I went to hear Rick Darke speak at the Onteora Club in Tannersville on Friday. I was extremely impressed. His talk was about Arts and Crafts gardens, but it was clear that for him it was a vehicle for a spiritual vision. It was this vision that interested me most, although I don’t know if he has actually put it into any of his books, which I think necessarily have to be about what they’re supposed to be about. The man who introduced him, however, gave a long quotation from one of his books about how a garden is “an invitation to observation” – a landscape whose familiarity and nearness beckons us into the act of seeing what is actually there.
For me this is it, this is the daily sustenance and task of my life. It is so difficult to see accurately – our vision is clouded at all times with the terrible emotional neurosis that roils underneath our surfaces at all times. I was speaking to a friend who is a banker and rich and now going through a divorce – and he felt so unattractive, so unlovable, such a failure as a human being, he found it impossible to believe that he could approach a woman in a bar and she would be willing to talk to him. The distortion is comical, but it is not at all unusual for a human being. The miracle is when a person does not have a completely ridiculously distorted vision of themselves. I keep thinking that this needs to be enfolded into Christianity somehow, because Christianity absolutely cannot be fixed without all the people who want to be true Christians going through a total immersion in nature and the simple discipline of growing and observing.
Many of Darke’s fascinations matched my own and many other people’s at this time: gardens blended with nature, edible landscaping, native plants, the High Line, Wendell Berry-like ideas of landscape and doing good, honest work with the materials of our lives. Darke described this as “the art that is Life.” I scanned the crowd as I always do thinking I might find a soulmate, but as so often, the people who go to these things are so old, I suppose especially here in the Catskills, which is a world of landowners. But I can’t imagine how the young people of the world must be withering in these cities – how can they not be dying to get out of the city, dying to live with trees and woods, where not a single day goes by where there is not dirt under your fingernails and dew on your toes, and where you see, you observe, you feel the great gift of life stretching out before you day after day, a perennial mystery, infinitely knowable and never exhausted.