I can't imagine a better way to celebrate May Day than by reading Kathleen Dean Moore's new book Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, sure to strike deep into the heart of gardeners. I'm reading it slowly, savoring every word of Moore's prose, which is as carefully and soulfully crafted as poetry. Moore isn't writing about big, dramatic nature, like elephants or the Grand Canyon.. she lives in Oregon and summers in Alaska, so the nature she invokes is familiar; garter snakes, fir trees, rain, rivers and pine needles - what we experience all around us.
Moore was struck to the bone by the deaths of three people close to her, and the book is a meditation on turning to nature's day-to-day wonders for comfort and continuity. A naturalist by trade, Moore's knowledge is deep and wise, and she pays close and rapt attention to so much we overlook as we rush about our disconnected lives.
My favorite passage in the book tells how, long ago, people had sensory systems that could "read" the air..Moore speculates humans were able to breathe love and danger, the shape of strawberries and the presence of children before we evolved to our current sorry state.
"The human mind has that many vomeronasal genes too (as many as a snake) five hundred. All but six of them are broken and degenerate. I can hardly bear to think of this loss: Four hundred ninety-four ways to drink in the world are lost to us, crumpled in our exalted minds....Humans still have rudimentary sensing organs tucked into their brains, but they are withered and useless...But the cells hold their memories...Do not be surprised that the return of the light lifts your spirits...Don't be surprised that warmth on your back calms you and makes you glad....feel this snaky gladness, part of who you have been for a million years. Find the warm places...when you find them, stay there and be still."
This passage made me think that maybe we garden to remember.... because we tune in to nature's mysteries and closely attend to the rain, the wind, the soil, buds and roots perhaps gardeners have lost a little less of our primeval sensing organs than others... Maybe when we dig in the earth and tend our plants we get a glimmer of, as Moore puts it, "The whole effervescent world poured into our consciousness like music."