On Compost and Rose

Much of what my grandmother knew instinctively-- and taught us all instinctively--our culture suddenly realizes it must rediscover. She was not a naturalist or a flower-child, just a normal person, a normal woman of her era who understood where she fit in. Everything was a part of everything else. The compost fed the rose. She treated Nature in the same way that she treated people. They had their ups and downs, just like relationships with people do, but it was a relationship based on respect. That's just the way she thought, and how the people who had reared her had thought. Was she radical? No. Just measured--just related to her surroundings.

I recently came upon the work of Murray Bookchin, a wild-eyed eco-revolutionary of the Rachel Carson era. “The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital," said Bookchin. His argument was that most of the activities that consume energy and destroy the environment are senseless because they contribute little to quality of life and well being. Is this radical? Thought to be. So radical that these ideas split the American Green Movement right in half.

But the plunder of the spirit being tied to the plunder of the earth was completely obvious--wordlessly obvious-- to my grandmother, whose own grandfather (now we're going back to before the American Civil War) was known around Gaffney for letting a third of his land lie fallow every growing season. He didn't believe in using the new fertilizers, he didn't believe in beating the soil into submission and for this reason he missed out on a third more revenue every summer. Radically stick-in-the-mud? Or forward thinking?

Bookchin, the radical Marxist, said that the function of work is to legitimize, even create, hierarchy. He believed that understanding the transformation of organic into hierarchical societies is crucial to finding a way forward. I'd say that understanding that transformation is crucial to finding our way backward--back to the cyclic rather than the one-off, back to the sustainable rather than the pillaged-- back to the dreams of the lover rather than those of the rapist.