could nip back into the house and look quickly on the phone at images or do a brief Google.

Oh God, the phone, the internet, notifications, and messages. No, I don’t think I will.

I shall weed instead. After weeding I decided to thread a few of the creeping pea vines which came loose back onto the shambolic trellis I constructed.

This is my favourite reality.

My attention and mental energy as well as my physical exertion are targeted and deployed within an entirely different plane. Even time seems different. The mundane becomes magnified and the ostensibly ‘‘trivial’’ relativized. Meaning thus follows.

We must treat with caution the urge to deconstruct what is, in effect, a feeling. To intellectualize a state of Being is often to snip its roots in the act of nurturing.

I wander over to my makeshift potting station, which in reality is an old kitchen table and a decrepit cabinet. The swede seed bed now has two tiny shoots which appear more like gossamer tendrils than vegetables but they will not remain in this delicate condition for long and I’m running out of planting space once the turnips occupy the wasteland. It is not of undue importance. The problems in this realm do not require urgency or panic; nature’s alarms are often more subtle than the man-made equivalents.

After some hours I become conscious that I’ve been ‘‘away’’ for a long time. This new awareness arrives in the mind like a raincloud on the horizon. What is it exactly that I have been away from, and why does it matter? It begins with a gentle nagging, the creeping feeling that my time could be more well-spent than by looking for the last weed or separating turnip shoots. This is a mere hobby and an indulgence — the ‘‘real’’ world is becoming impatient.

Modernity is a world of hierarchies in terms of how one spends one’s time. At the pinnacle is the impulse and demand to be productive. Next is to be unproductive but being so within modernity and its systems. The lowliest tier is to be unproductive outside of both modernity’s frame of reference and systems. Yet, we have a paradox here: even if we jettison any and all soulful musings, I am engaged in producing my own food with the aim of producing as much of it as possible.

I leave my stool upon spotting a wilted cabbage leaf half sunken into the soil. I decide to use the old kitchen knife to make a clean cut through the stem.

I’m on borrowed time. I’m cognizant that I’m in a small portal and of my own making, a temporary respite before returning to ‘‘the real’’ which is to say, the real of digital systems and news cycles, politics, and ego, noise, decay, and madness. To a different reality, not the reality.

Marcus Tullius Cicero once said:

If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need.

The implication is that working toward productive ends beyond sustenance and intellectual stimulation is superficial and in excess of what’s truly needed to live a fulfilling life. In our modernity, it is the superficial and the trivial which we’re trained to see as priorities that must, as a matter of course, take precedence over the more subdued and personal, the quiet and contemplative. Even as the colossus creaks and groans under the weight of its own complexities and incoherence, it exudes a metaphysical or gravitational force pulling at us lest we reach escape velocity. The imperative to be producing, consuming, tax-paying, and ‘‘politically engaged’’ seems to harangue as white guilt might a liberal.

Spits of rain begin landing on my face. It should be good for the celery at least. But my time is up. What awaits me back in the ‘‘real’’ today, I wonder?

Back inside and logging into the digital realm, the first images I see are enormous lines of young people queuing to have their retinas scanned in order to access a cryptocurrency called ‘‘Worldcoin’’. The eye scan proves to the Machine that they’re human. The symbolism of this grandiose techno-grid being unable to determine what a human is without such intrusive measures is almost palpable as they dance and scan their way into a future that seems utterly at odds with what being a human is.

This is my worst reality. The gamified world of unlocking and progressing, unlocking and progressing sits at the core of digital logic whether that be Skyrim, a digital ID, or gaining access to crypto. I, and I believe many others, are half in and half out of this grid — trapped between two portals, and sooner or later the tension between the two will result in a break. A few years ago such a scenario would have concerned me far more, but now I view it almost as a liberating event — the turning away will be set, and the city intellect and those who will become the Fellaheen will have chosen their separate destinies.

Centuries ago men sat content tending to gardens. Centuries in the future, if there is a future, men will still be feeling content as they enjoy the fruits of their labour. What happens in between is an aberration to be endured and survived.

Sitting at my desk and looking through the window I notice that the clouds are clearing. I turn away from the dystopian imagery and head down to see if there’s anything to be done with the celery…