In 1755, an earthquake followed by a tidal wave and a city-wide fire destroyed Lisbon and killed 40,000 people. (Sound familiar?). In a rage at the random maliciousness of fate–and especially in a rage against the followers of Leibnitz, who believed that a world created by a perfect God must of necessity be ultimately perfect–Voltaire wrote Candide. The hero of the story, a naive and optimistic soul, undergoes a series of catastrophes before retiring, a sadder but wiser man, to the countryside where, in an Age of Enlightenment commune, he and his friends raise their own food, bake their own bread, and weave their own cloth. His parting words at the end of the story, and Voltaire\’s message to the ages: \”We must cultivate our garden.\”
How curious that today Voltaire\’s advice works not only metaphorically (work hard, take care of yourself, be good to those around you), but literally: in a time when a single month\’s climate-induced catastrophes dwarf the Lisbon disaster, it is a very good thing to cultivate our garden.
By growing at least some of our own food we decrease the number of refrigerated trucks spewing emissions on our highways. We save trips to the grocery store, spewing ditto. We increase the number of oxygen-producing green things. We give our bodies the best possible nutrition and some much-needed exercise. And by getting our hands dirty we come in contact with soil micro-organisms that stimulate serotonin production in the brain…which may give us just the right dose of optimism to keep us going in these apocalyptic times.
This is what I\’ve been cultivating. Back row, from left to right, tomatoes, butternut squash and delicata squash. Middle row, broccoli; lettuce, mustard and zucchini (the zucchini will take over when the salad greens bolt); Swiss chard. Front row, kale, peas (not doing well due to recent hot spell), and more broccoli. The tropical-looking stuff along the right side is rhubarb.