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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Nine



Where Nature Could Be




This is the first thing/I have understood:
Time is the echo of an axe/within a wood

–Philip Larkin



Wildness matters more now than it ever has. We're urbanizing at a pace unprecedented in human history...We have to look at the landscapes we live in as places where nature could be.

              –Thomas Rainer, "Planting in a Post-Wild World."



The car is an isolation chamber, the car is a portal to the outer world, the car is a companion, the car is a storage space for Clorox wipes and alcohol and surgical gloves. I travel up the mountain to my daughter's homestead to collect eggs and the masks she has been sewing in her solitary sweatshop, two for Jim and me, another six for the restaurant workers at our favorite cafe who are still doing takeaway. Time passing, time unstoppable, blossoms on the trees in the orchard and the first round of spraying has begun. Fungicides. Pesticides.

The car radio is tuned to funky music that segues into a prayer. By mistake, I've hit an evangelical station. No matter, I'll take anyone's blessing these days. Holy week, and as I write, it's the first night of Passover. No man or woman is an island, no man or woman is more exceptional than any other. The plague does not passeth over.

At Passover seders in what seems like a long-ago life, my favorites were those that modernized the text, that took into account contemporary life and challenges by introducing poetry and current events. People of the Book revising the book. But tonight, as I write, I've been thinking about my friend Liz Simonson, a landscape gardener based in Woodstock, NY. I called her to ask some questions, a mini interview. She's back at work, she told me, designing and maintaining native gardens.

I envy her daily commune with nature. If we all—globally and historically speaking—had shared an intimacy with the morsels of plant life, and a reverence for the earth to which it is bound, as she does, maybe, just maybe, we might have avoided the impasse of this lockdown, a life form running rampant on every continent.

Liz grew up in suburban New Jersey, majored in psychology in college, and did not begin to study plants until she moved upstate in the late 1980's. The property where she lived at the time was overgrown; she began to clear it out. Eventually, she owned her own nursery. "When I read about a plant, I don't forget about it," she says. Plants are magical to me. They are exquisite. They last through storms and seasonal change. Their root systems survive the winter." And they will survive this winter of our discontent, also.

Recently, Liz has started to draw plants, an ancient art known as "botanical illustration." Does she learn more about plants by observing them in minute detail? Absolutely. Might a writer do the same? Is there an analogy between drawing a plant and writing a plant? Can we transpose what we see or experience onto the page so that it comes alive and the self that writes is felt and known?

Rhetorical questions answered only by continuing practice and discipline.

I thank my friend, Liz, for her inspiration this evening, and for her devotion to preserving, healing and amplifying the environment in which we all must live.


Whether we are urban, suburban or rural, we can join Liz Simonson in the creation of landscapes where nature could be: www.pollinator-pathway.org/about

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